I wake to the sound of my alarm. It's 4 in the morning and the room is dark. The room smells of stale cigarette smoke and my mouth is dry with the subtle after taste of the Indian Whisky that is still lingering from the night before. I switch the alarm off my phone, with only noise remaining now being the slight hum of the ceiling fan. I grab my camera bag, brush my teeth and I am out the door.
Dawn has not broke yet, and it is still dark. There are few street lights where I am at in Varanasi.
My fixer is so punctual. Never late, always before me and always keen to share a cigarette when explaining where we are going. It is my second day in Varanasi. A storm passed the night before and the ground is still wet. The air is damp, thick and humid. It is reaching sunrise and the city is slowly getting more luminescence from the horizon.
We are exploring the Ghats today, starting at Assi Ghat. It is believed that the act of bathing in the Ganges purifies the body and cleanses your soul of sin. Many people in this ancient city begin there day on the Ghats of the Ganges. A morning ritual for many. We begin on foot down onto the river banks. Many of the roads are not paved and the walkways are muddy. The ground is still a little soaked from last nights rain. The mud is messy and slippery to walk on. The heals of my shoes flick mud onto the back of my legs. It has a melted chocolate like consistency. I could smell the funeral pyres on the river banks. We were close. It was here where I went on boat to get a different view of the city, one that is a non intrusive view of life on the Ghats and the cremation ceremonies. It was nearly light now as the boat got off.
During that moment it was still all so quiet. The oars ploughed in and out of the water, driving us forward as we passed the funeral pyres on shore. I could hear the fires crackle and rage illuminating the surroundings with a flickering like glow. The boat bobbed up and down giving me a rivers perspective of the Ghats of Varanasi. The sun was pretty much up and about now and it is in this moment I begin to see the city starting to come alive. Starting its day. People bathing. People praying. People chanting. I put my camera away for a while. I just wanted to take in the moment and take in the sights. The morning light was so delicate and warm. The city looked so intriguing. The river banks were covered in a slight haze that lifted as the sun got stronger.
I got off the boat and helped the boat man tie his boat to the jetty. A Sadhu approaches us and gives us all a blessing. He puts some some red ointment onto our foreheads. Sadhus are holy persons of Hindu or Jainistic faith who have renounced the worldly life. Some practice asceticism and solitary meditation, some others are involved in group praying, chanting or meditating. Many that I met through my travels loved to spend their days in the shade, smoking pot, getting high and experiencing life. These types of practices are taken part by Sadhus in their quest to better understand their own spirituality. I could not say that we are all spiritual, but we all share something in common in that we are all trying in our own way to better understand the world we are living in. The Sadhus of Varanasi are so interesting to photograph and also, to get to know.
I spend the rest of the morning photographing the streets and alleyways of the city. The street food is amazing here. Mainly vegetarian. I found this great place near Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple that serves a great Malai Kofta. This is paneer kofta balls in a onion like gravy.
It is near midday and the sun is now at the highest point in the sky. The heat from the sun is intense. It has now evaporated the puddles left by last nights storm, bringing a hot, humid and sticky type of heat. I take off my camera backpack and my back is wet with sweat. I start to make my way back to my accomodation. I flag a tuk-tuk. Air passes me like a warm air dryer as I am riding back. I look around and notice that the once quiet morning streets are now alive and bustling with cars, trucks, motor bikes and free roaming cattle.
I reach my room and turn on the fan. I have a cold shower, cleaning off the mud and sweat from the morning. I have a stash of cold Kingfisher beer in the fridge and pack of Suriya cigarettes to keep me busy as I wait until the afternoon as I plan to photograph the Ganges at sunset.