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Newsletter 58 - sent on the 4 August 2022
India is back: come back to India!
Travel in India is always an adventure: in the remote and mountainous North of the country, it is even more so. I have just returned from our photo tour of Ladakh, where we managed to photograph a couple of incredible local festivals, as well as enjoying some phenomenal drives through some of the most stunning scenery in the world. Many of the roads are an adventure in themselves, and we encountered a landslide, a raging river that we had to ford, as well as a giant boulder that had slid into the middle of the road. The latter was effectively vaporised by a Border Roads officer carrying a handful of dynamite. Never a dull moment on one of our tours! You can see a range of pictures from this trip on this gallery.
One of the things that struck me the most on this trip was just how much India is over the effects of Covid. Just like in the West, you will see a few people wearing masks, but in general people are just as friendly and welcoming to travellers as they have always been. People wanted to come and talk to us, shake hands or pose for a selfie in just the same way as they have always done! If anything, more so, as there seems to be a collective wave of relief that things are finally back to normal. People responded overwhelmingly positively to requests for portraits and in short, India is as gloriously entrancing and engaging at it has always been. I simply can't wait to get back.
On that note, I have just been able to confirm our forthcoming Impressions of Rajasthan tour at the end of 2022. We have four places left, including both a male and female roomshare, but the deadline for selling these places is looming.
Impressions of Rajasthan
You might have already travelled to India - you may have already been to Rajasthan - but this unique tour will take you to places and show you things in this most fascinating of Indian states, that you will have never seen or experienced before.
Rajasthan is vast, much like a country in its own right. It has a population of over 70 Million and is a similar size to Italy: I can guarantee that you won't have been to most of the places that we cover on the trip.
One of the most spectacular areas we visit is the Shekhawati region. This is traditional Rajasthan at its best, and you will be able to see and photograph an area that simply has not been affected by mass tourism. One of the highlights of the region are a series of ornately painted havelis, or merchant's houses, with historic murals dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.
We also travel out to the remote desert city of Jaisalmer - one of my most favourite places in India, and one of the 40 Unforgettable Places to see Before You Die in my bestselling 2003 book for the BBC. The Old Town of Jaisalmer is a tangle of tiny alleyways inside of the vast walls of an ancient fort. It is an atmospheric place to wander, and you can photograph camels on the sand dunes on the outskirts of town at sunset.
We also visit the town of Bikaner with its sprawling and ornate Jungargh Fort and thriving Old City, before checking out a unique camel breeding facility.
Bikaner is the site of one of the two great Festivals, or Melas that we visit on this trip. The first is the Iconic Pushkar Mela, commonly known as the Pushkar Camel Fair. This is one of the great events in the Indian calendar, attracting pilgrims and camel traders from miles around. The sight of the desert covered in camels is one of the most iconic sights (and indeed sounds and smells) of Rajasthan!
Pushkar is an evocative place in its own right - an atmospheric town centred around a Holy Lake - revered as one of the most holy places in Hinduism. The lake attracts pilgrims and sadhus at all times, but numbers swell at the time of the mela. This makes it a fantastic time for shooting a variety of engaging portraits.
The other festival that we will be attending is the lesser known Kolyat Mela at Bikaner, where we will be able to photograph pilgrims bathing on the full moon day of the Kartik Poornima - one of the holiest times in Hinduism. At these times pilgrims flock to the lake, believing that the waters will wash away their mortal sins.
Indian Melas are a glorious mix of the sacred and the profane: as well as religious bathing and the gathering of the Indian Holy Men called sadhus (some of which eschew all material possessions including clothes, and walk around naked, covered in ash from a fire, and sporting long dreadlocks), these melas attract livestock traders, and often fairgrounds including ancient Ferris Wheels and even wall of death attractions!
Even in the two more visited cities of Jaipur and Jodhpur, I am convinced that we will be able to show you some exciting things that you probably won't have seen before. For instance, have you ever seen the ancient Panna Meena stepwell in Jaipur, or a lake covered in Demoiselle Cranes on the outskirts of Jodhpur?
Travelling on one of my tours is about exploring out of the way plaves, and finding viewpoints where we can photograph some of more familiar sites of India in the best light and from the best angles. We are also responsive, stopping to photograph things like brick works, markets and other interesting things that we encounter along our way. On one of my tours the stated itinerary is only a starting point: we will see and experience far more, from photo-opportunities to roadside chai stops.
I will be ably assisted in the endeavour by the legendary Intrepid Leader, Chetan, who will be accompanying the tour, and we will all benefit from his boundless enthusiasm, encyclopedic knowledge of India and gentle charm and grace. Chetan is a native of Jodhpur, and will be able to take us to the bast lassi shop in the town. He also has a great record in helping us to gatecrash wedding celebrations!
On this particular tour, we will be staying at a couple of fantastic heritage palaces which are a destination in their own right. On the outskirts of Bikaner, and convenient for the Kolyat Mela, we will be staying at the Gajner Palace - a former hunting lodge of the Maharajah Ganga Singh, which once counted Lord Mountbatten as a guest. In Nawalgargh in the Shekhewati region, we stay at the Roop Niwas Kothi, built in 1737 by the warrior statesman Thakur Nawal Singh. The hotel maintains a comprehensive stable of Marwari horses.
Whether you are an old India-hand, or this is your first visit to this most entrancing of countries, then this unique and varied itinerary, will give you plenty of new and memorable sights and experiences, along with countless photographic opportunities. I do hope that you are able to join us!
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 down to £2095 for 12 people. At the moment we have four places left, including both one female and one male roomshare place. You can see the full itinerary on this link and download the pdf for the tour here.
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