Sleeping in tent on sand in an island in the middle of the Ganges was certainly more comfortable than last night’s train. It was reasonably quiet although at one point dogs started howling at each over from opposite banks of the river. Some sort of religious chanting began at sunset although by that time we were awake.

There seemed to be plenty more life on Ganges today with locals using the river for fishing, showering and washing clothes. The water can’t be that dirty as at one stage some dolphins appeared. They were back under the water though before I could find the camera. The boat crew were great and made sure that we were well looked after and everything ran smoothly. All the obvious adjectives could be used to describe the River Ganges; tranquil, serene, peaceful, relaxing, and so on. The boat trip was possibly my highlight of India so far.

After disembarking we drove up to Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Settlements here date back to 1000BC. Varanasi is also one of most spiritual cities around, especially for Hindu pilgrims who travel from wide and far to experience this holy city. Many Hindus have a lifelong wish to be cremated on the banks of the river in Varanasi. When we went for a walk along the riverfront this afternoon we saw the cremation sites on the steps leading towards the Ganges. The huge volume of wood around suggested that lots of people must have their funerals here.

We headed away from the river and into the maze of bustling alleyways in the old city. These are packed with small shops, people and a fair few cows. At one stage I heard quite a bit of shouting and got pulled into a shop in order to avoid a charging bull. It was hardly a Pamplona-style running creature but I’d imagine that anything more than a gentle trot would be enough to get trampled. Varanasi is a renowned silk producing area so we paid a visit to Mr Sunil’s shop. He got me to demonstrate some sort of test to prove that his silk is bone fide. I was given a lighter and advised that real silk will burn and disintegrate. Just as I was about to incinerate an expensive scarf, Mr Sunil pointed out that I should just demonstrate the test on a single fibre from one of the scarf’s dangly bits. Otherwise I’d have probably set the entire garment alight!

After the silk shop we headed back along the riverfront. This area is a hive of activity. As well as all of the religious ceremonies there were plenty of games of cricket taking place. Lots of children were flying kites. A few snake charmers were out as well. Varanasi isn’t especially clean. There are large volumes of garbage lying around and the numerous cows produce a decent quota of toilet matter which no amount of incense seems able to mask. Aside from the Taj Mahal, Varanasi is probably the most touristy place we’ve visited in India. Many of the overseas visitors seem to embrace the local dress fashions too.

For tonight’s meal I decided to have a break from curries after seven consecutive days of them. I opted for that well-known Indian staple of pizza. To be honest it wasn’t great. The tomato sauce wasn’t particularly tomatoey and I’ve no idea what the cheese was, although it certainly wasn’t Parmesan.

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Sunrise at the campsite
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Life on the River Ganges
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Varanasi prom

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Wood for the funeral pyres
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Varanasi’s back streets
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