In the dim light before dawn there was an unusual quiet for India. My son Andrei, two friends and I swathed in colourful shawls were walking beside the wide still waters of the Ganges River in the sacred town of Varanassi. Our steps took us along the old Ghats stone steps, lining the rivers edge for many miles.
We passed the fruit and vege seller asleep on his low rope bed beneath his stall and other small stalls until we came to the long blue and white boat we had hired the previous evening. There to greet us was the chai seller, with small earthenware cups he and his family had moulded and sun dried. He presented us with steaming sweet chai. As we returned these tiny vessels he broke them and threw them away. Also to greet us were little girls persistently offering us, for a few coins, small bowls made of pressed leaves. Within these were homemade candles surrounded by the holy flower of India - Marigolds. They were for us, to float a blessing midstream on this old noble river.
The boatman steadied the boat and then rowed us for an hour or more up the Ganges - still sleeping, albeit briefly. Past earth coloured buildings intermingled with conical shaped temples and grimy but beautiful ancient buildings, some listing at an angle and partly submerged. When we turned to come back the river had woken. Women were slapping, wringing and twisting clothes on the wide steps. A wizened toothless old man was treading water, saying his prayers, totally oblivious of us all.
Women dressed in vibrantly coloured saris were dipping a body into the sacred water before cremation. Others, also clad in saris were dunking in the water like colourful birds. Further on men in loin cloths and lungis were cleaning their teeth and washing.
Cows grazed on cardboard on the steps. In the doorways glimpses of orange clad Sadhus, or holy men. So much more activity would go on beside this holy of rivers until well into the small hours of the next morning, when Varanassi would once again briefly sleep before the dawn. Then awaken to the misty golden glow of India.