100 Days in India Project

India Monsoon - The Ghats in Varanasi

51/ 100 Indian Monsoon

Every year in India, usually from June to September, there is a hot and rainy monsoon season. Each time we have visited we have taken care to avoid it by traveling in January and February but, in all honesty, I think I would like to go back again despite the stifling heat and relentless rain.

Why, you might ask, would I leave my home in Scotland, where it rains relentlessly, to travel to India where it is also raining relentlessly? One fascinating reason would be to photograph the effects of the monsoon upon the river Ganges and to try and understand the ways that the people of Varanasi live with the dangerously high waters, and how they cope with the aftermath.

Around later summer the river Ganges floods. This enormous body of water begins its meandering journey to the sea as a pure and crystal clear stream, high in the mountains of the Himalayas. Its route takes it through city after city and during the monsoon it quickly collects the run-off from the plains of north western India, dramatically increasing in flow.

In the first of the two photographs you can see the Ganges at the regular level with the stone steps, or ghats, exposed. In August and September the water level is far beyond the top of those same steps and reaches at least as high as the balconies on the right hand side.

The photograph below, of the man rolling a cigarette, shows how many of the houses at the top of what would be the river bank have very high steps to help mitigate the floodwaters should it ever reach that high, although in the scheme of things that extra meter might not help all that much.

We have a good friend who lives right by the river in Varanasi, and has done all of his life. He tells us that once the river has receded the real work begins as the ghats are completely submerged in countless tons of silt and debris. On our last trip, which was in February, they were still cleaning it up several months after the waters had gone down.

I would love to go back to Varanasi to see this amazing spectacle. Once during the monsoon itself and, if time allows, once again after the waters have receded. I think it would make a fascinating photo-essay.

Indian man smoking a cigarette outside his shop in Vanarasi, India