I recently worked with a travel agency as a mute guide with an Italian group. Actually the group already had an escort who knew Benares very well but he did not have a tourist guide license so I was hired just to be with the group as their mute guide. I had already worked with so many tourists as a tour guide in Varanasi and all of them were my direct clients but had no experience of working with a group which was traveling through a travel agency so I was so excited for working with a travel agency for the first time.
I was asked to meet the group at Sarnath where they were going to arrive directly from the airport. I met them at Sarnath and the escort asked me just to be with him at all the entrance points of the monuments. The group went first to the Sarnath ruins and I saw the escort explaining something in Italian for like 10-15 minutes and then he gave free time to the clients and came to me. Now the clients were alone wandering here and there in the ruins which seemed like a nice idea to me.
After the ruins we headed to the museum where the escort explained only four statues and then again gave free time to the clients and came to me and clients were alone again. I asked him if he had asked his clients about whether they want his company or they want to be free and he said that he never asks, he just tells them in a very professional way to go explore the place on their own. This sounded a little weird to me. I also give free time to my clients but I ask them first about it. Anyways, I don’t know if my style is better or his style. It seemed like the clients never complained about it so it was fine.
After the visit to the museum we headed straight to the hotel which was really surprising to me because the clients did not get to the visit the Buddha temple and the Bodhi tree which is really an important place for all the Buddhists and Hindus. In fact these are the only places where you see something alive going on and where people do rituals which seems more interesting than visiting a museum or a ruins. Anyways, clients did not complain about it and I think the reason behind it was that they did not know about these places.
After checking in the hotel, the clients were given an hour to be ready to visit the Dashashwamedh Ghat. Finally I met them again at the Dashashwamedh Ghat where there was a boat already waiting for us. We took the boat and headed to Manikarnika Ghat to see the cremation ground. We hardly spent ten minutes at the cremation ground and headed back again to the Dashashwamedh Ghat to see the evening time ceremony. After the ceremony the clients went back to the hotel and I went back home.
I met them again next morning for a boat ride at 5 o’clock and we did a boat ride for about an hour and then just walked inside the narrow BCE time alleys and went to Vishwanath Temple (The Golden Temple). The clients went inside the temple with the escort and I was just waiting for them outside. After the visit to the temple their tour finished. It was a really different experience for me but I was always thinking about those poor clients who spent only 20 hours in Varanasi, wherein they spent at least 12 hours in the hotel, 3 hours in the bus and hardly 5 hours exploring the city where one can easily spend three to four days and even this much will not be enough.
After completing the tour, one of the clients asked the escort to take him to the old city because he wanted to photograph the people and their daily lives and the escort asked me to take him to the Dashashwamedh Ghat area. The escort had asked me not to take the client further away than the Dashashwamedh Ghat area and just give him some free time. We took an autorickshaw and went to this place but as soon as I got off the vehicle and asked the client if he would like to go alone or wanted me also to come with him, I could easily see how confused he was.
He asked me to come with him and I took him to the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the vegetable market and then walked again inside the alleys where there was real life of Varanasi. And the client was just surprised, shocked and happy also. He told me that they never get to see a such place as where I took him. He took a lot of pics and was asking so many innocent questions and by hearing his questions one could easily say that he did not know anything about India. I took him to a vegetable market and he asked me if it was a vegetable market for people living in the slums. But when I told him that this is how our vegetable markets are everywhere he told me that he did not get to see anything like this before in his entire trip.
Once I asked the escort about how much the travel agency charged them and I was shocked to hear that the clients had paid about Rs. 20,000 ($500) per day/ per person. There were six people in this group so that means Rs. 1,20,000 ($3000) for those 5 hours of travel and accommodation in Taj hotel and they did not even see that Buddha temple, Bodhi tree and people doing their business on the road and along the river which I have noticed as being the most interesting thing for a foreign visitor to Varanasi. I feel sorry for such kind of tourists but maybe they want this, who knows? Anyways, it was a good experience for me to work with them.