The Varanasi Contemplation
The unprecedented torrential rains hit across entire eastern Uttar Pradesh around the time of Basant Panchami, the last Shahi Snan. This resulted in massive disorder across Kumbha Mela, throwing life out of gear, making it harder for people to leave or enter the Mela area. We miraculously managed to get out of the Mela premises with minimal hindrances to our next destination, Varanasi.
Drenched in rain and feeling sick of the weather, food, and noise, we reached Varanasi in a painfully slow and filthy UPSRTC bus. It was still raining outside and we could see the mess the city was in. The roads were submerged in the rainwater nearly 2 feet deep, the traffic was entirely out of order (much more than normal times), lots of filth and garbage. Surrounded by people who have mastered the art of spitting paan and I knew I was in Varanasi – the holy city which hadn’t changed at all since my last visit 6 years ago.
After that horrendous escapade and tiring journey, the only thing I was eagerly looking forward to was our hotel, a hot shower, hot food, and a good night’s sleep. We had been without all these for about 10 days now. The weather the next day had changed dramatically with no rain and only got better as the day progressed. I could see the rush and inflow of pilgrims, tourists, and photographers who were slowly making their way into Varanasi from Allahabad and around. I didn’t do much except stroll the gullies of Varanasi exploring the old city and making plans for the next day shoot. I was making sure that I save some energy for the last two days of my stay here at Varanasi.
On the third day, I woke up early and headed towards the Ghats of Varanasi. Early mornings are the best time to witness and photograph the life around the Ghats. In Varanasi, the main attraction is always the Ghats – the series of stairs leading to River Ganges. For the Hindus, the Sangam is one of the most important holy places to bathe at least once in their lifetime. Once at the ghats, I didn’t whip out my cameras at once to start shooting but sat there observing, connecting, and contemplating the environment around me. I was able to sense an intense spiritual feeling around the ghats with busy pilgrims, priests, and various small temples and shrines. There were a surprising number of Japanese tourists also. At certain places, they outnumbered the locals. I spent nearly 4 hours around the Ghats just photographing and interacting with people and even saw a few Nagas and Babas whom I had seen in the Kumbha Mela. They obviously knew that after Basant Panchami, Varanasi is the place to hang out. Later, I wanted to explore the gullies of Varanasi, something I hadn’t done on my last trip. I randomly picked a narrow lane and went through some old gullies in search of that exquisite and centuries-old lane full of life. What I saw was a blend of both old and modern coming together at these old lanes of Varanasi. There were a lot of guest-houses, Japanese cafes, restaurants, self-proclaimed world’s best Lassi shops, Benares sweet shops, silk boutiques and so much more. I saw so much in so little time that I don’t even remember everything. Everything was chaotic, disorganized, filled with garbage, and walls were stained with paan, yet, I feel charmed of some sort that has brought me here and millions of others. Personally, I know a lot of people who have taken a lot of inspiration from Varanasi. This place has changed many people’s lives for good. It is heavily transcendental and probably surpasses the mundane perfection and vision. Thus, I continued my journey and stay for another day, taking images, and contemplating upon the holy city.