Photo Tour to the World’s Oldest City, Varanasi


Key Mentor

K Madhavan Pillai, Chief Editor, Better Photography magazine


Varanasi is one of the two only continually surviving cities from the ancient times, in the world, the other being Rome. It’s kilometers of East-facing steps, embankments, gallis and stone architecture have been home and inspiration to some of the most important artists, poets, musicians, and intellectuals for centuries. Time slows down to a crawl in Varanasi. Aspects of it appear now as it did hundreds of years ago. The ancient city is alive and seething with every form of humanity and religion. Children running off to school to philosophers meditating the meaning of life to tourists who come to seek their own selves… the warrened maze of its lanes and ghats is unlike anything else on this planet.

It is in the midst of all this that we explore the joys and travails of street photography with the Chief Editor of Better Photography magazine, K Madhavan Pillai. He takes the participants of this programme through ways of seeing and thinking about the subject, and guides them through the practice of it. As a participant within a small number of limited participants, you will directly interact with Madhavan about a variety of aspects, including historical art perspectives, photographic techniques, and gear, for an enriched understanding of the subject. This is a one-to-one conversation with K Madhavan Pillai, as much as it is learning in a group. While this is a relatively advanced mentored programme, it is not restricted to an advanced practitioner. It is open to anybody, above the age of 16, with a fascination for street photography. Access to equipment is not a limiting factor in this programme. Serious cellphone photographers are also welcome to join us on this mutual journey of discovery.

Date: 12-14 Jan 2017

Tour Highlights

  • A 3-day/2-night photo tour to the spiritual capital of India, the holiest of the seven sacred cities and the oldest surviving city in the world
  • Mentored walks for the best of street photography on the Ghats and through tiny lanes that are thousand of years old
  • Explore life at the banks of Ganga with a special early morning boat ride, and evening Ganga Aarti
  • Personalised assistance on and off the field, and on specific photography issues
  • Interactive critique sessions of photos captured during the tour, and presentations on street photography


  • Stay at Varanasi for 2 nights: 12th Jan & 14th Jan 2017
  • All meals for 12 – 14 Jan 2017 at Varanasi
  • Local transport


  • Travel to/from Varanasi.


Day 1: Reach Varanasi – Introduction to street photography, basic Do’s and Don’ts – Walking around the famed ghats of Varanasi – The evening worship ceremony – Overnight at Varanasi

Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel and congregate for lunch. Post-lunch, there will be a short discussion session, introductions, basic rules for the duration of the workshop, a talk about street photography and what to expect in Varanasi, and a slideshow.  If need be, the group is divided into two.

Later that afternoon at about 3:00, we head off to the streets and around the ghats. Ideas and thoughts will be discussed during this walk, with a variety of practice oriented exercises at various stop points. This is also the day to get used to the locale, to absorb the environment and ambience, and to start picking subjects for the next day. Benaras is the kind of place you immerse yourself into.

As the sun sets that evening, we’ll head off to one of the most iconic ghats, where we will witness a ritual: The Evening Aarti on the river Ganges. This is a visual spectacle, but tough to photograph well. Watch a group of young priests perform an elaborate ritual in worship of the holy river.

Return to the hotel by 8:00pm for dinner. At 9:00, there will also be an optional night walk along the steps of the ghats, to practice some night photography, and possibly a chance to get some more interesting frames.

Day 2: The Crack of Dawn – Morning rituals –Boat ride along the length of the ghats – Street photography – Review session – Overnight at Varanasi

5:30 am. Before the crack of dawn, head out to the river to where the early morning rituals occur. Just after sunrise, we shall get on a long boat for a ride down the Ganges all along the ghats and back. Making photographs from the boat is an opportunity to capture the vistas of the ghats in the morning light. Otherwise not be possible from the shore, a variety of photographic possibilities will present itself. As the sun climbs higher, breakfast leisurely on the pristine, sandy shores on the other side of the Ganges. Head back along the ghats again.

Mid-morning, we explore the labyrinthine inner gallis and lanes around Varanasi, where life is resplendent in all its varied moods and hues. Architecturally, as with the faces and spaces you encounter, the inner gallis have a poetic timelessness, as though the clocks stopped a hundred years ago.

We head back to the hotel at 1:00pm for lunch.

At 2:00pm, we congregate for a one-hour open discussion and quick slideshow session, after which we step out into the gallis once again to make the best use of the afternoon and early evening light. Discussions over tea and snacks at local street vendors at about 5:30… the street food in Varanasi is simply fantastic for the explorer, but not for the faint hearted. We then head to the hustle and bustle of the tremendously noisy main road. Those who wish to revisit the Ganga aarti may do so. Head back to the hotel by 7:30pm. Post-dinner, a review session of some of the photos made by the participants ensues.

At 9:30 pm, there will be an optional night walk.

Day 3: Life on the ghats – Final words – Departure

After an early breakfast, we leave at 7:30am. Starting off from a central ghat, we’ll walk the length of the ghats, making images as we go along of the morning worship ceremonies. At about 10:00am, we explore a different set of inner gallis once again.

Today’s session is largely an open one. Participants who wish to wander around and lose themselves are welcome to do so. This is the essence of good street photography. Those who wish to be with the mentor to share their personal thoughts, ideas and experiences, or seek guidance or advice, may do so.

We congregate back at at the hotel at 1:00pm for lunch. At 2:00pm, there will. be a final recap and exchange of numbers, and email ids. This marks the formal end of the

In Summation….

During this series of walks and discussions, you will absorb ideas to the practice of street photography. During these walks, we would have covered just a small fraction of what beautiful Varanasi has to offer. This form of photography, more often than not, is a solitary pursuit. It is about discovering places for yourself just as much it is about revisiting places that you have seen before.

We, at Better Photography, urge you to extend your stay for two to three more days beyond the mentored programme, to both practice some of the approaches you have come across, as well as to fall in love with this amazingly rich, ancient city, on your own terms. In all likelihood, you will be drawn back to visit Varanasi once again.

  • Details and schedules are subject to change based both on local conditions, availability of services, and immediate unforeseen situations that may arise.
  • On registration, a detailed informative email shall be sent with all requirements that you need to have with you listed out. The email will also contain recommended reading that we urge you to go through by yourself.
  • This is a photography intensive programme that will delve deep into various aspects of street photography. While a few historic aspects of the city will come through during the mentorship, please be aware that this is not a monument, religious or a city tour. You are encouraged to do some basic reading and self-study on the city and all it has to offer based on your personal interests. You may choose to remain behind for a few additional days to explore these interests separately once the mentored programme is complete.

Tour Cost

For Individuals: Rs. 25,000/-

Group of 3 or more: Rs. 23,000/- per person

For details call: Nitin: +91-9920401226 E-mail:

Tags: Better Photograhy, K Madhavan Pillai, Photo tour, Varanasi, Varanasi photo tour