INDIA, In A World of Her Own ! By Gau Nair
Brihadishvara Temple in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu

It started in 1993 …

My four buddies and I decided to make our maiden trip to India, the land of our forefathers. Little did I know then how the journey would have a profound impact in my life, seeing the Indian way of life, the richness in culture and how the people made the best from what little they have.

We travelled 5,000 km in the famous Ambassador Car of India through 5 states (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra). The adventure took a total of 2 weeks. I had only a Minolta compact film camera at that time and was not an avid photographer. But as I recall the places we visited and the different experiences, I realise there are many amazing images to be made and shared.

Lone White Oak in Munnar Tea Valley

Munnar – South India’s most famous Tea Plantation and known to be having the highest Organic Tea Plantation in the World.

Fast forward to 2006 …

I make it a point to travel to India every year, almost without fail, to explore places less travelled. The more I explored the more I saw the Real India. It’s the People who made the experience unforgettable. Their friendly nature and kindness to the core, truly made one feel at home. I will not deny the fact that there had been some negative experiences along the way but the positives easily outweighed the negatives.

Kathakali, the 300 year old classical dance form of Kerala which combines the facets of ballet, opera, masque and the pantomime.

Kathakali Artist in Kerala

It is essential to maintain the awareness of being a stranger, even if you are in a land of your forefathers. The culture and lifestyle of the people are so different across every state, right to the village level. The utmost respect has to be accorded to the people and their way of life. I remember an incident where we were travelling through a small village town, there was a crowded procession where a Man, seated in an armchair, was hoisted up and paraded along with a band of musicians and dancers. The crowd was actually parading an Elder who had passed on. It was something I have never seen before, so I told the driver to stop the car and proceeded to try photographing the parade. As I was getting ready to take my shot, I was immediately stopped by the public. This would have been a different scenario had I been shooting a similar situation in Varanasi, where human corpses are paraded and cremated by the river Ganga.

Morning Mist in backwaters of Munroe Island, Kerala

Best part about India …

India is one of the few countries in the world where you can experience the tropics, the deserts, the snow-capped mountains and all four seasons. It is surely a Photographer’s paradise when it comes to amazing subjects to photograph and at an affordable price. As India is the 3rd largest county in Asia, it is essential to pre-plan your trips for a better chance of making great images. One important must-have is a reliable local guide who has a good understanding of the location and communication skills with the local communities.

Old Fashion Launderette in Fort Kochi

Dhobi Khana in Fort Kochi (Fort Cochin) is home to the traditional art of washing and drying.

Now for the mouth-watering subject of FOOD, be it vegetarian or non-vegetarian, you will never hear of a visitor complaining about the delicacies they have tasted in their travels. Every State has its unique taste which blends into their culture and ingredients available to them in the vicinity. For example, in the Backwaters of Kerala which is one of the most scenic locations in India, their seafood cuisines are popular due to the freshness and the spices used. Those who have tried it will always keep talking about it for sure.

Sunrise in Ashtamudi Lake, Kerala

Subjects to photograph …

You have a variety of choices to focus on. The most popular of all are the Cultures and Architectural Monuments such as the famous Taj Mahal and Jaipur Red Fort. These are well documented and amazingly photographed so where do we go for more?

We now have many tools to guide us in planning photography trips, where fewer people have explored. However, the best opportunities come when we blend in with the community. This does take more time but it’s always worth the effort and sacrifice. A good example was when we arrived at a small village in Palakad, North of Kerala called Pattanchery. We were visiting a family and were told of a unique village festival called ‘Kathir Vela’ happening that same day. This festival celebrates the first blooming of the Padi crops. We made a decision to stay over, to experience and photograph the event which was filled with decorated floats, parading musicians and a carnival. Such a rare photo opportunity would have been missed had we not been spontaneous and flexible with our schedule.

... and that's ME !!!

Finally …

No matter how many times you make your way into India, each experience will always be better than the last. Safety wise it’s always better to travel in a group than being alone with expensive photography gear. Another option is to travel with a knowledgeable guide.

India will never disappoint you but do remember to give yourself the time and opportunity to photograph your planned subjects. With so much to offer, I truly believe India is in a World of Her Own!!

Incarcerated Wild Elephant in Kodanad Elephant Training Centre

Memories from the many Trips: