A boat ride along the River Ganges at sunrise is literally a mind blowing experience and a hive of spiritual activities. Nothing can prepare you for the sounds and the smells and all the sights of holy men, locals and pilgrims alike performing diverse rituals on the banks of this river.
The heart and soul of the Hindu religion which in itself has 33 million Gods and Goddesses, the Ganges attracts millions of Hindu pilgrims annually, who wish to have an early morning dip and cleanse their souls. The Ganges has a reputation for being dirty and polluted but that doesn’t stop the devout Hindus from taking a holy bath and even brushing their teeth in the holy waters. We also witness priests chanting their mantras and ringing the bells; yoga; the dhobi walla washing clothes in the river; local children swimming; prayers being said; even cremations. The Hindus believe in reincarnation but also that life on earth is suffering so many want to stop the cycle and not return to earth in another life. The only way to do this and to reach the state of Nirvana is to die in Varanasi, be cremated here by the Ganges and to have the ashes thrown into the Holy River Ganges.
In the evening it is a different story with Aarte or evening prayer going on at the different Ghats (sets of steps along the river). The priests perform songs and rituals with lights and candles. It is definitely worth going back to the Ganges in the evening for this delightful ceremony. My one tip would be to pay a local to take you there and get a place on a boat and watch the whole thing from a moored up boat. This is much more relaxing than standing in a crowd.