VARANASI — It is the black hours before dawn. The boat pushes out into the slow current. The ghats and towers of the ancient city are outlined in the light of dim electric bulbs and small fires. Those lights create a half circle of light over the river that fades into the black of the sky and the uninhabited sand-dunes of the other bank. It is quiet and my mind keeps whispering to me, “You are floating down the Ganges in the dark. You are finally here.”
There is the soft splash of the oars and I can hear the water drip from the wooden blades before they bite again into the flow. From somewhere behind us chanted Hindu prayers carry over the dark water of the holy river.
We glide by people bathing and praying on the darkened steps. The air is cold, cold enough that were I not consciously enjoying it after so long in steaming Bombay, that I would don a jacket. I shudder, imagining the icy waters carrying the Himalayan chill of their glacial beginning but when I plunge my left fist into the water I am shocked to find it very nearly hot.
The moment comes when the black of the madrugada shifts without warning to the first light of dawn, when you realize you can see beyond your cone of blackness. It is grey, then pink, then blue, then day.