The spiritual capital of Hinduism is believed by some to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world.
As you meander through the ancient labyrinth of alleyways, there’s a good chance you’ll run into a funeral procession, which is usually just a group of men carrying a corpse on a stretcher, heading to the burning ghats on the banks of the holy Ganges river where the body will be burned in order to be released from samsara (the reincarnation cycle).
Like its fellow holy city Pushkar, Varanasi has a temple at nearly every corner, and the ghats (steps leading down to the river) are filled with people bathing, in the water that is as contaminated as it is holy.
Water buffalo occasionally storm through the streets and down the steep concrete steps, equally as zealous as the devotees for their chance to bath in the Ganges.
Vibrant murals and hand-painted signs line the streets and the brightly colored buildings along the river bank contrast the brown and mysterious river.
At nightfall, the main ghat turns into a giant aarti ceremony, complete with torch-like lamps and boats full of people to witness this daily ritual and offering to deities.
Varanasi is a city that embodies the circle of life. Death is constant and commonplace, as this is the preferred place for Hindu people to die. The scattering of cremation fires along the banks of the city and the smell they produce keeps death lingering in the air and forces you to consider one of life’s mystery that people have grappled with and conjectured about since the development of intelligent thought: what (if anything) happens when you die.
See some of my favorite photos below.