Friday, November 12, 2010

Beautiful, Ugly Varanasi

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Varanasi is a very interesting place. Both beautiful and ugly, serene and insane, it is a city of contradictions rolled up next to a holy river.

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And I'm pretty sure the insanity is all the time and not just related to the fact that we were there over Diwali.

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Basically we just absorbed it all. We didn't go anywhere specific, we just walked along the river or in the alleyways, taking photos and observing.

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Varanasi is the oldest continuously settled city in the world. And, frankly, it looks it. It is also probably India's holiest city, as Hindus from all over the country bring their much loved, but recently departed, relatives there to be burned in the 3,000 year old Shiva fire. You will find no photos of the burning ghats in my massive collection of photos from Varanasi -- tourists are asked not to take them. Considering they allow us to go and see the fires and the rituals connected to this tradition, I was happy to oblige and not take photos.

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That said, we took two boat rides that definitely afford you an angle of the river where you feel you can take photos mercilessly. Alex's mother came with us -- a professional photographer. I've decided one of the many reasons I'll never be a pro is that I'm too sensitive to my subjects. Professionals (at least all the ones I've met) just get in there and get the shot they want. A little of that rubbed off on me in Varanasi, but I don't think it will last.

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Every night they have a very large puja at the river. Luckily this ceremony was done just steps from our hotel, so we saw it both nights we were there.

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But the best part of the weekend was just finally seeing Varanasi. It definitely lived up to expectations.

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And to see more Indian tourists than foreigners!

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