Incredible India Revisited: The First 5 Days

I recently returned from a 2.5 week photo tour to India, from October 23rd to November 9th, which I co-hosted with my good friend, Bishwambhar Dass.  This was our 2nd trip to northern India, the last one being in the fall of 2016, but this time we lead a photography tour for 10 other photographers and Dass’ wife, Jill.

I shared our daily activity on Facebook so that our photographer friends back home could keep track of our trip.  I’ve posted it here in 3 stages:  The First 5 Days, The Next 5 Days and The Last 5 Days.  

Departure Day & Enroute to Delhi – October 23 -24, 2019

After a 1 hour departure delay and a 14 hour Air Canada flight from Toronto, our group of 13 arrived on time in Delhi. Clearing immigration was a breeze, considering the number of people going through this airport. We had a 45 minute drive to the Radisson Blu Hotel where check-in was also a breeze, thanks to Harjeet Singh, our local contact with Swagacam Tours/TourCan Vacations/Photo Tour Trekkers.

We’re off to Rishikesh at 10:00 AM, about a 6 hour drive, where we’ll spend 3 days photographing the local sites and activity. Rishikesh is where the Beatles spent their introspective time in the 60’s. We’ll visit their ashram, which is now closed, spend a day at an orphanage in nearby Haridwar and Dass has arranged a photowalk, with the Rishikesh Photography Club. Lots to do on the shores of the Mother Ganga (the Ganges River).

No photos yet.

 

Day 1 – October 25:  Delhi to Rishikesh

We had a leisurely breakfast before beginning the long drive north to Rishikesh, where we’ll stay for 3 nights. When I say long, I mean looooong…8 hours. We were told that it would normally take 5 to 6 hours, but traffic builds during the Dawali holiday, especially on Friday of this, the big, weekend. Wow, was there a lot of traffic! Not only vehicles, but cows and water buffalos are everywhere!

Besides that, a tourist bus driver is allowed to drive only 20 km/hr in the city and a max of 70 on the highway. It took about 2.5 hrs. to get out of Delhi, but it may have only seemed that way, since the cities/towns seem to run together. There was very little rural driving.

We arrived at our hotel, the Divine Resort, shortly after 6:00, checked in and had dinner, which the hotel comp’d because part of the group had to go to another hotel, very close by, for 1 night.

India is an assault on all of the senses, which means a photo op every time you turn around; however, it’s difficult shooting through the bus windows and the moments are fleeting, when you’re on the move.

In Delhi:

  • 5 million Ubers
  • 4 million scooters/motorcycles
  • 3.0 million Tuk Tuks

Population of GDA: approx. 40 million

Population of India: 1.4 billion and growing at a rate of 1 million per month.

I got a few shots along the way, but the serious photography begins early in the morning.

Hover Over the Photos to See the Title & Description – Click on the Photo for a Larger View & to Scroll Through

 

Day 2 – October 26:  Rishikesh

We packed quite a bit into the day. I joined a few of the folks early at the back of the hotel for shots across the Ganga and then we walked through the streets. I gotta tell ya, Dass gets a lot of attention as he’s cruising through the streets on his portable scooter. He’s a rock star here and everyone is curious about the scooter and want to help.

The Morning Shoot

 

The first major event of the day, which 10 of us took in, was an Indian masala cooking class with Amit Jain and his wife, Neelan. We learned about hard and powdered spices, how to use them and how to make his ‘magic sauce’, which is the base for all masala dishes. We also made samosas from scratch and learned how to make masala chai tea. Then we ate…boy did we eat! It took about an hour longer than we expected, but what a great time. Very nice people.

The Cooking Class

 

Later in the afternoon, we loaded into 3 tuk tuks to go to the Arati ceremony, which honours the Mother Ganga. While the others wandered around the celebration area along the Ganges, Dass and I went into the covered pavilion where the ceremony would take place. We had to take off our shoes to go in. Being barefoot, I went into the Ganges! My feet haven’t fallen off….yet!

Arati is a very moving ceremony that ended with the band playing Hare Krishna and people up singing and dancing. This is the yoga capital of the world, so this was a big deal. I even went up and danced. What a great time!

Aarti – Festival of Lights

 

Everyone was beat by the end of the day, and considering the big lunch, most of us didn’t have dinner. A good night’s sleep is high on the list in preparation for a big day tomorrow.

 

Day 3 – October 27:  Rishikesh

This was a packed day, from morning ’til night. Despite that I, as co-leader, slept in until awakened by a phone call from Dass, at the time we were supposed to meet in the lobby. Regardless, we left the hotel on time to meet Mahesh Painully and 15 others members of the Rishikesh Photography Club. They met us on the street near a tea vendor, so the 1st order of business was to go through introductions while enjoying an excellent masala tea.

