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Newsletter 54 - sent on the 26 April 2022
A wave from India
“Initially you're overwhelmed. But gradually you realize (India is) like a wave. Resist, and you will be knocked over. Dive into it, and you will swim out the other side.”
This quote from Best Exotic Marigold Hotel completely sums up what it is to travel in India.
When I first went to India over 30 years ago, I was completely overwhelmed, and didn't know how to react. I found everything too much, too intense and too intrusive. Since then, over countless visits, I have learned not to resist India, but to dive in. I love the chaos and the sheer energy of the place and the fact that everything and everyone is so alive. I love the contrasts between the crazy streets of Kolkata and the hauntingly empty vistas of Ladakh. I love the wildlife, the history, the vibrant culture and of course the exuberant people!
More than that, I love the small vignettes that form a part of everyday life in India. I love the fact that on long train journeys I have had a complete stranger take an earphone out of one of my ears so that we can listen together; I love sitting at a roadside barbers to have a wet shave to the cacophonous backdrop of traffic; I love the concentration of a chai-wallah as he prepares or the calm intensity of a sadhu or holy man as he invites you to sit in his ashram and share a chillum pipe.
India has often been called an assault on the senses, but really it is more than that: India is a way of life. It is a way of life that I have worked hard to bring to as many people as possible since I started running photography tours.
I ran my first tour to India in 2006, where I met Chetan, Intrepid Travel's top leader in India, and undoubtedly one of the the best leaders I have ever worked with. Over the years he has also become a close personal friend. Chetan will be leading both of the trips that I will be running in India in 2022. In truth, I couldn't imagine a trip to India without him.
Between Chetan and Myself, we will work hard to help you not to resist India, but to dive in. We will cushion your landing in the country and give you the confidence to embrace everything that you will encounter. We will help to make sure that whilst your senses will be completely stimulated, you will be able to avoid the overwhelm that I encountered on my first trip all those years ago.
India has opened up
India is now resolutely open to tourism. After a long Covid lay-off, Chetan has just finished leading his first tour – in many of the areas that we will be visiting on our Impressions of Rajasthan trip in November. I asked Chetan how people were reacting to foreigners on the trip, and he replied in his typically floral language:
The tour is going on great. I am smearing them with lot of fun, frolic and food. People here are welcoming us like 'Royals', especially being the First Tour. Everyone is gleefully saying that since I am here, it means tours have now started. We are like instant celebrities wherever we walk!! People in general are very happy to see the tourists.
Our two tours to India in 2022 represent two of the extremes of this incredible country. Impressions of Ladakh explores the remote and beautiful mountainous region in the North of the country and Impressions of Rajasthan visits two incredible festivals in the colourful desert state of Rajasthan.
As we sub-contract all of our land arrangements to Intrepid Travel, your trip can be fully ATOL Protected, giving you the flexibility and vision of a small independent operator, whilst enjoying the full industry protection of one of the big names of the adventure travel industry.
Impressions of Ladakh
Ladakh is a region like no other in India. A high altitude plateau ringed by the snow-capped Himalayan and Kunlun mountains. It is a land where Tibetan Buddhism is the dominant religion, and you could be forgiven for thinking that you have strayed across the border into Tibet! One of the least crowded places in India, the air is heady with incense and the smell of yak butter candles.
On this trip we will explore the fascinating Leh Valley, where most of the population live in a series of small and atmospheric towns and villages. Each of these is centred around an ancient monastery where monks greet the sunrise with hauntingly beautiful chanted prayers. We have timed our trip to witness the exciting Ladakh Polo Festival - where we will see this frenetic game played out to excited crowds.
After exploring the Leh Valley, we will cross what is reputed to be the second highest motorable pass in the World, to reach the remote Nubra Valley – home to Bactrian Camels.
The main part of our journey is an adventurous mission along the Srinagar-Leh Highway to the remote Zanskar Valley. As well as exploring the stunning monasteries and unchanged villages of Zanskar, we will attend a traditional Monastery Festival, where we will witness the traditional religious dances that attract local pilgrims from miles around.
This area is set to change with the opening of a new road out from Zanskar to the rest of India. Before this route opened there were only two land routes into Ladakh.We will be amongst the first people to drive this road, out to the alpine town of Manali in Himachal Pradesh. This is a fascinating place to visit, with a series of wooden temples, and set amidst pine forests. Our trip finishes in the bustling town of Amritsar in the Punjab, home of the incredible Golden Temple - in my opinion the most beautiful building in all India.
I have put together an expanded gallery of images from this region on this link. so you can see more of the sort of things that you will be able to witness, and photograph on this adventure.
Impressions of Ladakh departs from New Delhi on 5 July 2022 for 18 days. Under our new variable pricing policy, the cost is from £2695 if 8 people travel, down to £2400 for the full 12 people. You can see more information on this link. You can see the full itinerary on this link and download the pdf for the tour here.
Impressions of Rajasthan
At the end of the year, Impressions of Rajasthan tours this colourful desert state. Rajasthan is noted for the colourful saris and turbans of the locals, and is the India that many people imagine when they think of this vast country. Rajasthan is a land of history, seemingly littered in ancient forts from the days when every town had a Maharaja, and warring kingdoms fought great battles for supremacy.
We visit the great cities of Jaipur and Jodhpur, as well as a number of smaller more intimate locations, including Jaisalmer which sits under a vast living fort on the edge of the Thar Desert, and the Shekhawati Region, which is renowned for the ancient painted havelis that used to be owned by rich merchants.
Impressions of Rajasthan is centred around two incredible festivals that attract pilgrims from all over the state to bathe in holy waters under the Kartik Purnima Full Moon. Hindus believe that bathing at auspicious times in holy waters is a way of washing away all of their mortal sins.
Pushkar Lake is one of the holiest places in Hinduism, but the bathing festival here is more known internationally for the vast livestock fair that accompanies it – including a vast trade in camels. Known in India as the Pushkar Mela, it is better known in the West as the Pushkar Camel Fair.
Festivals in India are an intriguing mix of the sacred and the profane! People are attracted to congregate in vast numbers for religious reasons, but there is always a vast trading dimension, with everything from livestock and farming implements to cheap plastic goods from China being sold.
Photography at Pushkar Lake is generally forbidden, and we have timed our visit for the beginning of the festival where we can expect to see huge numbers of camels spread out across the desert in small family encampments. Most atmospheric at sunrise and sunset, we will have plenty of time to shoot both the camels and portraits of the traditional dressed pilgrims who are attracted t the fair.
For the actual bathing day we will move on to a similar, but smaller festival at the nearby town of Bikaner, which should give us a better chance to photograph bathing pilgrims, and maybe take a 'holy dip' ourselves!
Although Indian festivals can be crowded, they are a fantastic time to see the country. Hinduism is an expressive and joyful religion and this is shown in the attidudes and mood of the many pilgrims – making it a perfect time to shoot portraits of the amazing faces that we will encounter.
Impressions of Rajasthan departs from New Delhi on the 30 October 2022 for 15 days. Under our new variable pricing policy, the cost is from £2395 for 8 people to £2095 for 12 people. You can see the full itinerary on this link.
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