Monday, October 8, 2012

Varanasi - I don't know where to start!!

Varanasi is like an unbalanced equation. How is somewhere so apparently neglected, little alleyways full of trash, where cows, buffalo, goats and dogs wander freely leaving their mark and hoards of people push and hustle, where the burning ghats cremate in the open air 24/7, where the Ganga powers through grey and hanging with toxic filth and everything and anything floating in it.......... be so incredibly and hauntingly beautiful!

Like so many things in India I have no answer. It's the most extraordinary, most amazing place I think I have ever been. Somehow it feels like you have touched the soul of India.

It's a full assault on the senses, even to someone having lived in India for nigh on two years.

Its a Hindu holy mecca. Bathing in the Ganga will wash away your sins. She purifies all she touches and if you are cremated on hers banks and your ashes washed away in her waters then you will find moksa and your soul will go straight to heaven (as opposed to being reborn in another form).

It's always been near the top of my places to see in India, but not somewhere I thought the kids would enjoy and may find too much, so what better than a photo workshop with some girl friends from Bangers! Away from the brat- pack for five days and four nights, never done that before. Do them good to have more "Dad" time and maybe they'll appreciate me more on return!

Photography on The Move (and we certainly did keep moving!!!), specifically Supriya and Vaibhav were our teachers/guides tho' they probably felt like they were  herding a class of hapless kindergartners around Varanasi.  They were great. We saw things we never would have seen by ourselves, experienced things no normal tour guides would have even suggested. We truly went off the beaten. And the photo opps, the help and instruction was really insightful....hopefully born out by my pics!!

Leaving the airport everything seemed much like the India we know and love in Bangers. Nothing strange, untoward, just India. But once we pull into town there are some differences less ex-pat looking cars, more ricks but bicycle power not diesel. And then the taxi stops by a sort of round about and we get out. No road access to our guest house (Gandapthi) but with our bags we enter the true Varanasi, the labyringth of little alleyways about 10 feet wide, shops on either side, food vendors, holy men, livestock. Its a real wow moment - this will be on our doorstep for the next 4 days. We are led to the guest house which I'm sure I'd never find again by myself and we are shown to our rooms.

This is our fist sight of the Ganges. She is a huge, huge, smooth, forceful but unhurried, expanse of grey. The river gets it's name from the goddess Ganga with which it is closely associated, obtained it's holy nature and it's female pronoun!! The story goes that the Ganga descended to earth from the heavens through Siva's long matted locks of hair. As her waters descended thus from the heavens hence she is also a vehicle of ascent. The goddess Ganga is depicted as a fair skinned beautiful lady holding a virgin white lily. Hardly encapsulated by the murky grey of her namesake! There have been several futile attempts to clean up the Ganga which have been marred by both inefficiencies and corruption, earning her the infamous position as the second most polluted river on this planet. Pollution arises from the unregulated factories along her banks and the over crowded cities that can't manage their own waste so it pours untreated into her waters.

I did dip my big toe into the grey and lived to tell the tale. One of the wisest people I know commented on my fb post referring to the experience of my appendage in the Ganga - "did you touch her or did she touch you?" And that really sums it up - whatever your church or creed there is indeed something unexplainably beautifully mystical that feels like it reaches to the soul of incredible India in this place.

We have dinner on the roof top restaurant looking out over the slowly moving grey whilst spying up and down stream the riverside ghats - of which there are many and which we are all itching to explore, cameras in the morning.

Beware - I have lots to say and many pics - so there could be a lot of Varanasi blogs to come!!


  1. IT WAS SUCH A FANTASTIC TRIP!! Loved doing it but it was especially great doing it with you!

  2. By the way, congrats on the Top Expat Blog Bangalore award!!