During the trip, I made daily Facebook posts, but this blog keeps everything in 1 place, helps me remember the daily events and allows me to share it with other friends who don’t use Facebook.
Day 6 – October 30: Agra to Bharatpur
A 5:00 AM wake-up call got us out of the hotel and on the bus for the short drive to the Taj Mahal transportation staging lot, where we piled into a battery bus for the transfer to the Taj. It wasn’t too far, so Dass drove over on his scooter and Jill walked along with him.
We went through the gates and into the grounds as a group and then split off to wander around on our own for a couple of hours. As with most tourist attractions in India, it was teaming with people, but it’s a very large property, so it’s not like you’re elbow to elbow with people. It’s tough to get a shot without people in it, but no big deal. This place is incredible, so being here is the important thing.
After a couple of hours, we reversed our tracks back to the hotel for breakfast and then checked out for the drive to Bharatpur….about 1.5 hours.
After checking into the Birders’ Inn for 1 night, we had an afternoon bicycle rickshaw ride into the Keoladeo National Park, India’s largest bird sanctuary and a major migration point. It’s about a 6km ride one way into the far end of the park. I’ll tell you what, these rickshaw drivers earn their tips! I can’t remember the names of all of the birds we saw, but here are a few: spotted owls, swamp eagles, vultures, Indian robins, grey herons, Indian pond herons, purple herons, anhinga (snake bird), painted storks, egrets, etc, etc. We spent a couple of hours here and then the rickshaw drivers took us back to the hotel….riding against the traffic!!
Keoladeo National Park
Back at the hotel, we enjoyed refreshments on the patio and, after a bit of a rest, had a group dinner. We have an early morning tomorrow, with the rickshaw drivers picking us up at 6:20 to be at Keoladeo when it opens at 6:30.
Day 7 – October 31: Bharatpur – Abhaneri – Ranthambhore
The rickshaw drivers were right on time to take us to Keoladeo and they drove us the 6 km directly to the end of the park, with no stops along the way. It was a beautiful morning and the light was perfect for photographing the birds.
Keoladeo National Park
We shot until 8:00. The rickshaw ride back to the park gates took about 20 minutes and then another 10 minutes back to the hotel … going against the traffic again!! Check it out: Rickshaw Ride to Birders’ Inn.
We were back in time for breakfast and then checked out for a 9:30 departure to Abhaneri and Ranthambhore. The drive to Abhaneri took us off the main road, which is often the best part of a road trip in India because it gives you a close-up look at rural life: the landscape, the towns and particularly the people. The photo ops, even from the bus window, are countless.
The purpose for the stop in Abhaneri was to visit the Chand Baori step wells. According to Wikipedia:
“The oldest parts of the step well date from the 8th century onwards, but the upper stories with the columned arcade around it were built around the 18th century. Chand Baori consists of 3,500 narrow steps over 13 stories. It extends approximately 30 m (100 ft) into the ground, making it one of the deepest and largest stepwells in India.”
Abhaneri – Chand Baori
The stop at the step wells was great! After spending about 1.5 hours there, we were back on the road to Ranthambhore. Everyone was really looking forward to a good dinner, a restful night and 2 jungle tiger safaris the next day. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant and gift shop, where I was told by one of the staff that I looked like Donald Trump. Of course, I quickly let him know that I was very insulted! The continuing road trip provided more great photo ops.
Back on the Road
We arrived at the Sher Gahr Resort late in the afternoon, so we took it easy for the rest of the day. Dinner was the only activity on the schedule.
Day 8 – November 1: Ranthambhore
First off, I have to say, what a group we have with us to enjoy this Indian experience! Dass, we struck gold!
Also, after seeing the herds of goats on the road, Jill and I have decided to start a new franchise over here: KFG….Krishna Fried Goat!!
OK, we’re just having too much fun. Back to the notes for the day, but this is a short one.
We left the hotel this morning at 6:30 for the 1st of our 2 safaris in Ranthambhore National Park. The park is divided into 10 zones and we drove around zone 4 in our cantor (an open truck) this time. The safari lasted about 3 hours and we were all disappointed that we saw no tigers. The closest we got was seeing lots of tiger tracks in the sandy road. Counting the 2 safaris that Dass and I did in 2016, that was the 3rd bust for us.
Ranthambhore National Park – Morning Safari
Back at the hotel we gathered for breakfast and then took it easy until we departed for our 2nd safari at 2:00.
Another 3 hours and no tigers – 4 for 4!!! Regardless, everyone enjoyed the experience. The animals we did see: sambar deer, spotted deer, wild boar, crocodiles, lots of water birds on the lakes, peahens and peacocks, monkeys.
Ranthambhore National Park – Afternoon Safari
Day 9 – November 2: Ranthambhore to Pushkar
We’ve had conversations throughout this trip about not being able to describe what we’ve seen, heard and, yes, smelled. I feel the same about it as I did in 2016….words can’t describe it and even the photos or videos don’t really do it justice. You can only capture a small percentage of the photo ops, so you have to just keep shooting. Describing the sounds and smells can only go so far; the bigger part of the picture is the emotions you experience when seeing, hearing and smelling everything that is going on all around you. It’s a full assault on all the senses, so you can’t even begin to take it all in! There’s one thing we all agree on though: it’s the people. Their friendliness, their smiles, their greetings…it’s all wonderful, even when you know they’re trying to get your last rupee.
So, for anyone reading this, whether you’re a photographer or not, the only way to understand it is to come here and experience it, with a very open mind.
