Dawn, Birds and Temples

It is a beautiful early morning on the Ghats of Kashi. Sitting on the steps of Ghats, you won’t see the boats parked on the bank for long as the birds flying over would catch your attention immediately to the calm blue sky. Bright streaks of orange converging to be one at infinity. As the birds fly higher into the otherwise empty sky, your gaze stops at the giant ball of fire that has just emerged from the other side of the river. The opposite bank has nothing but barren sandy land, alike the seashore, and a forest about half a mile ahead. Over the trees, the rises and signals the initiation of the morning Aarti.

I could have sat there for an hour and not get tired by the view, but it was time for what we were here, time to go on a boat ride. The boat would take the entire class to a journey through all the Ghats, 80 in total, and turnaround from the last Ghat, named Assi Ghat. The lack of sleep was taking it’s toll on me. And the freezing cold was only helping. But the view of the entire Ghats from the river, covered with the fog, was just out of the world.

We were out on the river to see the Ghats and to make the elevations of the Ghat. But the birds circling around the boats kept our attention for the entire ride. Throw them food and hundreds of birds circle around you not even a meter away. And due to the movement of the boat, you feel like you are flying with them.

 As we moved further, there was an unusual temple, it was below the ground, as if a section was cut through the Ghats, and the temple was visible. A yogi, or probably a care-taker was meditating on the balcony. The rays of the morning sun lit the entire temple which was already bright with the yellow paint. But this was unlike other tamples. This was not for the tourists. This was not for earning. This was a temple of a true pujari.  

There was a door next to the temple opening from which a pujari emerged, went down half a dozen steps to reach the river. Did some ritual prayers, and went back. The interesting thing about the whole place was that it was hidden from every prying eye of a tourist. It was just for the pujari. There was usual traffic over the temple, but none of it affected the pujaris meditation or prayer.

The photo shows how the three levels were completely separate, and the activities on each. I was lucky enough to tale a perfect shot with minimal traffic above and both the pujaris following their rituals.

The morning ride ended after nearly two hours and two hundred memories. I could say that putting the sleep aside and waking up early for the ride was worth it, but not for long! The day had just yet started!

Talisman, a street of Kashi

Lets start with a photo that has so many memories attached to it. The winter school had started with quite a few problems for me. Leaving home was the biggest of them all. The trains were a mess. The nights were chilly. 16 hours of travelling ended after a lifetime.

Varanasi showed its colours the moment I stepped out of the train. Gods and Goddesses everywhere. From the pillars of the station to the back of the rikshaws, there was no place where you wont find posters of gods, messages from Gita. But this wasn’t all.

Our study programme was basicaly mapping the ghats of Varanasi. The center of attraction. But the struggle was to reach to the ghats. From about a kilometer from the holy river, the city changed completely. Wide concrete roads of a well planned city turned into intricate network of narrow earthy paths. Widening as one moves towards the river, as if opening up to Ganga. Houses of all heights, all shapes and having openings of all types, could be found on the streets. Variety of colours, greens of the trees, with bright orange of the houses, and grey of the stone walls, all of this enhanced the experience of roaming around. Heaven for a photographer! But hell for women.

It was 2 in the noon, and I was roaming around the streets and measuring the width of the streets, dimensions of the houses that ran along it, and also observing the lifestyle of the people living on ghats. With an empty stomach, and tired legs, i decided to finally take rest after walking and sketching for hours. It was a narrow street. But there was something unusual about it. Even though the opening of the street had really old houses, the street started growing more modern as I walked through it. It ended abruptly and it ended with a really well built modern house, unlike any other streets. Also the quality of road showed the same change. The usual and uneven blocks of the road changed to flat and even cement. But more interesting than the road were the buildings. I sat on the plinth of a house facing the street on the chawk from where the street started. I opened my box of bhakhris and started with the much needed lunch. But I was focused on the street, something was unusual, something was bothering me about it.

I never knew when I finished the lunch box. I sat up and started clicking the street from different perspectives. But as I stood up, the street seem to loose all its charm. There was nothing interesting about it now. Though I clicked some shots, i was unsatisfied.

Finally I decided to sit on the same place again. And that’s when I found out what was the one thing that felt different. A strange sense of sequence. Though it seems really strange, but the sequence of the objects and the way everything was placed was making it something amazing. The foreground had the cart in the bottom left, followed by the bike, and the head of the bike directed attention towards the midground and the backdrop of the street. But the chain seemed to abruptly stop from there. Still the composition looked beautiful.

I decided to add to the composition. but there was nothing that I could put there. Then came a man from the house at the far end. He was walking towards straight towards me. This was when it struck me. I clicked the perfect frame where the handle of the bike directed towards the ‘model’ for the shot.

The sequence now seem to have found its lost piece. The man completed the link between the handle and the midground. And after him the background of well built houses emerged.

The colour ruined the sequence and composition of the shot. So I decided to grey scale the image. But the grey also made the image look dull. Increasing the contrast to create the effect of drama was something that put the cherry on the cake.

I had to revisit the street for about three times before the trip ended, but I couldn’t find what was so amazing about the street that lured my thoughts to towards. The composition was one thing that clicked me, but there was certainly something more, there was no cart the next day, but still it held a certain charm. The photo only shows the composition and sequence, but fails to show the charm. It could only be felt when you sat there and stared towards the street with an empty stomach and happy mind!