International Travellers’ Hostel (ITH)
In 2013, ITH became the first backpacker hostel in northern India. They started this journey with humble means, and now, after many sleepless nights and even more aspiring days, they have decided to go global. ITH-Varanasi, the first ITH hostel, is the cornerstone of this dream. It is tucked away in a little picturesque residential neighbourhood of what is also known as the ‘World’s Oldest Living City’. They have their own cute little vegetarian/vegan in-house bistro which might just offer you the best tea and breakfast after a relaxing night’s sleep. Did you smell the fresh morning grass yet?
The accommodation is a family-run hostel located in their historical house owned by their family for over 5 generations. Once serving as the summer house to the Queen of Nepal. Imagine the events and stories that are hidden in those walls, standing for decades and now, how it became a “home far from home” for many. From choosing between the beautiful dorm rooms or private rooms to going out in the garden and taking in the sunlight whilst planning your next adventure.
Staying at ITH Varanasi
We had the pleasure of staying at this cool place for a few days, and we were completely taken by surprise. The cute picture of this place online cannot do justice to the real thing. There is this energy surrounding this place, in the air, in the walls, that immediately adds an alleviating vitality. The hostel is located at a place blessed with direct sunlight. Watching the sunrise with a cup of tea might be your new favourite thing to do. Taking yoga classes early in the morning on the terrace with the fresh breeze caressing your face will make you feel fresh and energised the entire day and it’s one of the best ways to keep your body and mind healthy. The famous Vishwanath temple in Kashi is just 20 minutes drive away, there are a lot of little shops to buy souvenirs from. You might meet some cows on the street that you can pet too.
Varanasi – An Enigma
Varanasi is famous for its morning activities. None less than a hearty breakfast at the buzzing Kachori Gali – where scrumptious Kachoris are served with Chana-Aloo ki Sabzi and crisp Jalebi. These are some of the finger-licking delicacies of Varanasi that everyone should definitely try. If you happen to visit these galies (streets) during winter times, like we did, then you are in for a must-have treat – ‘Malaiyo’ – as light as feather (rather foam) and as delicious as sweetened butter, but better. It’s made from actual milk foam, mixed with herbs and lots of love. Malaiyo is available only during the peak winter season, during the morning hours.
Coming back to the hostel after having a tongue smacking meal, relaxing in shared areas, sleeping on comfortable mattresses is all a heart and stomach needs. While we didn’t explore, we heard a lot about the shopping spree people go on here. Kashi is world famous for its special Banarasi Silk Saris, crystal and stone Shivalinga, and wooden toys, these toys look incredibly beautiful and unique. People can also buy wooden decorative pieces like carved elephants, cars and so much more. It is also famous for its Muslin fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculptures. There are so many options, that you need another day to explore this.
After a rather long nap, I joined a group trip to Sarnath, located within the Varanasi district, and of significant history and spiritual importance for India, and the World. Before getting on the mini-bus arrange, ITH staff very thoughtfully packed me a delicious Paneer Roll and some juice since I did have enough time to finish lunch. This is the place where Lord Buddha taught for the first time, after having attained enlightenment. King Ashok, immortalised this place with surreal architecture and other lush gardens and more. For someone who has still left craving more – visit the Buddhist Museum that contains 6,832 sculptures and artefacts and was built in the year 1910. Something we really wanted to explore but couldn’t – the Tibetan university. A Deemed University founded in 1967 is one of its kind, a part of our cultural support to Tibetan people.
On the way back, the cold has started to set in. What a perfect time to see the Ganga aarti. This grand spectacle of faith and culture at Dashashwamedh Ghat of Varanasi is a must-watch. It is a shining depiction of devotion that makes us feel the divinity around us. For ages, not even one day has gone by when the holy Ganga River has not been adored and worshipped. Every day a huge ritual is performed at the Ganga ghat. It is an organised activity that begins by lighting up the multi-tiered ceremonial brass lamps and a well-synchronised rhythmic chanting of the holy mantras. While some of the priests blow the conch shells to purify the atmosphere, other priests begin waving the incense sticks to worship Mother Ganga.
Living, Breathing, and Having FUN at ITH
Back at the hostel…..finally, time to lean back and look back at the eventful day. But not just yet – the hostel organised a game night to entertain the people staying in the hostel. The in-house bistro serves guests on-demand, and a special all-vegetarian barbecue is set up to make in the garden area. There’s soft music and an enchanting bonfire. Getting to know everyone around during enjoying the good company is always welcomed and makes almost all experiences worth remembering. Heard some local ghost stories – scary, yet fun.
The hotel staff taking care of everything and catering to everyone’s needs was the best part. The hostel’s hospitality is wonderful, the staff is polite and will help you without a question with anything that you may need.
After a night filled with food and memories, it’s time to recharge. While some fellow guests (now friends) were still sitting on the swing on the porch, I am going back to my bed. Comfortable bed and crispy-clean sheets, I don’t need more. Accommodations are a big pro at about any place, and when you get all the other facilities being provided here, I don’t think there is anything more a person could ask for in a stay.
ITH Stays is designed for traveler by travellers. That’s what makes it special. They don’t claim to have the best of this-and-that but do their best so that you will have a pleasant and memorable stay. They make sure that you never feel left out, or not attended to. They really care!