Total Solar Eclipse, 22 July, 2009
Varanasi, India

Our daughter, Claire, is in India for a year doing her dissertation research in social anthropology. We (Marti, Bob, and our other daughter, Emilie) had planned to visit during the summer of 2009. Once we learned that May was the hottest month of the year in Delhi, I suggested that we visit during the total solar eclipse which passed over India and China on 22 July. I had never witnessed a total solar eclipse, and figured as a 67 year old astronomer it was about time. Even though the likelihood of clear weather was small during the monsoon in India, I figured we could go to a place which was also a tourist destination, and at the least stand there and watch it get dark. I settled on Varanasi and convinced the others. Claire warned, "Dad, are you sure you can take it; Varanasi will be very intense." I understood later. In Varanasi we were joined by Claire's fellow Fulbrighter, Susan, who is doing her dissertation on the five Jantar Mantars, observatories built by Jai Singh in the 18th century. The oldest of these is in Varanasi, although the biggest and most famous is in Jaipur.

Varanasi is one oldest cities in the world, although the oldest current buildings are only a few centuries old. It is the city a Shiva and one of holiest cities in India. The Ganges flows through Varanasi. For Hindus the Ganges is holy everywhere and especially holy in Varanasi. Many pilgrams come to Varanasi to collect water from the Ganges and to bathe in it. The west bank of the Ganges is lined with ghats, steps leading into the river. Varanasi is thought to be an auspicious place to die, and bodies are cremated at dawn along the ghats. We took a boat ride along the ghats at dawn the day before the eclipse.

To avoid the crowds, possible fog, and smoke from the funeral pyres we scouted out a site close to our hotel, settling on a bridge over the Varuna River, a tributary of the Ganges. This was a good move because during the eclipse there was a stampede at the ghats which killed two people and severely injured several more.

When we arrived a little after 6AM the eclipse was already in progress. It was partially cloudy. Totality began roughly 6:25.

The partial eclipse was often visible with the cloud as a filter

On the left, these three guys were there when we arrived. Near totality two Australian women wandered by, but other than that, we were the only tourists. We decided to share our eclipse glasses with those who wandered by and this turned out to be a lot of fun.

I lucked into a fairly decent diamond ring in the transition to totality. The Sun skirted this cloud during all of totality.

This is the best picture I got of the corona.

Near the end of totality a flock of birds provided nice forground.

Marti and Claire; Emilie

Left: Bob trying to explain something, although it appears it might be something in the river rather than the eclipse. Right: After totality Bob was trying to figure out where the Moon's shadow was at the time. He forgot the extra 0.5 hour difference between Indian time and Greenwich time, so it was a good clean miss

The boy on the right stared intently at the partial eclipse for a very long time.

Left: As best we could tell these guys dutifully washed their clothes the entire time without looking up at the eclipse. Right: The cow did not have eclipse glasses.

This guy manuvered his truck over to our side of the bridge to see what was going on. Actually manuvered is not quite the correct word. Standard Indian technique is to blow the horn and proceed with what you want to do. The message of the horn is "I'm bigger than you and am going to run you over if you don't get out of the way." He was obviously very pleased. You can tell he's actually looking at the eclipse from the shadow the eclipse glasses make on his face. Marti, Emilie, and Bob all recognized a great photo-op and have pictures at almost exactly the same time.