Varanasi, the "City of Lights", is the spiritual capital of India and the ultimate pilgrimage destination for the world's billion followers of Hinduism. It is also regarded as the birthplace of Buddhism, where Gautama Buddha presented his first sermon, in nearby Sarnath.
Varanasi is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, and has also been known by its ancient names of Benaras or Kashi. It has been a world center for intellectual and spiritual development for over two thousand years.
During this optional extension to A Photographer's Journey in Rajasthan, we explore the ghats, the massive staggered steps and platforms that contour along the banks of the holy Ganges River. Here, from dawn to dusk each day, an amazing human drama unfolds, as it has for millennia. The ghats host all manner of activity, from ritual bathing (ablutions) in the river to the Saddhus' (Hindu religious ascetics) meditations, ritualized cremation ceremonies, children playing, local people doing laundry or washing their animals and endless other activities, often coexisting in surprising juxtapositions!
The timing of our visit to Varanasi is especially auspicious - and photogenic, to coincide with three important multi-day festivals: Bharat Milap, Durga Puja and Dussehra. During festival time, the temples, ghats and alleyways of old Varanasi are heavily adorned with devotional offerings and the huge, elaborately constructed temporary shrines called pandals. The streets are bustling with groups of masked schoolchildren, dressed up as young gods from Hindu mythology. At dusk are the incredible Ganga Aarti performances at Dasaswamedh ghat; rows of young Hindu priests face the holy river and perform highly choreographed devotional fire offering to the Goddess Ganga, accompanied by live music and the deeply moving, rhythmic chanted prayers of the crowds.
Even for the veteran world traveler, Varanasi is an utterly unique and astounding experience - and a photographer's paradise.
This extension begins the morning after the A Photographer's Journey Through Rajasthan
tour ends in Delhi. Participation in the Three Festivals of Varanasi
extension is only open to students from the preceding Rajasthan tour. The tour will be co-lead by David Samuel Robbins and Abhishek Hajela of National Geographic India.