I was briefly in Varanasi in 1990. I remember the mile-long walk from my hotel toward the Ganges, strolling the alleys of the old city (buying, in one shop, vials of essential oils, of which I still have most) and, one morning, hiring a row boat and its oarsman to scan the ghats and photograph a sunrise - see photos in the original photoportals galleries places (1), temples (1), and ways (4).

On this visit I set aside several weeks for a more comprehensive exploration of the holiest city in India. In addition, I chose a hotel overlooking the river and spent a lot of time strolling along the ghats and roaming through the dynamic alleys of the old city, avoiding motorcycles, wet cow patties, and savory or unsavory touts.

The inner sanctums of most Varanasi temples are off limits to non Hindus, but religious and cultural icons are readily visible wherever you look - a tree can be a painted shrine, a god can be a plaque or graffiti on a wall, a tout can be wearing a freshly applied tilak or bindi or vibhuti lines on his forehead, the sacred cow has right of way (and often insists on it), lingams and nandis and mice statues in stone or bronze are ubiquitous.

On the ghats - the series of steps and landings leading down to the Ganges - the activity is mundane or holy or indistinguishingly both. The Varanasi ghats are the place for bathing, spiritual offerings, clothes washing, cremation and the scattering of ashes, selling of various wares, massage, the meeting of friends, Aarti, kite flying, cricket games, and interaction of native with tourist. The buildings that rise above the ghats are mostly old and some of them were once grand palaces, now a bit run down. The opportunities for a photographer are almost endless.

Dashashwamedh, the main ghat, is the arena, in the day, of the massage wallahs, and the aggressive touts who solicit business for them. The touts will come up to you as if to shake your hand and then, if yours is anywhere near available, they'll appropriate it and perform some kind of rudimentary massage, on your hand, arm, back, and so on. In the night it's the site of a magnificent Aarti performance, complete with flames, drums, bells, and large crowds.

I communicated by email with a few friends while I was away, in the form of an occasional journal, in which I reviewed some of the most impressive events of that day or several days. You can find the journal entries, along with the photos I sent out, here. I had the fortune of hanging out with one friend, Rich Anderson, a professional photographer, during my stay in Varanasi. Dinners were lively events, as we compared notes about our experiences during the day and about pictures we did or attempted to capture.