“Do You Need a Guide Madam? You Will Have the Best Time! You Will See the Bodies Burn!”

27 Feb

First light on the Ganges, Varanasi.

India has overwhelmed every one of my five (or maybe six?) senses. Color and chaos, spice and fruit and chili explosions on my tongue and in my nostrils, views of unequaled exotic beauty juxtaposed in the same 12 inches with trash and animal waste and children wearing no shoes. An array of horns and engines and screams and animals and calls to prayer has assaulted my ears and entered my dreams in the middle of the night.

On the Ganges, Varanasi.

Sunrises are a time of day I don’t see very often – those few fragile moments when the monochrome grey of night awakens into color and life. A paint-by-numbers – just add the delicate morning light.

At the Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi.

Sunrise anywhere is an optical transformation – and in India, where my senses are experiencing unparalleled intensity, they are magic. We’ve been fortunate to capture this moment several times so far on this trip – some by effort, and some by the serendipity of an early train or bus, our unintentionally sleepy grumpiness dissolving into jaw-dropping astonishment.

Near the Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi.

I cannot possibly begin to understand the functioning structure of this society in any way – how the population and the religions and the occupations mesh together to form order in this frenetic daily pace. But I’ve been advised to suspend my general practical perceptions a little, and so, to observe: to be present and to smell and to taste and to witness.



On the Ganges, Varanasi.

For millions, one river holds a special place geographically, spiritually and metaphysically – the Ganges, a sacred waterway for activities my western mind would never categorize together: bathing and laundry, prayer and commerce and livestock, ice cream and cremation and snacks and paying tribute to the dead.



Sunrise, Varanasi.


And so it was that sometime while the sun was still tossing and turning in its bedsheets, we hailed a rickshaw and made that pilgrimage to the waters’ edge, through wooden stalls, over dirt roads, past locked storefronts, along with a somnambulic stream of those going to sell and those going to worship and those swinging cameras around their necks – to haggle a price for us all to board a painted wooden rowboat and bear witness to this inconceivable jumble of saris drying in the sun and monkeys jumping on rooftops and smoke rising from burning funeral pyres and the first apparition of a bright, red, Indian sun.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s