On our last day in Jodhpur we hired a driver through our guesthouse owner and went exploring the villages in the outskirts of Jodhpur city. Some of these villages are kind of difficult to reach if you’re travelling independently because of the condition of the roads, so a tour (in our case a jeep safari) with an experienced driver is the safest way to go.
Our driver, Shiva, took us to many places including a Bishnoi village. The Bishnoi are followers of an environmentalist religious movement which considers trees and animals to be sacred.
Our first stop was the memorial of the khejarli massacre. In 1730, 363 Bishnois were killed because they opposed the men sent by mahraja Abhay Singh, whose mission was to cut down some khejri trees that the mahraja intended to use to build his new palace. The sad event become famous as the khejarli massacre (khejarli, from khejri, the name of the tree).
The closest village is called Khejarli, probably after the massacre, and that’s where we stopped next. Shiva took us into a Bishnoi house where we were greeted by a man in white turban, Vakram. “Ramram” he said, instead of Namaste – then he explained that ramram is an alternative way of saying hello, which is used in the countryside.
We then met Rajuram and Dapu, Vakram’s son and daughter. While Dapu went back to her cooking duties, Romana and I were invited to sit on a carpet on the floor in the patio. Rajuram and Vakram offered us some opium tea (yes you heard it right) as welcome drink. He put a small piece of opium in the water and then filtered it and pour some drops of it on our hands – no cups this time. If you are wondering whether it had any particular effects, well… the answer is no.
We were then showed their house. Bishnoi’s houses are made by natural materials, including mud.
We took some pictures, asked some questions about their community and then moved on to Sangasani, a village of potters. Here we met Ushenkan and his two children, Prem and Pamar. Prem and Pamar were so excited posing for pictures that we ended up taking more pictures of them, including one where Prem played “air cricket”, than of their father working on his pottery. Before we left I also took a picture of Akim, father of Ushenkan, whose long muslim style beard and facial expression made him an interesting subject for my camera.
On our way to the next stop, Sotagura, a lot of children saluted our jeep and screamed “hello” to us. Sotagura came across as a peaceful place. Here we got to chat with Rauzi. I loved his yellow turban and the depth of eyes and I had to take a couple of portraits of him.
Finally we visited other places, and got to see a number of typical local activities including block printing and dhurrie making. On our last stop we had a nice lunch made of green beans, cucumber and chapati, rigorously eaten without cutlery and cooked by some dhurrie makers from the village of Salawas.
All in all a very interesting experience that I would recommend to everyone visiting the Jodhpur area. Similar tours can be organized through most guesthouses and agencies in Jodhpur and shouldn’t cost more than 500 or 600 rupees or so per person (the eqiuvalent of 8 euros).
Here’s a gallery of pictures taken during the day. I hope you enjoy them!
As I said in another post, I love ethnic portraits, and now that I’m in India I have a lot of beautiful exotic people at hand to photograph. Taking street portraits on the go is not a problem anymore now that the ice is broken, but I had another wish (some people I spoke with before I left know this already) – to actually get to know a local family, connect with them and photograph them inside the most natural context: their home.
A few afternoons ago Romana and I were exploring the old town in Jodhpur, while yet another young girl asked if we could take a picture of her. I prepared my camera and took two or three shots, but the shooting conditions weren’t ideal. The sunlight was too strong and it was difficult to isolate the subject from the background with the ultra-wide angle lens I had on my camera. We took the shots, as I said, then smiled at the girl and started walking away ready to erase her picture, when unexpectedly she invited us into her family’s home. We didn’t let her repeat twice and with another big smile we followed her. My wish was coming true.
As we got in, I was struck by the emptiness and the simplicity of the home. The rooms were small and relatively naked but with a sort of elegance to them. We were invited to sit on a carpet on the floor and served some chai.
It wasn’t long before we came across some of the other members of the family. Two kids, Tanyia and Punit, a baby girl, Nohita, and the mum, Kiran. The girl’s name, we found out, is Hemlta and she is 12 years old.
After the chai I took more pictures. I kept the ultra-wide lens on my camera because I didn’t have much space and I raised the ISO to obtain a higher shutter speed, given that the light indoor wasn’t that intense. I started shooting the children, which were overexcited and were smiling and playing with each other like crazy.
Hemlta went to brush her hair and came back to us ready to be photographed. She really looked like she was playing a game. She started posing for us like a real model and Romana and I were amused by Hemlta’s attitude in front of the camera – after a while she also changed dresses and put some necklaces.
While I was shooting Hemlta I had to dodge Punit who was always trying to either come into the frame one millisecond before I pressed the shutter, or touching the lens with his fingers. On the other hand Tanyia kept saying “hello, un photo please” and pulling my t-shirt. They were so sweet!
At some stage I detached my ultra-wide lens and put my zoom lens on, because I wanted to do some close ups and change approach – this zoom lens is a 24-105mm and gives me a degree of flexibility, plus on the 105mm end I can have some control on the depth of field and isolate my subjects.
