Banaras is one of my favorite places to photograph, with its diverse and vibrant landscape and culture. From ancient temples, saints and ghats, to Sarnath (where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon) and an excavation site from the days of the Mughal Emperor Ashoka, to its lively street life, Banaras has it all for you to capture through your lens and your soul. One of India’s holiest cities, Banaras, now called Varanasi, is situated in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the river Ganges. It’s truly magical how Assi Ghat (“ghat” means steep steps on the riverbank) transforms from its peace and tranquility into a busy riverbank with the hustle and bustle of daily life in less than an hour as the day breaks and the sun rises at dawn. It’s here that a large number of India’s saints come to make their home; this is also where people from around the world come regularly to meditate and seek solace. And between the two, one can spend hours being regaled by the stories of the many travelers.
Banaras has all four seasons, with summers (mid-April through July) being extremely hot (touching 40º C—more than 100º F) to winters when it could drop to almost 0º C (32º F), December through mid-February. Rainfall is unpredictable here, and one must be prepared for it during all seasons.
For Banaras, I wouldn’t suggest the use of any filter apart from a good UV one. If one is using a single camera body, carry an 18-200mm lens. If using more than one body, I’d suggest an 18-105mm on one and a fast 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 on the other. I prefer using the 18-105mm, as it gives me a lot more flexibility in capturing my images. A tripod and a cable release or a remote for your cameras is a must. A spare battery charger would be nice to avoid being caught cold in the street. Additionally, bring a spike buster from home and always use it with your charger to avoid it from burning out in case of a voltage surge. At the end of the day, I download images on my laptop and save a copy on an external hard disk. I avoid using a flash here even though I own a Canon Speedlite 430EX.
When one visits any destination, one should really spend about 24 hours just scouting around. The best time to visit the ancient city of Banaras would be late autumn (October/November) or spring in late February. One must carry a light jacket in case of a sudden change in temperature. Make the effort to capture as many sunrise shots as possible, as they’re all so different. The best time to shoot pictures would be sunrise to 11 a.m. and again from 4 p.m. to sunset. Get a qualified guide from your hotel unless traveling with a person who knows the city well. Most temples don’t allow cameras, so if you want to visit the inside of temples, set aside an extra couple of days of walking without your equipment. Another unique feature of Banaras is the celebration of the festival of Dev Diwali, a tribute to the river goddess during the autumn season. Almost 11 kilometers (about seven miles) of the banks of the Ganges River are lit up with oil lamps, and over a million oil lamps are further released into the water—a picture worth a thousand words. It’s believed by Hindus that gods descend on earth on this day.
Contact for travel to Banaras: firstname.lastname@example.org (I’m more than willing to help).
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