SO... WHOS COMING WITH ME?
Ali Mitton, Gold Coast QLD Australia
Ali Mitton introduced me to India early last year, and since our departure we couldn’t wait to return. She and I travel around constantly for work, so it was very, very nice to get some time to relax together in such a beautiful place with nothing in particular to shoot. If you don’t already know about her, Ali Mitton is a lover of all foods Japanese, a tiny pony enthusiast, and an actual professional photographer far more talented behind (and in front of) the lens than myself. We’ve been together for three years, having met in NYC during hurricane Sandy, and now living together in Los Angeles.
If you'd like more information on Ali, check out her Instagram below, or visit her website at www.alimitton.com
WHERE EXACTLY ARE WE GOING?
Well, We had decided to return to this wonderful country to celebrate Ali's birthday in one of her favorite ever locations, Udaipur, with some of her favorite people, her parents! They were there traveling around the sub-continent for fun (they're exceptionally rad travelers) and the plan was to get there on October 9th to meet them for the celebration, and the rest was up in the air. We had free reign over our Indian travel destiny from the 10th to the 26th. The best way for us to go this time around was to fly from Delhi to Jodhpur, and drive from there to meet her parents on the road. The best spot we'd found to do this was a town called Ranakpur, where we'd stay for an evening and continue on the road to Udaipur, "The Venice of India".
We were caught mesmerized by the facets of the Indian diamond. It's an incredibly geographically diverse country, with relaxing beaches to the South near Goa, the Himalayan cities to the Northeast, and Jaisalmer, a picturesque city on the edge of the desert to the West.
For our last stop in India, we decided on a city called Varanasi, the claimed oldest living city on earth, and holiest in all of India. Situated on the Ganges River, it's a colorful pilgrimage site for Hindu practitioners, and a most dramatic testament to the brilliance of human life, as well as death.
A BRIEF WORD REGARDING INDIA:
A man stood moved on the side of the Indian highway, the 6th of April 2014. Whipping by him, among a car-full of Ali's shooting team I witnessed as a viscous cone of swirling wind landed in a veritable mountain of trash heaped high and wide, lifting it up in thick ribbons of wind and scattering it across the road. Green plastic bottles, blue bags, all roaring rubbish airborne in the angry vortex. The lone man with his rake and wagon, tethered to a rusty tractor stood below the whirlwind. His arms were outspread and palms up to the thick amber sky, he could only watch as the dust devil tore apart the stacks of refuse he had undoubtedly been trying to pull together.
This instance incapsulates the experience of India. It is the most powerful, colorful, and magic place I've ever been, and it earns that from how brutally confrontational and unpredictable it can be. It's huge, It's chaotic, It tested my comfort level, and made me consider how I live my life in ways I cannot find via any other experience. I had the opportunity to travel safely through part of the country and I found it to be limitlessly rewarding, but I had done so with flexibility. "Go with the flow." is the coined mantra for tourists. If you consider your schedule (or mindset) too tight, you're doing it wrong. Also.. You shouldn't be surprised or upset if things get picked up into the wind around here.
We had been to Jodhpur to shoot items for Volcom and barely got to appreciate the location. The new city is busy, with plenty of Haveli to stay at varying comfort in a variety of neighborhoods. The Clocktower is where the main market is, surrounded by shops and vendors hawking everything from vegetables, sweets, electronics, to silks. Shop here for sure, but be aware that the people here know what a boost tourists can give their business. They'll kindly overcharge, and frequently have a cousin who can get you that exact thing you want across town later. (nope) Also, there is a famous textile factory here, and it seems to draw famous people into it. They'll tell you Anthropology, Richard Gere, Angelina Joli all may have shopped there once. Be mindful the people that ask you to go ANYWHERE will most likely receive a commission for purchases after bringing you in, so any old person becomes a tour guide/salesman. If you're down to shop, its amazingly easy to find great stuff, and cheap. If you're not, it gets a bit irritating, so just remember to be patient, look the kind folks in the eye and say, "no, thank you though." with a smile. After folks know they're not going to make a sale they're equally as nice, and interested in you.
Mehrangarh is truly the mightiest thing i’ve ever seen. Hanging over the city on a red plateau, it’s the most unmissable thing in Jodhpur visually, touristically, and as a part of the city's cultural Identity. It’s a fascinating testament to the toughness and genius of Rajasthan, and its continuous imposition over the bustling city of noisy scooters, beeping tuk-tuk (auto-rickshaws), and hustling people wrench me back and forth between a medieval fantasy and the present. It's a keyhole into the beautiful stories of Jodhpur. If you stay in the old town (the blue part, and definitely the most beautiful) you’re a short walk to the back door of the fort. If you’re not, you’re a quick 120 INR or so tuk away from the front gate, with a nice view along the way. Imagine the trudging war-elephants banging up against the gates, what opulence must have been gazed upon through the exquisite stone screens, across gardens gracing the pearly tiled walls of the Maharaja and his contemporaries. There are marks from cannon fire below as you look out at the expanse of the city, exhibits and interesting imagination capturing antiquities within the fort. Also there are some folks, caretakers and others just living in the walls of the fortifications. If you climb up the back way you’ll undoubtedly see clothes hanging, and people relaxing in the sun, even taking a quick nap in the ramparts.
