Tuesday, March 18, 2008

India Gate

"I don't think that's a good idea" were the words I heard from our trip coordinator when I informed him that I was taking a solo trip to India Gate at 7:20pm on the evening of our 1:55am flight back home. I was told by the front desk that the hotel was 25 minutes away from India Gate. When I mentioned this to our coordinator he thought it was more like 45 minutes due to the unpredictable nature of India's traffic. Well I asked him if he thought I should pass on the trip and we mutually agreed that I would go, judge the time and make some smart decisions in route if it looked as if time would time would be an issue. And so it begins...

When I got in the cab I was told that India gate was about 45 minutes away which was different then what the concierge told me no more then 10 minutes before. As I sat in the cab debating whether I should still go, off we went. I told the driver that I needed to catch a flight, he asked me what time and then took the trek on as a personal challenge to cut the time in half and that he did. I think we did the entire round trip with pictures in a little over an hour. Now let me set the context for the rest of the story by telling you a little about India's traffic situation.

India's traffic is like no other traffic I have ever experienced in my life. Not even an IMAX simulation on a 50 foot screen could prepare you for "traffico del India". I am in negotiations with the Six Flags theme parks for a virtual reality ride about India; back to our story. On a typical days commute in India there are bicycles, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, mopeds, motor bikes, motorcycles, cars, SUVs, buses, cows and dogs occupying the road at the same time. Lanes and traffic lights are merely optical illusions and subliminal suggestion in our minds eye but the cows and cars coming at you in the opposite direction are real; especially if you don't move. Just close you eyes and imagine all of these vehicles sharing three lanes of traffic each way and it's not uncommon to drive the wrong direction against traffic. I was a passenger in the cab while one of the drivers provided us with this experience. It was kinda cool to try to figure out which way the vehicles were going to swerve as we came through. Also, blowing the horn on your car is not only a good thing but strongly encouraged to the point where it is painted on the trunks and backs of most of the vehicles in the country. I heard the cows fought this one pretty hard because it tickled and there was something about crying over spilt milk; I'm sorry I couldn't resist.

The speed limits in India are self-directed/self-imposed and with all those vehicles and animals sharing the road, you can only go so fast. The traffic rules, not sure if they are written down anywhere, works for India. People sort of drift to where they want to go and announce themselves with their horns in the process. There is no "road rage" as people understand and respect the drifting concept and you learn the difference between the "watch out for me horn", to the "your getting to close horn" to the "what are you blind" horn. Yes as you can imagine there are accidents and people do get hurt but I doubt if they are any greater then what we experience over here in the states. I'm not sure what the insurance process gets you in India as every vehicle had some type of scratch or dent and we saw shops along the street fixing the minor fender benders.

Okay now back to the trip to India Gate. Remember I mentioned the unwritten rules of driving in India, this drifting concept, well we broke those rules and others on the way to the gate. All that was going through my head was getting into an accident, being late for my plane back home and trying to explain my motives to everyone who would undoubtedly hear about my escapade. To take my mind off of things and more importantly the road, I looked through pictures on my camera from earlier in the day. At one point I started to put my seat belt on for safety and realized that there were no seat belts in this cab so I formulated my personal safety protection strategy in the event I received a premonition about an impending accident. My plan was to duck down, get into the fetal position and roll into the back of the seat in front of me, all the while protecting my camera and lenses. To hell with my personal safety but I needed to save my investment or at least the pictures I had taken to date; about 1, 810 at that point. Then I had thoughts of engaging in small talk with the driver but I was afraid to say anything to him that would be distracting in nature and more importantly take his mind off the road. All was well and we got to the gate so quick (22 minutes) that I had to ask him if he was sure that was it???

After I caught my breath, I jumped out of the cab, gave one of my lenses to the driver and started shooting. I was a bit concerned because I had no tripod and it was pitch black outside; I couldn't have asked for any better conditions as India Gate sort of glowed in the lighting that was placed at the foot of each of the legs on the gate. I ignored the street vendors, the driver shielded me from the people asking for money and took about 30 shots before it made sense not to push my luck any further not knowing what traffic going back to the hotel would be like. I had to hand it to my driver again as he drafted me from everyone so I could shoot uninterrupted. I tipped him handsomely for all that he did to allow me to get these shots and for an experience I will never forget as long as I live. The travesty in all of this would have been not trying at all in the context of staying out of the "stupid zone".

