Varanasi is beautiful, chaotic and overwhelming. All human life is here – Hindu pilgrims visiting their holiest place to bathe in the River Ganges, bereaved families cremating their dead by the side of the river at Manikarnika Ghat and countless boatmen ferrying everyone along the river at dawn or dusk.
We explored the city by boat and by taxi, encountering acts of worship – cremations, prayers, singing, offerings of flowers and food – everywhere we went, from large temples and ghats to tiny shrines. It’s hard to describe the haunting and powerful atmosphere in a place that’s so centred on devotion, with a constant flood of people arriving in the city to worship just as they have been doing for thousands of years.
More prosaically, we had a few close encounters with the cows that wander the streets in Varanasi, often causing traffic jams as pedestrians, rickshaws and scooter riders screech to a halt to let them pass!