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Archive for the ‘Benares’ Category

Clever Cow

from outside a cafe i frequent in varanasi – –

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I adore dogs. Actually I am fond of all animals. But dogs share a special place in my heart. Their social nature, their devotion, their companionship – D-O-G / G-O-D

This dog wanted someone to play with. In his excitement he started rubbing his head in my hair.

One of the most difficult things about being in India is seeing the condition of the dogs, most of whom are feral, street dogs that spend their days scavenging for food and their nights roving in packs. I often hear them fighting amongst themselves in intimidating territorial barks. During the day many of them can be found standing at perfect attention in front of shops or eateries, hoping a benevolent soul will share something with them.

Last night I sat on the ghats feeding a scrawny white dog some chapati. The dog was initially reluctant and leery of me; they are often abused so are naturally reserved. But once she realized I was a friend she ate the bread with a fervor, and was soon joined but what look liked her sibling who wanted to be fed too. Afterwards she sat next to me in appreciation and let me pet her tiny head. Before taking leave she held up her paw and held my hand with perfect grace and camaraderie. A beautiful display of affection. The young guy sitting next to me said the dog could feel the love.

The dog situation is particularly painful in Varanasi where I’ve been told sterilization is not legal because this is a holy city. Therefore, there are puppies everywhere. Everywhere.

This pack of puppies does not look to be doing well. It has been very cold here so they lay near or in the warm embers of a fire pit.

This is one of the puppies from the above pictured pack. I found it strange to see a full crockery of milk sitting untouched next to them. They almost appear to lethargic to imbibe in it. Very sad.

This doting mom of new puppies has her home on a pile of fly-infested garbage. It broke my heart to see them in this state.

I found this large pack of two families sleeping inside the entrance of a temple.

I encounter a number of very pitiful looking dogs; this being one of them. I’ve noticed that the sickest looking dogs hang out around the sweet shops.

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I’m in Varanasi, one my favorite places in India. I’m staying in Assi Ghat where I lived when I was here in 2006. It’s the southern most ghat on the Ganges.

Each section, referred to as a ghat, has steps that lead down to the river.

One of my primary reasons for returning to Varanasi, also known by it’s ancient name Benares, is to photograph each ghat from the shores of the river, up the steps, and through the winding alleyways that lead into the bustle of the city.

A project that could take some time with the multiple ghats, I didn’t get to it during the six weeks I was here last time because the sadhus (holy men) came to town after the Kumbh Mela gathering. Instead I spent time getting to know and photographing them.

Another great way to see the ghats is from a boat. When I switched hotel rooms the morning after my arrival, my luggage was fetched and moved by way of boat. The morning glide offered a perspective of life on the ghats from the eye of the Ganga.

Flying kites is a favorite past-time with the children playing on the ghats. These boys were offering a slightly different variation then I’ve seen before with their knickers hanging low.

The pollution levels in the holy river have reached staggering proportions; it has been declared unfit for human bathing. It is however, a practice that continues unabated; both natives and pilgrims alike partake of its sacred waters. Bathing and laundry soaps have been banned, but that does not stop them from being used. The Ganga washes bodies and clothes, as well as sins, dishes and water buffalo.


One of the most important applications of ‘Ma Ganga’ is the release of the deceased. It is believed that moksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirth) is attained if the Ganges is one’s final resting place. Unfortunately, bodies are only partially burned when put into the river, adding to the pollution problem.

There is also industrial waste, urban waste water, and raw sewage contributing to the contaminated waters. The Ganga, the most populous river basin in the world, has become the breeding ground for 1.5 billion litres of sewage a day, from the 692 villages, towns, and cities that deposit into it. Dr. Sudhirender Sharma, in his paper The Ganga, says ‘The river – an ancient symbol of purity and cleansing has become a great open sewer along much of it’s length.’

Yet, with all the pollution and impurity the Ganga has swirling in her waters, to be near the river creates a tranquility, a sense of timelessness. But Sharma and others campaigning to save the Ganga, wonder for how much longer.

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It’s hard to say what made Benares, said to be the oldest of all cities, feel so otherworldly. But I imagine it had something to do with the Ganges River, and the Sadhus who were there after the Kumbh Mela celebration had ended in the neighboring city of Allahabad.

Benares, also called Varanasi, is referred to as the ‘city of death’. Some migrate to the banks of the Ganges as they approach old age so their ashes will become part of the river, hoping to avoid rebirth. It is purported that to have the Ganges as one’s final resting place removes them from the cycle of earthly incarnation. Old, withered widows line the narrow streets of the Ghats, arms outstretched shaking their metal bowl, begging for alms.

As I sat on the bank of the Ganges in a world that I was sure must have been a figment of my elaborate imagination, or perhaps a dream, I wondered, what is this life about. Why are we here? Why was I in this place? The only answer that came, each time that I’d ask, was that I allow myself to fully see and feel the suffering, open my heart to it, and endeavor to help alleviate it, in whatever small way that I can. And though small it may seem, it is important to remember that each of our deeds is like a drop in the Ganges that makes up a mighty river that carries souls to heaven/nirvana.

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