After going through so many countries in Asia, we already felt familiar with the exotic culture, the languages with unreadable characters, eating without knowing what was in the dish, strange habits. We were quite comfortable in this whole difference. Suddenly there comes India.
There is no such thing as ‘being prepared’ for India. It is a place to turn all your concepts upside down. It’s an avalanche of perceptions. Curry, clove, chilli, paprika, chai, lassi, incense, garbage, pollution, sacred cows, rickshaws, camels, carpets, fine silk, super detailed saris, extremely intricate architecture, poverty, wealth, happiness, sadness, beautiful, ugly, calm and chaotic. All in a fraction of second.
Heeeaaps of people. Even in a small village in the desert or in the mountains you’ll find many people. The trains are crowded, the traffic in cities is pure insanity. The faith, the hundreds of religions, the millions of holy men and almost a god for every activity of the day, the karma-kola, a term used to define the market of faith in which foreigners are the main clients.
Every type of landscape imaginable, from beaches with palm trees, deserts with camels, snow-capped mountains with crystal water rivers and cities with a history to make the Coliseum look like modern architecture.
The main highlight, people. They’re very social and curious. They hug and kiss you all the time, want to know everything about your life. The notion of privacy and personal space is much smaller in India, this excludes women who can’t have any contact with man in public or expose “sexy” parts of their bodies like the shoulders. They’re amazing at remembering names, dates, stories and deal with clients as they make food and count the change.
Finally, diversity is such that it’s impossible to leave without changing your concepts about everything. I remember like it was yesterday the long five minutes I spent jaw dropped with no action when I first arrived in Pahar Ganj, a suburb of Delhi. India is definitely another dimension.
When we were planning the round the world trip, India wasn’t the destination that most excited me. I had heard many dodgy stories, which we also experienced, but it is not that bad. The main reason for us to go there was to meet Duda, Cris’ brother, and Drica, his partner, who have been living there for a few years. And also because Cris has always wanted to go there. During the journey it was great to have Duda and Drica as our ‘guides’. They took us to very special places, explained us the habits, stories and tips that greatly enriched our time in India.
We spent twenty days there, a very short time for a country as large and diverse as India, even for the north alone. A reasonable time would be three months for this region. Still we had experiences to fill a book and pictures to begin an exhibition (you’ll see them on the posts to come), so we decided to create a 5 part special series:
The capital of India with the best and the worst of what the country has to offer. A huge city, crowded, chaotic. It was our stopping point between a trip and another. We stayed in Pahar Ganj planning the next destination, and while waiting for the next bus/train/plane we visited local markets, restaurants and galleries with all kinds of imaginable stuff to sell.
Heat, dust, camels and temples. We were in the Rajasthan desert during the “Camel Fair”, an event that unites the entire region. We had the opportunity to know the real inhabitants of the desert with their colorful turbans and white robes. Yet knew the caste of tailors, helping Drica and Duda in their work. We visited temples on the mountains and a Kali Baba living in an oasis. The beautiful Pushkar, the only city in India dedicated to Lord Brahma.
Lush green forests of pines, crystal clear rivers and snow-capped mountains that could even be mistaken for European landscapes. We spent a few freezing nights sharing a room with no bed or bathroom among 6 people in a small village at 3,000 meters high. Between treks in the mountains, we ate with the villagers and caught some firewood to keep us warm at night with our tandoori. We went to hot springs and rode down the Himalayas close to huge cliffs on the top of a local bus.
Dharamsala, a piece of Tibet in India
Monks, Buddhist temples and the colorful Tibetan flags. This town at the foot of the mountains was a journey in Tibetan art and culture with its detailed paintings and sculptures. We visited psychedelic temples, had tea in the mountains and walked along trails at the bottom of the Himalayas.
Varanasi, the oldest city in the world
Age-old buildings, the finest silk of India, outdoor cremation, countless temples and the sacred Ganges River, where India has begun. We stayed in a few hundred years building, we saw the incredible Puja, a sacred ceremony that happens every night on the banks of the Ganges, we visited temples, saw some bodies being cremated and others literally waiting for death to come. We walked through many labyrinths in the city, sharing the space with thief monkeys, cows eating garbage, traders, bodies, holy men and others less so.
After this trip we started to split the Earth in the West, the East and India. It is a unique place. We have no doubt that we will return. Stay tuned, the series is just beginning.