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Varanasi is a magical city of a myriad side streets leading down to the ghats by the river. Behind all of this roars a monstrous Indian city like anywhere else but down by the river is a world in itself. There are water buffalo cooling down in the water, sadhus and Brahmins praying, bodies being burnt and the whole cycle of life and death as it always was.

The River Ganges herself is the most holy of all rivers in India and it’s a dream for Hindus to bathe in her waters. She starts up in the mountains and rushes down past Haradwar and virtually everywhere along her banks is sacred. By the time she gets to Benares she’s hopelessly polluted and full of sewage but that doesn’t stop millions of people immersing themselves. It’s an exercise in faith over bacteria. In fact the water used to have a unique property that neutralized the human and toxic pollution but now it’s simply too much.

Catch a boat out on the river to watch the sunrise and the ghats come to life. Dodge the carcasses of cows, holy men and children, the only groups that Hindus don’t cremate here.

This is the place to study Indian music and dance and you’ll find a community of musicians here studying ragas and who wouldn’t dream of doing anything else. If you can stand the intensity of Benares then this can be a place to stay for a few months and learn something.

There have been many reports of travelers getting robbed by force on the ghats at night so don’t get wandering the shadows by the river after dark.