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A Day In Varanasi

A+Hindu+priest+naps+in+the+morning+sun
A Hindu priest naps in the morning sun

A Hindu priest naps in the morning sun

A Hindu priest naps in the morning sun

Owen McCarter, Reporter/photojournalist

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Everyone has a different reaction when they see a multitude of burning corpses. Some people look away and become silent, some begin to gag as they realize the smoke they are inhaling is tainted with human flesh, some don’t know what to do at all. However, on the burning ghats of Varanasi this is a normal experience as bodies from all over the city are carried to the steps leading into the Ganges and burnt twenty-four hours a day.

As one of the most significant holy sites in both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, Varanasi attracts a prodigious amount of tourism and relies on visitors almost as much as the river for keeping a stable economy. The Ganges is the core attraction for outsiders, but it is also the heart and soul of the city. The people use the river for everything from bathing and washing clothes to disposing of the dead and tossing their garbage. There is a common lack of understanding of how damaging the chemically saturated water can be and some people still use it as drinking water.

Walking the ghats in the morning you see the bustling life of the city reach a calm as families come to bathe and wash their clothing. There is a communal hum of activity as the markets come back to life and Hindu priests begin their prostrations. Beggars with empty bottles of milk and crying babies flock to the more popular ghats in the hopes of finding wealthy tourists. Fruit glistening with droplets of water from the Ganges is pulled on large carts and sold with fervor by street vendors. The normally intense sound of car horns is nothing but a soft beeping in the distance.

Varanasi offers a different experience to each of its many visitors. Whether it’s a boat ride at sunrise to view the myriad temple spires or meandering the narrow serpentine alleyways, the holy city is filled with mystery and intrigue.

As night approaches the smell of incense is replaced by burning garbage, drowning your lungs in tendrils of smoke. The holy city takes on a new edge at dusk when its seedy underside crawls back out and spreads with vehemence throughout the streets. Lurid shadows are cast over small rings of gamblers tossing dice as wild dogs fight over bones in the dust. School boys converge under carts passing around forbidden bottles of alcohol. Religious reverence and kindness are replaced by a sense of depravity and sinful glee. However, as the night continues the streets slowly empty until silence permeates every corner. All must rest before morning prayers and life in the vibrant city begins again.

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Celebrating the Spirit and News of Monument Mountain
A Day In Varanasi