Cremations and celebrations: A journey through Varanasi.
The alarm rings out loudly, piercing the pitch black silence of the morning. It’s 4.30 am, and I jump up eager for the day that lies ahead. I’m in Varanasi, one of the holiest Hindu cities in the world, where countless pilgrims have ventured to bathe in the sacred waters of the Ganges, the revered rivers which flow through the country but are at their most celebrated here. A dip in the shallows is said to wash away all your sins, and for many, it is a once in a lifetime event.
There’s still a chill to the air as we drive through the colourful roads, dotted with rickshaw drivers waking from their slumber and lazy cattle hunting for their morning feed. At this hour the streets seem quiet, almost serene, a far cry from the throngs of people.
For now, small groups huddle around the handful of open stalls, sipping on Chai and waiting for the sun to break. On the other side of the road, lonely figures lay, faces illuminated by the flame of a match signalling their first nicotine hit of the day.