When a fellow photographer showed me the photo book “One Billion Indians” by Paolo Pellizz my mind was blown with how it amazing it could be to shoot street panoramic there. Fast forward a year and I finally booked my tickets for 2 weeks and 4 stops exploring a tiny part of this massive country.
I started in Mumbai where along with shooting some great street scenes I could hang out with a good friend and Cinematographer Malay Prakash. He had been bugging me to visit and shoot India for a long time.
Every corner of this city is busy, my first morning I wandered the streets listening to classical film scores that made exploring feel beautiful and cinematic. The moment I would take out my earphones reality struck and the constant beeps and city noise took away my enjoyment, so my music stayed on all the time.
I hadn’t done any specify research on Mumbai other than staying in a hotel close to the interesting spots, my first morning I just walked out the hotel and followed my eyes stumbling onto some amazing scenes. I love these old taxi cabs parked outside the train station, the morning light was perfect as I passed by and waited for something to happen.
I ended up in Chor Bazaar, which my Malay had recommended I visit but I did not know I had been there until I showed him the pictures and he said he had wanted to take me. It’s an incredible part of the city with cars being dismantled on the dirty streets. It was also the busiest part I had walked though but I found one small spot I could setup my tripod next to some caged goats that wouldn’t get int he way of anyone, and waited for over an hour for the perfect moment to capture, which was a goat slowly passing through the scene.
Getting a taxi in Mumbai as a tourist is an easy task, they never understood where I wanted to go and always tried to rip me off, so Uber was a godsend that I used to get everywhere.
Malay took me on a tour of the city which started at the fascinating Dhobi Ghat, where laundry has been washed outside for over a century, and ended on a train though the city where I spent all the time with my long arm out the open doors trying to capture the city commute whilst not getting my hand chopped off by a passing train. After a few hundred shots only one came out just nicely!
My 2nd stop was Varanasi, the spiritual capital of India. My first experience here was not a good one, getting the taxi from the airport my driver tried to charge me extra by taking me to the wrong hotel first, I refused to pay of course and for the rest of the ride was worried I may not get to my hotel and that my luggage was in the boot so he could drive off with it.
Veranasi is famous for the Ghats that line the banks of the Ganges river and the millions of Pilgrims that visit to bathe in the sacred waters. I found the banks of the river too touristy and preferred walking around the small alleyways and markets of the town to capture the local life. There were so many cows wandering the streets, which also meant a lot of avoiding cow dung!
I woke up early to see sunrise and got onto a boat with a Sadhu who liked to be called Babaji and we floated over the sacred waters together. It was a beautiful moment as the sun warmed our bodies from the cold and the birds flew around our boat. All with a backdrop of the Pyres cremating loved ones on the river banks. Sadhu’s are revered for their holiness so it was amazing to capture this moment with him.
Finding good food in Mumbai was easy since Malay took me to all the best places, but in Varanasi I didn’t know where to eat and ended up having something bad which wiped me out for most of my 3rd stop, Delhi. The taxi ride to catch my flight was also horrible, somehow my driver got his key got stuck in boot lock which delayed us for 30 minutes, then traffic was terrible so I thought I could miss my flight. Thankfully I was just on time.
I didn’t enjoy Old Delhi as much as Mumbai, the streets were so small and busy that I couldn’t find a good place to capture the scenes. It was fascinating to see but horrible at the same time as everything just seemed like a mess, and the beeping horns just took it to another level that made photography something I didn’t enjoy here. The only way I could get any good shots was buy raising my camera high above the crowds and traffic.
After 2 days in Delhi with too much of it spent in my hotel room, I headed to my final destination, the Andaman Islands. They were actually my main reason for visiting India, the Islands looked almost untouched when I came across them in an article. They sit closer to Indonesia than to India but there is no other way to visit.
I met Malay again at Port Blair airport and we both got the ferry to Havelock Island, it was a packed ferry that became a party with music and people dancing their hearts out which was nice to see, but it also made me concerned that I wouldn’t get the deserted Island feel I was hoping for! On arrival thankfully they all disappeared and the only time I saw any crowds again was at sunset on Radhanagar Beach, every tourist goes there just to see sunset but I didn’t think it was the best beach.
We spent 3 days exploring the Island by Tuk Tuk, shooting the mangroves and fallen trees along the beaches and eating good food. There was no internet at all on the island, so it was nice to disconnect from the outside world and enjoy the relaxing surroundings.
I loved walking along the beach photographing the Mangroves from the Port to my hotel, I timed it just right at high tide when it is most photogenic. Seeing so few people made me wonder where they all went!
Elephant beach is on the north of the island and requires either a 1 hour trek through the jungle or a boat ride to get there, it is worth the effort to see all the fallen trees lining the untouched beach. I only wish it was easy to come back here anytime and shoot it at different times of the day.
Our favourite spot was on Kala Pathar Beach where 2 lone Mangrove trees had grown, we came back at sunrise and sunset to get different light and he loved taking some long exposires for the first time. I can’t decide which is my favourite light!
I shot a portrait of Malay because he wanted to see what the Bokeh was like with my panoramic camera wide open at f6.8, something that takes a while to setup and get the focus perfect using the ground glass and a loupe all while he could shift his position. With my landscape scenes I always use hyperfocal distance to get everything in focus, so they can be very quick to setup.
Malay headed home to Mumbai on the 3rd day at Havelock Island, so I jumped on another ferry to Neil Island which is about 1 hour away for my last 2 nights in India. It was much smaller than Havelock so I spent the first day on a Tuk Tuk visiting every beach and photography spot to decide where to be during my 2 sunsets and sunrises here. It turned out to be Lakshmanpur Beach where my hotel was located. No where else on the island was as impressive or beautiful so I took various angles at high tide. It perfectly captured the untouched desert island feel I had hoped for and was so peaceful that I spent hours enjoying it all to myself.
My travel day back to Singapore was a long one with a ferry and 2 flights. It started out very stressful as the ferry was 1 hour late so I worried the whole way I may miss my flight to Chennai, which in turn would mean missing my flight back to Singapore! I ran as fast as I could with my 23kg of luggage at Port Blair to grab a tuk tuk to the airport and arrived at the check in counter just as they were supposed to close, only to find out the flight was delayed anyway! I was relieved as I have never missed a flight before and it was my second time on this trip! I guess that is the risk when I took 6 flights just be able to see all the places I visited.
In Chennai I had a 5 hour wait for my next flight so I headed to the fanciest hotel, the ITC Grand Chola in an Uber to eat the best Fish Tikka ever at the Peshawri restaurant, it did cost $70 but it was worth every penny and a great meal to end to the trip.
I loved shooting the street scenes of India and expanding my portfolio so I could create a whole new ‘Street’ gallery for my website, it really is an eye opening place with so much going on to photograph. I like to call it a fascinating shit hole, it really is one of those places you can love and hate at the same time.