. The only thing that spoiled the serenity of the ride was discovering that all the tourists that we thought had been missing during our previous 5 plus weeks had actually been in boats on the Ganges. It was incredible - i think we were one of the first boats out but by 6am there were hundreds of boats going up and down the river ferrying all the tourists in India.
Varanasi is a very religious place. Hindu's go on pilgrimages to the Ganges here to bath, even drink the holy water, and dying (and being cremated) here releases you from the cycle of death and rebirth. The deep religion here is evident every evening when they perform an hour long Puja ceremony. Seven monks at the main ghat and 5 at a smaller ghat perform an elaborate series of dances involving fire offerings to the Ganges accompanied by traditional music. Everyone sits and watches from the steps behind and hundreds gather in boats to look up from the river.
Walking back along the ghats in the dark after this I (Kevin) ended up stepping in some very deep mud, losing my flip flops and and destroying my trousers. I had to wash off my feet in the Ganges. I'm now worried my feet might be going to Hindu heaven but not sure about the rest of me.
Varanasi is so much more than i expected having read the Lonely Planet. I entered the city with dread having read sections describing it as India on speed - more in your face, pushy and irritating than other busy cities. However, although it may be argued that I've just got used to the hassle, i genuinely think it is no worse, and in lots of ways, better on the hassle front than other places we have been. The main thing to see here are the Ghats - long stairs that go down to the Ganges - most of them people using for bathing and prayer, but 2 of which are burning ghats used for cremating bodies. Walking along the ghats is a relatively peaceful experience and even the hassle you do get is doable because people trying to sell jewelery, boat rides and massages seem to be less persistent and in your face than the dreaded tuktuk drivers. On our first morning here we got up at 5am to get a 5.30 boat out down the Ganges for sunrise. It's unbelievably eerie yet mystical at that time in the morning watching people starting their daily routine of prayers and bathing in the (highly polluted) river