Tea and tradition in Varanasi

Tea and Varanasi both have a rich and complex history and this photo essay draws together the traditions of both. Scroll through to see photos of our Chai Wallah Suresh at work and the incomparable city of Varanasi.

A goat eats discarded flower offerings in Varanasi
One person's trash is another's treasure: a goat devours floral remains along the banks of the river Ganges.
A man sleeps in a building in Varanasi.
Early morning, when most are still sleeping, is the best time to explore the ghats in Varanasi.
The sunken Shiva Temple at Scindia Ghat on the Ganges River.
At Scindia Ghat the Shiva Temple is slowing sinking into the river.
A ceremony being performed at sunrise by the Ganges.
As dusk falls on the city the Ganga Aarti is performed by the river.
A woman sweeps the ghats in Varanasi.
A woman sweeps the stone steps of the ghat in the morning.
A man milks a cow in the cow shed in Varanasi.
In the cow shed the morning means the milking must begin.
Dhobis (washer people) doing laundry on the ghats of Varanasi.
Dhobis (washer people) soap and slap clothes and sheets onto stone tables before laying them out to dry on the warm stone ghats.
Barbers shave pilgrims and tourists in Varanasi.
The ghats are lined with barbers offering pilgrims and tourists a cut-throat shave.
A pilgrim with shaved head sits by the Ganges River in Varanasi.
Many pilgrims have their heads shaved when they visit Varanasi; they believe that ahead of bathing in the Ganges it brings spiritual purification. Others shave their heads as a sign of their mourning for a loved one.
A woman gazes out across the river from one of the ghats in Varanasi.
A woman gazes out across the river from one of the ghats.
Washer people on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi.
The banks of the river are filled with locals going about their daily business.
Children playing by the river Ganges in Varanasi have constructed a make-shift checkpoint to stop passersby.
Children playing by the river have constructed a make-shift checkpoint to stop passersby.
A couple takes an early morning dip in the river Ganges amongst flower offerings.
A couple takes an early morning dip in the river amongst flower offerings.
The banks of the Ganges River full of pilgrims in Varanasi.
Once the sun has risen the banks of the river are flooded with pilgrims paying their respects at the holy Ganga River.
A man washes in the Ganges River.
A man washes in the holy waters of the river, believed to bring spiritual purification.
A goat stands outside a shrine at the Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi, where cremations take place.
A goat stands outside a shrine at the Manikarnika Ghat, where cremations take place.
Stray dogs live along the ghats of Varanasi, often warming themselves on the cooling embers.
Stray dogs live along the ghats, often warming themselves on the cooling embers.
In India chai is often made with buffalo milk, rather than cow's milk.
Milk being poured to make chai.
Tools of the chai wallah's trade: kettles, pans and a tea strainer.
Tools of the chai wallah's trade: kettles, pans and a tea strainer.
Masala chai ingredients ready to be simmered in the pan.
Masala chai ingredients ready to be simmered in the pan.
In India tea is served in small glasses or terracotta cups.
In India tea is served in small glasses or terracotta cups.
Suresh, a third generation chai wallah, at his stall in Varanasi.
Suresh, a third generation chai wallah, at his stall in Varanasi.
Chai is sometimes served in petite terracotta cups, which you smash after drinking.
When chai is served in these terracotta cups you smash them after drinking.
Suresh's father was a renowned Kushti teacher in Varanasi.
Suresh's father was a renowned Kushti teacher in Varanasi and was included in a book about the discipline.
A woman deep in prayer in Varanasi on one of the ghats.
A woman deep in prayer on one of the ghats.
A cow surveys the city of Varanasi.
A cow surveys the city.
A sadhu in Varanasi.
Sadhus, Hindu holy men, are revered by devotees and considered earthly representative of gods.
Candles are lit to celebrate the Maha Shivaratri Festival in Varanasi.
Candles are lit to celebrate the Maha Shivaratri Festival.
A street vendor works by candlelight to make snacks in Varanasi.
A street vendor works by candlelight to make snacks.
Evenings bring fire and smoke to the ghats in Varanasi.
Evenings bring fire and smoke to the ghats.
Worshipers celebrate the Maha Shivaratri Festival in Varanasi.
The Maha Shivaratri Festival celebrates Lord Shiva and devotees recite prayers and make offerings like flowers, coconuts, milk and fruits.