Having travelled recently from Varanasi to Chambal Safari Lodge, where I visited the nearby Bateshwar temples, I was struck by the comparison between the two experiences. Here’s why I think Bateshwar Temples might make an interesting alternative to Varanasi, and how the different experiences would affect your trip…
Varanasi is amazing, a place of Hindu pilgrimage and an incredible way to experience India’s spirituality. However, the chaos, crowds and intensity aren’t for every traveller – it can be quite a shock to the system, which some love, but others find overwhelming. In addition, trying to incorporate Varanasi, which is based northeast in Uttar Pradesh, into a Rajasthan itinerary feels like a diversion – it is an overnight train ride or domestic flight away, which can feel like a substantial detour in a two-week trip.
So, visiting Bateshwar Temples is a fantastic alternative. There are similarities between the two sites: the 40 temples of Bateshwar that follow the Yamuna river, opposite a vast plain of countryside, are certainly evocative of Varanasi. Plus, you can experience the same spirituality, the same sense of cultural significance, just in a more tranquil environment. And at only an hour’s drive east of Agra, a trip here slots much more easily into a holiday exploring Rajasthan and the Taj Mahal.
Unlike Varanasi, at Bateshwar there is no sense of rush. You are free to meander down the river at your own pace, without the distraction of crowds or hawkers – instead, you’ll encounter friendly locals waving from the river banks, or perhaps a child cuddling a goat on her stall of puja offerings! It’s also worth noting that, compared to the Ganges, Yamuna river is very clean
The temples come alive at sunset. On my visit, we took a gentle boat trip to watch them just as the skies were turning pink. We soaked up the scenery, mystical and calm, as swifts darted above our heads. The birdlife that inhabits the region around the Yamuna is wonderful: painted storks, kingfishers, lapwings, huge flocks of cormorants, all add to the magic of the place.
Later, we had a meaningful puja in a dark enchanting and intimate Shiva Temple. Our guide, Bashew, talked us through the steps with the priest, of laying marigold garlands around the deities, feeding them hashish then placing the saffron bindi on their heads. Finally, the sacred rope was wound around our wrists, bells were rung and we walked out into the calm and darkness.
However, if you would like to experience a busier time at Bateshwar temple, there is an annual religious fair in November, with crowds of devotees bathing and offering fire puja to the river.
Without a doubt, Chambal Safari Lodge is the perfect base to explore the Bateshwar temples, and indeed the surrounding rural life. Their guides and naturalists have incredible knowledge and are so engaging, and the welcome is second to none.
If you’re curious about a holiday to India, please do have a look at our holidays here. Remember, though, these are just a starting point: all our holidays are built from scratch, exclusively for you. You can get in touch with an India specialist via the online enquiry form here or give us a call on 0207 924 7133.