If you’d ask me what my favourite country for visiting was, I’d say without hesitation, India. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the country eight times in the recent years, initially for work but recent trips being for leisure.
Now India is one of those places where visitors come away either loving it or hating it. It is a place of extremes. It is rich in history and in culture, reflected in the temples and palaces but also in the mores and beliefs that mark everyday life. On the other hand, especially in large cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, the squalor and the misery are omnipresent – as are ostentatious displays of wealth. And obviously India has recently been making mostly negative headlines around the world. But defining India by its social and economic problems is doing it as much injustice as defining it by its palaces and temples. India to me has always been about its people – the openness, the generosity and the ease with which Indian welcome strangers in their midst. From each and every trip there, I came back with great experiences and new friendships.
My recent trip to India, from Christmas 2012 to mid-January 2013, included a few firsts. One was that this was my first trip to Northern India, specifically to the Sate of Rajasthan. It was also the first time that I was travelling alone – although that is a very relative term: you’re never really alone in India. Every day I found myself in good company, and I came back with experiences I would never have made hadn’t I been on the road by myself. Despite earlier plans to tour around, I ended up spending a good deal of time in the city of Udaipur, which turned out to be a good decision. By spending more time in one place, I ended up not just meeting people but also spending time with them, and certainly the highlight of this trip were various motorbike trips around the city and the surrounding mountains with friends I had made there.
Udaipur is not that big, and it is a good deal more laid back than the cities I visited previously. It features several lakes, several palaces – the huge City Palace, the Lake Palace on an island (now a luxury hotel), the Monsoon Palace on a hilltop and a few minor ones as well. It is prominently featured in the 1983 James Bond movie, Octopussy.
Winter is the main tourist season in Rajasthan as the climate is really agreeable that time of year, but for all that, I was surprised not to see that many tourists around the city – I guess most spend their time being driven around in air conditioned cars and buses. The most visible tourists were the backpackers, but if you stayed away from the places mentioned in the Lonely Planet guidebook, it was easy to avoid them as well. When I visited a graveyard where the local Maharajas (kings) have been buried over the centuries, I found the place to be deserted. When I asked the rickshaw driver, he simply said, ‘Yes, empty. It’s not in Lonely Planet, na.’
I said earlier that for me, India is about its people. When I now think back on the trip, the most vivid memories are not the tourist highlights – splendid as they were – but the encounters I made, and the friendships that remain.
This was also the first India trip where I took a Polaroid camera with me. Unfortunately I had chosen to take a 600 camera with PX 680 film, which turned out to be a problem, as it reacted badly to the multiple x-raying at the airports – many of the colour prints ended up having a red discolouring. A fair number turned out alright though, and fortunately I also had some black and white films with me.
In the photos which I uploaded, you will find a good number of people shots – Indians are not shy about being photographed, or for that matter, photographing others; and I made a deal with the people I photographed in that I shot one photo for them and one for me. Unfortunately ‘though, the best photo I possibly took on the tour didn’t stay with me for long: after having photographed an old priest in the Jain temple in Ranakpur, the gentleman grabbed the photo and ran off before I had a chance to shoot another one. I later saw him proudly showing the picture around. I guess he was happy with the result.
Beside using the Polaroid camera, I also shot a number of films with a Holga camera. Unfortunately, here too, disaster struck as a malfunctioning camera causing blurred results. Only a handful of pics turned out ok. Because the Polaroid films were damaged, I shot more photos than I normally would have on the iPhone, mostly using the Hipstamatic app. I also put together a selection of those images.
Here then are the links: