No matter how good a trip is, it’s always good to be home and it’s wonderful to be welcomed home! It never takes long for life to quickly get back into full swing and this time was no different with end-of-season yard work (Bonnie had most of it done), the basement renovation (she spent many hours cleaning up drywall dust!), weekend company (Geoff & Nancy….great to have had you with us for a relaxing weekend!), printing, a club meeting, photo judging, a presentation to a camera club and this weekend in Niagara Falls (Al & Jean….thanks for putting up with us once again). But that’s OK, life is good….no, it’s great, and spending time with good friends makes it even greater!
I’ve had many conversations about the trip, but I’ve also taken the past week to collect my thoughts. Bonnie and I have taken many great trips over the past 8 years and I’ve taken a few trips dedicated to photography, but, somehow, this one was different, so it deserves a wrap-up blog post. I also asked Dass for his thoughts and a few of his photos:
Leif has asked me to contribute my impressions of our trip, and I am happy to do so.
It has been 35 years since I was last in India. At that time I travelled around the country for 6 months by train. It was a very intense experience. I was immersed in Yoga at the time so my travels were related to that, gurus I had read about, ashrams and holy cities I wanted to visit, etc.
I was fortunate to have a base from which to explore. I had met a Dr. Agarwal in Toronto in 1975, he was lecturing on Indian spirituality. We spent quite a bit of time together and when I told him that I wanted to come to India he said “oh you must come and stay with me”. We made arrangements and one day I showed up on his doorstep. I was welcomed with open arms like a long lost son. The Indian people are the kindest, most generous and open people I have ever met. Dr. Agarwal’s family became like a second family to me.
As it turned out Dr. Agarwal had 5 daughters, aged 2 to 15. Their father being a college professor, they took it upon themselves to teach me the Hindi alphabet, and insisted I pronounce things correctly. This came in very handy as I could now converse in some basic sentences and read signs. It was very helpful to be able to read कोलकात in the train station and know I was in Kolkata.
Coming back to India 35 years later Dr. Agarwal is no longer with us but it was wonderful to see his wife (who was like a 2nd mother to me) and several of my ‘sisters’. It is gratifying to see them all doing so well, with families of there own, and still so warm, loving and welcoming.
I was told that India had changed a lot since I was last there. Perhaps if Leif and I had spent more than 2 weeks there, perhaps if we had travelled by train, I would have seen that. I didn’t. It is still, as Leif put it, ‘gob-smacking’. It is in your face and an assault on all the senses, 24/7. To spend time in India is a once in a lifetime experience unlike any other. For photographers it is an overwhelming canvas, an embarrassment of riches. It is an exercise not in what to shoot but rather what to leave out. I look forward to going back next year with an adventurous group of photographers who are willing to take the risk of stepping out of their comfort zone and immersing themselves in a whole new world.
Well said, Dass!
OK, here are my parting thoughts. The adjectives used to describe India and it’s people could fill a dictionary and many are inadequate (they use ‘Incredible India’ and ‘Great India’ in their tourist advertising and you even see them painted on trucks): rich (in every sense of the word), colourful, noisy, aromatic (my wallet still smells of Indian spices from the left-over rupees!), friendly, funny, happy, sad, hopeful, confusing, chaotic, photogenic, tradition, educated, technological, third-world, squalid, etc. etc.. As I typed those words, it dawned on me that you could put ‘incredibly’ in front of each one. And, yes, we were gob-smacked every day, actually many times each day.
Would I go back? Abso-damn-lutely!! After a couple of days in India, when Dass and I compared our ‘tour temperature’, we concluded that we wouldn’t carry through with a tour. At that point, the culture shock was overwhelming; however, as the days went on, we relaxed and were able to see beyond that. Our temperature increased to the point that we started conversations about a future photo tour with “if” as in “if we were to do a photo tour….”; we’ve now replaced “if” with “when”. We’re now talking about timing, tour stops, how to organize and promote the tour, etc.. You couldn’t possibly organize a tour of India on your own unless, of course you’re in your 20’s or 30’s as Dass was in the late 70’s. The driving alone rules that out. We came away from the trip very happy with the company we used to secure our hotel reservations and provide our driver, Kamal, who was very good. He certainly knew his way around every city we went to and always pointed us in the right direction. He understood that we were there to photograph, so he would stop for photo ops when we wanted and left us to explore on our own. I can think of only 1 complaint that we had regarding a hotel and he got on it right away.
Before this trip, when I mentioned to people that I was going to India, several of them responded with, “I would never go to India.”. I didn’t press it, but assumed that it was because of safety concerns. Dass and I talked about safety during the trip, so it was something we paid some attention to. I can tell you that both of us came away from this experience with absolutely no concerns for our safety at any time. In fact, I would say that it was almost the opposite. If we found ourselves standing in an airport or on the street wondering where to go or what to do, possibly looking confused, someone would be there asking if they could help and they would go out of their way to do so.
Anyone thinking about going to India for the first time should understand that it’s a shock to the senses in every way. It could very well be like nothing they’ve ever experienced. As I said in an earlier post, “India is what it is” and you accept it for that. If your reason for traveling to other countries is to experience their culture, traditions, etc., then India is the right place and you won’t be disappointed. You’ll see bad, but you’ll also see so much beauty and viewing everything you see with a camera up to your face is very rewarding.
What genres of photography are available? Almost anything, but I’d say that the strongest are:
- Candid people photography – The faces are incredible….beautiful, weather beaten, kids, aged and wrinkled.
- Street – it can be a little close and crowded at times, but patience is rewarded. People like Randy Nickerson, the Oshawa Camera Club’s premier street photographer, would love this!
- Architecture – The old palaces and forts are stunning. For the most part, they haven’t been well maintained or restored, but that itself make for great architectural photography. Architecture on the streets, such as doors and windows, is endless.
- Colour – Spectacular!
- Wildlife – Ranthambore National Park is excellent!
I’ve been fortunate to have done quite a bit of international travel through work and since retirement, so I’ve seen some wonderful mind and emotion filling sights. Maybe it’s because this is the most recent and still very fresh in my mind, but without a doubt, India has touched me deeply and is the 2nd highest on my list. Not that I’m biased, but Norway’s Lofoten Islands is at the top.
Now that I have a reliable internet connection, I’ve added a lot of photos to the blog, so please go back and scroll through. As I go through my photos, there are so many that I could have included and I’ve probably posted too many as it is. I wasn’t able to get a good shot of a fully decorated tractor or truck on the road, but this shot of a motorcycle at the Pushkar Camel Fair will give you a good idea of what I was trying to describe.
I’ll close this blog by saying thank you for your interest in our trip and for reading this final post. Dass and I are busy planning next year’s tour and will provide details as soon as they’re set. As for timing, we’re planning on late October/early November, which will include a couple of days at the 2017 Pushkar Camel Fair. In the meantime, if you’re interested in joining us next fall or have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.