Around 1 pm on June 3, there was hushed silence in the lane leading to Harishchandra ghat in Banaras.

Two men clad in white stood solemnly next to a bedecked corpse lying on a wooden stretcher. They were not priests, but hospital workers wearing PPE or personal protective equipment. They had accompanied the corpse of a coronavirus patient for cremation at the gas-powered crematorium near Harishchandra ghat. This was the fifth confirmed coronavirus-related death in Varanasi.

Keeping safe distance were the doms, who conduct the traditional wood-fired cremations on the ghat. They have long resented the government-run crematorium. But for now, they are relieved they do not have to deal with the bodies of the coronavirus-dead.

What happens when a new virus enters one of India’s oldest cities and poorest regions? We bring you a week of dispatches from eastern Uttar Pradesh, as Varanasi, Banaras, Kashi, finally emerge from two months of lockdown.

Nothing can be more cliched than starting the story of Banaras from the Harishchandra ghat. Its burning funeral pyres set against the backdrop of the river Ganga have for centuries drawn travellers in a kind of morbid fascination, with writer after writer returning with florid descriptions of the smell of burning flesh, the embers...

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