The India Gate is a war memorial in New Delhi commemorating the Indian dead of the First World War. The India Gate today also houses the Indian Army's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Amar Jawan Jyoti. I could have easily shot the gate for another two hours but that would have crossed into that "stupid zone" I mentioned earlier. There were many details still yet to capture but maybe for another time if I get the opportunity to return to India some day. I was able to fire off about 30 shots during my brief visit and here are a few pics of India Gate to go along with this story. It's amazing because it's been more then a week and the gate and the trek there are still so vivid in my mind. Think about the experiences we miss out on in life because of fear or the thought that we still have time. For some later never comes, for others so goes the "Days of Our Lives" but they only have "One Life to Live" "As the World Turns" but I am grateful for the experience which I will tell "All My Children" to encourage them so they don't become "The Young and the Restless". Sorry, it's late and I drifted into that "Stupid Zone" but not to worry, I live close to a "General Hospital" just beyond that "Guiding Light". Now you know "The Rest of the Story". Goodnight.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Taj Mahal

Approximately 6 hours after touching down in New Delhi India we were on the road to Agra and the Taj Mahal. It was a short 5 hour ride to Agra and for many of us a first look at India in the daytime. It was culture shock on steroids and after we got over India's unique traffic scenario, we got out our cameras and began shooting. We never really got over the traffic in India because it's like nothing you've ever seen or experienced before. It makes the traffic in California seem like a cool, easy and lemony fresh Sunday drive.

Our first stop in India was Fort Agra which is one of the best kept secrets in India and is almost as impressive as the Taj; I plan on doing a separate Blog entry just on Fort Agra. Actually the first pictures you see of the Taj are from a lookout post from the Fort across the river Yamuna. I got so much into the Fort that I forgot that I needed to save my energy and memory cards for the main course, the Taj Mahal.

After spending two hours at the Fort, we were a short bus ride to the Taj. Well, there's really no way to explain the feeling when you see the Taj Mahal in the flesh or I guess the marble to be exact. It's almost like when the bride removes the veil for the first time and all that love and devotion is staring you in the face; kinda takes your breath away. And there it is, that classic view of the Taj that you see on so many of the website and literature.

I was like a kid on Christmas, part of me wanted to just shoot everything and everybody in site while the other part of me wanted to savor the moment and look for the perfect shot. Well, after I got my breath back and the silly grin off my face, I went about my job to shoot the Taj in detail. I will confess that we didn't have a lot of time at the Taj and our tour guide was very diligent in explaining everything in exacting detail with historic accuracy and to this day I don't have a clue what he said. As soon as I got myself together, I started shooting. I shot standing up, from one knee, from the other knee, from my belly and on my back. Wanna get people thinking your nuts, try shooting in all sorts of weird positions in a land other then your own. Just kidding, they think I'm nuts over here too.

Well here it is, the Taj Mahal complex, Taj Gate, River Yumuna, the Towers, exquisite handcrafted inlaid marbling, etc. I will have to read up on everything I missed from our tour guide. These are only 1/3 of the shots I took at the Taj Mahal. Not bad for two hours worth of shooting. Enjoy.

Shot of the Taj from Fort Agra

Shooting from the hip, or should I say belly

Taj Gate

My Taj Mahal Post Card Shot

A little creativity with the camera's meter to create the effect
and nice rim lighting. - Thanks for the insight on how to
accomplish this Ross.

The rear of the Taj

Inlaid semi-precious stones

Koranic inscription

Roof vaulting over the front entrance

Taj Mahal Gate - a more distant view

Tower hides the impending sunset; another
play on the meter.

Tower along the River Yumuna

Another tower shot

More inlaid work

Floor of the Taj

More marble work

Wider view of the River Yamuna

Just inside the front gate of the Taj

Another angle

Framing the Taj

Spectators view the Taj from the rear