‘I will never forget my first sight of the river in Varanasi, from the narrowness and constriction of the alleys, thronged with activity, to the sudden release of the waterfront, the labyrinth’s end . . . It seems that all of life has its assigned place on the stone steps leading down to the Ganges. Some are used for bathing, others for laundry, washing buffalo, puja (worship, ceremonial offering), and this one for the business of death. The smells are of wood smoke, buffalo dung, urine and jasmine flowers. The sounds are of rustling kites and lowing cattle, crackling wood and prayer. . .’
Piers Moore Ede first fell in love with Varanasi when he passed through it on his way to Nepal in search of wild honey hunters. In the decade that followed it continued to exert its pull on him, and so he returned to live there, to press his ear to its heartbeat and to discover what it is that makes the spiritual capital of India so unique.
In this intoxicating ‘city of 10,000 widows’, where funeral pyres smoulder beside the river in which thousands of pilgrims bathe, and holiness and corruption walk side by side, Piers encounters sweet-makers and sadhus, mischievous boatmen and weary bureaucrats, silk weavers and musicians and discovers a remarkable interplay between death and life, light and dark.