I’ve been back from India just over a year now, back living in the US and in that time its been a real struggle, both on a personal level and financially.
Looking back on that time, a half-year spent in India, thinking about it and thinking about how much I miss it, and yearn for the Utopian chaos to run through my veins once more.
I have edited my photography over and over trying to extract the essence of the experience. However the personal journey that India was to me, has obscured my objectivity, something that only time can distill.
I have started once again on the editing process, going back over the audio recordings I made, and in doing so, had an epiphany about the work. I realize that I have no choice but to go back to India, and capture more audio, this time with an expanded kit. And to dedicate much more time and effort into making quality environmental recordings.
Audio recordings offer a taste of reality that video and photography simply cannot touch. Where video has to be constructed to make a compelling presentation, and photography provides specificity, and depth, that depth is within just that contextual intimacy.
Audio offers a living reality of time based exploration. Audio treats the consciousness to a wide layered mental vision, one that the mind is intrinsically connected to, there is no learning to listen, whereas there is learning to read photographs.
This Location Sound during the Anup Jalota concert at Pilot Baba’s Ashram camp 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela, Sangam Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh India. I had decided to walk around the sector 9 area where the ashram was located, about 7 miles from the actual main bathing area.
You can hear all of the local sounds, and the far distant sounds of the millions (130,000,000 to be more accurate) of pilgrims who existed at the ‘city’. Headphones highly recommended. Sit back and enjoy the Mela as I did for thirteen minutes.
To anyone who has in their possession any of my images, video or sound recordings, that I have not given anyone any permission or license to use any of my images, and no such permission or license shall be implied by their possession of digital or otherwise electronic analog or physical copies of any of my images, video, sound recordings, and that I trust none of my images will be incorporated into any work, and that my policy is to aggressively defend my copyrights to the full extent of the law.
If you do have copies of my images, video or sound recordings and want to use them for any reason, you must contact me before hand without exception.
The heat becomes you. Heat dictates everything. Your life revolves around it. In extreme temperatures, anything above 38c, the body reacts differently, even for those who are used to heat. It takes over your actions, what you do, how you do it, when you do things where you do things, what you eat, what you drink, and how much of both. Heat mandates that you segregate everything and do those tasks in small amounts. Currently its averaging between 38c and 44c surprisingly enough I have been fine in the extremes. I have to wear socks in my shoes because my shoes become too hot for my skin, and in places where you are not allowed to wear shoes it is essential that you have socks on because the temperature of the ground is enough to dry spit in 20 seconds. It will make an ice cold 1L bottle of water hot –30c– in 20 minutes. Inside a car that is reduced to about 10 minutes. Its easy to print figures and say oh look its 44c outside, but its a different thing entirely to know how those figures actually behave in terms of what those figures mean
The decision to leave Pushkar was made for me by the enticing idea of working again on a project Im not allowed to discuss. Needless to say its a sensitive topic in India and lives are at stake, as well as our own freedom if it were discovered what we were trying to achieve in terms of truth telling through documentary.
This is probably the biggest current affair topic Ive worked on in the last decade, and it feels good to be back in the loop -hows that for ego?
Pushkar was ultimately a fulcrum point for me in terms of learning how to deal with a few things by my self. I spent 11 days there two of them were completely buried in unemployment bullshit from the US, Im still fighting that decision now after a year because it wont leave me alone. Im so over it that Im over being over it. Do much so that when it came to paying the bill in the SunSet hotel I thought Id only been there five days instead of seven.
I also went through a period of self reflection and spent a few days meditating on matters. Something brought me clarity. After that I started meeting interesting people. There is nothing like silence for three days to really make you think. My sweet friend Isil from Istanbul who I met in Varanasi went on a retreat for that very same purpose but did it for ten days, and what she said she got from it was life changing. Im changing my opinions on meditation. Meditation is different from alone time. Alone time to me is something that I have to have, its time to do my shit anything I want for a period of time every day. I need it or I go nutso, but i know that a small doses are better then big doses, makes you appreciate that time more.
Pushkar was also a challenge for me in that I had to stand up for the things I believe in and accept that those beliefs clashed with the beliefs of others, and with that discourse has to be opened to find common ground. I spent a day with a fantastically independent free thinking woman named Daisy who rambled with me for many hours on many topics and in that period opened my eyes to things I hadn’t even begun to think about. Her ideas rattled me and made me think hard about derivatives of those sentiments.
Pushkar is tiny, and you could see everything in a day and a half, but its so relaxing that I had to stay, sit and soak in the heat the light and the silence of the mid afternoon sun. I never did trek up any of those hills like I wanted to, but Im not really that bothered. The place gave me something else instead and I’m more then happy with that.
