The guidebooks paint an unpleasant picture of Varanassi, much like Agra, warning you of all the touts and how crazy the streets will be. In reality, after Rajasthan, Varanasi was a breath of fresh(ish) air. But then our guide book is seven years old and things can change in tourism very quickly once a trail appears.
We spent a full day walking along the Ganges and seeing the sights, it is most definitely an overload to the senses. In one glance you will see bodies burning while goats eat some of the funereal offerings and someone else washes on the edge of the river among the human ash. After everything else you see the dead bodies seem so much less shocking. It is the overwhelmingness of the situation which almost makes everything fit. If you saw a funeral pyre in London along the Thames it would seem much stranger.