The guidebooks tell you, photography shows you but you will never know until you visit. It's its own world - separated from the rest of India driven by the flow of the Ganges, living in its historical belief system with immense strength and dignity. Though its much more complex than that.
Varanasi sits in a blaze of heat from about 9am, a walk along the Ghats is an excellent way to begin understanding the lifestyle here: bathing in the Ganges, washing clothes, as children play and cows cool down. Debris of the previous night’s light ceremony drive in the water, and flower petals decorate the edges. A haze forms on the other side as the sun increases its mighty strength.
Become exposed to the holy ritual of burning dead bodies on the shoreline, three hours of burning and the body is reduced to ashes then scattered into the river. Bodies of children, the sick, and pregnant mothers are strapped to an almighty stone and dropped in the middle of the river.
The hospice here supports all of those ready to die and widows waiting for life to be taken from them.
From here, get lost in the maze of the Old City. The Labyrinth. There's no easy way around nor easy way out. Here is the place to buy your goods, and to haggle hard. But the journey to escape into familiar territory or that documented in guide books can only occur once you have once again reached the river - good luck with that! But let the Ghats guide you!
The Main Street market is a hive of activity with an array of stores catering to fashion, clothes, sill and jewellery. Here - also enjoy the hustle of Varanasi life - people trading, selling and buying in a busy street with cycle rickshaws and moto rickshaws among bikes, carts and scooters weave between one another.
Varanasi s not a clean place, it maybe holy and it has some excellent photo opportunities - read more on Varanasi - Holi Festival.