Varanasi is the India of your imagination. This is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities, and one of the holiest in Hinduism. It is also a paradise for photographers.
I love this city – it is busy, overcrowded and dirty, filled with tourists during the winter months, very hot during the summer, but also one of the most photogenic cities in India. The city is build along the river Ganga. She is a sacred river for the Hindus and you can see traditional religious rituals and bathing occurring at all times of the day. The western crescent-shaped bank of the River Ganga is flanked by a continuous stretch of 84 ghats, or series of steps leading down to the river, stretching for almost 7 kilometres. These ghats were built by Hindu kings who wanted to die along the Ganges, and they built lofty palaces along the river, to spend their final days there.
Waking up at 5 a.m. is never easy, but photographing along the ghats as the sun rises is a magical experience.
Photographing in Varanasi is always a pleasure. There are numerous photo opportunities and no matter how much time I spent there it never seems enough. Waking up at 5 a.m. is never easy, but photographing along the ghats as the sun rises is a magical experience. There are no tourists, locals go around their morning rituals performing surya namaskar (saluting the sun), dipping in the cold river and bathing themselves. Fires burn at the Manikarnika ghat as they have burned for centuries. Slowly the city wakes up and boats start filling the river with people eager to see the sunrise.
Young couples looking for some privacy from the never ending hustle and bustle in the city, start coming to the ghats to enjoy the rising sun and each others company.
Soon the people are everywhere, tourists taking photos, locals going about their business, kids running around, dogs and monkeys, street vendors, masseurs and barbers. The smell of food and chai is overwhelming. The boat paddlers seems to never tire to engage the passers in a conversation in the hope of bringing them to their boats for a tour. If you are somebody who have little patience and likes not to be bothered, a day in Varanasi will feel like and assault on all senses. For photographers it is paradise!
In the late morning you can go see the wrestlers at Tulsi ghat. It is a calm place, well hidden from the usual tourists routs, but easily accessible from the river. You can see them training and if you are lucky fighting.
When I get tired of walking the ghats from side to side I book a boat and go on the other side of the river. There the fun never stops – wedding celebrations, camel and horse rides and bathing at the shallow waters.
When the night falls you have a few options – go to a roof top restaurant and enjoy the view, take a boat and observe the evening aarti (ceremony) from the river or mix with the locals and tourist at the main ghat and watch from up close. You can’t go wrong doing either one of them 🙂
My advice – go to bed early! The life in Varanasi starts before 4:00 am 🙂