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A picture story from Himachal Pradesh, India

Biwi wanted to go to the mountains. ‘What would we do there?’, I asked. ‘We would go someplace and then decide’, she replied. We went to Manali. It was our third wedding anniversary. We thought we would go on some sort of trekking. No trekking routes were open (late November). So we just lazied around Manali.

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Mall Road, Manali

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Tourists enjoy snow at Gulaba, close to Manali.

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In the three days that we spent in Manali, biwi found out an operational trek that started in Mcleodganj. So we took a bus and traveled for 8 hrs and reached Mcleodganj. We walked on the streets for few days before finalizing a trekking company.

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After we finalized a company, we did some shopping and left for the trek.

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Triund was our first halt. It took us about 4 hours to reach there. ‘Triund is like a picnic spot, not even a trek’, our guide would later tell us.

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Above: Trekkers reaching Triund from Mcledoganj.

Because Mcledoganj-Triund is an easy short trek (never gets too steep), many return the same day. Some camp for the night and return. Few, like us, trek further uphill – to Indrahar pass.

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Indrahar Pass is typically a 4 day trek – two and a half days of climbing and one a half day of descent. So we had an easy first day. We had three more days to go.

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The second day was an easier shorter trek from Triund to an unnamed place between Snowline and Lahesh cave.

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Above (from left of photograph): the cook, the guide, biwi, porter 1, porter 2.

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This place was cooler than Triund. May be around 5 degrees. Our guide and his team set up some wood on fire. We heated ourselves, we ate and we slept. And we waited for the next day in anticipation. It was going to be a 5 hour climb up and 4 hour climb back, we were told. Half the tourists who try to reach Indrahar pass, give up mid-way, we were told too.

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We left for Indrahar pass early morning the next day and after a lot of steep climbing, reached the pass in about four and a half hours. ‘What has been the slowest time taken by any one to climb this?’, we asked our guide. The answer was six hours. We felt happy about our speed. ‘What has been the fastest time taken by any tourist to climb this?’, we asked our guide. Two and a half hours was the answer. Our happiness was short lived.

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Climbing down was even tougher and took almost 4 hours for us to reach back our tent. It was a mostly painful walk back. ‘This is pure unadulterated pain, climbing down’, I made a remark at one point.

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We stayed for one more day in Mcleodganj, gave rest to our tired bodies, packed our bags and returned to Delhi.

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Above: we wait for our bus back to Delhi, at Mcleodganj bus stop.

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Above: the last picture that I took during this trip; a selfie from inside the bus.

We reached Delhi early morning today. Biwi flew to Goa a short while back. I will leave for Ambala tomorrow for a wedding shoot. This was a picture story from Himachal Pradesh. Bye.

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Football and Coconuts

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In less than 24 hours of returning to Goa, I was itching to get back on the streets and create images. ‘Let’s go to Panjim and roam around’, I asked biwi. She agreed. Panjim is about ten minutes drive from our house (half an hour of running; when I run). We had driven for just 2 minutes when I saw a lot of spectators in a church ground. I wanted to know what they were watching. What festival was on? Irrespective of what they were watching, I wanted to get down and create images.

I asked biwi to stop the car. A local competition was going on. Not a game of football but just the kicking the ball in the net part of it (penalty shot). It was a cloudy evening. It could rain. It rained. The spectators ran to take shelter in the church. And under a broken building on the other side of the road. The players kept playing. The rain stopped soon. I saw something that I had never seen before.

The spectators.

We had driven for just 2 minutes when I saw a lot of spectators in a church ground. I wanted to know what they were watching. What festival was on? Irrespective of what they were watching, I wanted to get down and create images.

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Taeligaon Church, Goa

The teddy bear is sad because it can’t get to watch the game! 🙁

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A group of kids were having a coconut breaking competition. The game goes something like this: two kids participate at a time; one squats a bit and holds a coconut firmly with both hands keeping one hemisphere exposed; the other kid has another coconut that he swings with one hand and with all the force that he can gather, hits the stationary coconut held by his competitor; almost like a hammer hitting a nail, just that both the hammer and the nail are coconuts.

They toss a coin to decide who gets to hold a coconut stationary and who gets to hit first. And then they alternate till one of the coconut breaks. I guess the kid who gets to break the coconut first, wins. ‘Do you have a coin?’ a kid asked me. They wanted to have a toss. I looked for a coin in my bag. I found one. I passed it to the kid. And then I became part of the gang having fun playing this side game. Goans love football. But they love coconuts too.

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Uganda Diary 7 – end of an awesome trip

The last two days in Uganda were spent in Kampala. I had few interviews to shoot on both days (for few hours). In the evening, I took more pictures in the streets of Kampala.

