INDIA CROSSING THE RIVER GANGES For most of the year you can walk freely along the whole length of the ghats; although during and immediately after the monsoon the water level is too high for this. It's a unique; world-class 'people-watching' walk as you mingle with the fascinating mixture of people who come to the Ganges not only for a ritual bath but also to wash clothes; do yoga; offer blessings; buy paan (a mixture of betel nut and leaves for chewing); sell flowers; get a massage; play cricket; wash their buffaloes; improve their karma by giving to beggars; or simply hang around. This is traditional India at its most colourful and picturesque and photo opportunities abound. Assi Ghat; furthest south of the main ghats; is particularly important as the River Asi meets the Ganges near here and pilgrims come to worship a Shiva lingam beneath a pipal tree. The ghats themselves were undergoing much-needed renovation at the time of writing and there are some interesting shops; cafés and excellent hotels here. Boat owners wait to take pilgrims and tourists upstream to Dasaswamedh Ghat. Nearby Tulsi Ghat; named after a 16th century Hindu poet; has fallen down towards the river but in the month of Kartika (Oct/Nov) a festival devoted to Krishna is celebrated here. The NGO campaigning for a cleaner Ganges also has its research laboratory here. Next along; the Bachraj Ghat has three Jain temples. Many of the ghats are owned by maharajas or other princely rulers; such as Shivala Ghat; built by the local maharaja of Benares. The Dandi Ghat is used by ascetics known as Dandi Panths; and nearby is the very popular Hanuman Ghat. Harishchandra Ghat is a cremation ghat - smaller and secondary in importance to Manikarnika - and one of the oldest ghats in Varanasi. Above it; Kedar Ghat has a shrine popular with Bengalis and South Indians. Mansarowar Ghat was built by Raja Man Singh of Amber and named after the Tibetan lake at the foot of Mt Kailash; Shiva's Himalayan home. Someswar Ghat (Lord of the Moon Ghat) is said to be able to heal diseases. The Munshi Ghat is very photogenic; while Ahalya Bai's Ghat is named after the female Maratha ruler of Indore. Varanasi's liveliest and most colourful ghat is Dasaswamedh Ghat; easily reached at the end of the main road from Godaulia Crossing. The name indicates that Brahma sacrificed (medh) 10 (das) horses (aswa) here. In spite of the oppressive boat-owners; flower-sellers and touts trying to drag you off to a silk shop; it's a wonderful place to linger and people-watch while soaking up the atmosphere. Note its statues and the shrine of Sitala; goddess of smallpox. Every evening at 19:00 an elaborate ganga aarti ceremony with puja; fire and dance) is staged here. A little further north; Raja Man Singh's Man Mandir Ghat was built in 1600 but was poorly restored in the 19th century. The northern corner of the ghat has a fine stone balcony and Raja Jai Singh II of Jaipur erected one of his unusual observatories on this ghat in 1710. Meer Ghat leads to a Nepali temple; which has erotic sculptures. Manikarnika Ghat is the main burning ghat and the most auspicious place for a Hindu to be cremated. Dead bodies are handled by outcasts known as doms; and they are carried through the alleyways of the old city to the holy Ganges on a bamboo stretcher swathed in cloth. The corpse is doused in the Ganges prior to cremation. Huge piles of firewood are stacked along the top of the ghat; each log carefully weighed on giant scales so that the price of cremation can be calculated. Each type of wood has its own price with sandalwood being the most expensive. There is an art to using just enough wood to completely incinerate a corpse. You can watch cremations but photography is strictly prohibited; and always show reverence by behaving respectfully. You're guaranteed to be led by a priest or guide to an upper floor from where you can watch cremations taking place; then asked for a donation towards the cost of wood (in dollars) - make a donation but don't be pressured into giving the outrageous sums demanded. Above the steps here is a tank known as the Manikarnika Well. Parvati is said to have dropped her earring here and Shiva dug the tank to recover it; filling the depression with his sweat. The Charanpaduka; a slab of stone between the well and the ghat; bears footprints made by Vishnu. Privileged VIPs are cremated at the Charanpaduka; which also has a temple dedicated to Ganesh.Dattatreya Ghat bears the footprint of the Brahmin saint of that name in a small temple nearby. Scindhia Ghat was originally built in 1830 but was so huge and magnificent that it collapsed into the river and had to be rebuilt. Ram Ghat was built by a maharaja of Jaipur. Panchganga Ghat; as its name indicates; is where five rivers are supposed to meet. Dominating the ghat is Aurangzeb's smaller mosque; also known as the Alamgir Mosque; which he built on the site of a large Vishnu temple erected by the Maratha chieftain Beni Madhur Rao Scindia. Gai Ghat has a figure of a cow made of stone upon it. Trilochan Ghat has two turrets emerging from the river; and the water between them is especially holy. Raj Ghat was the ferry pier until the road and rail bridge was completed here.