Adventure in India: Goa, India: A Dying Hippie Paradise.

The Train
We woke up at 5am to make our 7am departure at Victoria Station. As we watched people load goods onto the other trains we began to wonder where the other passengers were.

It turns out that the train was delayed for five hours(!)

Five hours later, we returned to the train station and headed to Goa.

We arrived at 3:40am at our accomodation, Bhakti Kutir.

Without a reservation…!

We managed to get the last two huts. Shortly after checking in, we passed out in our huts to the sound of dogs fighting in the jungle, crows crowing, fireworks going off at random and two monkeys swinging in the trees.

Thank god we found a place to stay!

GOA
Goa, being one of the most popular destinations in India, attracts a lot of backpackers. Since the late 1960s hippies have converged on Goa to soak up the sun, smoke hash and meditate on the beach.


Fishing Boat,Patnem Beach. Goa, India.

Later, in the 90s Goa became famous for all night beach parties and raves.

‘Bridge and Tunnel’ Restaurant. Pallolem Beach. Goa, India.

Several years ago, the Indian governement cracked down on drug use and noise levels in Goa, effectively shutting down the reasons that hippies/ravers would come to Goa in the first place.

That isn’t to say that you can’t find a rave. It’s just that some raves switch to headphone-use only, after 10pm.

Literally, people will rent headphones and sit around the bar listening to the DJ spin, in silence.

My experience of Goa, is that it is a place in transition. There are many more families here than I expected, and many middle-aged Europeans come to Goa specifically for Yoga and Auryvedic treatments…not raving and drugs.

The last day in Goa, Robin and I climbed onto a rock to watch the sunset. Shortly after, a rasta man and his wife, (both life long travellers originally from Alabama) joined us on the rock and began to play drums and sing, watching the sun go down.

I thought to myself that this would be as close to the original Goan spirit as I would come.

I loved Goa, but I did not really shoot much here. Goa is mostly populated by tourists and westernized Indians, and really did not inspire me to work. The relaxing was nice though.


Europeans. Pallolem Beach. Goa, India.

After several days of much needed relaxation we headed off to Chennai to see the Pongal festival, after that to Pondocherry, a French/Indian outpost on the Bay of Bengal.

Adventure in India: Back to Mumbai and then home…

It is with some sadness that I return to Seattle.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Seattle is one of the best places to live in the whole world.

It’s just that I will miss the feeling of exploring a new place and learning something new each day.

After Pondicherry we came back to Mumbai for a few days before returning to the states. The girls went shopping, and I, being unable to walk, talk and breathe without recording my surroundings with either a camera or video camera, hired my friend and fixer, Suresh Solomon for an entire day of picture taking.

It was an easy decision. Suresh knows everyone, can get anywhere, and knows the history of of Mumbai inside and out.

So, with my last post before returning home, I leave you with just a few of my favorite pictures from that 5 hours of ‘Suresh Time.’

Don’t miss the super secret street story at the end: ‘The Earwax Bandit Strikes Again’

(If you are ever in Mumbai and need a great guide/fixer please contact me and I will put you in touch with Suresh)

Adventure in India: Chennai + Pongal

Well, we ended up in Chennai for one night after we read there was a New Year’s celebration taking place there.  The Pongal Festival.  Chennai was not picturesque like most other places we’ve experienced.

It’s a big harsh city with an attitude.  From the hotel where we stayed to the rickshaw driver, we were routinely victimized.

The taxi driver, who was hired to take us around four several hours, decided to quit before the day was complete leaving us unable to pick up items that were being held for us. The hotel was yet worse. On our first day, two hotel employees came into our room and locked the door behind themselves before demanding money from us.

Rama’s Song, Pongal Perfromance. Chennai, India.

All that aside, however, we’re glad for the trip to Chennai because Pongal was truly a spectacle to behold. The beach was filled with probably 1 million people celebrating the new year. People were swimming in full saris with generations of family.

Everyone welcomed us and wanted to be photographed with us. I have never seen anything like that or experienced such a joyous mood amongst so many strangers.

Adventure in India: Chowpatty Beach. Mumbai, India.

Mumbai is an amazing city, there is no doubt. Besides the thick air pollution (that eventually gave all three of us a nasty sinus infection) Mumbai is the perfect place to meet local people, eat well, learn about Indian culture (including a passionate devotion to Cricket) and see the multiple ethnic groups that form India’s most commercial and cosmopolitan city.

It wasn’t until I went to Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai that I witnessed how Indians spend thier leisure time.

Arriving at nightfall, the string of hotels, restaurants, and food stalls circle the bay like a pearl necklace. Under the cool night sky, young Indian couples and families come to Chowpatty Beach to socialize, eat roasted corn and nuts, ride carnival rides and stroll the moonlit beach.