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Streets of Kampala
A school bus gets stuck over a divider. Strangers gather to offer help.

 

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In spite of significant traffic on the streets, Ugandans are way more civilized on road than Indians are. Few people honk (and mostly when really required) and most vehicles (except few boda-bodas, i.e the motorcycle taxis) show a lot of patience at intersections.

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We met a manager at a cafe called Cafe Javas. He was a Banglorean, working in Kampala since 8 or 9 months. He told us Ugandans were extremely patient and rarely got angry. But when they fought, they fought to kill each other. Shanta and I were happy we never had to deal with a heated up confrontation with anyone.

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When we had recently arrived in Kampala, it was intimidating to see so many armed security guys all over the city. But over the course of our stay, we got used to such sights.

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George, a waiter at Cafe Javas introduced us to his son. He had to keep his son around while he worked. Because in Uganda, unlike India, children are not assumed to be mother’s sole responsibility. The value of women in this country can be appreciated to some extent by their dowry culture that is the polar opposite of what happens in India. In Uganda, a guy who wants to marry a girl, has to offer cows and goats (and whatever else he can – dowry) to the girl’s parents, before the wedding can happen!

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[aesop_content color=”#ffffff” background=”#333333″ width=”90%” columns=”2″ position=”none” imgrepeat=”no-repeat” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”up”]On one of our days in Uganda, we read in a local newspaper that the Ugandan Supreme Court had nullified a law which earlier made it mandatory for the girl (or her family) to return the dowry if the girl decided to leave her husband. I asked Jeff (the mayor aspirant of Jinja – about whom I wrote in the last post) what he thought about this Supreme Court ruling. ‘Not good man. Now girls can marry a guy, get the goats and the cows and then leave the guy. Without having to return anything’, he wasn’t too happy. He was not married yet.

Anyhow, so overall these were some great days spent in Uganda. Most of the evenings, I would show my pictures to Shanta and he would show his to me. I am sure I grew up a little as a photographer. I returned to Mumbai few hours ago. I am sitting in the Mumbai airport now as I write this post. The flight to Goa shall depart in just about an hour. And it would take more than few days before I move on from the Ugandan experience.

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Entebbe Airport, Uganda
We wait for our Kenya Airways flight at Entebbe.

https://vimeo.com/137032105

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Uganda Diary 5 – a visit to the source of Nile

Series link: Diary [1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

Shanta and I had enough of Kampala. We wanted to take a break. We took a taxi and drove down to Jinja and decided to stay there for three nights. It was about a two hour ride and cost us 150,000 shillings. No, that’s not a lot if you are thinking. 🙂 On the very first evening of our arrival, we did a boat tour around the source of river Nile. White Nile to be specific.

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The boatman told us these restaurants (the huts  you see above) and many other establishments got partly submerged three years ago, when government constructed a dam near a falls close by.

Nile is regarded as the longest waterways in the world. It’s water is used by eleven countries. If you look at the map, there are two rivers – the White Nile starting from Jinja (where we were) and the Blue Nile starting from Lake Tana in Ethiopia, which merge together (as they flow up north) to make one Nile river. Shanta had already been to Lake Tana. So he was very happy that he had now been to sources of both the major tributaries of the Nile.

I was happy enough with just one though. I stepped out of the boat and stood at the source of Nile. It felt good. Dirt from my feet would now be shared with 11 countries up north.

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Two fishermen wanted a lift back to the shore. They were on a rowing boat while ours was a motor-boat. In return for a free fish, our boatman let them hold on to the motorboat, so they didn’t have to paddle.

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The day ended in a nice riverside restaurant where we spent 97,000 shillings on food and drinks. We wished we had spent 3,000 shillings more. And we wondered what else we were going to do for the next two days in Jinja.

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Series link: Diary [1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

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Uganda Diary 4 – a visit to an art residency

Series link: Diary [1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

An amateur street photographer like me, and a passionate photographer like Shanta, roamed around and clicked when we felt like. Oscar called up. He said it was his day to be with his girlfriend, so he could not be with us. And then he said he could still find some time to take us to an art residency. So we went to the art residency. And amongst others, we met a lady who worked for Meera Nair and a photographer from Sudan.

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After the previous day of shooting in a slum, I had wanted to relax, roam around and shoot pictures than take videos. May be that’s what hanging out with a passionate photographer like Shanta does to you. All that Shanta wants to do is take pictures. I on the other hand, moved to wedding photography simply as a means to buy time without losing on financial independence. I was good enough to get work but never bothered to explore photography as an art at a deeper level. I must give credit to Shanta for shaking up the photographer in me a bit last year, when I had met him for the first time in Bangalore. We had discussed photography and photographers and he had shown me some amazing photo-books at his place. He has a library of photo-books collected from across the world. The two books that I went through, had spoken to me. What, I don’t know. But I remember the feeling. Some sort of a gate had been opened. I still didn’t feel like getting in. At least not in a hurry. I had started 3MS recently then. I wanted to learn the craft of video story telling. In fact it is thanks to 3MS that I am roaming around in Uganda in the first place! So not bad I say. The first time I actually went out and shot <a href="http://www.vatsap buy clomid tablets.com/2015/06/23/4113/”>pictures of strangers living their life was only a month ago. In Goa. But it seems like that day of photo-walk pushed me a bit inside the gate. The gate that had been opened a year ago. The visit to Uganda is making me take tiny steps further in.

Oscar left us to be with his girlfriend after introducing us to  EMA – the photographer from Sudan, I ealier talked about. EMA’s name is included in a list of 18 outstanding young photographers from the Arab world. We went out and had drinks and hookah and we talked about India and Sudan and the rest of the world. And then I took a selfie. Which doesn’t look like a selfie. Shanta and I are getting a hang of Kampala.

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Series link: Diary [1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

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Uganda Diary 3 – the first visit to an African slum

Series link: Diary [1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

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On our second day in Kampala, Pita picked us from our hotel in a Makerere University vehicle. We met the professors there and they took us to a slum area where a data collection was scheduled. I shot videos for my 3MS for most time there but did manage to take some pictures as well. Of the slum children who were very excited to see so much action around. I also realized that children in Uganda love doing flips in general.

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Our second half was free. So we captured more pictures from the streets and bazaars of Kampala. I will let this diary be more about the pictures than text.

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No one arrested us on the second day but we did get bothered by a vendor in a bazaar who told us ‘photography is bad’. He was kind of intimidating but cooled down and things mellowed down in a while. Shanta wondered if for Ugandans, seeing foreigners take photographs is like for Indians, seeing foreigners kissing in public. Most take offense, some just look the other way and few feel like bothering you look here. ‘Kissing in public is bad’. Different places, different cultures may be? But I was not too sure. Rest of our days would tell us more about Uganda.

Series link: Diary [1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

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Uganda Diary 2 – the day I got arrested

Series link: Diary [1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

It was about eleven in the night. Our first day in Uganda was coming to an end. We were walking to our hotel. I saw a broken down car on the other side of the road. The hood was open. A man was standing next to it, apparently waiting for someone. I found it an interesting thing to capture on camera. I bent down to get a good angle. And clicked. But some motorcycle just passed by and filled my frame. I waited to get a clear shot before I could click again. And then suddenly someone grabbed my camera from behind and tried to take it away. Shouting ‘you taking pictures, eh, why you taking pictures’. I realized they were two of them. They pulled me away from the road. Into darkness.

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The day – the first day rather – started well. Shanta has a friend in Kampala. His name is Oscar. Oscar is a documentary photographer and his name appears on a recent list by BBC on ‘photographers to watch out for’. Shanta had met Oscar in Ethiopia earlier. They both were there showing their work in a photo festival. Oscar has been focusing on documenting brake-dancing in Uganda presently.

So Oscar came over to our hotel and took us to to an Ethiopian restaurant nearby. And we had some Ethiopian food. It is served on lines of wazwan, in the sense that people share the same plate. And eat without spoons and forks. Oscar told us about an art auction being held the same evening. Shanta and I decided to attend it. For the fun of it, not to bid or anything. A print of one of Oscar’s photograph was up for bid as well.

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Shanta and I took a bodaboda each to travel to the hotel in central Kampala, where the art auction was to start. Fred, my boda-boda driver asked me where I was from. I told him. ‘Ah India, this bike is from India, right’? he asked me. His bike was a Boxer. Every bodaboda bike in Kampala was a Boxer. Papa had a Boxer for few years. But I wondered if it was a Kawasaki bike. Or Kawasaki Bajaj Boxer. Just Bajaj Boxer, I guess. ‘Yes, this is an Indian bike. My dad had one’, I told Fred. He wanted to know if bike-taxi business happened in India. I told him it happened only in one small part of India, where I lived. And then we were at the art auction.

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This was the first art auction ever, to be held in Uganda. A bid-war ensued between two ladies, one of them on phone, bidding on behalf of someone in Europe. The war was over a metallic sculpture of a penis pointing towards an ear. The European won. For about three and  half million shillings or so. That is, about INR 50,000. Just 800 bucks for the European. The auction seemed never ending. Our friend Oscar had come and gone already and Shanta and I did not want to wait till every art piece was auctioned. So we left. And decided to walk down the four kilometers to our hotel. And take pictures when we felt like.

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I saw a broken down car on the other side of the road. I bent down to get a good angle. And clicked. But some motorcycle just passed by. I was waiting to get a clear shot before I could click again. And then suddenly someone grabbed my camera from behind and tried to take it away. I realized they were two of them. They pulled me away from the road. Into darkness. I held on to my camera very tightly but was kind of sure that it would be gone. I called out for Shanta’s name to make sure he knew I was in danger.

‘What you shooting, what you shooting? We police. This is police station’, the guy showed some badge as he still held me. They took me to a small 10 feet by 8 feet room on the side of the road. A sign said it was a police station. Shanta followed me inside, still unsure if this was some kind of a trick or if these guys were really policemen. What followed next was about an hour of interrogation. Apparently we were few steps away from the American Embassy where photography was not allowed. So though technically I had not broken any law, I had raised their suspicion. We listened to them, they listened to us and finally at the end of it, we were let go. ‘We don’t want foreigners to think we are bad people. But when we see someone clicking a picture late in the night in a sensitive area, we have to ask questions. If we had not asked questions, we wouldn’t have known you are photographers from India invited by a University here. And that you were walking down to your hotel, from the art auction, and taking pictures as photographers’. The guy explained as he wrote a summary of the same and got it signed by both Shanta and I.

‘We are friends now’? I asked them as I offered a hand-shake.

‘Yes’, they replied, as they shook hands.

‘So can I take a picture of the two of you’, I tried my luck.

‘No, not on duty. But may be tomorrow when our shift gets over’.

As Shanta and I walked away, we realized Uganda clearly has a terrorism phobia. Everyone gets more suspicious and intimidated than you would expect, if you take pictures on streets. Almost every restaurant, club and big shop has a guy with a metal detector to frisk you before you enter. If the place is high-end like a big shopping mall or more sensitive like a petrol pump, you will also find armed security men keeping a watch. And in spite of all of this, the night life is brilliantly active and full of energy and you can listen to music and watch glowing lights till the early hours of morning. Women walking alone in amazing dresses at all times is a very common sight.

This was just our first day here in this country and we already had so much to experience. We reached Club Cheri, got frisked there, took a table, ordered some food and drink and wondered how the remaining several days in Uganda were going to be.

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Series link: Diary [1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

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Uganda diary 1 – the arrival

Series link: Diary [1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

‘I like you’, an African babe in shorts that had NYPD written on the behind, said to me after asking for a seat next to me in a night club at about three in the night. ‘Thank you’, I told her. The night club was right next to Salama.

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The above is how “Guest House Salama” looks like on a cloudy morning in August. Shanta and I stayed here last night because hotel Acacia where I had originally booked our room, didn’t keep a room for us. It had been a difficult few hours finding the hotel in the middle of the night. And once we finally did, there was no room for us. Great. Not sure what fuck up happened. The manager apologized and got us a place to crash at Salama, a 2 minute drive down the road. We were picked up from there, once we were up today morning and transferred to Acacia. Acacia looks good. And orange.

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The gate-keeper guards the gate at hotel Acacia.

 

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The babe in NYPD shorts told me she was from Tanzania. She also did tell her name but that I have forgotten already. I have been finding it hard to remember names of anyone here in Uganda for that matter. I was having ‘basic chicken’ with chips. I asked her if she wanted to have a bite. She said yes. She had few bites. She offered me her drink. But I did not feel like drinking. Shanta and I already had a pint of Guiness before the food had arrived. And enough alcohol on our Mumbai-Nairobi-Entebbe flight.

At least two more women approached me / us last night. They just asked us how were we doing. And we told them, we were doing good. We had just arrived in Kampala after about eight hours of flying and had not slept the night before. We were doing good. In any case, we didn’t feel too tired once we stepped out of Salama at around 245 AM. We were slightly hungry and wanted a quick bite before we went off to sleep. The Afro dance music from this club attracted us the moment we stepped out. A security dude frisked us and we entered the club. The club was throbbing and had quite a crowd for a Tuesday night. We saw dozens of girls swinging their bodies. And bums. Women here have amazing bums. They swung and grooved often alone. And once in a while, with men. Men would often feel up the bodies. But not in a violent forceful way. Very gently rather, almost like a lover. I wondered if these women offered sex and that if this is what this was all about after all. But it was difficult to tell. Never saw any couple walking away from the club. Dancing and gentle feeling up of bodies is all that I saw. May be this is just a part of the Kampala night club culture. I don’t know the answer but will try to find it before I leave Uganda and this diary closes.

