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The call of the Ganga

June 27, 2007
Reportage: Archana Masih | Photographs: Seema Pant

There are certain things that are a must do in life. Even if it means pulling out of bed at 4 in the morning to make it to the water's edge in one of India's most chaotic cities.

But the draw of India's most famous and revered river -- the Ganga, flowing through Hinduism's most sacred city, Varanasi -- is far too strong and irresistible.

The unfolding of a morning on its vibrant ghats bears an unusual kind of magnificence, perhaps because dotted across its facade there is an India that hasn't changed much.

Actually, that's what Varanasi's USP is -- in the commotion of its bazaars, its ghats, its narrow lanes -- you get a sense of a city that seems to hold on to its past. One that has been spared the modernity of tinted glass paned malls and multiplexes -- yes, McDonalds has arrived in this temple town, so has a multiplex -- but thankfully, much of the older part of the city lining the ghats has been untouched.

And it's here on the steps of the most important ghat -- the Dasaswamedh Ghat -- that the journey begins. Past flower sellers with marigold, hibiscus, dhatura seeds (a plant with medicinal properties, also used as a narcotic), and beggars who are settling down on the stairs leading to the Ganga, we briefly wade through the river and get into Deepak's boat for a ride that I will remember for a long, long time.

Photograph: Sunrise over the Ganga in Varanasi.
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