Back from India

I’m safe and sound and back from my second trip to India, which took place between March 12 and March 28, 2008. Before the trip I thought I’d travel by train and bus, but the first day was so hectic and chaotic, that I decided to rent a car instead. This way I was able to follow my own route and make my own schedule, so it was a good decision. Mind you, the only way to rent a car in India is with a driver, but considering the driving conditions there, that’s a good thing. I swear, the most important safety feature of an Indian car is its horn!

I spent the first and the last day in Delhi and during the remaining twelve days we drove 1650 km and visited Jhunjhunu, Mandawa, Jodhpur, Ranakpur, Udaipur, Ajmer, Pushkar, Jaipur and numerous places along the way. I wanted to see Jaisalmer too, but that would have extended my trip by 400 km, which in turn would have meant 2.5 extra days of sitting in the car instead of photographing, so I decided against it.

The trip was not an easy one. Traveling, even by car, is very taxing, and on the days on which I was not traveling, I usually got up before 7 am, photographed until about 1 pm, rested in the hotel until about 3 pm, then photographed again till sunset at 6:30. The weather was extremely dry, with temperatures of about 35° C (95° F) during the day and about 20° C (68° F) at night.

I didn’t visit any spectacular sights on this trip (no Taj Mahal or ghats in Varansi), so I mainly photographed people going about their daily business and what I call “still lives” — scenes of colorful inanimate objects. I came back with 1187 RAW images (9 GB of disk space) and I’m sorting through them right now. It will probably take me a month till I look at all images, perform basic edits and rate them with 1 to 5 stars.

Photographing people was relatively easy as many of them want you to take a photo of them. In many cases people asked me to come into their houses and photograph them and their families. They didn’t care about seeing or having the pictures, they just wanted me to photograph them. At the same time, being a foreigner with a fancy camera, I was always the center of attention. I was usually surrounded by a group of kids that made lots of noise and every time I wanted to take a picture they either jumped in front of the camera or in front of the person that I wanted to photograph. The only way that I found of dealing with this situation was to take a picture, let each kid take a look at the image, touch the camera, then quickly move away and hope that they won’t follow me.

The second problem was people smiling on the photos. No matter how poor or tired they were, or how hard their job was, as soon as they saw me, they stopped working, stared at me and smiled for as long as I was around. How do you take a candid photograph in such a situation?!

On the positive side, I felt very safe during the entire trip, regardless of when or where I was. OK, I got pretty tired of bargaining for everything I wanted or hearing how everything that I touched was made out of pure gold/silver/diamonds, but that’s another story.

The food was great too, but that’s because I ate where the locals ate and stayed away from the tourist places. Be very concerned if someone takes you to a restaurant with a souvenir shop inside! That’s a 100% guarantee of lousy food, bad service and ridiculous prices. At the beginning of the trip I was quite selective about what I was eating or drinking, but after a few days I started trying pakora and samosa and drinking juices and lassies from the local markets. Man, are these things tasty! And inexpensive — a freshly squeezed papaya/mango/pineapple juice costs only about 0.15 EUR!

Anyhow, if you are thinking of making a trip to India, simply go for it! Just be prepared for a bit of adventure and lots of great experiences!