This is Varanasi - Suitcase Magazine


Varanasi (or Benares) is one of the oldest and holiest cities in the world. Sitting on the banks of the river Ganga, it has been has been a cultural centre of North India for several thousand years. It’s the most important city for Hindus because they believe that death in the city will bring salvation, making it a major centre for pilgrimage. Every Indian Hindu wants to die in Varanasi and be cremated on the banks of the holy river.

But that’s not the only reason why I wanted to see Varanasi. The city is known for its many ghats, embankments made in steps of stone along the river bank. The place where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions and where locals gather in the evening to relax and play.

It’s a mesmerising place. I love experiencing daily life and walking along the river Ganga is the kind of barrage on the senses that I’m always looking for when photographing a place. Kids play cricket, men cards and women wash clothes in the river. The air is thick with smoke coming from the cremation pyres and cows and goats roam around looking for food. And vendors are constantly trying to sell you their merchandise

The plan was to visit Varanasi for two nights but I ended up staying almost a week. Every day, I had the same routine in the evening, walking up and down the river Ganga photographing life and death. It’s a great place not only to take photos but also to absorb the rich history and reflect on your own life.

—Joris Hermans