OK, back to the day’s events. We took our time getting on the road today, leaving the hotel at 10:00 AM. Before we left, though, the owner of the hotel led me along the path to show me their luxury tent accommodations – very, very nice. I think that’s the style to which I’ve become accustomed! Maybe next time.
The Sher Gahr Resort
Unfortunately, we took some wrong turns and ended up going through Jaipur where, again, the driver lost some time with wrong turns and u-turns. By the time we got to Pushkar, it was about 6:00 PM, so 8 hours on the road … a long day. It wasn’t really a photo day, but once again we saw many sights along the road: big loads, traffic in many forms, daily life, goat herds and people. It doesn’t matter though, it’s all good and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Because the bus couldn’t drive down the narrow street to our hotel, the Pushkar Palace (Dass and I stayed here in 2016), we had to walk for about 10 minutes. We checked in, had dinner and crashed for the night. I’m looking forward to experiencing the Pushkar Camel Fair once again and sharing it with our 10 enthusiastic photographers. That starts tomorrow!
Day 10 & 11 – November 3 & 4: Pushkar
It was fun, once again, to walk through the streets of Pushkar to the fair grounds. We walked as a group so that everyone would know the way, if they headed out on their own over the next couple of days.
Even though the fair hasn’t officially started yet, this town of approximately 25,000 people attracts over 200,000, during the 7 day fair. Cows, horses and as many as 50,000 camels are brought in for buying, selling and trading. Many of the camel herders leave with their herds before the fair actually begins. They miss the ferris wheels and other rides, the hot air balloon rides, the camel decorating competitions, the moustache contests and who knows what else.
Most of the photography here is general street life, portraits (people) and the activity at the fair grounds (people and camels) and it’s non-stop from the time you leave the hotel until you return. There’s an explosion of colour everywhere you look! All along the streets to the grounds and once inside, the shopkeepers, beggars and hawkers are relentless trying to get money. Many people want money to have their photo taken, but the choice is yours. If I feel they make a good photo, I give them 10 rupees, about 20 cents. In general, people are happy to have their photos taken and will often ask you to take one of them or ask you to have a selfie with them. It doesn’t make sense to me that they want their photo taken with your camera, since they’ll never see them!
One of the strange things we saw a few times, was people leading ‘holy cows’ – they have an extra leg growing out of their neck. Of course, you’re expected to pay for the honour of looking at them. I never did.
Here’s something you might find interesting. During my 2016 trip to India and not knowing much about the culture, I was surprised to see swastikas painted on buildings. I’ve since learned, from Wikipedia, that the swastika is very common in Indian religions, whether it’s Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism, as a symbol of divinity and spirituality. In the western world, it was a symbol of good luck until the 1930’s, when the right-facing form (卐) became the Nazi symbol emblematic of the Aryan race.
The word swastika comes from Sanskrit meaning ‘conducive to well being’ or ‘auspicious’. Depending on the religion and the directions the arms point, clockwise (卐 – swastika) or counterclockwise (卍 – sawastika) , it symbolizes sun, prosperity, good luck, night, and others.
OK, back to the days’ activities.
After being at the fair for a few hours on the first day, a few of us started to walk back to the hotel. Luba and Anne were behind us, but they came along in a tuk tuk, so we renegotiated the price with the driver and hopped in for the ride back. A few had stopped at the the Om Pizza Garden for lunch, so we joined them. Excellent pizza and the beer sure helped to wash down the dust. We went back to the fair grounds later for some late afternoon light to shoot by.
Early the next morning, we walked to the main street to commandeer 4 tuk tuks for the whole group, including Dass’ scooter. While waiting, I shot a quick video of people chanting ‘Krishna’ as they came down the street and into one of Pushkar’s temples: Into the Temple. You’ll see a woman who was as interested in taking a cell phone photo of me.
We spent a few hours at the fair, took tuk tuks back and stopped, once again, at the Om Pizza Garden. While I was taking a photo of the group, another guy in the restaurant asked if I’d like him to take a photo of the group, with me in it. Wouldn’t you know, he was Norwegian and also staying at the Pushkar Palace. His name was Øyvind … I have a couple of cousins with that name.
Later in the afternoon and after dinner both days, several of the folks either wandered through the streets and alleys or went back to the fairground for a few more shots.
On the Streets
You don’t have to go far to find great wall art: signs, symbols painted on the walls, ever-present graffiti and great wall decay, with fantastic patterns and textures.
At the Fair Grounds
The weathered-beaten faces, brown skin, bright turbans, sparkling eyes and the Rajasthani men’s moustaches make wonderful portraits of the camel herders and many others at the fair.
Many of the camels are shorn to display patterns in their fur. Several are tattooed and most are decorated. The hides alone make for good photographs. Most camels have a ‘nose peg’ to which a rope is attached to steer and brake the camel. Why that and not a bit that is normally used with horses? I read that “… there is a story (or myth) that once a horseman tried putting a horses’ ‘bit’ into a camel’s mouth only to find that it was impossible due to their mouth biology – it would impede the bottom jaw swinging widely when the camel is chewing the cud”. To use or not to use? As you can imagine, it can become an emotional topic.
On the last night, I stayed at the hotel and took it easy. After dark, I went up to the rooftop garden to get some shots of sacred Pushkar Lake.
So what’s going on in the rest of the trip? Lots: the drive to Jaipur, the Amer Fort, the streets of Jaipur, the Monkey Temple and the smoggy drive back to Delhi.