Varanasi, the 3000 year-old holy city on the banks of the sacred River Ganges, is an important place in India in mysticism and spiritualism. The air is charged with a lot of energy; I felt exhilarated and exhausted from all that was going on around us. This is the most important pilgrimage point in India for Hindus. The special power of Varanasi is such that anything you do here - prayer, fasting, ritual bathing in the Ganges to wash away your sins, cremation, ceremony - has extra potency.
The Ghats, stairways down to the riverbanks, the spot where things happen here, were built around 1700 AD and just felt more ancient than anything I've ever been in the presence of before. Here along the river at these Ghats, at sunrise and sunset, you'll observe the locals bathing, as well as large-scale Aarti ceremonies in worship of Hindu deities. All this is best viewed from a little boat, you can go down and hop on a boat with anyone you see or organise in advance with a tour company.
That a place so strange and wonderful could exist in my midst, it made me feel in awe of the world I get to live in.
• Keshari - Amazing savoury dosa pancakes in a centuries-old restaurant down an alleyway, make sure to get lost exploring the surrounding alleyways afterwards
• Blue Lassi - amazing lassis in the same network of alleyways, ask someone for directions
• Open Hand - Light meals, good coffee, wifi + ethical handicrafts too