Wow. I started thinking back on everything that has happened in the past two weeks, and I kind of couldn't believe how much I've done in what feels like such a short time. After Kolkata, I hopped on a train for Darjeeling, which I posted about briefly here, but after spending two nights there with temperatures well below freezing and a hotel without heat (none of the hotels that were within my budget would have had heat) I decided to leave and head back to Siliguri. I had came down with a moderate head cold right as I arrived in Darjeeling, and somehow being cold and sick didn't sound real fun to me. So, although it was an amazing and beautiful place, I left and didn't go north to Sikkim like I had planned. I had a week to myself in Siliguri, which is kind of a town with nothing to do. I spent a lot of time reading, sipping tea, and trying to do laundry (but to no avail, clothes wouldn't dry in my hotel, it was too humid). But near the end of my time in Siliguri, I met a local guy and had a blast with him and his friends. In a lot of ways, it kind of shed new light on what I want most out of this trip. I had such a great time hanging with Salman and his friends that I kind of just put the camera away and forgot about it for awhile. I think really it was a combination of two things: this DSLR is getting really heavy to lug everywhere, and I was having so much fun just hanging out with people. While I really wanted to photograph some of the places we went and things we did, I just didn't want to carry my massive camera everywhere, and to be fair, I'm realizing that I just didn't need to. Those kind of moments I want to enjoy fully and let pass, because at the end of the day, those are the ones that will make the trip, not the images I hang on my wall.
Actually, there were days in Kolkata where I left the camera in the room too, because I was just so sick of the weight and bulk. I saw stuff on the street that I thought would make a great photograph and cringed when I didn't have a camera to capture it. So I decided that I'm selling my DSLR gear and buying a mirrorless camera and two primes (I almost bought just a 50mm and called it a day and I still may, as it is my bread and butter lens). Something I can stick in my day bag and go, that won't wear me out, but still has good image quality. This isn't about image quality at all, it is about the weight and portability, but let's be honest, the 5d is one of the best cameras on the market and it has been a hard sell up until this point to sacrifice any of it for convenience. But I learned my lesson: a camera is no good if it is 1) not with you or 2) wearing you out. Switching is cutting my camera weight by 3/4ths, and leaving room for things like a sleeping bag, my filter set, and a travel tripod which I will want in the mountains to do some landscape work. And even with adding that stuff back in, I still shave close to 5lbs off my total backpack weight and 4lbs off my day bag load. My back will be pleased.
I left Siliguri in high spirits, having met so many great people and headed to Varanasi, a city I've wanted to visit as long as I've wanted to visit India. It's a beautiful and mystical place, but the people are different here, tourism has really taken a bit of a toll I feel. The Bengali were so warm and genuine, I was shocked when I came here and it wasn't quite the same. People are nice (mostly), but just after your money. I feel like some of the genuine spirit of the people I've met in India so far is missing. Maybe it's just this part of the city, where all the tourism is. That wouldn't surprise me.
I find it difficult to photograph here for that reason, but many have done it. Maybe it just doesn't inspire me like I thought it would (frankly that's a lame excuse), or maybe its just that every single tourist has a DSLR swinging around their neck and I don't want to be another one. In some ways, I think it's a progression of my work. I'm having a strong desire to work on "access and intimacy" in my images, as well as creating some sort of cohesiveness to my photos in a particular place. It's something that I feel like in order to achieve, I need to have or develop a story to tell, something to document, something to work towards. I love street photography, but sometimes I just have this urge to photograph something where I can interact with people in a more intimate setting and kind of take my time with it.
I wanted to do a brief photo essay on the Sadhus while I was here, but I have found that there are really none in Varanasi at the moment, and that the Babas or holy men that are here either don't have time or aren't interested in anything other than my money. I may just have no clue what I'm doing (that is probably the case) but trying to get some access is difficult. All part of the learning process I guess. There are some cool back streets here just up off the river in what is known as the "old city" which are barely wide enough for a rickshaw to get through that I'd love to spend some time photographing, simply because I haven't seen many photos of them and there is some cool life that happens there. In all honesty, they aren't really streets, more like pathways between houses. Most of the time when you walk around, you're dodging cows, cowpies, or motorcycles and getting lost. But still, a lot of fun and a lot of character.
No matter what my opinion is though on this city, it's a place that everyone who travels to India must experience, especially photographers. It's worth seeing. It's an important cultural and religious hub with sooooo much history. And frankly, there is a ton of stuff to do besides the river. I took some yoga classes, and really enjoyed it. There is also an awesome music scene here. Many travelers seem to get stuck in Varanasi, largely due to the music. There are a number of schools and shops that offer lessons on any number of classical Indian instruments and there are concerts all the time.
Anyway, not much more to say. I'll be here in Varanasi for a week, and then I'm going to Allalahbad or Agra next. I've got some of my camera gear loosely spoken for already, but if you're interested in any of it, get ahold of me with the contact form above. Here are a few other images from the last two weeks that somehow didn't get on the previous post and a few more from Varanasi. See you soon!