A Dreamy, Photographic Pilgrimage Along the Ganges River


Credits: National Geographic


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.”

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.

Humans-water-wood-and-space-2013Picture 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.”

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.

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.

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