It was surprizingly easy to get a ticket out in the end. I had been trying to get a ticket for a few days and I kept going to these rat-hole travel “agents” that tell you that they cant get you anything for whatever reason. Finally I went to the highstreet guy and he instantly got me an express train directly from Ajmere to Bhopal, 5pm departure 6am arrival. Bingo. I got on the train, bedded in, played videogames for a few minutes fell asleep and woke up in Bhopal. How perfect is that?
Arriving back in Bhopal again, was a little strange but it gave me confidence, because the city the first time was a bit intimidating for me arriving in India, and this time around it was familiar and the people here are definitely more relaxed, have a great sense of humour and dont try and rip the tourists off because nobody comes to bhopal for tourism, so Im Mr Exotic Noveltypants again. Its dominated by Indian Muslims, and after being in Hindu dominated places for two months, I can honestly say that Islamics are definitely more grounded and have less conflict within the religion then Hindu seems to. Also the food is better.
ME MATE STeve said i would just for the crack.
an indian menue in restaraunts are notorious for the most imagintive phonetic spelling of english words. Ive seen Shup on the menu, and when I asked the witer, he said ‘Soup” through a bushy mustache and mouth full of mangled red teeth, and with an indian broken english. Magic.
The best one Ive never sen was told to me by a neighbour in pushkar, guy names Lance who was a 63yo guy who looked 52, his buddy steve and their wives. they were totally great, I loved the reconnect to old times through these guys.
Lance told me that in one restairant he was here the spelling for ice Cream was all perfect except the last one which was two seperate words “Black Krunt”.
I think that takes the cherry.
I left Varanasi thinking that I needed to get out and get away from it because Id been there for long enough; being a social street ‘photodocographer’ means that you are always seen as that but in normal life you get up in the morning and go about your day and in there for segments you are thinking critically. But when you travel, you put yourself into a new frame of mind where you try and out perform a way of thinking and soon you realize that life itself has to take some control too, so you are never just doing photography. Its hard work thinking critically, its exhausting, especially if you are not inspired. I certainly cant do it, and when you are traveling the time spent not doing that starts to haunt you. You begin to believe that you are wasting precious time and that opportunities are being missed because you are having a moment with a beverage and a conversation. So I left after nearly a month thinking that I had a good run at it, I got to see it in the chaos of post Kumbh madness and then the chaos of Shivaratri and a different kind of tourist -Indian tourists- and then watch the city get quiet as the heat rolls in, and the mild panic that you need to leave because the only other tourists there around you are the ones who are also feeling the same way as you do or are the ones out for the long haul.
So I made the decision and tried not to think about where I was going, and to just go, because thinking about where I was going to go was actually part of the problem, well if I go here I could go there and if I could go there then I could be somewhere else, and my friends went here so I could try and follow them or I could just go back to the places that I didnt get to see earlier and so on and so forth. Either way, I made the decision to get the ticket and so I did. I booked the ticket and paid for it and then thought that I should get another ticket from there and on to the next place to get that momentum thing going like I mentioned previously. However, i should have thought about it a bit more and pre-booked a few destinations ahead, because I am here now in Pushkar, and I know this place is not going to suffice for very long. It will to an extent but Varanasi spoiled me in terms of it being so rich in visuals and all of them close at hand.
Im in Pushkar, one of those places people come to shortly after they get off the plane and start their travels. I made it a destination, and I assumed that it would be a similar vibe to Varanasi but its not, its so small that if I spent a week here it would feel like a month in Varanasi. Pushkar, despite its historical value, is now just another ugly scar in the overall rising vat of social change in India. Its a beautiful temple rich pond surrounded by cartoon crazy hills and mountains and is the home of the Brahman another sect of Hindu. However, its small streets are scorched with the entropy of social human growth and tourism. The hamlet is full of young indian guys with fake Ray-bans, bad haircuts, ill fitting stone washed jeans and motorbikes. There are no female equivalents because they live in the bigger cities and actually have something to do, but there are self proclaimed Gypsie women and girls who dress in rich colors and do nothing but push hard on the tourists for baksheesh which is the Indian word for gift. Some of them will offer to dance but most of them are nothing but irritating distractions like opening a jar of flies in your face. There are so many of them and all they do, all day is bother tourists for money. It really discourages me and makes the whole experience very unpleasant in the extreme. There are the guys who stare and just want to walk with you and know “what is your country?” followed by what is your name and then the sales pitch starts ‘I make this instrument I can play for you would you be interested in that?’ and if you say no thank you then the sagas start why are you being rude? what is the matter with you? why are you insulting me? and so on. So much so that it forces you to take refuge in a cafe, and even then they will follow you in and sit in front of you to try and intimidate you. my baby face doesn’t help matters either, about three times now I have been touched by younger guys on the street who want to know if Im actually a man, in one case I actually felt a hand between my legs. I cannot even begin to image what its like for single girls who travel alone. Ive done the intelligent conversation and reasoning so many times, and Ive done the fuck-off line a few times though I dont like that because its a last gasp measure. If guys see you with girls they will typically try and tag along, and if they see you later on on your own they always come up to me in a confrontational manner and ask if those girls want to fuck and if I could arrange it. “well you didnt fucker her so why cant you arrange it for me?”
