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Exotic India: The Spirit of Varanasi – Northern India Photo Tour Part 2

Documenting the Spiritual Capital of India

Prelude: Before I met my guests for the Ranthambore section of our tour, and therefore the beginning of our Tigers & Varanasi Photo Tour 2019, I arrived a few days earlier in India to visit Varanasi for 2 full days to familiarize myself with the city in order to have proper direction to offer my guests as I had not been to this large and population-dense city before.  

I had been told from a variety of people accounting their experiences to me that Varanasi is amazing to Varanasi being the complete opposite of that. I was told that it was going to be overwhelming as there are so many people, that it is crowded, dirty and to just not do it.

Varanasi Photography TourDebbie Smail
Aarti Varanasi Photo Tour
Shobha Gopinath

A wise man once told me that I need to let go of what everyone has said of Varanasi, the good and the bad, and just let myself open up to the experience. If I don’t do so, then I am only letting myself down as it would end up being an experience I would be denying myself to embrace, connect with and photograph.

Well, my initial feelings of trepidation were fleeting and fell away as soon as we landed in Varanasi and started our drive to the hotel. Accompanied by Bablu, our wonderful guide who is with ORYX for all our Tiger tours, my eyes grew larger with each passing moment as I wanted to absorb as much as I was seeing as humanely possible.

Varanasi Photography Tours

India Photo TourAstrid Stevie Winberg

The next two days were a whirlwind of incredible experiences. Yes, there are a lot of people and therefore it is not the cleanest city, but the colours, the people, the calm and the happiness that we saw and captured was tangible and enthralling. I was overwhelmed in the best way possible and it affected me very deeply. As a traveller exploring the city and its people with camera in hand, initially I was concerned on how it would affect those I turned my lens upon and their reactions, but we were met majority of the time with friendliness, openness, interest and even uninterested persons as they went about their daily tasks.

We watched and photographed Aarti; a beautiful Hindu ceremony thanking the mother Ganges for providing water and life and bids her goodnight. We explored and photographed the 11th century architecture and ruins of Sarnath; a place that resonated a lot with me and is home to the Dhameka Stupa which marks the place Buddha preached his first sermon. From exhilarating rickshaw rides that left us all with fast heartbeats and hysterical laughter, the street photography opportunities kept us constantly busy as the explosion of colours and wealth of people and activity was never-ending.

Dhamekha Stupa India TourShobha Gopinath
Varanasi TourShyam Thilagaratnam
Aarti Photo TourAstrid Stevie Winberg

I have not laughed so much, shared so many meaningful conversations and moments, had many light and fun conversations and learnt so much than what the 11-days in India gave us. The Tigers & Varanasi Photo Tour was not just a photographic tour where you are just a photographer, distant and removed from your surroundings. This tour, as well as all of my ORYX tours, was about connecting with our surroundings and subjects, with one another, sharing stories and visions, creating memories and captivating images. Exploring the beauty of these destinations on a personal level as well as with one another. This is what I always strive for on all my tours.

Street Photography Tour

Street Photography ToursNo one says it better than the people who experienced it all first-hand! Please do take a look at their blog posts that are filled with beautiful encounters, personal experiences, our daily humour, their photographic visions and more:

Shobha Gopinath: Varanasi – The Spiritual Heart of India

Shyam Thilagaratnam: Varanasi – Where Chaos & Calm Collide

Astrid Stevie Winberg: Tiger Tiger

Shyam Thilagaratnam

I’ve just returned from another Oryx adventure – this time to Ranthambore and Varanasi. This is my second time travelling with the lovely Penny Robartes – the first being to the Mara a few years ago. Penny continues to surprise and raise the bar.

From the organisation and logistics, to the photographic opportunities and tuition from Penny, and the group that was thoughtfully put together for this trip – everything was just perfect. The itinerary was a wonderful combination of wildlife and culture. I’d never seen a tiger in the wild before and this has been on my bucket list for ages – and thanks to the ace trackers and guides I got to see a tiger on almost every drive – 14 sightings of 11 different tigers and cubs – what an adrenaline rush that was. And thanks to Penny, I think I got some pretty decent images 🙂

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Visit Shyam on Instagram

Astrid Stevie Winberg

“Thank you so much for leading the most exceptional photo journey to India …. it more than met my expectations of a happy and productive trip.Ranthambore and the photography opportunities was an adventure on its own….it is very hard to describe the tiger encounters, not to mention sloth bears!!!, each and every one took my breath away! The scenic and historical part of Ranthambore lent to the total magic for me! My trust and faith in our driver and team getting us to the right place at the right time was both exhilarating and I appreciated their dedication and care.

Varanasi was an experience second to none. The feel of India there for me was palpable. The way we were active on foot, in rickshaws by day and night in the hub of the Ganges River area gave us the true feel of noise, hustle and bustle, hoot and more noise! As well as serenity and calm…

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Visit Astrid on Instagram

Shobha Gopinath

Is there such a thing as a perfect trip? My recent trip to Ranthambore National Park and Varanasi, India with Oryx was nothing short of fantastic and exciting! Tiger sightings in Ranthambore were spectacular and Varanasi was sublime. It was simply an unparalleled experience made all the more enjoyable as all ground arrangements from transport, hotels and local guiding were impeccable. Everything went off smoothly and without a hitch.

In no small part the trip was memorable because of our photography lead, Penny Robartes. This is the third trip I have gone on with Penny. She is just the most wonderful person to travel with. She is personable, cheerful and caring, always making sure everything went off smoothly. She is very generous with her knowledge and expertise…

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Visit Shobha on Instagram

Visit Debbie on Instagram

Northern India Tour

This tour was truly filled with indescribable moments and memories, laughter and unbreakable connections.

We have built on foundation of this tour to offer an even greater photographic exploration of Northern India by adding in the magnificent and inspiring Taj Mahal and Agra Fort! I hope to share the excitement, visual splendour and endless photographic opportunities of Northern India with you!


Stay passionate and never stop exploring,

Your Photo Tour Leader, Penny Robartes

Varanasi Tour

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