It was great to speak with local people about the other side of Indian life, when people are chilling out from work and reconnecting with thier families on the beach.

The night after Chowpatty Beach, we headed south to Goa via a 13hr train ride. Things did not go according to plan, but such is the way of the train system here.

Next post will deal with that train ride and our arrival in Goa, which if anything is the opposite of Mumbai in every respect.

Adventure in India: Pondicherry

Arriving in Pondicherry was like a breath of fresh air.

I had it up to here (imagine me with my hand at neck level) with just about everything Indian as I left horrible Chennai.

Upon arriving in Pondicherry after a five hour bus ride, I immediately felt the slowing of time, the increase of personal space and an almost imperceptible transition from strictly Indian architecture to the more refined lines of French influenced architecture: whitewashed walls, small terraces, and relatively clean streets set in a logical grid.

 

Catholic School Girls, Indian Style. Pondicherry, India.

Pondicherry, coincidentally the home of M. Night Shyamalan and Yann Martel (of “The Life of Pi” fame), was the last colonial outpost of France in India. No more than 50 years ago, the French left Pondicherry for good. Well, the French government at least.

The police still wear French inspired uniforms with traditional red Kepis, and you can find a mean baguette or coq au vin in many of the local cafes and restaurants in town.


Gandhi Memorial. Pondicherry, India.

During the day, and especially at night, locals stroll along the seaside boardwalk, watching the waves crash against the shore. Vendors with carts full of fresh pineapple and lime fill the sandy elevated beaches above the boardwalk.

Young men, either out of school, on break, or unemployed, gather along the promenade, walking as a pack and checking out the women both Indian and foreign.

It made for great portrait opportunities.
India Book of World Records: Tiny Roller Skater. Pondocherry, India.

While walking along the boardwalk, I witnessed the strangest thing. A tiny roller skater skated back and forth under a parked car, while crowds and news crews watched. After a few passes under an impossibly low car, the tiny roller skater was ushered over to a large group of newscasters where both father and son were interviewed for quite a while. Despite all the people present, no one knew what was going on.

India is renowned for holding many Guinness Book of World Records. So many in fact that a separate book was created just for India. I could only imagine that perhaps this tiny kid was setting a new record. Skating Under the Smallest Car perhaps.


Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, as an elephant. Pondicherry, India.

One of the last things we discovered in Pondicherry, was a small Hindu temple that worshiped a tethered elephant, who was supposedly the earthly incarnation of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.
Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, as an elephant. Pondicherry, India.

Lakshmi sucks coins into her trunk. As you bend down to receive Lakshmi’s blessing, she lightly taps you on the head with her trunk.

I had mixed feelings about this. I felt terrible the elephant lives tied up in a busy walkway outside a temple, taking coins from passers-by.

On the other hand, Lakshmi may be lucky. Being fed and taken care of is a rare thing for elephants in India who are often used for very difficult labor.

I thought about this as we departed for Mumbai and the last leg of our trip.

I’m going to India for three weeks, and all I’m bringing is:

Tomorrow I leave on a three week trip to India with my girlfriend and our mutual friend Jamila.

I’ve really been looking forward to this trip for months now….since Summer really, when we all booked our tickets.

I used to travel a lot when I was younger.

In fact I made it to many corners of the world…in the years leading up to me becoming a photographer. I vowed never to travel abroad again until I was a photographer, a real photographer, and capture what I experienced to share with others.

Now, years later, I find that my job as a photographer has kept me in the United States. I have made a lot of progress in the last few years, but I never fulfilled my wish of using my photography skills outside the United States (except for a brief stint in Sweden and Norway a few years ago.)

I’m heading to India to relax, think about the year ahead, and come back to the United States with a refreshed sense of direction, new goals and hopefully a beautiful set of photos and/or videos.

My whole kit for three weeks. Seattle, WA. 2008.

3 Shirts, 1 pair of pants, 1 pair of shorts, hat, Ray Bans, toiletries, small Mole Skine journal, pen, plug converter, flashlight, money belt, Canon intervalometer, Sony T500 + accessories (for 720P HD video,) lens cloth, lens cleaning swabs and fluid, battery charger, Canon 5D, Canon 50mm f1.4, Canon 17-40mm f4, 24GB of CF Cards, my passport, two novels and last but not least, a small Kata backpack given to me as schwag at last year’ Aurora Photos meeting in Maine.

As you can see I am traveling super light. No more than what can fit into a small school bag. I hope to lose myself in the experience and follow where the story takes me.

More updates to follow, as internet access allows.