Kiran, Hemlta’s mum, wanted to be photographed too so I took a couple of shots of her, and then some family group shots including a few with Romana in them. Here is a selection of the shots:
We had to leave because it was getting late, but we promised to come back the day after, with some pictures printed. Once back at the guesthouse I started working on a selection of the pictures taken in the afternoon and the morning after I was ready to take the full resolution files to our host’s cousin’s photo studio in the old town. The studio wasn’t able to print the pictures by that afternoon, so we ended up going to Hemlta’s house with our hands kind of empty. We just stopped on the way to buy some sweets for the children and once in Hemlta’s place we were invited to drink some chai. We also met Hemant, another of Hemlta’s little brothers, who, probably disappointed for having known that he had missed out on the shooting session the day before, almost immediately after the introductions ran away in tears. Hemlta’s father, Amolak, was there also and we were introduced to him too. Amolak is a cook and has a street food stall right downstairs from the house. When he heard that we mentioned that we love indian food he suddenly disappeared, only to reappear a few minutes later, with two delicious Kachori for us. When the kachori was finished we left almost immediately.
Communicating was not easy as neither Hemlta nor any member of her family can speak proper English. One of the few things we managed to understand is that Hemlta loves Romana and called her “my best friend”.
The day after, we went back to Hemlta’s home with the pictures finally printed, as promised. Hemlta was very excited and when she saw us she ran downstairs to welcome us into her home again. Because we had been to some villages near Jodhpur in the morning and shot our ‘daily quota’ of pictures already, I left my camera in at the guesthouse. After all our third visit was supposed to be brief, and we were supposed to drop the prints and then leave. But we were invited in again.
Kiran, Hemlta’s mother, made some good chai. When the chai was finished she and Hemlta dragged Romana toward the cloakroom. After a while the three women reappeared wearing beautiful sarees, bangles and necklaces. Romana was so happy: she always loved sarees and wanted to try a real one. Kiran also dressed Punit and Hemant, the two little children and it didn’t take long before the Bollywood scene in front of my eyes made me understand that I’d made a big mistake leaving my camera locked in the room.
What did I do then? I used my iPhone’s camera. Perhaps not the same as a digital reflex, but still enough to capture some nice memories. I finally could make it up to Hemant, and to compensate I took a lot of pictures of him and let him play with my iPhone too. You should have seen how happy he was.
Finally my iPhone battery died and I couldn’t take any other picture. Amolak had just returned from work and he look tired, so we finally said goodbye and left. We exchanged contacts with Hemlta and her family and promised them to write to them some time.
Now, there may not be much to see in Jodhpur apart the magnificent fort and the markets in the old city. If you probably talked to a travel agency they’d tell you one day in Jodhpur is enough. But that’s definitely not the point. Stories like this make me understand that some of the most meaningful experiences you can do when you’re on a long term travel have little to do with the tourist sights (which are also important, by the way), but about the people you meet along the way and connect with. There is no one place where one day is enough if you’re not a tourist. And in this travel we’re not being tourists, so that’s one more reason why I’m happy Romana and I decided not to buy a tour of Rajasthan back in Delhi (see our Delhi, first stop high impact – part I post) – exploring Rajasthan on our own is proving way more rewarding. If we had been on a tour with a driver, probably we would not have had a chance to have a similar experience.
In my first post about our experience in Delhi, I promised I’d give more details on our little adventure – buying the train ticket, getting to the station and taking the train to Jodhpur. So here goes the second part of our story.
We left the hotel with big backpacks on our shoulders and we decided to take a rickshaw from there to the train station. During our ride, the rickshaw driver asked us if it was our first time in India and if we had train tickets. Being a bit naive, we answered honestly that it was our first time and that we didn’t have tickets. Obviously, he saw an opportunity to fool us. Our ride finished at a place that didn’t look like the train station, which we’d seen the day before, by the way. We started arguing with him and he said that the station was just at the back of the office in front of us. I still didn’t believe him and he said “why would I take you to the wrong place?”. I don’t know, why would he? Walking towards that office, we asked a man where the train station was and he gave us some directions, but kept following us. My instincts were telling me not to trust him, but we decided to give it a go. In the end we realized once again that we were being taken to the wrong place. He took us to an agency where he would probably get a commission.
Once we understood the trick, we started ignoring the man and asked other people how we would get to the train station. None of them were pointing us to the right direction or seemed to be sure as to where the station was. The frustration and stress was growing on us. Finally I asked a lady if there was a metro station around there – by taking the metro we would get to the station, no problem. She pointed to the nearest metro and eventually we took the metro to New Delhi train station. This first part of the adventure, from when we left the rickshaw to when we finally got to the train station, took 45 minutes of walking, asking people and freaking out, with the backpacks on our shoulders.
When we arrived to the station, we were approached by several touts who tried to hijack us. We were looking for the International Tourist Bureau (ITB), probably the only place in Delhi where you would want to buy a train ticket, and they were trying to make us believe that the bureau was closed and so they could re-direct us to their agencies or make us victim of a very well known scam. As adviced in our guidebook, we didn’t listen to them and managed to get to the ITB and buy our tickets to Jodhpur. However the train was going to leave from another station: the Old Delhi train station.
