I HAD A DREAM
I am no Martin Luther King, but I also had a dream.
Well…I still have a few, but this one I have had for a long time: As a photographer, I always wanted to visit India. Or should I say “I always wanted to visit India as a photographer”. Anyway…that was THE dream. And in 2015 and 2016 I was lucky enough to get invited by Megdutham Travels to visit Calcutta to get to know their famous Durga Puja festival.
This festival will be addressed in another post, as in this one I will only address the city itself and its 18 million population, and India in general.
And I will try to be as brutally honest as I possibly can.
As I just said, this is no ordinary city: It has 18 million living souls!! Having said that, it is pretty amazing how they all flow like bees on a honeycomb.
It is almost impossible to walk 10m without seeing someone. Everywhere you look, every corner, every door, every window, you are certain to find someone. And of course…for a photographer who values the human presence in his photos (like i do), that is pure gold.
Not only you are always seeing people, you are always seeing INTERESTING people. So much more different than the caucasians we are used to in Europe.
I am not (only) talking about the color of the skin, which is almost irrelevant. The expressions, the colors of the clothes, the sweat running down their faces (it is always hot and humid), the rickshaws, the small businesses in every freaking tiny little space…
Everything is a delight for a focused photographer.
Let´s start with the downside and get it over with. And what I am about to say works for other Asian countries. This is not India Exclusive.
The fact that it is an over populated city comes with a price tag. And a steep one, too.
Not everyone leaves a comfortable life and that is something that can´t be hidden, as it is constantly being reminded to us every minute or so.
You see people sleeping in the streets. It´s a fact. And then they wake up, have their morning hygiene done (those who can) including taking a street shower using public fountains, and brushing their teeth. All done in public sight. And off they go to make enough money for lunch. And then in the afternoon, same thing. And they do this in loop…
Bu then again, India is home to some of the richest people in the world, so there you have it: country of contrasts.
Minimum wage varies from $2.40 to $5.80 (New Deli) per day, for those who have a job. Those who live off the streets, live with what they manage with their rickshaw runs, selling paper, plastic bottles, etc…
Not only this city is a delight for a photographer due to the tireless movement, neverending taxis, rickshaws, but the people are absolutely fantastic for a photographer! Not only they enjoy being photographed, as some of them actually called me to take their picture. You don´t actually need to try to hide the camera, or shoot from the hip (for those with swivel lcds).
You just point and shoot. Just give them a little smile and respect of, occasionally, they put their hands between the camera and their faces. Just wave like you understood and respect, and move on. Next person will want to be shot.
Smiles are constantly splashed all over their faces, so the whole mix is outstanding for everyone, let alone us, the photographers.
Calcutta is very unique. I know it may sound as a cliché, but it is truly the “festival of the senses”. For the good and for the bad. You really have to be there to experience the colors, the smells and the sounds. Or should I say “the noises”? They learned to live with constant car honking. They honk for just two reasons: when they need and when they don´t need. They drive with their fingers on the buzzer!! It is extremely unsettling.
That kind of confusion and madness was exactly what I wanted to experience. So…yei!!!
You can always walk. Of course that is always the best option to get to know any city. If you want to get a taxi, you will have a stressful experience for sure! Traffic lights are scarce and lanes is something never heard of. Like you find in most African countries. Just close your eyes and pray. Or open the window, put on some considerably fast shutter speed on your camera and shoot away.
Here are a couple of shots that I took with my head out the window.
IS IT SAFE?
We always felt pretty safe. Even in the evening, some of the girls went for a walk and never felt insecure. Of course our white colored skin and curly hair (not me as I am getting bold 🙂 claimed attention, but more in a “curiosity” kind of way.
EATING AND DRINKING
As usual, whenever traveling to asia in general, don´t drink tap water; watch out for drinks with ice, etc…and always bring enough Imodium to stop the “floods”!
At the hotel, water was just fine. Bottled and fine. Of course we would´t risk drinking water from some street vendor, but no one had any problems during the entire 10 days.
Food was great, but of course, most of the time we ate at the hotel. But watch out: everything is spicy. I mean everything. Good for me. Not as good for others.
Most of the people speak some kind of English. But you have to be really focused and listen carefully because the accent sometimes is almost impossible to understand.
So I ended up with about 5000 images. Here are a few of them.
Hope you like them.
For 100 more TIPS about traveling to India, please visit our guide.