India in March
I've got an upcoming trip to Cambodia in late February for a conference, after which I would like to do a little travelling to India. I'll probably spend most of it in Rajasthan (with Delhi and Agra of course), although I'm not averse to hopping on a plane to spend some time further down south. I can get very cheap flights in and out of New Delhi ($200 return to Bangkok), so in all likelihood I would do some loop that might include some or most of the following places (in no particular order, and definitely not a travel order!): Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, and possibly Varanasi and Amritsar.
Of course I'll bringing as much film as I can carry (both slide and black and white), I'll definitely travel by train and probably plane while in-country. I'll also be there during the festival of Holi, which I've always wanted to photograph, but now am not sure due to the unsafe nature of it in some places. In any event, I'm well aware that all these places are well-established on the tourist route, but this will be my first time to India and I will be travelling as a solo female. I've done a lot of research on this and I think I'm pretty well versed on the travel aspects of India, but it's the photography that I'm most interested in.
For example, my impression from the internet is that it's best to get in and out of Agra as fast as possible. And in fact, many tours/tourists do just that, arriving sometime in the morning or afternoon and leaving later that day or early the next morning. However, that's not what I want to do. I'm really interested in photographing the Taj in the best possible light from various locations in and around it. I'm well aware that it's expensive to get in (around $25?) but I'd be more than willing to do that more than once as I plan to be there over several days. I've also read that you can go to the Taj on the nights surrounding the full moon, which I would like to do, but cannot seem to find any current information about it, even if they still allow it. Because the full moon coincides with the Holi dates in March, and I want to avoid travelling on Holi, I'll likely be in Agra at that time -- although I am open to other suggestions.
Anyway, my main question is, for a photographer, based on your experiences in any of the cities I've mentioned above, what do you recommend in photographing these places? How much time to spend there, best light, hiring guides, etc. I've got about 3 weeks that I can spend there, which is just a drop in the bucket for such a large country, and I want to make the most of it (but leaving time to explore and photograph places properly, the reality of "Indian time" in getting things done/trains, etc.). Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Few things to take note are these: Perhaps you know most of it already
1). If are going through a lot of crowd, keep your camera inside and use the full lock of the back not the safe flap over. It doesn't matter if your camera is worth just 50 bucks. If it looks foreign, it is "costly" there depending on where you walking. You mentioed Holy, that is why I suggested being this careful.
2). If you are hiring a guide, you will want to check with other photographers/reputed hotels to get some contacts. Do not hire anyone that comes to you. I am not familiar that much with North India. So I can't help you there. There is one person I usually contact in South India and have a lot of success with that.
3). Humidity changes from north to south and mid west India is a lot. Take care of your equipments.
4). Travel light. Check-in only one bag and carry your camera and all equipments with you on plane. Make sure to take some backup clothes in your carry-ons case your check-in is lost/arrive late.
Realistically speaking, when I go I pick 1 city for the 1 week. Even then it is such a hastle. So covering that much will be exhaustive.
Well your program is way optimistic. Too many cities and travels in 3 weeks.
Delhi/Jaipur/Jodhpur/Jaisalmer is one direction. (Drive from Jod to jaisalmer is amazing)
Amritsar way up north.
Varanasi way east.
You will not be able to do that. And if you do. You will have just enjoyed transportation... and not photography.
You need to focus on one region and stay. I know it's frustrating but...
Holi is one of the most fantastic time to enjoy. But very stressful with a camera.
All that paint flying around is impossible to avoid to say the least. And you are a target of choice.
Agra is a touristic nightmare.
If I was you I would focus on Rajasthan only.
If it was me I would go to Varanasi and stay there. 3 weeks is not even enough. But it will be worth it.
Ex India addict with 10 years of intensive use.
Few more things.
As a single woman, India is a relatively safe place and heaven if you look around in the region.
Your best protection are indian women.
Your best asset is that you are a woman. You will be able to share and photograph indian women like no man can do.
Very interesting angle.
Amritsar is a very tuff place. Think twice.
Holi in Varanasi would be amazing.
Better travel trains than planes.
Best way to shoot safe is to have camera under jacket. No need for photo bag which is a thief magnet.
I had 2 rolleiflex under jacket all the time. Never had issue.
Although there are some negative comments/aspects to visiting Agra and the Taj Mahal, it is something you should not miss. Although I had heard about how beautiful the building is, I found it to be even more beautiful than they say.
This UNESCO website has 360 degree panoramas of many sites in India as well as other parts of the world. A very good way to preview. If visiting the Taj Mahal be sure to take a half day at least to visit Fatehpur Sikri. It is about a half hour taxi ride from Agra. I have been to Agra six times and would go again. The Red Fort is also worth a visit.
Hey guys, thanks very much for the suggestions. I've been doing a lot of research on India over the past couple of months but unfortunately I've had to postpone the trip because of work issues. So it may be something I do later in the year, or next year same time -- although Holi won't be a part of it because of the timing.
As for the itinerary, I wasn't suggesting I do ALL of those places in one shot, but they were all of interest for me for a first-time trip. The hard part is always narrowing down the places you want to visit while still getting a nice overview. Who knows, in the meantime I might find someone who wants to join me, which would be nice. I'm fairly well-travelled -- over 25 countries in the past 10 years, mostly on my own -- but I think India is a place where I wouldn't mind some company to share the ups and downs of travelling there.
Just a word to the wise. Be very careful about the water you drink. I don't know if it is still the same today, but I traveled there in 1996 to attend a scientific conference. I enjoyed the trip, but pretty much everyone who attended the conference came down with some kind of intestinal illness sooner or later, including the pretty much all of the former residents of India who had traveled back to the country for the conference.
I don't mean this comment to be a criticism of the country, but more as an unbiased suggestion from someone who has been there.
Amen to the water thing.
I worked there for two years, only had two days when I was unwell. Be careful of salads which are sometimes only washed in tap water unless you're in an international standard hotel.
Bottled water in SEALED bottles - INSPECT - and never accept anyone's blandishments that it's only just been opened. It probably was - to fill it from the tap out the back.
A good alternative for some is Kingfisher beer. Nice drop and you can open it yourself or see the barman do it. But also be aware of sensitivities amongst the large Muslim population about alcohol and choose where you consume it. Mixed drinks - avoid ice. Often made from tap water, especially in small bars or clubs.
Leigh. Beer served in teapot is a classic way to avoid trouble :-)