• May 10, 2016

A Dreamy, Photographic Pilgrimage Along the Ganges River

Becky Harlan

Photographer Caleb Cain Marcus began his 1,500-mile pilgrimage along the the Ganges River amid the snow-capped peaks of Gangotri, India, a Hindu pilgrim town where the massive river originates as an aquamarine stream “so narrow that you could almost hop across.”

Picture of grasses along the Ganges River
Near Bijnor

He’s not particularly religious, but for Marcus, following the path of the spiritually significant Ganges, which Hindus believe is synonymous with the goddess Gaṅgā herself, was an exercise in perception—in noticing the character and the energy of the atmosphere.

Picture of a lone boat in the Ganges from an aerial perspective
Near Farukkhabad
Picture of shallow puddles along the Ganges River
Near Bijnor district

“We are often so busy with our lives that we don’t pay that much attention to spaces,” he says. “I feel that the air can have a presence. If you go into a church, or a mosque, or a synagogue, there’s a change in the space. I had this idea that the space along the river was more charged, [that] there was more density. Maybe the Ganges always had this energy around it, or maybe the people who have been praying along it have changed the space.”

Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh
Picture of hay, cow dung, and stones, along the Ganges River
Hapur district

He’s not trying provide concrete answers to his postulations but instead to experience the energy in the air and somehow translate it into photographs.

Picture of the green shore of the Ganges River near Kolkata
Near Kolkata
Picture of people very far away on the shore of the Ganges
Uttar Pradesh

For 44 days, Marcus followed the river—mostly by car but also on foot and by boat —through small villages that often go unnamed on a map and rarely have foreign visitors. As he progressed, the river widened, more people began to appear, industry increased (so did pollution), and the hills leveled out. He captured these subtle changes in scenery in his signature style—quiet, bright, and enveloped in fog.

A bridge over the Ganges River in Varanasi
Picture of someone stacking bricks

Marcus also keeps his distance. The people who trickle into his images toward the end of his journey appear on an ant-like scale. He’s not interested in the individual but in how people function as a collective organism.

The Ganges River
Near Soron

“It’s more about the form and the movement and the dance of the people—the color and the melody they create,” he says. “I think it also goes back to the relationship between humans and the universe. To have the scale of the people [be] small fits with my personal ideology: For me the landscape is as important as the people are, maybe more important.”

A person running through a foggy day on tan, muddy ground

Marcus’s journey came to an end when the Ganges met the ocean at Sagar Island in the Bay of Bengal, another pilgrimage site for Hindus. The boat trip there was a little scary (“You can definitely imagine the boat sinking. It’s way beyond capacity, and the boats are very old.”). But the satisfaction of arriving at the end was well worth it.

Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh

“I was happy walking along this beach and seeing the culmination of both my journey and the river’s journey,” he says. “You see this great horizon when you get to the end of the island, [which] faces the ocean. It’s just this expanse. That’s what she flows into, and maybe that’s what we flow into as well when we cease to exist on this world.”

See more of Caleb Cain Marcus’s work on his website.

There are 17 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Cage
    May 20, 2016

    I’ve never been to India, but these picture attract my eyes and give me power to try to visit India. I love these picture.

  2. Jacques Lafortune
    May 17, 2016

    I’ve travelled across India a few times and,unfortunately, I have not come across these types of “dreamy” scenery such as these. Just unlucky, I guess. Sometimes I do blow my breath on the camera lenses to “create” such a foggy atmosphere. but I would not suggest this is what the photographer did here. In any event, if you have a chance to travel to this spectacular country, jump on it. Go! It is the only country which has marked me.

  3. Tiny Bee
    May 17, 2016

    I’ve been to India several times, but I never saw that much fog anywhere.
    Indeed the images seem to consist of 2 basic manipulation techniques: overexposure and artificial masking seen as fog

  4. Greg W
    May 16, 2016

    Great photo compositions but I wonder how much Photoshop was used to render the “foggy” effect?

  5. Silas S
    May 16, 2016

    The fact is that India doesn’t have the highest life expectancy despite concepts like yoga being practiced, popularized, and presented as a sugar-coated pill. It’s like saying there is herbal cure available for all forms of cancer and AIDS!

  6. Bernardita
    May 15, 2016

    Brillantes capturas !!! Congrats!

  7. Kim Andrews
    May 15, 2016

    What magical pictures of Ma Ganga, and beautiful narrative. This makes me more determined to visit one of the most amazing countries in the world!

  8. Manuel Luis Pereira Rodrigues
    May 15, 2016

    Se não houver frutos, vale a beleza das flores; Se não houver flores, vale a sombra das folhas; Se não houver folhas, vale a intenção da semente.
    Gosto cada vez mais dos teus retratos. Criaste uma dança muito própria, com a agua, és também a maravilha da natureza entre as pessoas, o pó, a nebelina, uma véna à natureza e a ti.

  9. Shafqat
    May 15, 2016

    Amaizing work,all photos have different perspective.

  10. Vicente Monterroza
    May 15, 2016

    At least I am knowing places without traveling, thanks

  11. Nusrat
    May 15, 2016

    These stunning photographs are like subtle poetry,if you try to explain it ,it loses all its charm. The nature is humming softly, if you can hear it.

  12. Steven Gibson
    May 15, 2016

    Very Beautiful Photos. Nice Work. Thank You.

  13. DC
    May 15, 2016

    Sometimes, it seems the empty spaces are filled with more presence than the hustle and bustle of crowded spaces, or places with dense mass and material, whether it be man made or not.

    In Yoga, it is called Akash, which is loosely translated into ether in English.

    India is a place of great mystery. Behind all the pomp, circumstance and worship of various forms, there is a stillness there that seems to have been kept for millenia, at least that is my experience. South India is amazing too. You should definitely go to the Himalayas, either Nepal or Tibet or just northern India, especially Kailash. Then the energy will just overtake you. You can far distances from people and still take it in. There are great expanses there, and the landscape there seems to go on for eternity.

  14. JUDE
    May 15, 2016

    Very lovely. I luv the notion of air being a tribute and personified. The necessity of life we take for granted. Halleluiah.

  15. KML
    May 15, 2016

    Thank you for taking us on your journey.

    I agreed with Martin Shepherd’s comments.

    Your photos speak volume.

  16. martin shepard
    May 11, 2016

    What an extraordinary person you are Caleb: philosophically, photographically, and spiritually. Seeing your images and reading your comments reminded me of the first time I heard Ram Das, the former Richard Alpert speak.

  17. Silas S
    May 11, 2016

    A story which could later form the basis for aryan invasion, human opportunism, emergence of symbols ought to be considered sacred, human inventions. Say, for example, Swastika is popular among Vaishnavite hindus even today. Years ago, Adolf Hitler managed to adopt the same. It is needless for artists like Caleb with a bird’s-eye view to unwillingly imbibe populist philosophies, which often helps photojournalists to help themselves stay afloat and then soar.

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