Thursday, February 2, 2012

Photos from the Holiest of Holiest Places in India: Varanasi

If there was one place in India where spirituality and religion take center stage, it would be Varanasi. Varanasi is a city in northern India that sits right on the banks of the most sacred river in all of Hinduism, the River Ganges. On this river, they bathe, they wash their clothes, they go about their daily lives, including performing the last rites for their dearly departed. For Hindus, to be cremated on the banks of the Ganga, their charred remains allowed to flow on the water, is to attain moksha and break the unending cycle of reincarnation and rebirth.

I learned in my very first day in this holy city how things are done here. What is shocking and rattling about India is magnified ten times in Varanasi. The foul smells, the filth, the abject poverty, the congestion. This is not to say that I hate Varanasi. I travel not to see what I set out to see but rather see what is there. And you sort of have to be ready for that sort of experience when you go to Varansi.

Clearly, I wasn't. But I had to be. I was not able to take a lot of photos for this leg of my journey. It was too hard to even get out of the hotel room. But the few photos I took, I consider them some of my best from India.

Varanasi, India
Quintessential Varanasi. One of the high walls flanking the river.

Varanasi, India
Difficult to believe that fish and other creatures still inhabit this polluted part of the Ganga.

Varanasi, India
The aarti ceremony is performed with the loud clanging of bells and
a choreography of candles every night at the Dasaswamedh Ghat.

Varanasi, India
Hard to tell if these boats are for fishing or the popular tourist activity that is cruising the river.
You want boat ride, sir/madam?

Varanasi, India
The very distinct Mughal style of the forts and structures
of this holy city by the River Ganges.

Varanasi, India
The banks of the Ganges come alive every morning, the sun illuminating the daily life
that seems to have eluded change for thousands of years.

Varanasi, India
Man prepares beads, necklaces and other trinkets he will be selling for the better part of the day.

Varanasi, India
Historically India's center of art, culture and literature, Varanasi is also the city of learning.

Varanasi, India
Old couple begins their day right on one of the ghats of the river.

* A few more photos can be found in my Flickr set, India: Varanasi.

Have you been to Varanasi? What did you think of it? Was your experience as intense as everybody else's?

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