After travelling from Delhi to Allahabad via Kanpur, I arrived in Varanasi looking for some peace. I had no aim but to relax while exploring the everyday life of one of the holiest cities in the world.
For years, I have been looking at photographs of Varanasi taken by fellow photographers, so when I made my first step onto its ghats, the whole scene was very familiar to me (a very weird feeling). Among them is Claude Renault a French photographer and friend who eventually joined me during my stay in the city. It was great to see him at work in his favourite country. We usually spent the morning on the ghats before roaming the old city in the afternoon. The old part of Varanasi is an extraordinarily colourful place where in the morning, the sun struggles to penetrate its lanes to light the wonderful textures of its walls. In its shady lanes, the crowd of pedestrians, groups of pilgrims, policemen on duty, children playing, wandering cows, stalls and shops, markets, street sellers, sound of bells and horns, smell of incense and flowers create a totally unique atmosphere for all the senses.
A bright light at the end of a lane may lead you to a ghat and the Ganges river bank. Here is another extraordinary part of the city where Indian culture and religion mixed together with some scenes of everyday life: pilgrims bathing and doing their puja, families around a burning body attending a Hindu funeral ceremony, Brahmen reading scriptures, sadhus meditating, men washing themselves or doing some morning exercises, dhobbies cleaning linen, women making bricks out of cow droppings, people drying pieces of linen, clothes or saris, souvenir sellers and chai sellers make the life of Varanasi’s ghats. Everything contributes to its atmosphere along with the special feeling created by the Ganges and the wild empty space opposite the ghats.
I didn’t come to Varanasi for the religious experience but I find a peaceful place that will certainly make me go back during my next visit to India.