Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are visiting the busy and congested area of Godowlia Chowk in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh in India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
Varanasi is well-connected by air, rail and road. One of the major factors in Varanasi's is its access to all parts of the country. Within the city mobility is provided by taxis, rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and three wheelers but with certain restrictions in the old town area of the city. But visiting Varanasi is indeed also a historic and cultural visit. Whoever dies and burns in Varanasi, leaves the cycle of rebirths and enters 'Nirvana'.
Varanasi is well-connected by air, rail and road. One of the major factors in Varanasi's is its access to all parts of the country. Within the city mobility is provided by taxis, rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and three wheelers but with certain restrictions in the old town area of the city. But visiting Varanasi is indeed also a historic and cultural visit. Whoever dies and burns in Varanasi, leaves the cycle of rebirths and enters 'Nirvana'.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on April 2, 2024

Godowlia Chowk in India

Thus, at least, the Hindus are myths. The metropolis in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh is considered the city of the god Shiva and is one of the holiest places of Hinduism. The Ganges River is also regarded as sacred, on the west bank of Varanasi. His water shall purify all sins. For several kilometers, step-like embankments are formed, from where believers can rise to ritual baths into the floods. There are also numerous places where the dead are burned. Their ashes are scattered in the Ganges.

Why is Varanasi known as a religious city?

Varanasi is also known as the religious city where many devotees perform the funeral rites of their family members. The city has a whopping number of temples over 2,000. In fact, it is believed that Buddha founded the concept of Buddhism in Varanasi and this is where he delivered his first sermon.

A traditional public square
'Chowks' are an integral part of the Indian landscape and a symbol of the country's rich culture and heritage and it is word that means a traditional public square, usually located in the heart of a city or town and often surrounded by shops and other commercial establishments. These areas have been a part of Indian society for centuries and were once the hub of local life and they were the place to meet and discuss matters of importance and to conduct business. It was also the place where people would gather to celebrate festivals and share news of the day. 'Chowks' served multiple purposes and were the social, cultural and economic centres of their communities and they were places to buy and sell goods, to exchange information and to socialize and they were also a platform for religious and political activities, with public meetings and rallies being held in the 'Chowks'.

An essential part of Indian life
Today, 'Chowks' still remain an essential part of Indian life and they are places for people to gather, to shop, to eat, to pray and to socialize. 'Chowks' are also used for political activities, where candidates hold rallies and make speeches to the public. In some cities, 'Chowks' are even used for movie screenings and other entertainment events. 'Chowks' are also important for preserving India's cultural heritage and they are often adorned with sculptures, artwork and other symbols of the country's history and culture and these symbols help to remind people of their shared history and of the importance of preserving their culture and traditions.

So these 'Chowks' are an important part of India's cultural and historical landscape and a reminder of the country's vibrant and rich heritage. They are places to meet and socialize, to conduct business, to pray and to celebrate and they are a symbol of India's past and a reminder of the importance of preserving its cultural heritage.

Pilgrimage destination for thousands of years
For more than 2,500 years, faithful pilgrimages to the city, which is often called 'Benares'. It is also important for the followers of other religions. Only 10 kilometers to the north is the village of Sarnath, where the Buddha is said to have delivered his first sermon. In total, more than 200 Hindu, Jainist and Buddhist temples characterize the cityscape of Varanasi. Varanasi is India's most sacred city for Hindus everyday life in the streets is determined by death, for every believer who holds something is coming here to wait for him. As wage, the immortality. The author and world traveler Mark Twain once said that Varanasi is 'Older than the story, older than the tradition, older than the legend itself'.

But even if it is not really the oldest city in the world, one thing is certain, Varanasi has always been the holiest city in India for the Hindus. In the course of her more than 2,500 years of existence, she has already had a few names, including 'Kashi' or 'Benares' and she is looking back on a story that is in the truest sense of the word.

Ever since its inception, Hindus have been pilgriming from everywhere, for Varanasi is said to be the 'City of Shiva', one of the Hindu chief deities. But nowadays it is due to another fact that Varanasi is India's death city. The reason is that almost every Hindu believer tries to come here to wait for death. For faith says that one can free oneself from the eternal cycle of rebirths. The sacred ritual is always the same, a corpse is burned and its ashes are then scattered in the Ganges, the largest river of India, which, like the city itself, is regarded as sacred to Hindus.

"The waters of the Ganges are also called 'Amrita', translating 'Nectar of immortality'. Through this procedure, according to faith, one could attain eternal life and enter the 'Moksha' comparable to the Buddhist 'Nirvana'"

Godowlia Chowk in India
The busy area of the 'Banaras Godowlia Chowk' or 'Godauliya chowk' is just situated on the direction to the Ganges. A river that the faithful Hindus are not afraid to bathe in 'Mata Ganga', because ritual ablutions are an integral part of the ritual of almost every visitor to Varanasi. Most believers do this at the Dasaswamedh Ghat, but on a complete pilgrimage tour through Varanasi, a total of 5 stops are made and bathed. A bath in The Ganges River cleanses from sin, according to the Hindu faith. Originally, this privilege was reserved for the Maharajah, but today it is a mass phenomenon. The procedure is to dive the body several times under water to clean in this way.

