VARANASI AT SUNRISE 1
Two colorful boats moored along the edge of the River Ganges during the early sunrise hours.
Intro: On our second morning walking along the Varanasi ghats at sunrise, I felt far more comfortable with the whole experience, and had the confidence to not only approach people for portraits, but also soak up all the tiny details of this holy city.
A local Indian woman walks through the rubbish sprawled across the Varanasi ghats, towards the River Ganges.
When it came to the Varanasi ghats at sunrise, who knew so much could take place in such a short period of time? This was our second morning in Varanasi, and unlike the previous one when I had woken up super early to capture some pre-dawn shots, I now realized that wasn’t necessary, considering how close our hotel was to the river. Charlene and I decided to “sleep in” and started our walk along the Ganges River right around sunrise at about 6AM.
A barber shaves an elderly pilgrims head on the Varanasi ghats during our sunrise walk along the River Ganges.
The great thing about staying by the Ganges River is that not only are you only a few hundred feet away from all the photogenic activities (pilgrims bathing, locals doing laundry, kids in school), but if you end up taking the same walk a few times, then most of the locals start to remember you and are more comfortable letting you take photos of them. In addition, you’ll also start paying attention to the little details even more. For example, on the second day of walking along the ghats, I noticed a barber giving another man a shave. Maybe he was there the previous day, but I totally didn’t notice him.
Hindu students from a nearby school perform an early morning ritual along the edge of the sacred Ganges River.
On the second day, I was far more comfortable going up to some of the local people (both kids and adults) to talk to them and eventually ask for a portrait. This was a big contrast to our first day in Varanasi when I had been more cautious and just wanted to get a feel for the “lay of the land” – what happened at particular ghats, how close I could get to certain my subjects, what and whom I was allowed to take photos of, and when was the best lighting available.
A curious Hindu student turns to look at my camera during his early morning rituals beside the River Ganges.
Speaking of lighting, you’d think a mere thirty minutes don’t make that much of a difference, but in fact the lighting at 6:30AM was far softer and more ethereal than at 7AM. Certainly by 8AM or so you’re pushing your luck with the quality of light as it became quite harsh and hot. I noticed that the best window of light was in fact from about 6AM to 7:30AM. Even in that hour and a half so many activities were simultaneously taking place that I felt like if I had put my camera down even for a moment, I would have missed out on something special.
Although I’ve talked a bit about the photographic side of our sunrise walk along the ghats, this article is more about how I noticed certain activities on our second day that I didn’t the day before, and how I was more ready and comfortable in capturing them. One such example was a large group of kids going to school just north of the cremation ghat.
Young Hindu students doing an early morning yoga practice along the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi.
Every morning they would race down a set of stairs from the school, sitting high above the Ganges River, and embark on a routine of rituals that ranged from doing a bit of yoga and letting out loud voices of laughter, to reading their scriptures and walking around in a huge circle. Observing the students go about their learning was our absolute favorite moment that morning. I’m sure this event might be mundane to the locals and domestic pilgrims, and perhaps even to other foreign tourists, but for Charlene and I it was a really authentic and heartfelt experience.
A local Indian man washes clothes in the waters of the Ganges, during our early morning walk along the Varanasi ghats.
Besides taking my time walking along the ghats and paying closer attention to the events around me, one of the other things I did that second morning in Varanasi was actually go down to the waters of the Ganges River, amongst all the workers washing clothes and the trash floating alongside. I wanted to capture the so-called “realness” of this holy city, and I found its beauty in a variety of ways. As far as actually getting in the water and taking a “bath” with the pilgrims, you’ll have to read the next article to find out :).