The sun slowly emerges through the morning haze and across the Ganges as I trudge along ancient ghats. Thus, a new day begins in timeworn Varanasi, the holiest of cities in India. As I find my way up and down and across endless ghats in near darkness, my other senses are acuter. I am aware of the creaking boatman’s oar, the lapping of water against the worn steps, quiet voices murmuring – no, softly repeating mantras. A potpourri of aromas fills my nostrils like a breeze filling stillness. There’s the scent of woodsmoke from the endlessly burning funeral pyres, the ooze of life and death flowing by, and sweat.
As dawn breaks over this holy river, I see what my other senses have been telling me. I am not alone. Far from it. Hundreds, if not thousands of Hindu devotees are quietly making their way along the ghats. They come to perform their morning rituals, cleansing their body and mind with holy water from Mother Ganges.
A bearded ascetic wrapped in saffron sits before me. A follower of Lord Shiva, judging by his trident. He sits cross legged before a small offering fire performing his rituals, holy water at his knee. Appearing to be in a trance, and unaware of me, the sadhu softly repeats his mantra, over and over. An aura of complete peace and contentment surrounds him. I admire his devotion and am grateful to be here, at this place, at this time.