Many people, however, come to the heavily polluted Ganges for quite worldly reasons, to wash their clothes. The highlight of each day is a nightly ritual, dedicated to the gods, where there is plenty of fire, music and songs to be admired. If you can afford it, rent a boat and experience the ceremony from the water. Probably it was this proper portion of ethno-romanticism, which attracted the first hippy tourists to Varanasi in the 1970s and thanks to which today a lot of traders make lucrative deals with visitors.

Godowlia Chauraha direction
Upon arrival at Varanasi's bustling main train station, the journey to the iconic Godowlia Chauraha, which means the 'Godowlia Street crossing' or 'Godowlia Crossroad' offers a glimpse into the heart of this ancient city. Stepping out of the station, a swarm of auto-rickshaws and cycle rickshaws clamor for attention, ready to whisk passengers through Varanasi's maze-like lanes.

For those seeking a quintessentially Varanasi experience, negotiating a fare with a cycle rickshaw driver is a charming option. The ride weaves through narrow alleys, revealing glimpses of life along the 'Ghats' and the scent of incense in the air. Alternatively, auto-rickshaws provide a quicker route, zipping through the city's chaotic et vibrant streets. Negotiate the fare beforehand to avoid misunderstandings and enjoy the ride past colorful shops selling everything from silk 'Saris' to trinkets.

Navigating the traffic, the auto-rickshaw or cycle rickshaw will eventually lead to the lively Godowlia Chauraha. Here, the energy of Varanasi is palpable, with street vendors, pilgrims and locals mingling amidst the constant buzz. From here, the famed Kashi Vishwanath Temple, one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism, is just a short walk away, beckoning visitors to delve deeper into Varanasi's spiritual and cultural tapestry.

"As the heart of Varanasi's old city, Godowlia Chauraha is not just a destination but a vibrant introduction to the timeless allure of this sacred city on the banks of the Ganges"

See this video from the Godowlia Chowk in Varanasi made by Indian SRJ.

The photographer's own experience being at the Godowlia Chowk
"- I recently had the opportunity to visit Varanasi, one of the oldest and holiest cities in India. As a traveler, I was eager to explore the city's rich cultural heritage and spiritual significance. One place that caught my attention was the bustling and vibrant Godowlia Chowk. It is located at the heart of the city, Godowlia Chowk is a hub of activity and a melting pot of diverse cultures. It is a true representation of the essence of Varanasi – a city where spirituality, tradition and modernity coexist harmoniously. As I entered the 'Chowk', I was immediately struck by the chaotic yet organized atmosphere. The streets were lined with shops selling everything from traditional 'Sarees' and handicrafts to street food and religious paraphernalia", the Photographer says.

"- However, what fascinated me the most was the sheer energy and liveliness of the place. The constant honking of vehicles, the shouts of shopkeepers and the bargaining of customers blended together to create a symphony of chaos. As I navigated my way through the narrow lanes, I couldn't help but feel a sense of excitement and anticipation the craft of storytelling. Sending a strong message of empathy, photographers can do their job and their best to bring some change in this world"
, the Photographer says again.

"- One of the most iconic sights at Godowlia Chowk is the stunning procession of the 'Ganga Aarti' – a Hindu ritual of worshiping the Ganges River performed every evening. I was lucky enough to witness this sacred ceremony and it was truly a sight to behold. The sound of bells and chanting filled the air and the flickering flames of the 'Diyas' which are oil lamps added a mystical aura to the place. As I stood amidst the crowd of devotees and tourists, I couldn't help but feel a deep sense of spirituality and peace"
, the Photographer says again.

"Apart from the religious aspect, Godowlia Chowk also offers a glimpse into the everyday lives of the locals. I came across women drying grains on the pavement, children playing cricket in the streets and men engrossed in intense games of chess. It was an intimate glimpse into the daily life of Varanasi and I felt like a part of it, even if only for a few hours"

"- The 'Chowk' is also a food lover's paradise, with a plethora of street food options to choose from. The aroma of spices and sizzling oil wafted through the air and I couldn't resist trying some of the local delicacies. From crispy 'Jalebis' to mouth-watering 'Chaat', each dish was a burst of flavours that left me wanting more. As my time at Godowlia Chowk came to an end, I couldn't help but feel grateful for the experience. The bustling streets and lively atmosphere had left a lasting impression on me and I had a newfound appreciation for the vibrant culture of Varanasi. The 'Chowk' is not just a market, but a reflection of the city's soul – a place where traditions, spirituality and modernity blend together seamlessly. It is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Varanasi and an experience I will always cherish"
, the Photographer says again.

Read also:  Rana Mahal Ghat in Varanasi

Rana Mahal Ghat in Varanasi

Read also:  Rana Mahal Ghat in Varanasi

More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of the busy area of Godowlia Chowk in Varanasi. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.