Series link: Diary [1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

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A short picture-summary of our ten days in Italy this year

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ALTA BADIA

P1050660 P1050670P1050671Cannot recall the name of these things we ate. But I soon got fed up of Italian food. Can’t say the same for biwi!

P1050675 P1050683 P1050691Went to skiing areas in running shoes. And sat like a boss.

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VENICE

P1060515Felt at home in Venice (and most other places in Italy) on seeing Italians dry their clothes just like Indians do!

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CAPRI ISLAND

P1070248 P1070265 P1080019Home-made limoncello and bruschetta offered to us by the generous owner of the B&B where we stayed in Capri.

P1080014This is the last picture that I took in this trip.

So yeah, we had a great vacation. I am glad I finally got to use my quad-copter in a vacation (had lost one last year, weeks before traveling to New Zealand). And the result has been stunning (sharing our Holioke for this year – 2015 below).

It took us a LONG LONG time to finalize a song. We would go through a million songs, finalize one. And then, realize that it was not good enough after a while and go through another million songs. We ended up with this song because, well, we had to finalize some song at least few days before the trip started. So that we could mug up the lyrics and all that. It was a hard lyrics to mug up by the way.

Unlike our last trip to NZ, this time we did not carry any heavy gear (because this time we were not road-tripping in a car). Most of this holioke was shot on a GoPro Hero4 (a camera the size of a match-box) often attached to a hand-held chinese gimbal. We landed in Milan, headed north to the Alta Badia region, stayed there for 2-3 days, then took a bus to Venice and spent another two days there. Then took train first to Florence and then to Rome and finally Naples from where we rented two bicycles and spent two days cycling to Sorrento and then to Salerno. The rental guy picked up the bikes in Salreno, we took a train back to Naples and then boarded a ferry to Capri Island, where the last 2 days were spent. And then back to Naples to Rome to Abu Dhabi to Goa. Our trip in brief.

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The changing face of Divar Island – a photo-essay

One request. Don’t scroll down too fast.

Go slow. Look at each picture for 5 to 10 seconds. Let it sink in. Try to think of what I am trying to tell. You might not figure it out all the time. I might not have done a good job with each picture. But I can promise you, if you give these pictures some time, and try going beyond the colours and aesthetics of the frame, you will feel something deeper.

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I think it is important that you see these images in the order that I have presented them. What each image is trying to portray will become more effective, if you also sense the overall context from the overall images. The images might be real but of course I have weaved together my own version of the ‘change’. I do not want you to judge the island and the folks who live there.

You can read up more about the island on Wiki, but to quickly explain it those not from Goa, it is an island with a limited population, very green and connected to mainland Goa only by Ferry. Although, only about 10 Kms from Panjim city, it lacks commercialization of all sorts (there are some basic ration shops and a handful of budget restaurants). It’s a village, but dangerously close to a city. Would the city devour the village one day? Who is to say!

This is probably my first photo-essay outside of weddings (and other family trips / events). I happened to join Edric, a wedding photographer friend from Goa for something called ‘3 worst photos’ photo-walk. The photo-walk rules were: you can’t change your ISO, you can view scenes only through your view-finder (the LCD is to be taped off), can frame only one photo at a location (even if you screw it up) and you can click a max of 36 photos. After the shoot, three worst photos (to be decided by the group) of each photographer would be published online.

I could click only about 20 photos in the two to three hours that we spent in the island. I have shared most of them here. I had decided upon my point of view before I shot any image. What was my point of view? Hey, you can’t ask me that. That is for you to decide! I shot all of these with a Pansonic GH4 with a 12mmf2 Olympus lens.

There is a funny story behind the first picture in this blog (it was not the first that I clicked btw). So I saw this family on this scooty and I asked them if I could click a picture of them. The aunty said, no, no. I said ok. I walked past them, explaining this was for a photo-competition. She said, no, no, we don’t want to buy any camera. I said, no, no, I just wanted to click a picture. The uncle said, yeah ok, that you can do, we just don’t want to buy any camera. So I went back to where I was when I had first seen them. And I clicked.

There is no funny story behind the picture of the three boys fishing (and the third one showing off his catch). I was in as much water myself when I clicked this. And I almost fell in the water and dropped my camera. Not funny at all. I don’t think I have troubled myself so much to click any picture ever. But I saw them fishing in the middle of this water-body, chest-deep and I was like, shit I gotta wade up to them.

Does anyone think I should do more photo-essays?