THE SUN LOVES THE PEOPLE OF JODHPUR. I LOVE THE SUN.
I wouldn't exactly say our one night stay at our second Haveli was without excitement. We had been given a beautiful room on the first floor, just after the large gated entrance, and before the staircase leading up to the restaurant. Everything was clean and in fantastic working order. The staff is brilliant there. They're charming and helpful, and the Haveli itself is in a pretty unbeatable location. The THING is, that I'm convinced that the room we stayed in is already occupied by someone.. or something.
Ali and I had gone to sleep after a long day of being tourists, and I'm dreaming about something or other when I suddenly wake up. So I'm a bit blinky, and I roll onto my back when I notice out of the corner of my eye, next to the bed and over Ali's sleeping body IS THE SHADOW OF A MAN WATCHING HER SLEEP. and my blood ran *&@$ing cold. On my first hushed breath the instinct was: "@%&!*" followed by "must upper-cut intruder". I waited for a breath, and it remained perfectly still. In my peripheral I could make it out. A blotchy shadow of an extremely large man in repose. He was seated at the edge of the bed, a large profile around the head seemed to be a turban. There wasn't a doubt in my mind he was facing the bed, Looking down from his unnatural height STARING at Ali. As I exhaled, turning towards it, I caught only a glimpse of its character before it "faded away". A sort of shadow-on-top-of-a-shadow type darkness that swirled within its seated figure before being drawn up towards the pitch black ceiling like reverse rain in torrential downpour. As this brief millennia subsided, I looked down at Ali who was snoozing away peaceful as ever. At the time, since I was fully awake and coherent, looking around the room and not seeing any giants. It took some time but I had gotten back to fitful sleep, at last I had fell into a dream. The only portion of the dream I can recall is the very end, where I was shaken awake by a repetitious saying. "It's getting worse. It's getting worse. It's getting worse." I awoke on my back, my eyes flipped open, and beside the bed in swirling darkness he sat. HE WAS BACK. Same position, same spectral stare. I turned right towards it and it disappeared just as fast, pulled into the darkness, gone, and possibly not for good. I didn't get much more sleep that evening, and happily left before sunrise with Ali to witness the sun rise over the beautiful old blue city, full of ancient and mysterious wonders.
The lawless roads of Rajasthan
Anything can be the work of the divine.
Udaipur, the Venice of India, reclines gracefully along the sparkling Lake Pichola. Reflections of long white palaces shimmer on the surface as the people of the city clamor around on their business. Zipping across the bridge, tuk tuks pass stoic fishermen, holding ethereal line in their hands, and bring many European tourists to a myriad of lovely haveli and historical locations. The water found its way here and was captured by the man made lake along the same route we traveled, down the Aravali mountain range. We traversed after leaving Ranakpur. Slow going through tiny villages. We were on a curling single lane distance ascending the range, peppered with mopeds and blissful looking Hindu cows having a center of the road meander. We passed gypsies leading their hoards of camel and sheep, sleepy hamlets and 5 person families on a single moped, politely beeping the entire way.
“Hello, I’m passing.” The beeps said. “Ok, I'll be right here.” they would beep in reply.
Lost in the green valleys aside the road, I sat shotgun and tried to write. We crossed over creeks and through tall brush. Dappled light cut through the leaves and into our SUV. I rolled down the window slowly, allowing the humid air in. We couldn't use the AC on account of it possibly overloading the engine on the way up. It's then we crossed over a clear pool, a miniature Pichola with statues of deities thrown in. A pantheon of painted Hindu gods stared up at us through the crystal water as we dashed across the bridge and onwards, climbing the green hills and zig-zagging past camels and crowds of Gray Langurs, with their amusing white amish-looking beards. The largest crew of these clever devils were loitering by a statue at a roadside precipice. Locked forever in the motion of a dance, the stone features were obscured by layer upon layer of orange paint. Briefly interrupted, the squad of Langurs all turned towards our car at once. A few awkward and lanky hops later our driver requested we roll up our windows, not wanting one of the more bold simians to try and hitch a ride. I asked him which deity the old orange god was... "Hanuman, The monkey god." our driver said in an as-a-matter-of-fact manner, and drove on... As if it could be any other deity, as if a crowd of monkeys would be able to recognize their patron, as if anything I knew about the world could be held as truth around the next corner of this magic country.
Up and over the range we went towards the sparkling lake, it's tourists and beautiful palaces. We traveled with the water, and arrived at Udaipur.
More on the Beauty of Udaipur & The Holy City Varanasi.