I had been dreaming about coming to the holy city of Benares (better known as Varanassi) where the sacred Ganges river lay, ever since one of my professors in university had painted this majestic picture of his trip there 5 years ago during a lecture on Hinduism. He spoke of his travels with such passion, as though he had undergone some sort of transformation there that had left him mystified that a city could awe him this way. I decided I would surely make my way to the Great Ganges one day to discover all the mystery of these sacred waters for myself.
As soon as I arrived in Delhi I wasted no time in arranging my travel plans to Benares. After standing in line for 3 hours at the train station I managed to get the last foreigner ticket out, and in true Indian style I squished into a 4 bunk cabin with a family of 6. In fear of being harassed as a solo female traveler, I smothered myself under a blanket to avoid all contact. I clutched on to my purse tightly and stuffed my headphones in my ears drowning myself in 12 hours of Michael Jackson and Hed Kandi; tra la la la la… here I come Benares.
Coming out of the station I was warmly greeted by one of my dear friends’ Aunt and Uncle who had welcomed me to stay with them while he would also be visiting from Dubai. In India they say “The guest is God” and my experience staying with their family was nothing short of it. I was pampered all weekend long in sweets, savouries and stories. We ate the flakiest samosas soaked in dollops of tangy amla chutney, the creamiest pineapple rasgula, the freshest gelabi, and the tenderest crispy puris. They shared tales of mischief in their younger days and warm memories of what life was like growing up in a joint family with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins to pass their days with. As they reminisced with me, they smiled with a silent sigh, remembering the simplicity and togetherness of their lives, one they perhaps longed for once again…
On the morning of my last day, we woke up at dawn and rushed to the dock of the Ganga (better known as Ganges) to ensure we secured a boat and boatsman so we would be just in time to catch the sunrise. By 5am we set out onto the waters in the dark and watched as the locals living along the river began to prepare for their day ahead. They chatted and giggled as they bathed together in the holy waters. They styled their hair, fastened their lungis and saris, and chanted prayers.
As the sun began to sprinkle into Benares I paused and closed my eyes for a moment. I hoped I wasn’t just dreaming and that my reality was sailing on one of the holiest rivers in the world with my dear friend, his family, and the soothing sounds of peaceful prayer all around us. When I opened my eyes I found myself in awe, mystified that the universe could move me this way…
Although I hope to mystify and awe you through my pictures, the experience of embracing the spirit of the city in the present is simply incomparable. Like most Indian cities, Benares was filled with ironies, paradoxes, delicious foods and shocking behaviours, but I wanted to focus on capturing the beautiful and honest aspects, everything that made me believe it to be the Great Ganges.
Until then, Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti