It’s hard to believe the year is soon coming to a close and we’ve been asking ourselves, what happened on the travel front?…..the answer is lots….first, we bought a tent and yours truly became a “camper”! Who would have thought that after living in Canada for 22 yrs, and loving the outdoors, I had not yet developed a love for sleeping under the stars with a wafer thin piece of nylon protecting me from the elements and random wildlife? All goes to show, it really is “never too late”! For the next few years while we are saving for our long term adventure, we know we need to adopt some frugality in our short term vacations, and so we agreed car camping would check the boxes with respect to our love for hiking and travel.
Having set our minds on that approach, we embarked on the search for a perfect tent (that allows for me getting dressed in an upright position) and landed on the MEC Mountain Equipment Coop 6-person Cabin Tent, aka ‘Sweet Pea’. All that remained was to plan our route (Vancouver to Moab, Utah and back via Oregon) and activities, which we knew needed to include some serious hiking and wine tasting – not a bad combo eh?!
Luckily we didn’t have pets with us, but I couldn’t help but worry about my ankles…
First night under the stars (in Sweet Pea)…we found ‘Kampgrounds of America’ to be really organized and welcoming.
Hopeful to see the use of sustainable power along our route….
We only thought about heading to Vegas for 30 seconds…..about 5 times!
Let the hiking begin – so many stunning trails to choose from….
We didn’t venture up close the famous arch…but I did try a 200mm zoom, 400 or longer would have been perfect to capture more detail, but I’m not wiling to pay the cash or lug that around.
We happened upon a couple of Homeland Security agents and I couldn’t resist the photo op…
We nearly ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere before we at arrived at ‘Whispering Willows’ sanctuary. Another successful test overcome on the martial front and luckily we had wine with us to decompress around the camp fire!
The topography in Canyonlands was unique….very grounding – we are just a smudge on this planet!
…..and so the time came to hike to the bottom of the canyon – it was going to be our most physically challenging hiking in this park – but alas, things did not go to plan….
I struggle with mild anxiety, often associated with flying or heights, and on this day it won me over and I only managed to descend about 15 mins on the trail before I was gripped with fear of falling off what was in my defence, a pretty shear drop on a scrambly narrow path. It was a bit upsetting at the time but turning around and high tailing back up was the right call.
One of the neatest parts of the road trip was travelling along the ‘Loneliest Road’, I-50, to cross from Utah back to Oregon. Beautiful scenery, and thankfully not much happening, given the main pass-time along with road seems to be shooting bullets into the road signs – we likely dodged a few!
Southern Oregon brought a chance to chill in a natural hot spring….would have been perfect had it not been bug city!
Back in the outstanding Pacific North West and its wine time!
Only one more thing to accomplish (vegetarian sausage, the best Enchilada sauce ever and a plethora of other treats that require a trip across the border)…sorted with a stop at Trader Joe’s in Bellingham.
Vancouver based Maryam is a professional makeup artist and eyebrow specialist who has more than 20 years of experience in the beauty industry, and has worked with local celebrities, brides to be, fashion shows etc. Her services are sought after and the work of her, and her team, is exceptional. Check out Maryam’s website if you would like to know more http://www.maryamcollahi.com
In addition to making her clients look and feel good about themselves inside and out, Maryam now also conducts training sessions in various practices of her profession, and I think it’s wonderful that she’s sharing her years of experience with those who want to pursue a similar career.
Over the years I’ve done a few photoshoots for Maryam, ranging from shots of her new salon to recent sessions with a class of students and also models. Maryam is a perfectionist, as she should be in her trade, but also very much a relationship-based “people person” and very easy to work with.
Below are a sample of images from the latest photo shoot, and the output was intended to provide material for the new website. However, we were unable to obtain the flawless images that were required for the website launch due to a number of challenges i.e.; inadequate studios space (back drop etc) and most importantly inadequate lighting. So this particular shoot was one that we all put down to experience and will learn from. The models, make-up artist and Maryam’s team were all amazing and I have no doubt the new website pics, when they come to fruition, will be amazing too.
Creepy….a foggy night is, yet “cool”, at the same time. A sheer grey curtain seemingly with a mind of its own, twisting and turning through damp wet streets and cloaking the homes, with bright yellow windows, high and low. This is Vancouver West End, when the dense marine fog rolls in and just as quickly retreats to the calm waters of Burrard inlet, towards the wailing fog horns warning of impending danger.
Safe on the streets I wander, it’s rush hour, folks quickly pass by – heading home or out to dinner, who knows? Moving through a haze that almost provides me and my discreet 50mm lens the anonymity needed for silhouettes in the diffused glare of street and headlights, almost – but not quite. I quickly focus and click – it works, and then it doesn’t.
I had a milestone birthday a couple of weeks ago – and hasten to say I would not ordinarily broadcast that fact, but the day/weekend was so much fun and I wanted to share a few pics for (at the very least) family and friends.
Some grand ideas for the big 50 were explored in advance of the day, like a transatlantic flight for a romantic weekend in Paris….but all I really wanted was to spend the occasion with close friends, eat some really good food, dress up…and maybe bust some moves….mission accomplished!!!
Given this all happened on the one year anniversary of our epic trip to India, it seemed fitting to celebrate Indian style…so with a little help from friends (including my very kind co-worker Saira and her family, who supplied some ingredients and lots of beautiful outfits) we pulled together a grand evening.
One of the highlights was a henna treat (courtesy of my besties) by Raj…and I would recommend every gal do this if you get the chance….so beautiful!
So three weeks in to my 5th decade and what to say….? Well, I’m healthy, happy and set to embrace whatever the next 10 yrs brings – adventure’s out there!
PS: our super cute puppy niece ‘Kes’, quite rightly steals the show.
PPS: thanks to our friends (especially the guys) who went along with the dress-up plan!
If you’ve been following my story at all, you may have gathered already that I LOVE to document the journey of a new life… and this Fall baby was no exception. I felt privileged to be able to play a very small part in welcoming this little guy, and I also got to use my early birthday gift (Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 lens) for a couple of the shots!
Wishing this lovely family a long, happy and healthy life together!
Fall in Vancouver this year has exceeded expectations so far with 2 x straight weeks of bright sunny weather and unseasonably warm temperatures. Normally we would be going into hibernation to avoid the grey drizzly days – so woo hoo!, it’s time to hike (and not a bug in sight!).
With a view to expanding our BC hiking adventures, we recently picked up a copy of Stephen Hui’s ‘105 Hikes’, and it came in very handy this weekend. I met Stephen in a ‘Beginners’ photography class almost 10 years ago now, and I think we made for good class mates in terms of sharing perspectives/ideas. I’ve since followed his writing and photography through various media and admired his passion for enjoying and protecting the environment, and for raising the profile of our ‘Beautiful British Columbia’.
We opted for Hike # 1 – ‘Mt Seymour Trail’ with an estimated completion time of 4 hrs (round trip) for the 5 mile (8 km) hike, with a moderate difficulty level. It turned out to be 6 hrs for us, and included some extra time taking in the views at the top, as well as a very cautious descent given both my knees were complaining by that time. It was pretty cool to follow Stephen’s instructions on how to approach this hike. I like the fact that he included just enough detail in describing the trail, such that we were able to find our way, yet at the same time we were surprised by the incredible vistas that greeted us at every turn. If you live in or plan to visit BC, Canada, and like to explore outdoors, I would highly recommend taking along a copy of ‘105 Hikes’ as a companion.
As always, the Pride Parade was a highlight of the summer in Vancouver, and having lived in this beautiful city now for some 22 yrs, I’ve enjoyed many a parade. This year was different however, for 3 reasons;
The parade also featured our dishy PM, Justin Trudeau, but unfortunately due to a poorly timed pee break, I missed this up close and personal encounter. Thankfully sister snapped a quick iPhone shot, without even realizing who was in the frame…LOL!
More practice is in order to totally master this powerful lens….soooo many shots were out of focus, I think because of the focus set up, but hey – much of the fun is in the learning when it comes to photography, for me at least. Below are the best of the bunch from Baby’s first time out. If anyone uses the same lens on a regular basis – I’d love to hear tips for getting the most out of it.
Oh….and it’s Pride right, so “viewer discretion is advised“.
The desire to “sail away” crept up on us gradually, helped along in no small part by our Brisbane based bestie with a boat. So after a 2-day beginner course in English Bay, Vancouver, we were feeling somewhat equipped to be able to distinguish the front of a boat from the back, or the bow from the stern as it were – that was about the extent of it. However, another VERY important part of our preparation for sailing was studying hours upon hours of various sailing videos on YouTube, that qualifies, right?! 😉
Upon arriving in Australia, friends were reunited and we were hustled to the Brisbane Royal Yacht Squadron, and shown to our home for the next few weeks…sv MAD, a 45ft Bavaria cruiser. The marina amenities were a welcome comfort and we enjoyed them after our 15 hr long haul flight, for about 20 minutes, and then promptly set sail for Moreton Island (about 4 hours from Brisbane). It soon became apparent that skipper Jacqui and first mate Noel do not mess about – carpe diem!
It’s official…..we are MAD CREW!
MAD’s spacious salon where many a meal would be cooked and consumed (along with a few beverages) and the odd game of Yahtzee, over the coming weeks.
Pete training on the Raymarine navigation system – it feels like rocket science at first….
….but once you have it figured out – you’re laughing!
My first attempt at steering this big bugger of a boat…..
There really is no feeling like gliding through the water under sail…
….Noel seems to think so too 🙂
Once at Moreton Island – we christened the new crab trap, but this little one was not for consumption.
The sand dunes are well hidden from the coast, but stride a few steps from the beach, and you happen upon a golden elevation change that’s a sufficient enough hike to work up a sweat, and a thirst!
After our quick one-nighter to Moreton Island to get our sea legs (nobody puked – yay!)…it was back to Brisbane to prepare for our serious, “shakedown” sail out of Brisbane, and North up the coast for a couple of weeks.
First stop after a calm overnight sail was an amazingly peaceful anchorage at Fig Tree Creek in the Great Sandy Strait, which is on the west side of the famous Fraser Island (the world’s largest sand island stretching over 120km).
This super serene anchorage was only disturbed periodically by some kind of flying ray fish….up close it had the look of a prehistoric bird.
Another fruitless attempt at crabbing, and unfortunately the trap took off in the strong current (or someone swiped it!?) the very next day 😦
No luck on the fishing line either, but we had plenty provisions on onboard to sustain us.
The next day was kinda stressful….and I didn’t take any pics along the way for that reason, but we (Jacqui basically) had to navigate up the Sandy Strait with an impeccably timed tide change, in order to be able to get through it with enough water under the hull, such that we wouldn’t run aground. Man, it was close!
Next stop, King Fisher Bay where we chilled, swam, hiked, drank and generally eased into full-on vacation mode.
When contemplating the hike to Lake McKenzie, we were convinced that we could hitch a ride with some charitable Aussies to get back to Kingfisher Bay. We didn’t factor in that it was the weekend of a public holiday however, and nobody was leaving the lake once they arrived, except us – so our 3.5 hr hike turned into a lovely 8 hr day hike!
Despite all the warnings…..we didn’t spy a single dingo….and I was kinda hoping we would…kinda 😉
Once there, the pristine lake was a cool relief to our well hiked hot feet….and then we had to hike back again!
I should have captured the lil’ crabs who fabricated all kinds of cool patterns in the sand with their burrowing….we thought this one was purposefully created for the Canadians who would soon be hiking by – eh!
Fraser Island day trippers heading home…..while we take in the view from our floating home.
Some rough seas called for all hands on deck after leaving King Fisher Bay. We had planned to anchor overnight at our next stop Wathumba Lagoon, but the weather that had blown in (and knocked us down at one point) was not about to clear in a hurry, so we pushed on across Hervey Bay through the night…experiencing foresail and nav system malfunctions along the way – we needed the added drama! We arrived at the town of Bundaberg the next day – salty, tired and lets face it, somewhat relieved to have a base for a few days for boat repairs and to regroup.
When in Bundaberg – you just have to sample the famous Bundy Rum.
One of our two boat cats, Emma, keeping an eye on proceedings in the salon….
…..and cat sister Xena hanging out with Uncie Pete.
Who wouldn’t want to wake up to this every morning 🙂
After accomplishing everything we needed to in Bundaberg, it was time to head out on another night sail across the Coral Sea, bound for Lady Musgrave Island, which is one of the southern most coral cays in the Great Barrier Reef system. This would be the first solo night watch for Pete and I respectively….yikes! Fortunately, it was calm seas with lots of time to contemplate life.
Lady Musgrave Island!!!…we had finally found true paradise and 2 nights at anchor was not nearly long enough to soak it up, but we did our best!
The sailing community has to be the friendliest we’ve experienced on all our travels. Folk just swing by in their dinghies, laden with snacks and beverages, and it’s easy to wile away the evening with stories of where everyone has been, and will be heading next.
Quit being so cute Emma….!
Yet another miss with the crab trap, but at least we were able to retrieve it this time.
Kudos to skipper Jac for prepping sushi while MAD was rocking and rolling in the swell.
Yum, yum, yum!
The morning after yet another stormy night at sea….this time we actually had to head for shelter in a protected bay, and although that was the safe thing to do, it set us back in terms of our Brisbane ETA.
Because we all wanted to squeeze every moment out of the trip, and we ran into some crappy weather, we decided that Pete and I couldn’t take the chance of missing our flight back to Vancouver the next morning, and so were water taxied in Maddie (the dinghy – everything has a name on a boat!) to the beach in Mooloolaba Bay. From there we hopped an uber ride back to Brisbane airport for an overnight stay and early flight. Meanwhile Jacqui and Noel hastily set sail for the rest of the passage to Brisbane (17 hrs or so), trying to dodge an approaching gnarly squall, and bracing for yet another overnight sail.
Here’s to the best hosts and crew mates ever – Jacqui & Noel, and to many more sailing adventures in the future!
The penultimate stop on our epic India trip was also going to be one of the main highlights. We had been pretty spoilt up to this point, in terms of being chauffeured around to all our exciting destinations, and for the most part not having to be at a specific place by a specific time. That was all about to change however, as we ventured out to make our own way by train to Varanasi….via the infamous Indian railway network. We LOVE travelling by train, it’s the perfect mode of transport to daydream the journey away and of course we had romanticized it, imaging ourselves breezing through the Indian countryside nibbling on our tasty local snacks and making more travel memories. Cue reality check……
The train was due to leave at around midnight and take approx. 12 hrs, with many stops along the way. We did in fact leave almost on time, but somewhere along the way our we lost 5 hrs and our 12 hr ride turned into 17 hrs (which we were later informed is pretty good going with respect to potential delays which could be up to a full day/night). Upon boarding, we found our bunks which were top deck in the aisle way, adjacent to each other, with local travellers below us. We were fortunate enough to be riding in an air conditioned car and it actually worked, in fact it was right above my head and so I settled down for a night in what was tantamount to a meat locker….but as tired as I was, sleep escaped me. Pete was out like a light within a few minutes, and quickly joined the chorus of snoring and farting (only snoring on his part – I think!)….to say it was torture would be an understatement. So I resigned myself to a sleepless night and my mind drifted to the wonders that Varanasi would hold…we had been advised that if we thought Delhi was hectic, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
We scored yet again with the Ganapati Guest House http://www.ganpatiguesthouse.com perched on the banks of the River Ganges in the old town of Varanasi and with a rooftop deck that served beer…sssh!
From our roof top deck we had a great vantage point to watch this young dude conduct a flock of pigeons who circled high above us at the tilt of his stick, over and over again – it was mesmerizing.
A guided walking tour was a great way to get our bearings on day 1 and learn more about the rituals of riverside cremation, including the tactical pieces like where to buy wood for the pyre, which is carefully calculated and weighed out to ensure the fire burns long enough to fully cremate the body.
Sidewalk latrines….yuck! But better than peeing/pooping directly into the Ganges which obviously occurs. Wikipedia reports: “The levels of fecal coliform bacteria from human waste in the waters of the river near Varanasi are more than 100 times the Indian government’s official limit. The Ganga Action Plan, an environmental initiative to clean up the river, has been a major failure thus far, due to corruption, lack of technical expertise, poor environmental planning, and lack of support from religious authorities.”
Who’s photobombing who….?
Another day….another veggie Thali – India is such a great country to be a vegetarian!
Laundry day….even if you think you’re in a guesthouse and therefore clean…think again – the majority of them contract out their laundry to locals and it all ends up in the Ganges.
High energy anticipation for the evening payers on the banks of the Ganges.
Another random couple who thought it would be great if I took their photo.
This event which runs 365 truly is a hawker’s heaven. We figured out pretty quickly that once you’ve purchased a marigold candle offering and received a red bindi on your forehead, you were no longer a target. It was however amusing to sit back and watch the same few guys in each area descend on any fresh foreheads that came through.
This kiddo hopped from boat to boat and was working so hard, I hope that everyone else who purchased a candle gave him a fair price.
HOLY COW…! I know, that one’s getting a bit old.
No photography or videoing was permitted a the burning Ghat where cremations are taking place throughout the day and night. However, our boat guide assured us it was OK to snap a few pics from the river at the night cruise.
Stunning sunrise and we were off again for another boat ride.
Once clear of the main tourist ghat’s, the level of pollution was plain to see, it wasn’t unusual to see a random dead cow floating along the river either, from any vantage point.
Like all the other destinations we had visited, Varanasi tourism is supported predominantly by Indian travellers, many of them making the pilgrimige to bathe in the holy Ganges and often a once in a lifetime experience.
Sadhus making their way to morning prayer.
Despite everything we had observed which should have prompted us to run a mile from this body of water rather than let it touch our skin, we felt we had to take the plunge and did not regret it (mostly because we didn’t in fact get sick!). We knew we would never return to Varanasi, and so gave it our best carpe diem.
We hoped a couple of non-religious whiteys wouldn’t cause too much of a stir and we didn’t. In fact, those locals who were in the vicinity gave us nothing but encouraging nods and a thumbs up. It was the closest we have come to a spiritual experience….and then we quickly hoofed it back up the steps to our guesthouse and took a 10 minute HOT shower.
Not a great quality pic but we were feeling very grateful to have spent time in this welcoming location.
The final destination of our journey was a few days at the beach in Goa (connecting through Hyderabad), and it was super chill but you really don’t need us gloating about our time in paradise…..so it’s a wrap!
As we left Ranthambore, I scanned through the Tiger shots on my camera and I’m sure Pete was getting a bit bored after seeing 20 in a row with no discernible difference. Good times though, we both felt incredibly lucky to have had the experience….and we knew our next stop was Agra and the Taj Mahal!, but we had no idea what an impact viewing this spectacle would have on us.
We had also taken a different approach to accommodation in Agra, with an ever popular ‘homestay’ option. After some research we opted for the highly recommended Coral Tree Homestay, http://thecoraltreehomestay.com and it was just what we needed after almost 2 weeks on the road. A family run affair, with vibrant and welcoming decoration and yummy home-cooked breakfast and dinners. It was also a nice interval to share meals with other travellers and compare notes as to where everyone has been and what lay ahead – something we haven’t done since backpacking through Southern Africa a number of years ago. Definitely a primo location with less than a 10 minute stroll to the gate of the Taj.
Who knew there was a Baby Taj….or Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, as it’s officially known?, certainly not us until we found out it was part of the entrance fee to the Taj Mahal. Located on the Yamuna River, this Mughal mausoleum is said to be the “draft” of the Taj Mahal and we found it to be a quiet place to wander for a while, and admire the intricate marble/precious stone designs similar to others we have already seen on the trip so far.
We also visited the Unesco World Heritage site; Agra Fort, and while another amazing structure without a doubt, we were getting a little “forted out”, so balanced the time between reading the various information boards and people watching, particularly trying to figure out what people were watching!
I just couldn’t resist trying to capture all the vibrant colours that presented at every turn of the eye.
From the Agra Fort we had a clear view of the Taj Mahal off in the smoggy distance, it really must be quite a maintenance schedule to keep it looking so pristine….you’ll see what I mean in some of the following shots.
The exciting moment when we were about to walk through the gate to get up close and personal with THE one and only Taj Mahal.
Wow….to say we were blown away would be an understatement of the year, we were in fact overwhelmed and it’s hard to put in words but there is ethereal beauty about it.
I wish I could adequately portray the glow of the inlaid ‘Firestone’ and other precious stone and marble, but it was impossible (for me anyway)…..that said, if you look just under the far right turret below, perhaps you can see sparkle of the early morning light on the design work?
For those of you who don’t know the story, here’s the Cole’s notes…..this UNESCO World Heritage Site (also named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World) was constructed between 1643-1653 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (who reigned from 1628 to 1658), to be the house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.
A little sunset slice.
We were so impressed by our guided sunrise tour of the Taj that we headed back the next afternoon to wander around at our own leisure. As a photographer I’m well aware of the colour and softness of light at different times of day, and typically sunrise or golden hour/sunset, are the best windows for most photos. That said, the majestic Taj did not disappoint even in the harsh 1:00 pm afternoon sun, the people colours popped in its backdrop.
The universal selfie….
…..and the classic sunglasses shot! Cheesy I know, but it’s not everyday you get the Taj Mahal reflection.
No matter how many times we’ve seen this gem in magazines, on post cards and TV, there really is no substitute for seeing it with your own eyes if you ever have the opportunity.
After 13 days and I haven’t even tried to calculate the miles, we said goodbye to our driver Ravi in Agra. Next stop, an overnight train to Varanasi to take in the Ganges and everything that comes with it.
With the colours of Udaipur still circling like an internal kaleidoscope in our heads, we were roused by an annoying alarm at a very unsociable hour, willing us to meet up with our driver, Ravi, for a mad-dash to Ranthambore National Park. Why would you put yourself under such pressure on vacation you may ask…? Well, we had the foresight to book an afternoon Tiger Safari that same day, but didn’t stop to consider that “everyday India” might well get in the way. We’re normally pretty chilled when travelling, in terms of abandoning a plan, whatever….but on this occasion, we had shelled out hard-earned cash in advance and needed to be in Ranthambore by 2:30 sharp! Poor Ravi didn’t realize the mission that was to be undertaken, and as the day progressed, and we became more and more focused on the route and timing (we got lost a few times)….this gentle and considerate soul started to pick up on our stress and wanted nothing more than to deliver us intact and on-time, what a guy!
I’ll spare you the details – but we made it! We quickly checked into our base for the next 3 nights…The Shergarh Resort http://www.theshergarh.com. Should you every find yourself in the vicinity, be prepared for cool accommodation (choose the tent option), top class service and a great location for your Tiger Safari.
Sher Garh Resort….we loved it!
The daily commute inevitably involves camel overtaking.
The mad dash for our afternoon safari was rewarded with lots of opportunity to see the local population of birds, monkeys and deer – but no Tigers! Not sure if it had anything to do with the fact that we were in a large ‘canter’ vehicle, as opposed to a more intimate ‘jeep’ experience – but we wanted to try both.
A line of Bambi’s at the waterhole was a pretty cool sight.
This ‘Rufous Treepie’ was very comfortable hanging out on our vehicle.
We had a great guide for our 6-person jeep safari the next morning, and it wasn’t long before he spotted a large paw print (resembling Tigger) at the side of the road.
Hurrah!….there is only one Tiger family in this zone of the park and we found dad taking a drink around 7:00 am – an early morning safari is a must!
We were in an agile jeep this time, and felt bad for all the folk doing their ‘canter’ safari as they were unable to get ‘off road’.
In contrast, we were able to get in pretty close…like 5 metres away….and my D90 18-200mm was on full zoom. Not the best choice lens for a safari – but hey ho – it’s all I had with me.
….his thirst is quenched and he’s off
What happened next was very unexpected and pretty amazing. We were on a high after seeing papa Tiger, and all the vehicles were still hanging out in that area in the hope of another glimpse. However, our savvy guide decided to head in another direction, and within minutes we ran into two sons making their way across the park, towards dad, in the direction we came from. We had about 3 minutes before the rest of the morning entourage arrived and here’s what I was able to capture.
The morning light was changing so quickly, whichever way I pointed my camera, the scene had it’s own amazing colour.
The shot below is my personal fave….we felt very privileged to see these cats in the wild.
Driving back to the lodge on cloud nine (not everyone gets to see a Tiger!)….we had a goat escort – this is so typical of Indian roads and I have to admit, I miss sharing thoroughfares with wildlife, downtown Vancouver.
We left Pushkar feeling pretty chilled, and with an eager anticipation as to what the next stop on our epic Rajasthan tour would bring. After a week or so travelling, it’s easy to think you’ve “experienced it” – the culture that is, but time and again we were proven so wrong, we had no idea how much the regional cultures would differ, even within the same state.
Udaipur….’The City of Lakes’, with a population of approx. 450,000 had its own welcoming personality. As with many other cities we visited, it also had a healthy back-drop of multiple religious groups living in harmonious co-existence, and that worked for us.
The ‘draw’ of Udaipur – our favourite Indian city to date, might best be explained in pictures rather than words…
India is like a box of chocolates….you just never know what you’re gonna get…and this is particularly true when on a road trip – evidenced by the party tractor above. Almost every tractor we saw on the drive from Pushkar to Udaipur was adorned in the same way and packing a boombox and a couple of speakers, because you need music while you work…right?! Party on Rajasthan!
The most famous accommodation on the lake by far is the Taj Lake Palace Hotel Taj Lake Palace Hotel This is the one hotel that can only be accessed by boat, unless the lake dries up (as it did during the 2012 drought) and it’s über exclusive. We like to treat ourselves occasionally while travelling, but the price of accommodation was well outside our comfort zone, so we figured we’d just pop over for lunch and check it out – a good compromise right?……wrong, no riff raff allowed! You have to be a paying guest to enjoy this expensive little gem.
With no chance of entry to the Lake Palace Hotel, we opted to do a tour of the magnificent City Palace, and as with our other excursions, were impressed by how incredibly well-preserved this structure is. The rich history is too deep to go into in this overview, so if you’re interested to learn more, check out this informative link; http://www.udaipur.org.uk/tourist-attractions/citypalace.html
With the Palace tour under our belt, it was time to check out the local markets (I needed authentic spices to bring home for Indian dinner entertaining)….so we hired an ‘auto’ driver for a few hours. I don’t remember his name, but he was hell-bent on taking us up to the surrounding hills to visit the “craft village”, and no doubt on a healthy commission for doing so. After too much debate, he relinquished and took us to the local market as originally requested. Love these awkward travel moments – just not so much at the time!
Not buying organic food is not an option, how cool is that?!
The shot below was a common sight in many of the Indian towns/cities we visited. There always seemed to be a buzzing network of “one-way” back streets, with double parking and multiple vehicles traversing “one-way” in both directions! If the owners of obstructing vehicles were not in hollering distance, the accommodating by-standers were ready to oblige with a stealthily coordinated ‘pick up and drop’ exercise to move the temporary offenders. An efficient resolve with no parking tickets incurred.
I’m not sure where we happened upon the info about the Dharohar Folk Dance at the Bagore Ki Haveli (likely Trip Advisor – our ‘go to’ resource while on the road these days), but I’m glad we paid attention. This was a fab way to while away a couple of hours with dancing and regalia from multiple regions around India. A very talented cast indeed. All these pics were taken in very low light with an 18-200 mm lens on my Nikon D90 at maximum ISO, so I was pleased anything turned out.
Spinning around in a floaty skirt with some of your besties, what more do you want from life?!
The audience participation went down well too.
This lovely lady is my hero….we didn’t know she was 70 yrs old until after she’d finished the following sequence of pot balancing. To be honest, we were impressed when she donned the first 2 – 3 levels, and were not prepared for her to return another 7 times to be loaded up to the hilt!
Balancing 10 clay pots is not enough in and of itself to assure job satisfaction, so best lay down a glass carpet to raise the difficulty bar another level!
Darling husband looking quite distinguished in his Kurta – brings out the steel-blue eyes!
Night time around Lake Udaipur is a magical experience, all the buildings are so beautifully lit, and I get to practice my night photography (sans tripod!)
Above….our sparkling hotel, taken from across the lake.
5 steps outside the hotel on our way to dinner and a couple of local teenagers enquire “how was the wedding”…I guess we looked the part!
After the bustle of Jaipur, we were more than ready to dial things down a notch, and heard Pushkar might be the place to kick back for a few days. With a population of around 22,000, and set on a holy lake where Lord Brahma (the “Creator” in the Hindu religion) is said to have dropped a lotus flower, it’s very picturesque. Just a small town, laced with hundreds of temples, many of them with a chalky blue appearance and it’s easy to understand why this is such an important destination for devout Hindus.
When travelling over a short period of time (1 month), we attempt to hit the highlights of each destination but the calendar doesn’t always cooperate. The highlight of Pushkar would have been the annual Camel Fair, which typically runs between the end of October and beginning of November, depending on where the Hindu month of ‘Kartik’ falls. In 2017, the Fair was scheduled to start about 1 week after we passed through the region, so alas, we weren’t able to experience this small town in all its dromedary glory. On the upside, the drive to Pushkar was a mere 3.5 hours, so no need for a 06:00 am start, and an early afternoon arrival provided ample time for some initial exploration before nightfall.
Notwithstanding the fact that we didn’t make it for the main event, day-to-day life for locals and tourists alike still revolves around the camel industry, as it were, in addition to the more serious business of prayers. There is also a distinct laid back “hippy” feel to the place, which made for a chill few days.
As much as we love them we dare not keep chips within reach when at home – because they last for 10 seconds max. That being said, chips, and more specifically ‘Lays” have been a favourite “road trip” snack of ours for many years, so you can imagine how chuffed we were to discover India has it’s very own spicy brand! I wish this was an offering at home….maybe I’ll lobby Lays Canada!
The Seventh Heaven Haveli http://inn-seventh-heaven.com/ish/ was a unique little haven with a backpacker feel, and plenty of common area nooks to chill, read a book or just contemplate life.
Pete took one for the team when I ordered a Banana ‘Lassi’ thinking it would be cool and refreshing beverage after our drive, only for it to arrive at room temperature (the ambient air being around 35oC), and not ordinarily being a milk drinker, the gag reflex went into action.
It was a bit of a haul up 4 flights of winding stairs to access our room, but worth it to wake up to the beautiful morning light filtering through an amazing aqua dome…and hey, we are doing this kind of travel now because we don’t yet have to rely on an elevator to take us where we need to be!
Would like to see this on every light switch in every place we ever visit 🙂
I had mentioned previously that locals often ask for their photo to be taken, and this was one of those occasions, however I didn’t clue into the fact that she was looking for compensation for modelling, which made for an awkward exchange.
Bathing ghats around the lake in restful late afternoon light.
Love the juxtaposition of the cow and scooter in this one….a common sight.
After many days of delicious Indian food for breakfast, lunch and dinner – we were craving some greens, and found (via TripAdvisor) this little gem of a cafe with a limited menu, but all salad and veggies were market fresh every morning and the owner shuts shop when they run out.
Even the cows know where to line up for the good eats!
We enjoyed the food so much, we made a pit stop before taking off on our next leg and the owner/chef, Siddharth was very accommodating, he has such a passion for serving up health, tasty bites.
The ladies adorned in their best and brightest en route to afternoon prayers.
My first henna experience….hard to beat.
My sense is that the smug look on the camel’s face above is due to the knowledge that dear husband is going to be hanging on for his dear life, in not the most flattering poses, momentarily….(I don’t agree with the nose pin btw!).
Looking back on the town of Pushkar.
Camel breeding is big business.
As with everywhere else we visited, caucasian tourists were a minority, so ‘Indiana Jones’ always attracts attention.
A sorry, but not unusual, sight. Garbage should not be the dietary staple for man or beast.
It’s a train, a camel train!
We asked the old boy who was leading Pete to take a quick snap of us (above) on the iPhone….
…glad we double checked and asked his trendy little side kick to give it another shot.
We chose to visit India in October/November for a number of reasons, such as it was after the monsoon season and we didn’t much feel like being hot (and wet), but also in order to be there during the Diwali ‘Festival of Lights’. Regardless of where we happened to be during the key festival dates, we knew we wouldn’t be disappointed, and so we made for Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan.
You may have heard of the British TV documentary ‘The Real Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’?, I hadn’t until my mum mentioned it to us, and like ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ movie, it was also filmed in Jaipur – “The Pink City”, so we’d had a sneak preview. While still a hive of activity, Jaipur was nowhere near as congested as Delhi with a population of approx. 3.1 million vs.16.7 million and growing rapidly, and it was quite enchanting decked out in its festival best. We had found a neat little boutique hotel in a quiet backstreet http://www.pearlpalaceheritage.com, in easy walking distance or a quick Auto ride to all the action. Check out the opulent rooms – we stayed in the Khwabgah premium room, and couldn’t pronounce it so just called it our ‘silver’ room. The staff were super hospitable and thoughtful, we highly recommend it if you find yourself in that part of the world.
We generally tried not to over schedule ourselves throughout our adventures in India, and so had a few things on our hit list for Jaipur; visit the Amber Fort, spend time in the old part of the City during the Diwali celebration, take a cooking class and of course eat, eat, eat lots of delicious local cuisine. That said, sharing some of our memories below.
Why ‘The Pink City” you may ask?….well, in 1876, the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria visited India on a tour. Since pink denotes the color of hospitality, Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur painted the whole city pink in color to welcome the guests…. Pink, or perhaps (salmon?) in colour, the city of Jaipur is said to be one of most beautiful cities of India, and we certainly wouldn’t disagree.
We visited many Forts and Palaces during our trip, and with the exception of the Taj, the Amber Fort was a favourite spot for us. Having been wracked with guilt after our one and only elephant ride in Nepal a few years ago https://carrymycamera.com/2012/12/09/all-about-elephants/, we opted for a leisurely stroll to the entrance.
Once inside, we secured an excellent guide for about CA$10 (Sudeep Chatterji of Triangle Tours India) and were pleasantly surprised to learn that he also had a keen interest in photography, so scored more shots of the two of us together than we did the rest of the trip. We found generally that it was well worth taking in the sights with a guide, the history is so rich and we certainly couldn’t have done enough advance reading to ensure we didn’t miss the backstories, which enhanced the whole vibe and experience of any given attraction.
Back to the treatment of elephants for a moment, and we were disheartened to hear that these magnificent creatures were all females. Apparently the males used to become aggravated in the late afternoon after constantly traipsing up and down the hill in the stinking heat – and who wouldn’t?! So they were removed from service leaving the females with the heavy lifting, and lost opportunity to become a matriarch in their natural surroundings. Sad all around. We understand that the Amber Fort is the only tourist attraction in India where the use of elephants is still sanctioned, hoping that soon changes.
We had seen the retiree stars of the ‘The Best Real Exotic Marigold Hotel’ take an excursion to ‘The Monkey Palace’ and so headed that way after the Fort, unfortunately it turned out to be a lunch bag let down – very poorly maintained and garbage littered around. There were lots of monkeys, true enough, but that in itself wasn’t enough to make it worthwhile. The tower below was probably the most interesting and intact piece on the site and we didn’t stick around.
Diwali ‘The Festival of Lights’, also known as Deepavali, a Sanskrit word meaning “rows of lighted lamps”, it is one of the most popular Hindu festivals celebrated across South Asia, and is also celebrated by Jains and Sikhs. The festival of lights celebrates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. Marigolds also play a prominent role in the celebration and you will see garlands strung everywhere, including car dashboards. I enquired with one fellow about the significance of marigolds versus other flowers, and his reply was simply, they are plentiful and cheap – so there you go, if that’s really the case.
Whichever way we turned we were met with a colourful energy, and a seemingly endless sea of families and friends heading to the nearest temple to offer candles (light signifies purity, goodness, good luck and power in the Hindu religion), and recite prayers.
With so many people out and about on the streets, I can only imagine Diwali is a bumper sales time for the hardworking street vendors in the area.
…and lets not forget the good old helium balloon.
We knew before we arrived that cows are sacred in the Hindu religion, and the more time we spent in India, the more this became apparent, they were EVERYWHERE! I could have done a blog post specifically on cows…..
I particularly like this party cow!
Interestingly enough, I posted the shot above on Instagram while we were still travelling, and a friend questioned the swastika. So for those of you who don’t (I didn’t either) have an appreciation of its origin – here’s a little Wiki blurb:
The swastika (as a character 卐 or 卍) is an ancient religious icon used in the Indian subcontinent, East Asia and Southeast Asia, where it has been and remains a sacred symbol of spiritual principles in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. In the Western world, it was historically a symbol of auspiciousness and good luck, but in the 1930s, it became the main feature of Nazi symbolism as an emblem of Aryan race identity, and as a result, it has become stigmatized in the West by association with ideas of racism, hatred, and mass murder.
So as you see, had it not been turned on its side by a particular German who shall not be named, we would view it very differently in the West, just saying!
Everyone is in on the Diwali candle action, and I suspect the little guys above are making a nice little profit!
Pete’s pretty impressed with “…shirting at its best”
If we had kids…they would totally be outfitted like this 🙂
This was taken when we were still unused to random strangers approaching us asking for their picture to be taken. I love taking pics of people, so no hassle on my part, however – other than a quick glance at the back of my camera, I’m not really sure what was in it for them.
Back to the hotel and this flower elephant had lovingly been created in the lobby while we were out.
Our driver also turned out to be a good fixer for anything we needed, and it seemed Pete desperately needed some fireworks, seriously he would not stop talking about it for 2 days straight, and so when the goods (a small sample of which are above), arrived – he was beside himself. Firecrackers were going off constantly while we were in Jaipur (Delhi had banned them as they were adding to the already horrendous air pollution in that city)….so Pete made hay.
It was a reasonable request of me to stand by and take a video clip/photo of the firework fun, however, nobody had pre-warned us about the magnitude of the ‘pataka bomb’ and my ears were ringing with a piercing pain for 2 days afterwards – I was actually quite ticked off by the whole episode at the time, so glad this is picture has no sound!
The final highlight of our Jaipur visit was an evening with Chef Lokesh and his charming wife Geetika at Jaipur Cooking Classes http://www.jaipurcookingclasses.com. We learned so many great tips and were quite pleased with our accomplishment, we were also the only students on that particular evening (there can be up to 20 at times), so were spoiled. We can’t recommend this highly enough and have been cooking the same recipes for friends since returning to Vancouver.
India has been on our bucket list for a number of years, and so you can imagine how stoked we were after 10 months of planning, to hop on a direct flight from Vancouver to Delhi to begin our month-long journey. Approximately 15 hours later we arrived, somewhat dishevelled given we don’t (can’t) fly up front in the posh seats, and wandered around Delhi airport at 2:00 am trying to locate Ravi, who would be our driver for the next 13 days. It never ceases to amaze us that you can so quickly be on the other side of the world, surrounded by unfamiliar sounds, smells and sights, and in an ambient temperature 30 degrees celsius higher than what we had left behind. Given it was the dead of night, exploration would have to wait until the next day.
We had arranged to be in Delhi for just 3 days to acclimatize and get over jet lag, so took advantage of seeing some of the highlights from our central base at the Hotel Bright http://hotelbrightdelhi.in in Connaught Place. It’s surprising how much ground one can cover, although much of the time was spent idling in Delhi traffic jams.
Some initial observations:
Meet Ravi….our savvy navigator (Congress Tourist Taxi Service – highly recommended)
India Gate: a memorial to 70,000 soldiers of the Indian Army who died in the period 1914–21, and a popular gathering place for locals and tourists alike, most of whom are Indian nationals.
Typical Delhi road scape and this isn’t even rush hour!
Humayun’s Tomb: the first of the Mughal empire architecture in India, built in 1572 to house the mortal remains of Humayun, the second Mughal Emperor of India. It’s really incredible how well preserved this structure is.
The next few shots are of the craziness that is Chandni Chowk (Moonlight Square), which is one of the oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi. You can find just about anything in the intricate winding labyrinth of streets and alleyways, and it’s definitely the part of town to hit for a bargain, as we found out when shopping for some cool Indian clothes for Pete.
Fresh squeezed lemonade to order. The sheer volume of people in India lends itself to manual labour where you might otherwise expect something to be automated. Even road signs are hand-painted in many areas if you can believe.
I wanted Pete to purchase a cute little outfit like these dudes are donning, but he wouldn’t go for it 😉
Having a driver of Sikh religion meant that we were able to take advantage of his prayer pit stop at the Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, in Chandni Chowk, which was a pretty cool experience. The young gentleman in the picture above was thrilled to take and store the shoes of a couple of pasty foreigners.
Delhi’s famous Red Fort; construction started on May 12th 1639 and completed 8 years 10 months & 25 days later on April 6th, 1648.
A pretty typical sight was to see a Tuk Tuk (Auto) driver’s cabin decked out with marigold garlands, images of their favourite Gods and family pictures…it’s important to take the things that matter with you when you spend such a significant part of your life stuck in demoralizing traffic jams.
A visit to the Raj Ghan, Mahatma Ghandi monument in Delhi was very grounding for us. Located on the banks of the Yamuna River and housing Ghandi’s ashes, the eternal flame burns hot and bright, and ironically so do your feet as removal of footwear is mandatory before entering the complex.
The monument is a popular day trip destination for local school kids who find they’ve hit a double word score with white foreigners on site too!
We enjoyed some wonderful Indian flavours on our last night in Delhi, followed by dancing with some locals (picked up a few Bollywood moves) before heading to our next destination, Jaipur, early the next morning, with somewhat foggy demeanours.
It seems like a lifetime ago since Labour Day long weekend in the Okanagan, and the sizzling 35 degree heat was mitigated only by the cold sweats I was experiencing at the prospect of photographing the marriage of my beautiful friend Pauline, and her handsome beau, Sky.
“I don’t do weddings”……that’s been my mantra for the longest time, I think because I have such a high regard for many of those photographers who do “do” weddings. This said, with their easy going approach to the event, and fine choice of locations Sanctuary Gardens / Quails Gate Winery, the happy couple had maximized my “great shot” potential.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t stressful, but it was a positive stress – in the happiest of environments, and I’m glad I didn’t let my trepidations win me over 🙂
I’ve been wondering of late whether photographers may be susceptible to their own version of “writer’s block”. I say this because with each dry month that has blown by this year, I’ve run out of excuses….I have the equipment, the time, a reasonable skill set – and yet, nada…rien…niets!
Well that’s behind me – I think (hope) because my long-lost inspiration presented itself again this weekend at a meet-up with our friends and their kiddos. This is without a doubt one of the most “chilled” families we know….what with the parents’ sense of humour, a fearless young son and their recent addition of a beautifully intense daughter.
I’ve always said that I love to photograph people, places and things….well I’m thinking perhaps, it’s the human connection that is, in fact, my inspiration. I will test that theory….but for now, the only thing left for me to do was hang out with my camera ready to roll!
When long time family friends (who don’t like to be in front of the camera), asked if I would take a few informal shots for them, it goes without saying I was more than happy to accommodate.
“We just want one family photo with the 4 of us and Charli (the dog)”…..they said
“No problem at all”….I said
….and ended up eating my words (about 60 shots later) – but it was fun! 🙂