So I rolled in on the train tonight after an express ride from Jaipur, a pretty uninspiring city which has one or two interesting things to see like the observatory, the fort and the pink city which was painted pink two million centuries ago by Maharaja Ram Singh who was having a meeting with the then prince of wales. Now the pink city is still pink by order of the city, but in all honesty its really not pink at all its more orange, though I dont know if that as a result of the indian take on pink or the pollution. After taking my daily my lonely Planet pill I decided that jaipur just didnt have enough for me to actually spend more then about seven or eight hours in, but what I didnt realize is that the train would be late so the seven or eight hours really got trash compacted down to just two and a half hours. Which i used the services of Rahm who bounded me around the city in 90 minutes in his auto rickshaw for an astonishingly high price which I could have spent on food but opted for the whirlwind tour instead. Thankfully I was briefed by a great Dutch guy back in Varanasi that he would try and bring me to every bazar in town and every market that his friend owned because he gets a kick-back for the trade, so I instructed Rahm accordingly. First place he brought me to was his brothers Saree shop, and then to the Bazaar and then to another one, and when I asked him to stop he got a bit upset with me but lightened up when I asked him to take me to the Islamic sector so I could have to real food and a cup of decent Islamic chai. We never made it to the food place because of traffic but we did have a regular cut of boring masala chai. Then Rahm brought me back the the station where the usual melee of trying to find out which platform your train will arrive on and when and how much its been delayed etc. I got to the right platform and waited a full three hours for the express train to arrive. i had ordered an AC2 Sleeper and really I didnt need it. Express train is exactly that; a normal 6 hour train ride was actually only two ours by express. I met a really fantastic Indian gent by the name of Rakish (rah-keesh) who was a university Chemistry lecturer and we had a very enlightening conversation about world economics but really the curiosity about America was the topic.
As we rolled in to Ajmere Rakish told me to get a place to stay in ajmere because Pushkar was ultimately expensive and a tourist trap he’s not the first person Ive heard say that. However as soon as I stepped off the train and out of the station I had a handful of boys ask me where in Pushkar I needed to go. Pushkar is only about 10-12km and its a 30 minute ride in an Auto Rickshaw from Ajmere, but its trough the Snake mountain pass and if it was daylight it would have been a good view. I didnt have a place to stay and the rickshaw drivers arranged it by phone before we arrived, but in all honesty I knew they were just going to drop me at the first place that had a room. And literally it was the first place that they drove to right on the road heading in. The Mahavani Haveli or something like that was an impressive white marble place with a nice foyer and when I was asked how you stay I said 3-4 nights, I asked the room prices and ultimately I bargained for a 500rs room and was put in a yellow room just behind the front desk. I threw my bags on the bed and turned to Carbonite after a heavy 24+ hour transit.
I woke up the next morning at 6am to the banging on my door from the front desk person who ushered me out of the room stating “room change-room change, you must go” uh eh where? “this room” and they put me in a Blue room further from the front desk and almost instantly there was squabbling between some Dutch travelers who had been looking for the room I was put into. The Yellow room I was in, was magically transformed into a classroom replete with my dirty sheets! I stayed in the Blue room for an additional two nights and on the morning of the second night I was rudely awoken by the front desk guy again stating “you finish, now you go”, when I asked him what that was all about he said that Id said 3 days and the rooms had been pre-booked by a group and that I had to leave. So I pretty much lost it with this guy, after he had twice stormed into my room and with all manner of demands, I lost it so much so that Ive never seen an Indian back down with a white person, unless you are smarter then they are and can run rings around their techniques, which Im not very good at but Im getting better. He eventually said I could go to another room for 800rs a night and I argued that I should get one of those rooms for 500rs because he was kicking me out. He came back a minute later and said I could keep my room for 500rs but that Id have to pay a special fee of an additional 100rs to stay there. So I got up packed my shit and went looking for another place. In 30 minutes Id wadered around to seven places and was offered rooms from four of them, and they all asked where I was saying and I said I didnt want to say that they ALL replied ah must be Mahavaneli Haveli found another spot that was a decent price and in a really nice place called the Sun-Sat, which is “ind-glish” for Sun Set, Hotel with a nice big garden and a handful of Israelies and other tourist scavengers. I booked a room for three nights and went back to the white marble hovel and checked out. The desk guy was beside himself because he had made me this special deal and blah blah and eventually I told him about the rat -yes rat-not mouse- that had run across my lags one morning as I lay in bed, and he said “oh did it bite you?” and I said no and he said “oh thats ok then.” So I kicked up a shit storm and as I was leaving another couple came down and started giving him a headful of Israeli shit -oh fuck those guys know how to lay it on thick, even in Hebrew that shit was rich and thick. Would make the Irish look like fairies. Desk boy offered me a 250 discount and made it back up with the super high priced bottles of water Id ordered in the menue for a touch over teh actual street price. I laid as much money was as was fair and as I was willing to pay, on the table and said that was fucking it shit-head, and I left.
