The living labyrinths of Varanasi


Offered by: Vinay Tripathi (Street photographer, journalist and local Varanasi expert)

$300 for entire experience

up to 3 people

approx. 5 hours

Street photography

Varanasi has stood the test of time for over 5,000 years and is said to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Most visitors to this primeval city — and the numbers keep growing every year — are drawn to its majestic ghats, ancient temples with their mystical men, and life alongside the holy Ganges.

This experience focuses on a different aspect of Varanasi — its narrow alleys and their ever-changing moods. Very few cities in the world have such narrow lanes (to the point of being called rub-shoulder lanes) where the sunlight streams down the streets for a few brief moments. These lanes form serpentine-like labyrinths and one can walk from one end of the city to the other without ever hitting a motorable road. Some lanes are just about wide to let one person through, but within these lanes span century-old lifestyles that time itself hasn’t touched. The romance of Varanasi lives large in these alleyways – craftsmen, artisans, poets, scholars, aristocrats, commoners, kachauris, kulfis, metalware, silk, carpets, shrines, flowers, scents, and transactions worth millions are seen everyday.

A few specific lanes, depending on the day, might provide soul-stirring music — the Banarasi shehnai, tabla, sarangi, and bansuri. An added bonus is the street art, which we will also explore as we encounter them. Certain alleys play canvas to local graffiti artists and their creative expression of Hinduism, spirituality, and nirvana. The artwork changes with time but at any point, one is almost certain to find a new addition.

Photographically, this experience is a study of the magical light filtering through the shades, smoke, and tapestry of these timeless alleys.

The serpentine lanes of Varanasi are a world in themselves. One can walk from one end of town to the other without ever hitting a motorable road. These lanes are an intricate maze seeped in thousands of years of history and tradition, and best experienced with a local that both knows his way around as well as can provide a rich backdrop of insights, stories, contacts, and access. This experience goes beyond the famous ghats and temples of Varanasi for a close look at the local life of people, most of whom have been residing there for generations.

Anybody visiting India or Varanasi with an interest in really exploring the heart and soul of Varanasi. The old lanes are where locals come to life and visitors get to see an authentic slice of “Banarasi” life. This experience is particularly suitable for street photographers with interesting frames happening every second. We are likely to encounter several local characters as well, presenting good portraiture possibilities.

  • Get lost and explore the bylanes of Varanasi, a world in itself, and the centuries-old lifestyle of its residents
  • Visit a few particular landmark structures and buildings that date back to over 500 years
  • Interact with local shops, food stall owners, street performers, artists, and others as opportunities arise
  • Capture the ethereal magic of the serpentine lanes in both sunlight as well as the yellow street lights post sundown
  • Walk along the ghats, where some of the lanes open up to them to experience the religious and spiritual activities there

Additional information

Meeting point

Rajendranath Ghat

Recommended equipment

A normal travel lens like 24-70mm is recommended, wide-angle lens may also come in handy

Activity level

High – a fair amount of walking is involved

Important Notes

Please carry drinking water with you as we will be walking quite a bit in this experience

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