A lens (or four) on India – Part 2
You can read all about Part 1 of our photography tour in India (Delhi and Varanasi) here.
For me, India is the kind of travel experience that all photographers should undertake at least once in their lives. It makes for a rich, multi-layered experience and you’d be hard pressed to find another place in the world that is so welcoming of your photography. In many respects, while traveling in India, we were asked by people we met to take their photos. But more than this, India helps shape your life and personal-growth experiences to. It’s a place where you can connect very authentically and sincerely with the people you meet just by being open and accepting. India gets under your skin and even after leaving, you feel the siren song callback to return there.
A TEARDROP ON THE FACE OF ETERNITY – THE TAJ MAHAL
After Varanasi, our photography tour of India took us and our guests to Agra, the home of the much deservedly vaunted Taj Mahal. This monument to the love an Emperor bore for his deceased wife is world-famous and laying your eyes on it makes you realise that it is truly one of the most amazing Wonders of the World. We made two visits to photograph the Taj – the first in the late afternoon to photograph it from the other side of the Yamuna River, at the Mehtab Bagh (the Gardens of Moonlight), and the second at sunrise the next day, where we joined the first visitors to the Taj.
The Taj is breath-taking and mind-blowing, especially if you are seeing it for the first time with your very eyes. It’s a structure that seems to fill the sky with its beautifully elegant and subtly grandiose white marble faced, dome and spires. You cannot turn your eyes away from it. Two hours is barely enough to explore the Taj — there are so many aspects to it that you can discover and photograph; the trick is to not try and do it all, but to gaze and stroll and let it all sink in before you raise your viewfinder to your eye.
JAIPUR – THE PINK CITY
After our adoration of the marvellous Taj Mahal, we took an overland drive to Jaipur, the capital of the State of Rajashtan. A closure on the main highway meant that our doughty driver had to take a more circuitous route from Agra to Jaipur, one which took us through the hinterland of Rajasthan, through rural towns and villages. While the trip took longer, we were treated to a view of India that’s not often seen by visitors — of life unfolding in villages and farms that we drove past.
Jaipur is called the Pink City for the pink tincture on the buildings within its walled old town. From a vantage point, the city shimmers like pink marble in the distance; closer up, the intricacies of its pink structures are impressive. Jaipur is also home to Amer Fort (sometimes called Amber Fort), a massive structure of sandstone and marble rising from the far shore of Lake Maota. We spent a sunrise photographing the light as it begins to land on Amer Fort and spent some time with the women who were selling birdseed at the lookout over Lake Maota. Visitors buy birdseed to feed the flocks of pigeons there in the belief that this invites good karma. I had brought a Fujifilm Instax camera with me, and took some photos of the women with it, so that they could have small photographic prints of their portraits.
We then visited the Fort, walking up the zig-zagging paved trail to its main gate. Here, we vied for space with elephants and their mahouts bearing tourists to the fort. We didn’t participate in the elephant ride for ethical reasons, as there are reports that these gentle animals are not treated well and that there are calls for these rides to be eventually shut down.
Our time in Jaipur was also spent visiting the Sun Temple, a small temple on a high hill which commanded beautiful views of the Pink City at Sunset. The walk to the Sun Temple took us through a number of smaller temples, all festooned with mischievous monkeys. Some locals feed the monkeys, believing that it brings about good karma.
We had also organised a very special treat for our guests on this tour — an evening at a local haveli (mansion) where we joined kalbeliya dancers from the Thar Desert in a swirl of colour, music and dance. These talented dancers balance jars and urns on their heads while they twirl around in a magnificent splash of colour and movement!
JODHPUR – DREAMS OF THE BLUE CITY
Jodhpur is one of the gems of Rajasthan. While it’s not as frequently visited as its Pink City cousin, it’s also a city that brims with life, culture and amazing street photography opportunities. We stayed right in the heart of the old city, in a haveli a stone’s throw to the central square and the Sardar Markets.
Many people visit Jodhpur for the Blue City of Brahmpuri, a part of the old city where people of the Brahmin caste (priest caste) reside. Here, they mark their residences with blue paint, creating a maze of blue buildings and walls that can take hours to explore.
We spent an afternoon exploring the Blue City, culminating with a rooftop sunset from the home of a local Brahmin, Mr Lalit. Mr Lalit, a teacher and guide, and his wife have lived in the Blue City for most of their lives and their haveli rises through several stories above the Blue City, capped with a terrace that gives a magnificent view across the blue painted sprawl that surrounds magnificent Mehrangarh Fort — a massive structure on a plateau that rises above the old city sprawl.
Our time in Jodhpur included the highlight of spending a day on a Jeep Safari, exploring the rural hinterland and visiting local villages and schools. The environment in this part of Rajasthan, so close to the Thar Desert, is arid and dramatic. Vast tracts of land are spotted with thorny acacia trees and pastures, where villagers raise goat and cattle. We spent much time mingling with local families, all of whom were welcoming and keen to introduce themselves to us. With such a warm welcome, our visit was a great opportunity for guests to embark on some authentic, natural light portraiture of our hosts.
We concluded our tour in Jodhpur with a memorable group dinner at a rooftop restaurant, gazing at the majesty of Mehrangarh Fort lit up at night like a rugged birthday cake. For many of our guests, this experience of India has been a remarkable “taster” that has made them keen to return, perhaps multiple times. One of the greatest rewards for me, in leading this photography tour, was to see the growth in our guests as photographers — from being a little hesitant and perhaps feeling a little overwhelmed by the vibrant energy of India, to becoming photographers who sought to connect with the people they met and photographed by practising an openness to new experiences and a desire to immerse themselves in the amazing vibe of this colourful country!
My travel photography kit
I often get asked what gear I take with me on my travel and photography tours. I like to travel as light as I can and use the Fujifilm X series of mirrorless cameras for photography. I bring two bodies with me – a Fujifilm X-T2 and a Fujifilm X-T3 – along with the 16-50mm f2.8 lens (24-70mm full frame equivalent), 50-140mm f2.8 lens (70-210mm full frame equivalent), a 14mm f2.8 prime (21mm full frame equivalent) and a 35mm f1.4 prime (50mm full frame equivalent), The zoom lenses cover most of the compositions I’m after; the 14mm is for wider angle shots (along with wider angle photojournalistic shots) and the 50mm is a little more rarely used – for portraits. I don’t take a speedlight and, if I’m doing some landscapes or long exposures, will pack a light carbon fibre Induro or Benro tripod with Arca Swiss head. That’s it!