Varanasi is a crumbling city. Built upon the west bank of the river Ganges, the city slides, slowly, serenely, into the cinereal waters. Narrow boats slip between pilgrims and palaces to reach the holy ghats, the Hindi word for steps leading down to water. On some ghats, the dead are burned in massive pyres, filling the narrow alleys with sweet smells of spices, wood, and flowers. Lord Shiva is said to have founded the city and placed his mighty trident beneath its earthen foundation; the city is sacred for Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists.
I arrived here after a 14-hour overnight train ride from Delhi. Negotiating an auto-rickshaw ride in India is always an unusual experience for foreigners, as one haggles over what amounts to be a sliver of a single USD. Arriving at the hostel, with a room and balcony overlooking the Ganges, I turn south – the city appears muted against the harsh glare of the wide river. Pinks and greens and blues melt to the blinding white of the sun and the sandstone buildings turn the same ash color of the river. After the sunset, however, the color once again reemerges, set amidst thousands of candles floating in the river on flower wreaths and the hum of even more pilgrims bathing and chanting in the water.
Varanasi, halcyon and smooth, rests as it has for millennia, as the spiritual and the curious walk its ancient steps.
So bright outside – first view of hostel after 14 hour train tide from Delhi
Room balcony overlooking the Ganges
Hungry and thirsty
Exploring the ghats, a South Asian term for steps leading down to a holy water source
Crumbling yet colorful
Escaping the heat by the river
Unusual water tower structure jutting into the Ganges
The famed Dashashwamedh Ghat. According to legend, Lord Brahma sacrificed 10 horses in a sacred ritual on this spot. I return here later at night.
Flowers and incense to set upon the river at dusk
Slowing sliding into the muddy flats of the Ganges
Chaotic and colorful
Don’t wait for others to let you cross or else you never will
Dramatic prayer flag shot
Back at Dashashwamedh Ghat, people gather for a festival
Candles set upon floating wreaths of flowers
Gathering for the show
Chapati, biryani, vegetables, and sauces
The next morning, I wake before sunrise to take a boat ride on the Ganges as the morning glow lights the sinking city and the devout wash themselves in the holy river
Negotiation a price as the boatboy sits at the boy
Boats and the holy
I visited Varanasi during monsoon season; here, the water marks itself high upon the riverfront buildings
Others enjoying the city light up
Bathing in the (not-so-clean) river
Hindus believe it is auspicious to die in Varanasi. The dead are sometimes covered in linen, weighted with stones, and thrown into the holy Ganges. However, the ropes often break, leading to bodies of the dead floating slowly down the lazy river.
People and boats alike awash in the morning light
Varanasi is especially popular with Israeli tourists, especially those finishing their mandatory military service
Breakfast of shakshuka and chai; good, but the dish is better in Israel
Another night, another train; this time, 12 hours from Varanasi to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal