By this stage in the journey we were delirious from travel. Adam and I had both endured two weeks of “Delhi belly” with Adam almost going under with actual delerium in Agra. It was high time to gain some fresh air. We travelled from Amristar with our fellow Ryan who in contrast to our six weeks weeks was on a two year travelling quest adventuring round the world…. I suppose he should be back now (2010–> 2012).
After some negotiations down by the train station we organised a taxi from a town at little north of Amritsar and began the next leg by car. Climbing out of the plains up and up we hit into quite a spectacular storm. Storms are always more impressive in the mountains -perhaps because you are inside them (?!). It was probably just on the edge of was possible to drive through.
We eventually made it to town late into the night. Together with our motley crew (we negotiated to team with a few other tourists at the foot of the mountains to lower our overall costs) we stumbled into a hotel perched on the edge of the hillside. Experientially the drop in temperature coming from the heat of the summer in North India to these lowrise mountains was remarkable. That night we slept under heavy blankets that night with humid dampness heavy in the air.
The next morning we explored the tiny town of MacLeod Ganj, home of the Tibetan government in exile. There was not a huge amounts to do if I’m absolutely honest – a scattered collection of trinket shops, restaurants and yoga centres abound none of which I was particularly interested in… But it was such a fantastic experience to see mountains again. There is something about the majestic height of these structures which draws the eye both for photographs and, in an almost philosophical sense, causes one’s aspirations to achieve great things suddenly to ripen. In helpful fashion In the afternoon the sun broke and I was able to steal a few heavenly shots across the valley.
One thing I’d like to emphase about these photos is the postprocessing required to really bring out their actual beauty. By this stage having travelled through almost 7000 km of India my sensor has built up a robust layer of dust. I can’t begin to think of what difference in quality this would have made to my former and also later shots. These days program such as Lightroom are able to handle the task in such a powerful fashion. The pre-and post-image manipulation demonstrates the amount of work required to salvage some of the shots from the scrap pile!
Although digital technology means you can instantly see your photos very difficult to get a sense of these kinds of problems whilst taking a photo. Certainly bears no influence on once composition (although when dust settles on the mirror that’s a different business). The impairment can be so gross in certain cases the photos do become unusable.
I’m thankful for my gear these days which is many levels above the gear I ported around India however even on all these layers of filth and still able to see that my original intentions for the image did not lie. MacLeod Ganj was certainly a heavenly place and a welcome respite from the humming plaIes of North India with their crowding onslaught and hot heavy nights. We escaped that very night, so our next journey via overnight bus to Manali to begin our next adventure and Adams last before heading home.
With my feet somewhat more firmly on the ground and with a couple of days to kick back in India before Adam, my adventuring buddy, was set to arrive I decided to voyage out to at Lonley planet’s reccomendation north of the city Trivandrum. Jumping on the local after a somewhat confusing ride I was dropped off in the town of Varkala some miles up the coast from capital. I decided to walk down to the beach initially as I was hounded every 10m “auto” drivers who were trying to drum up custom. However laden down as I was in my bags I made a really clumsy sideways flip over a piece of very well laid Indian road and crashed into a puddle generating quite the injury. At the time I shrugged it off with a bit of inappropriate machismo. With a little dented pride I re-shouldered back on my trudge. It was only later that I realised the injury sustained my ill attired flip flopped foot would cause – as I developed in turn a severe foot infection (I developed a sinus!) Which even today shows in the scarred underportion of my right foot. Hulking down the road a ways I gave in and got an auto anyway.
In time I arrived at the beach I drank in the site of the ocean – a welcome reprieve from the clamour of the city – and posited myself on the beach. I began to take photos whereupon I noticed another chap doing the same. Nothing ventured nothing gained in the land of travellers I went over and said hello. What a fateful meeting!
Dressed in a white cotton shirt, his prototypical shaggy locks and the dusting bronze of someone who is clearly been in India long and I had – the man announced himself as “Harm” in a Dutch accent. We hit it off immediately and began in earnest to talk about the “philiosphy of photography”. Being late in the day by the time I arrived we spend the afternoon wandering around discussing photography and drinking in the sites and sounds of the low season holiday resort. A night over beers precipitated me not getting my train back to Trivandrum crashing instead upon the beachhead in harms luxurious beach hut (to my then and future standards for this trip at least!). I still remember vividly sitting there drinking Diet Coke as we watched the sun setting in a five o’clock-ish kind of light producing such stark shadows of the palm trees that framed our view of the ocean.
The next day Harm being the more adventurous and arguably spontaneous of the two of us stated with no derision that we hire a motorcycle and drive off to see the area. One of the most unforgettable days of my life and one also for my shoulders probably never find me again… shouldering two massive camera bags clinging throughout the day.
As we wove through villages we ran into the local kids who are keen to have their photos taken and demanded in exchange “one pen”. We had a blowout on the tyre and were led miraculously by some locals to a place not far from where we’d crashed out of the race. We eventually made it to the town on the coast before making our roundabout retreat before the night closed in back to the resort. Now in the dead of the night. Exhausted and grabbed a rapid meal and then Harm swiftly turned around and boosted me back to Varkala station – to catch my train back to Trivandrum. A serendipitous meeting to be sure!
The fun didn’t end there though: at the platform I ran into someone else, a Swedish guy called Seb. As luck would have it he was on his way to meet another Sebastian in Trivandrum. Coincidences like this are certainly not to be overlooked so we had a local night drinking and enjoying late-night curries at the behest of local Indian Sebastian’s direction.
Thus…Varkala to Trivandrum was an excellent first foray into my Indian adventure and certainly made up for the roadside dumping that precipitated my initial excursions the day before.
Although my journey to India was and was always meant to be a mainly photographic odyssey I had also intended to take some film as I went along. In the end I barely took any and the whole process broke down early into the journey. All that is recovered is the first 10minutes or so from an old Sony handy cam. Those of you who have read my other post and have seen the photos from Trivandrum might like to take a look at this short one-minute film which includes a shot of George indulging a beer, my first proper Indian” meal and shots of the dancing. Grainy pictures aside the beautiful music captures some of the spirit of the evening which I shared with Midhun and Stalin on my first night in India.