One of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism and Jainism, this is Varanasi, “the city of lights.” There is no doubt that this is a vivid and captivating place. To me, it’s probably the most fascinating region I’ve ever been to and photographed.
This is a continuation of my prior post, basically a recap of last’s year India photo tour. I co-led this trip for Digital Photo Mentor, and you can see the previous post here. This was my second time in Varanasi; the pictures of when I first visited and how I felt are in this post. It honestly didn’t change much the second time around. The way I observed things was different, but what I experienced was similar to my first visit, so it’s still a good read for someone who wants to know more about how it is and what to expect in Varanasi.
This time around, my trip coincided with the Dev Deepavali, a truly fantastic celebration. During the five days it lasts, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims flock to Varanasi to worship on the Ganges River. It’s known as the “Festival of Lights,” and the steps of the ghats on the Ganges are lit with more than a million earthen lamps. Strolling the ghats during the festival was just a breathtaking sight.
Varanasi is famous for many things: Sadhus, Aghoris, and Hinduism are undoubtedly some of them. The spirit of these people has always intrigued me, so I wanted to have an opportunity to photograph and do some portraits with some of them without being rushed. With that in mind and knowing I also wanted to have more access to locals, I hired a local fixer. The following portraits were made during an early morning on the Ganges. For the most part, I made those photos with a combination of available light and strobes, mainly used as fill.
The fishing village
Also, there is more to see beyond Varanasi and the main sights. Not far from the hustle and bustle, the peaceful villages around are worth checking out. I invariably enjoy exploring further, away from the tourists and landmarks. I always find interesting subjects to document and photograph. The following are some photos of a nearby fishing village. It was a fabulous morning; the people and families were very welcoming, and allowed us to create some lovely images.
Wandering in Varanasi
I wandered the city, visiting temples and akharas while making photos along the way. There are many possibilities, but most of the activities are around the Ganges. You can mostly walk up and down the river people-watching all day, but I’d say the best time is always very early morning (pre-dawn) and after sunset. During that time, the majority of the people are going out with their daily routines, taking dips in the river and so on. It’s hard to wake up every day at dawn, especially for those who are not used to it, but besides the people, you also get the bonus of fabulous light. Keeping all this in mind, if you plan to visit, it’s best to choose accommodations close to the Ganges.
Needless to say, I enjoyed it all. But walking the ghats at night inside a sea of people chanting, worshiping, and lighting candles and firecrackers is an experience I will never forget.
Varanasi never disappoints, I ticked off from my list some of the images I’d wanted to make since my first visit. But there is more to explore, more people to meet, and I can’t wait to go back. That will be soon, as I head to India to lead another photo tour this coming November 2019. Varanasi will be part of that trip as an extension, and if you want, you can join me. It’s a small group; we’ll have fun, learn photography, and make incredible memories if you are up to it. Click here to see all the details.
Most of the photos from this post were taken with the medium-format Fujifilm GFX50s and some with the Fujifilm X-T3. Both are my go-to cameras for travel. For strobes, I run with Godox with several modifiers.
If you are interested in getting prints or licensing any of the photos, click on this link. That’s all for now; feel free to comment, share, and ask questions.