india: train to varanasi and my first day in varanasi

my 33 hour train trip from mumbai to varanasi was illuminating. i passed through different cultures, languages, customs and people. most of the mirathi i had learned in maharashtra was rendered useless. not a huge loss. i think i can survive without saying, “i’m a good boy” and “this isn’t right, brother.”

i was lucky enough to sit with a small family. we all shared food and attempted to communicate through charades. it was a very pleasant, albeit very LONG, trip. upon arriving at the varanasi train station, i was surprised that i wasn’t hassled by touts immediately. i had heard so many bad things about varanasi’s problem with touts (people who heckle you for your money). i hooked up with a great guide immediately, dropped off my stuff at the guesthouse and started shooting immediately.

unfortunately, the ganges river was very high due to an extended monsoon season in northern india this year. i’ll just have to come back and shoot again!

so many people smoke in india. i don’t even notice it anymore.

touts with class.

not only do the people in AC compartments have climate control, they have their very own air fresheners, too!

my first venture into non-AC coach compartments. HOT and CROWDED.

people even resort to sleeping on the luggage racks.

brushing teeth indian style.

laundry from above.

this guy sweeps the ENTIRE train.

this blind guy had the most beautiful voice. but people had no qualms ramming into him to get by.

the train only stopped 5 times!

abandoned town.

my view of the ganges river from my room at ganpati guesthouse. amazing.

my view in the other direction.

early morning on the way to make pooja at the ganges.

my first look at the ghats of varanasi.

bathing and praying in the ganges.

varanasi is a very auspicious place to die in india. this ancient holy city is believed to be a direct connection to the gods. by being bathed in the ganga and cremated here it is said that one is cleansed of sins and will break the cycle of life and death.

the bodies are brought to the city any number of ways. bus. rickshaw. car. cart. once they reach the gullies that are too narrow for cars, they are carried by hand to the burning ghats.

the body is blessed and bathed with incense before it is carried into the narrow alleys of the old city.

the men are very strong as they pronounce their mantra.

women are not allowed to the burning ghats for fear that they will immolate themselves in their overwhelming state of grief.

chanting the mantra “nam ram satya he” (the name of ram (god) is truth).

death is a very public affair.

the brother of the deceased follows the body to the cremating ghat with help from family.


dousing the body in holy ganga water.

it takes about 3 hours for a body to burn.

at the burning ghat, they cremate 200-300 bodies 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

~ by jacobbmurphy on September 30, 2010.

6 Responses to “india: train to varanasi and my first day in varanasi”

  1. Seems like I can never say anything more than “wow” in response to your posts. The one with the grieving woman… awards could be won for that. Amazing.

  2. This is one of the best posts you have made during your travel in India

  3. chills, bro. chills. magnificent. and i never use that word

  4. ya no any doubt Varanasi is holy city ,but time is come to avoid this burning program of human body long away form gang because its create pollution all over gangs. —

  5. frnd i m also from mumbai but i m banarasi this is what u showed us real varanasi the holy city of temples

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