Varanasi: The Climax

We were warned about Varanasi. We were told to embrace its spiritual intensity. We were advised to eat conservatively after meeting countless travelers with tales of long, strange illnesses. It’s safe to say that we already had complex images of the place, full of monks, burning bodies, waterborne diseases, long sunsets, and a wide river with a desolate other bank before ever setting foot on the ghats. Were all of our preconceptions confirmed when we arrived? Mostly. But still, nothing really can prepare one for the real thing. Varanasi is many things. The ghats are places of holy gathering, places to marry, to die, to drink and to bathe, places to get a hair cut or a massage, to gamble, to study. In that sense Varanasi is, above all else, a spectacle. The Ganges seems to breathe on its own, to pulse, to hide and reveal things. Unlike the stillness of lakes and the sheer infiniteness of the ocean, rivers have another kind of presence. They inhabit a place like a ghost. And Varanasi feels full of ghosts. We could have stayed longer but the days we had, spending them as we did seated on the ghats watching life in its many stages unfold in ghastly and beautiful ways, were enough to last a lifetime. After over three months in India, accustomed to the pace, the hordes, the colors, we were nevertheless stunned and surprised by this most holy Hindu city.

the ghats

alone in a crowd, a frequent feeling

starstruck crowds watching two filmi celebrities enter the Ganges with trepidation

boat strike means time to repair


the newlyweds

the teacher

the masseur

the malformed

the barber

the sadhu

evening puja

defying the boatmen’s strike

the garland seller


the charmer

walking death

the students

the vendor



“I’m not here, you don’t see me”

Benares silk

the players

the weaver


who has the right of way?


getting into Indian politics


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