We shared ideas and took photos during our walk to their club, where we viewed their print exhibit. This is a young club with approx. 30 members. I say, young, because they ranged in age from 18 to mid-late twenties. We figured that the age of about 3.5 of their members equaled the age of one of us.

Rishikesh Photography Club Walk-About

 

Click for Video: Rishikesh Photography Club Photo Walk

After breakfast and a breather back at the hotel, we took 3 tuk tuks part of the way to the ashram where the Beatles practiced transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 60’s. It was very interesting and, in a way, very disappointing. This facility certainly isn’t as historic as the many 100’s of years old palaces and forts throughout India, but it’s still a shame to see it going to ruin.

The Beatles Ashram

 

Rather than walk back to the hotel, we took 2 taxis for a harrowing, hair raising, heart thumping drive back through the streets. At one point, our driver was (it seemed like) just inches away from a motorcycle in front of us, while the girl passenger was sitting backwards shooting a video of us.

Another rest back at the hotel then we were off to the Sri Ram Ashram orphanage, in Haridwar, about 1.25 hr. drive away. The orphanage was founded, in 1984, by Dass’ guru, Babba Hari Dass, and has been run by another of his followers, Rashmi Cole. Dass hadn’t seen her since they traveled there in 1983, so it was an emotional reunion. It was very interesting to talk with her, share masala chai and meet some of her children, both current and those who have moved on to colleges and universities. They come home for Dawali every year.

We left the orphanage about 6:30 and drove back to the hotel. It was a long day and we were all beat. Dinner and a good night’s sleep will serve us well for the long drive back to Delhi tomorrow.

 

Day 4 – October 28:  Rishikesh to Delhi

Today was a road day, but the traffic wasn’t nearly as bad as it was last Friday enroute to Rishikesh; it took us only about 6 hours.

The photography was pretty much limited to what we could shoot through the bus windows, most of which don’t open. Just to make it interesting though, we were all on the lookout for large loads on any kind of vehicle and the most number of people on a motorcycle. Up to 4 is very common, so we were looking for 5 and saw a few. We saw a family of 5 and the mother was quite large, so that became a ‘Fat 5’. Now the goal is 6 or 5 plus a goat! Besides that, we saw other strange stuff like a 3-wheeled ‘bicycle’ with a stack of chicken crates (all that was left was a few feathers) with a guy sitting on top sleeping. There’s an endless supply of fresh fruit stands along the shoulder of the road as well.

We stopped for a pee break, a quick masala chai and a snack, but didn’t stop for lunch so it was fairly late in the afternoon when we reached the hotel. Boy, people get cranky when they don’t eat! An early dinner fixed everyone up though.

Later, Dass’ Indian ‘family’ – mother and 3 daughters – came to the hotel to visit with him and Jill. I had met all but 1 of the daughters in 2016, so Dass was kind enough to invite me to join them. It was a particularly special reunion for Dass, since he could introduce them to Jill. They presented her with a couple of gifts: a lovely saree and a pair of very nice earrings.

Off to Agra and the Taj Mahal tomorrow.

 

Day 5 – October 29:  Delhi to Agra

Internet has been a bit unpredictable and will continue to be so over the next few days.

Our day started with a bicycle rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk, the market in Old Delhi. We arrived there about 10:00, so all of the shops weren’t open yet which, actually, was good for us because it wasn’t quite as crowded as it could have been.

The rickshaw ride took only about 15 minutes, so we took an extra hour to walk around on our own. Everyone seemed to enjoy it immensely. The people and activity, again, is indescribable and fascinating.

Touring Chandni Chowk

 

We loaded back on the bus to continue the drive to Agra, where we planned to do a late afternoon shoot from the back of, and across the river from, the Taj Mahal. We arrived at the park about 5 minutes after they closed the gate, but we managed to walk along another path to the river, where we got enough shots to whet our appetite for the ‘real’ shoot the next morning.

Besides the market and the preview of the Taj Mahal, the shooting today included more through the bus windows capturing day-to-day life, large loads and 5 or more on a motorcylce.

Enroute to Agra > The Back of the Taj Mahal

 

Describing India, particularly the northern half, defies description. Even photographs, regardless of how good they are, don’t fully describe what you see and hear along the way. The driving is insane to us, but it works. Seeing traffic coming directly down the road at us is not unusual, but that’s just the way it is. Except for cities like Delhi, you don’t see traffic lights, and they often seem to be just a suggestion. Stop signs? Forget get it! They’re few and far between, but we have yet to stop for one. Gobsmacked is a good way to describe how it hits you.

It’s all fascinating and I love it! Overall, the best part is the people. Even along the roads, when people see us taking photos of them in a car, on a motorcycle, a tuk tuk, a tractor or standing along the streets in the towns, they wave and show the biggest, brightest smiles and laughs. Especially the kids. It’s awesome!

This entry was posted in Incredible India Revisited - 2019: The First 5 Days.

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