In my last blog article I made a little remark about people being so absorbed by selfies that they forget to enjoy the surroundings. I did not know that this was only a very small prelude to my next travel experience.
Incredible India – this is the marketing slogan of the Indian government for its tourism campaign and it is very well chosen. I was among the first European tourists to visit India after a travel ban of more than one and a half years due to the pandemic. And I have never ever before felt so exotic! Wherever I went, to the impressive Qutab Minar with Delhi's oldes mosque, the Red Fort in Agra, the Amber Fort near Jaipur - the biggest sight for the many Indians travelling their own country during Divali holidays was me, a blond European tourist. Only at the Taj Mahal I could relax a bit since I was only the second biggest attraction…
Indians are selfie maniacs, so every five minutes somebody would walk up to me to ask for a selfie, sometimes not even bothering to greet me, but just muttering “Pic?”. I quickly got annoyed and asked them why they wanted a picture with a complete stranger. I tried to imagine the stories they would tell or rather invent when showing the photograph later on to their friends. Almost never did I get an answer and so I mostly declined.
But after a few days I decided to change my tactics. Why not profit from their photo mania? Why not choose people I found interesting and make a deal – a selfie with me in exchange for a portrait of a Hindu women in a lovely sari or a man with the typical turban of the Sikh? Why not make a small collection of portraits showing the many different faces of India?
So that’s what I did and here are some of the results:
Another thing that India held for me was to retest my own open-mindedness, to inhale new thoughts, ideas, perspectives. Especially non-Europe centred perspectives. You can find anything and the opposite in India and at first glance there seems to be not right or wrong, no rules, no defined pattern. Just a multitude of traditions, customs, beliefs in a dazzling mix of colour, sound and odour – truly incredible India. They all seem to co-exist, more or less. Coming from a more homogeneous European background basic questions arise like “Which tradition to choose?”, “Which rites to follow (if any at all)?” The one you were born into accidentally? Or another one you chose consciously? Maybe they all come down to the same basic principles of equality, non-violence, selflessness and compassion not only with humans, but with all creatures - at least in theory? Or were they created in opposition to the ruling system which did not provide the same possibilities for everyone and are thus man-made? And the idea of God merely a necessary and unquestionable authority to underpin a social revolution? One God or many and how many? Or maybe 10 Gurus and a book are enough?
The best answer I got to all these questions that were swirling around my head was given by our guide in the Sixh temple in Delhi who summarised his own religion simply as “a way of life”. This struck me as very self-reflected, serene and non-imposing if not courageous description.
Concerning the photography side of my journey: there was a lot of smog which made the Taj Mahal look even more unreal and floating in the sky. It is beautiful, it is pure elegance (and it is only one of three UNESCO sites in Agra). But does the world need another Taj Mahal picture? Probably not. More interesting was how the people reacted to the sights and how they positioned themselves in relation to them (see the three selfie-men above). So here is my Taj Mahal picture:
India is a world of its own, so this trip and the first impressions can only be a very initial rapprochement to this magnificent subcontinent. More knowledgeable readers may kindly forgive me if it is still very imperfect. But I promise I will go back to discover more!
Take care and have a wonderful Advent and Christmas holiday – a way of life I cherish a lot,