The ghats of Varanasi are full of painted adverts for the various shops catering for tourists. I think they put them up in place of maps because the streets of old Varanasi are so intricate that it is very easy to get lost and virtually impossible to find anything. The best thing to do is walk along the ghats looking out for the signs, that will give you hints to let you know when you’re getting warm. You know if the signs suddenly cease or the arrow changes direction, that you have missed your turning.
Even if you get the turning right you may still struggle to find the genuine shop or eaterie that you are after. That’s because if something is popular then copycat versions will crop up. I spent forever trying to track down the much lauded Brown Bread Bakery which was supposed to be the place to eat in Varanasi. But after I had finally found it I was deeply disappointed with everything about my visit there – the service was incredibly slow and sullen; the food was mediocre; the decor was depressing; it stunk thanks to a flimsy toilet booth right in the middle of the eating area and they even short-changed me at the end!
The whole experience was so appalling that if my money wasn’t apparently going to a charity to help local street children and women I would have walked out at many points during the meal. I persevered but it niggled away at me and to cap it all I later had an upset stomach, so I felt compelled to enlighten others on trip advisor that standards had clearly slipped.
I was just about to upload my scathing review when I realised that the other traveller’s photos raving about it looked totally different to the place I had visited. On further research I discovered there were actually three Brown Bread Bakeries – the real one and two fakes that had been set up either side of it, in order to trick weary travellers like me into going inside thinking it was the real deal. They even had the cheek to photocopy the menu of the original including all the information about the good works they were doing!
Determined to visit the real cafe, I set off there once again a few days later. As I was getting close I had a teenage boy approach me who, correctly presuming where I was heading, offered to guide me there. I insisted that I knew where it was but he tagged along anyway hoping no doubt to convince the cafe owners that I was there thanks to him and get a few rupees commission. When we arrived at our destination he beckoned me towards, you’ve guessed it, the same fake restaurant I’d frequented before. So if it isn’t enough to steal another cafe’s name and identity, they even employ people to steal their customers!
I’m happy to say the boy got a sharp telling off by me and that the real Brown Bread Bakery was very nice!