India, that land of wonder and adventure. Unbelievable traffic and overcrowded sea of humanity. An incredible history and accent religions, where many seek spiritual enlightenment or simply self reflection .
As a photographer I was hoping to spend enough time in India to explore the country, befriend local people, and absorb the many cultures.
My trip consisted of two parts. The first half of the journey was to travel via a hired motorbike in Jaipur, Rajasthan, located in north central India, riding north across the Thar desert in route to the Himalayas.
On the second half of my journey, I would return back to Jaipur and head easterly towards the city of Varanasi via trains and buses. Some of the highlight of this leg were the cities of Pushkar, the Blue City of Jodhpur, Agra the home to the Taj Mahal, and the holy city of Varanasi.
Along the way on my journey, I was often asked by other travelers or by people back home how I would describe India. Two words come to mind. Overwhelming and intense. Once you step out of the brand new airport in New Delhi, you quickly realize your in a whole new world. All of your senses go on over load...... The sounds, the smells, the traffic, and the madness that are all part of India. There is a sense of confusion and chaos that somehow works, and works well.
My style of photography is street or documentary. Places like India are a gold mine for me. The people of India have so much character. The men with their weathered faces from years of hard manual labor or the women wearing some of the most colorful sarees make for great subjects.
I remember one day as I rode through a small village stopping to review my map. Across the street was a group of older men sitting in a circle sharing a hookah pipe dressed in traditional whites some wearing very bright colorful turbans. They paused for a moment, had a look at me as I stared at them trying to figure out if I could photograph them. On another occasion I was riding on a dirt road as I was headed to the himalayas when I came up on an old wooden ox cart full of young women. The afternoon sun was perfect on them as they headed into the sun. Their head scarves blowing in the breeze like colorful flags.
As you start to near the Himalayas you start to enter mostly Buddhist part of India. My destination was the city of Leh in the ladakh region of northern India.. I was pressed for time to reach Leh because the cold season was approaching. I had five high altitude passes to cross and was told by the locals that some of the passes would close for the winter.
"The landscape changes dramatically from that of the central Indian desert. You are suddenly confronted by the massive Himalayas, with their jagged, snow covered peaks. They can be very intimidating to say the least.
The road leading to Leh was narrow and mostly in very rough condition. I had to share the roads with heavy truck convoys. The roads, often nine feet wide, were a challenge when facing these large trucks that would take every inch of the road. At times it was a struggle to find a small space of road for me to get past because the trucks were not willing to give up much road. More than once I had a large truck to my right and a sheer dropoff of hundreds if not thousands of feet below me. Quite dizzying as I climbed in altitude.
After the long rough and dusty roads, crossing freezing streams, even discovering that one of the streams had frozen over, I came over the last pass before reaching leh. Tanglang La Pass is the second highest in world at 5300 (17582ft) meters. Cold and tired, I finally arrived in Leh.
One of the highlights in the Indus Valley was visiting the Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Thiksay. The twelve story ancient monastery sits high on a hill and is home to 120 monks and nuns. The monastery also has ten temples.
Photographing this monastery was incredible. Between the architecture and it's history, the monks in prayer and chants, dressed in their traditional red or maroon robes with the stunning scenery in the background made this a place where I could have spent days photographing
The city scenes in India's ancient cities are so rich. From Agra's world famous Taj Mahal to Jaipur's bazaars within the pink city walls, to the blue city of Jodhpur, there is always a busy energy. Hundreds of scooters, tuk tuks, donkey carts, and push bikes fight for a small corner of India to occupy.
One example; I had a hotel reservation in the square of the Golden Temple in the heart of Amritsar. It took me almost two hours of negotiating the last two miles of pedestrian and scooter traffic on streets that were only six feet wide. The honking horns in these narrow streets were maddening.
Other cities like Pushkar with more open spaces were more peaceful. The pedestrian traffic was more orderly as they made their way down the ghats to the waters edge of the holy lake.
After my three weeks of motorbike travel I jumped on the next train out of town, Well at least tried to. trains in India are a great way to get around but you must remember that everything runs on Indian time..... meaning not on time. Its not uncommon for the trains to be many hours late or just canceled.
One of the nice advantages in taking the train is that its a great place to meet locals. It does take a few hours at times for local people to relax enough to start to have a conversation with you. Some of the resistance is the lack of knowing English, and well my Hindi is very not good!
I sat next to a young woman who was wearing a bright red saree. With her red saree sitting in a blue train car I couldn't help take several photographs of her. That broke the ice and soon she was telling me about her way of life in India and how there are still many arrange marriages and how the process still works.
Varanasi, the Sacred City
Varanasi is a 3000 year old city located on the banks of the Ganges river. For the Hindu, Varanasi is a very important pilgrimage city. There are more than one hundred ghats where pilgrims perform ritual ceremonies. Two of these ghats are known as burning Ghats. Hindus believe that death in the city will bring salvation. But along with dying in Varanasi, Hindus must cremate their dead on the banks of the Ganges. These ceremonies are incredible to witness. Yes, you do see actual bodies burning. There is a specific ritual that must be followed exactly in order to gain salvation. One of the other interesting facts this ceremony is the use of sandal wood. About 700lb of wood per body. The huge piles of wood is stunning for a ritual that goes on twenty four hour, seven days a week.