Because we had been carrying our backpacks all day, we wanted to get a taxi or a rickshaw to take us to the other station. The 1st taxi driver we asked, said he wanted 400 rupees (about 9€), which is a price I would pay in Dublin, but not in Delhi – he was trying to rip us off. We decided to take the metro which costs 20 rupees (about 0,45€). By the time we got there it was rush hour and because it was just the day before the Diwali, the 4th of November, the metro was packed. We bought our metro tickets, but when we got to the station I had a panic attack. There were so many people pushing and fighting. There were also lots of policemen trying to keep things under control and flighting with men that wanted to sneak into women carriages (in the metro in Delhi, some carriages are just for women, but women can go with men if they want). It was scary! I felt we would be smashed with our bags if we would attempt to get in.
It took some time, and a few trains, before we dropped the idea of the metro. So we went back to the surface to get a taxi. Another two guys asked us a ridiculous price and when we tried to negotiate they turned their back and left. We waved to many taxies, but nobody seemed to like us, and the stress was growing. We started walking as it was getting late and the last thing we wanted was to miss our train, but we finally managed to get a rickshaw. He charged us a more decent price, but it was still more expensive than normal and at that stage we could turn anyone down. After a ride in the bustling streets of Delhi, at last he dropped us just in front of the right station.
We started relaxing once in the station, but we couldn’t find our train in the screens, so Emanuele had to queue at the information desk for a long time to ask and be sure that everything was ok. Everyone was getting on his way, breaking the queue and getting in front of him. This looks like a common behaviour and not many people in the queue seemed to care if someone went straight to the counter without waiting for their turn. In the end Emanuele got to the front of the queue and got confirmation that everything was ok with our train so we went to the platform and sat on the floor waiting for the train. As the train approached we saw a crowd running. When the train finally stopped at the platform, people started to literally fight to get in, even women with children, and get their place inside. As I read in Shantaram, there is a class of tickets with no seats allocated, so when the train arrives people who have these tickets have to fight to be able to get a place, otherwise they might have to stand or sit on the floor.
Finally with the help of some guys we were able to get to our carriage as printed on our ticket. In India the names of the passengers who have a reservation are printed and affixed to the door of each carriage, but when we arrived there, there was no list. We had to wait a while before a guy came with the list and once we read our names in it we rested reassured that we were finally leaving Delhi.
At 9pm the train started moving. We got our berth and after a couple of hours we were sleeping and finally releasing the stress.
We may have to go back to Delhi as part of the itinerary we’re thinking of following – and in that occasion we may stop for one or two days and give Delhi another chance. If we do, I hope our next experience will be better. I’m sure there are a lot of great things in Delhi that we missed out on and that are there to be discovered and enjoyed.
Because I am attracted to diversity and I’m very curious about world cultures, one of my favourite genres of photography is ethnic portraiture. I came across some good photographic opportunities back in the summer, when I was in Morocco on a two week vacation: intense colors, traditional outfits, huge markets with their busy environments litterally blew me away. However for some reasons, including my shy attittude at that particular time and the scarce tendency of locals to wanting to be photographed, I was left frustrated and came back home with very few photos of people, most of which kind of ‘stolen’.
When I was preparing psychologically for my trip to India, as part of the round the world trip, I fantasized a lot about photographing women in sarees against coloured walls, capturing the unique smile of Indian children and perhaps taking some good shots of men in turbans with picturesque moustache styles. Our first stop in India was Delhi and we didn’t do much in there, so we really just photographed the red fort and then left. With so many people trying to rip you off I just couldn’t see myself asking people if I could take a picture of them.
The story changed when we explored Jodhpur. On our first sightseeing walk we decided to visit the fort. This was in the morning. We arrived there and came across groups of local people going into a Hindu temple. It was the day after Diwali and many people were there. At first a little hesitant, we were invited to come into the temple by a child. We took our shoes off and once we got in, people started looking at us with curiosity. It wasn’t long before a few children, including the one who invited us in, approached us and asked us to take a picture of them. The ice was finally broken. We approached a woman in her coloured saree and she was happy to have her picture taken. When I prepared my camera to photograph her, other two women came close to her – they wanted to be photographed too.
Once we left the temple we were approached by other people, including children. What I couldn’t imagine is that we weren’t the only ones interested in ethinc portraits. A local guy approximately my age came to me and said, very politely: ‘my wife would like to take a picture with your wife. She is very excited at the idea”. So off we went. Once the ice was broken on the other side too, other people came to ask for a picture with us, making us feel like celebrities. We also spotted some people taking pictures of us sneakily with their mobile phones. It was funny to see how that sort of cross-cultural curiosity works on a two-step flow, here more than in other places I’ve been to.
In the afternoon we went out on another walk, planning to go to the clock tower, another popular sight in the city. However, on our way to the clock tower we came across another group of children who hijacked us into another temple and as if they knew we were looking for photographic opportunities, they showed us around and recommended potentially interesting subjects. In the temple we also met and got to chat with other very nice people.
Overall a very nice experience. The gallery I’m sharing here features some of the shots we took during what I can define our first real photography experience in India.
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