It’s five in the morning in Varanasi, India. A gray sky turns gold at the edges as we twist through a maze of bumpy lanes. The only sounds are the squeaky wheels of our rickshaw, the shuffling of cows as they meander along a dusty road, and the opening of windows as an ancient neighborhood stirs. The rickshaw stops and we are directed to what looks like an alley. Soon, we emerge from the shadows of the labyrinth and stand before one of the oldest and most dramatic panoramas known to man. The early rays of dawn paint the Ganges River with a silvery-orange glow and infuse everything with an ethereal radiance. The temples and pale pink buildings that line the river. The weathered stone steps of the ghats. The musty row boats that bob in the water. The vermilion dots on women’s foreheads. The vivid red, green, purple and orange saris of the Indian pilgrims on their way to bathe in the sacred river at daybreak. As we take it all in, little chills slide up my spine.
Photo credit: Bob Riel