I walked my gear about twenty paces and a man with one leg came over and said he would take my bags to my hotel for 20rs and I looked at him quizzically and he started laughing hard and disappeared, and as I was walking away he came out with a cart and a stick which he used to propel himself along with like a boat in Gondolier. I got to my new abode and settled my self in for a few days or R&R. Yesterday was my first day here, and I plonked around with my friend Eyal who Id met in Varanasi, then went home and I slept like a baby.
I got up and spent two full days trying to formulate the very last ditch attempt to get the unemployment people off my back in the US because they want full pay back after I lost the appeal from the employer. Its been nine months since that whole shitfight went down and so much has happened in that time, and throughout, that shit has pursued me. I think that says something about the pursuant.
The second night I was in the Mahaneli hovel was a Saturday night, I dont think that matters to Indians at all, but they know its a party night for the tourists so the discos go off, with really unbelievably horrible music, I’d never heard before. The kind of shit that is pre-programmed into keyboards sequencers that you can follow along to in the music shop when trying out that new model Roland XZ1234mkII, but with added religious lyrics and a vocoder.. I stayed in bed, until 11 listening to music, doing a loop in the music I have with me with is extremely limited, but I needed to do a loop from the calculated awareness of The Golden Palominos to the accessibility and touching base of Meatbeat Manifesto back to my youth in London and Dublin, to Lana Del Rae to reconnect with where Jenny is, and then to the tactile sensual texture of the Helio Sequence ‘Shed your love’ and ‘keep your eyes ahead’, a love connection and a message to me where I’m at.
Its easy getting TO places in India, being on the train or bus and arriving in to a new place etc, except for the part about looking for a mediocre room.
Getting FROM places in India however, requires time, an ‘over payment’ and a travel agent. If your are 30 you can stay up all night at the station to get the handful of “Tourist Quota” tickets they have on offer only to tourists, to buy in any of the ‘humane’ classes, otherwise you can buy at the station the bottom of the barrel tickets where they estimate the number of people who paid to go on the train (there are no tickets for them in that class which is, I dont know), and assume that there is roughly enough room for three hundred people per carriage. Those trains have roughly twenty-five carriages, eight are for ACIIs, ACII, IIIACs and IIIAC, which carry 60 and 90 berths respectively. The other seventeen or more carriages are holding roughly three hundred people, you can do the mathematics, this a shit ton of people moving around India at any one time. India is famous for its extensive rail network, and on every one of those trains they are always running. For example train No.151234 from Calcutta to Jaisalmer has two actual trains one going in one direction the other in the opposite. That happens on every route, on the long ones they add two more additional trains.
If you are coming here on a trip, plan your time ahead, research what you want to see, and in any place dont spend anything less than four or five days there, because its easy to see everything in three days, but you need a day of chill after arriving and theres always that extra thing you want to see and its extra padding for mishaps. I see so many travel junkies that come to places and stay for two or three days, and really dont go do anything like the exploration they should, and then get back on the bus or train to the next place. If you can afford it, typically its about thirty-five dollars more which seems little but when you are here and are used to spending fifty to eighty percent less for everything, thirty-five dollars is a lot. If you can afford it, take first class, sometimes its faster because they are separate trains. Otherwise its the same train but not all routes have it.
My plan for after Pushkar was to head on up north for a bit and follow the cooler air but my colleague called and said theres some documentary work to be done, so Im going to connect with him back in Bhopal and take it from there. Hopefully somewhere along the way there will be a trip into Myanmar (Burma) for a few weeks and maybe into Thailand also. If I hadn’t have brought so much stuff with me Id get on a plane to Thailand and go from there to Vietnam and travel around South East Asia until my time in India is up.
Taking everything into consideration, the variations in temperature in the earlier part of the trip and having options, I probably could have come here with 50% of what I brought in clothing, and though Id love to say Id prefer a smaller gear bag, I have to say the pelican case is just fantastic. It is a dry dust free hermetically sealed box which is bash proof, and water proof and doubles up as a seat at train stations. So ultimately I could have taken half the amount of stuff I have in my backpack, and thats another thing, Im over backpacks. Rarely does anyone trek anymore and for the most part you are lobbing bags from one vehicle to another, backpacks are just too solid unlike a floppy duffel which you dont even have to worry about shoulder straps.