After an incredible 2 weeks I had the opportunity to gather everything I’d learnt for our final stop and Varanasi Street Photography adventures.

The Varanasi Experience – A Spiritual Respite on the Ganges

Indians from all over the country travel to Varanasi for a spiritual pilgrimage or to say goodbye to loved ones. Pilgrimages often involve bathing in the waters of the Ganges on the ghats (steps that lead down to the rive). With 84 ghats in Varanasi most are used for this purpose. But a select few are used as cremation sites. How death here was viewed and almost celebrated in such a public fashion was both fascinating and somber. Varanasi is also the oldest lived city in the world. Something I found added an extra sense of aw about the place.

For many Indians the river is seen as a mother figure whom they donate gifts to. During my time on the banks of the Ganges I saw gifts in the form of spices, flowers and coins. One morning, after watching a family throwing coins in the river I noticed a man standing next to me. In his hand he held a long string with a large magnet at the end of it. He would throw the magnet out into the river and then drag it back slowly in a movement that mirrored fishing. And he was doing this just over the spot where the family had been throwing their coins. I asked an old man sitting next to me if people where happy with this man taking their donations. He said “it’s not good, but it’s his business.”

Kite Fighting

An activity I thoroughly enjoined watching in the late afternoon in Varanasi was Kite Fighting. I’d first read about the sport in the book ‘The Kite Runner’. To witness it first hand was fascinating. On the ground you could see kids running along the banks of the river and darting through alleys with excitement – their voices and arms held high. From the rooftops you could sit back and watch the battle of the kites up close. Watching the kites dodge and weave in an attempt to cut each other’s strings.

Our 2 Week Street Photography Trip Was Coming To An End

For us Varanasi was the perfect city to finish with. The ghats along the river, even though busy, did offer a sense of calm at times. It was a nice place to recover a bit after what had been an intense 2 weeks. I think the photographing side of the trip had taken more out of us than we had expected.

Varanasi also offered us all a chance to bring together everything we’d learnt, both from each other and our own personal experiences on the trip, and use this to create some of our best work yet. Mostly I found I was able to slow down and focus more on my story telling elements.  I’ll talk more about this in my ‘behind the scenes‘ post.

Best locations for Varanasi Street Photography

  1. Ghats Along the River. Ghats are the steps leading down to the river that run all along the river. They are the centre point of religious activity in Varanasi.
  2. Sunrise rowing boat trip. I’d recommend a small rowing boat over the larger engine powered ones, if anything for the peace and quite. Negotiate a boat on the river the evening before.
  3. Narrow Streets in the Old Town. Just inland from the Ghats you have the old town of Varanasi which is a maze of narrow streets and alleyways.

Top Tips for visiting Varanasi

  1. Get up early. Be up just before sunrise to see Varanasi come alive around you.
  2. Have a local shave. I had a shave in the local barbers and my skin had never felt softer, which the gang can attest to. They also offer massages.
  3. Get a sunrise boat ride. As well as a good source of photos, it makes for a relaxing start to the day and nice way to view Varanasi.
  4. Boat? Boat? By far the most touristy city we visited, you will get a lot of touts along the ghats. The classic is the offer of a boat ride. Just be firm and polite. I found the best response was “I’ve already been on a boat ride today”.
  5. Beware of the Dominos. Over the 2 weeks we ate Indian food 90% of the time. One of the few times we didn’t, involved a Dominos Pizza. It was the only time any of us got food poisoning.
  6. Cow’s Right Away. One of the many surreal experiences of Varanasi is walking down a small alley and having to give right of way to a Cow wondering down the other way. In India cows are considered sacred so it’s best to treat them with respect (Andy this one is for you).