For many, it needs no introduction. Varanasi: The holiest of holy places in India, where Shiva and Ganges meet. People pilgrim by the millions each year to bathe in the waters of the Ganges River, believing that their sins will be washed away. People’s bodies are even shipped to the ghats to be cleansed and then burned, sending their ashes downstream.
But to me it isn’t the spirituality of the place that was mesmerizing. It was the people. Confined by narrow streets that seem to have no organization, people are forced through a labyrinth that all but resembles a dream. The ancient maze-like network presented a new sight around each corner and with every step, a new smell. The sounds also reverberate through the narrow streets, entering one’s soul and never letting go. When I would fall asleep, thinking of the people I had met, sounds of the mystical world that is Varanasi would not cease to permeate the walls.
If there is one place that has captured my mind more so than a spellbinding landscape it is the Old City. Here I became accustomed to being lost. At one moment I recognized my location, and in two steps, I was unsure. But I was fearless for the sights were bewildering. The grunge of the city, without touching it, was palpable. There was an air about the place; it radiated history. People have been living in the same fashion for thousands of years and to experience it firsthand has had an impact I don’t believe I will fully understand for years to come.
If I hadn’t gotten sick, I believe I would have stayed longer. But after three days of aching joints, constant toilet visits and a running fever, the intensity of the city became overbearing. I forced myself to wander the streets nonetheless. But after seven days, I had to leave.
As a photographer, I know I have only scratched the surface. Morning placidity, stark shadows and raw emotion – visually the city has everything!
The Paneer Maker