Passage to India – There’s Something About Doors

Doors are often a photographer’s favorite subject. They are generally easy to frame, because they already suggest the frame. Many doors have great texture. Sometimes a subject will poke out.

These doors are just a few of the many that caught my eye in Calcutta and Varanasi.

Doorway - Chetla Slum - Calcutta

Doorway – Chetla Slum – Calcutta

Dog with Door - Calcutta

Dog with Door – Calcutta

Door - Varanasi

Door – Varanasi

Door - Varanasi

Door – Varanasi

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Passage to India – Boats on the Ganga

Varanasi - -2473

Every morning pilgrims and tourists pile into boats for a ride up or down the river, which at this point is quite low. Some people toss food which results in flock of seagulls as seen above. Many boats are rowed by hand whilst other have antique motors.

The boats are often colorful and this pair caught my eye. (The colors are not exaggerated – they really are wonderfully bright.)

Ganga Boats

Ganga Boats

I took a ride to the maharaja’s fort about two miles up river this morning for a grand cost of 500 rupees, which included nearly two hours of waiting time and the return trip. If you are ever here in Varanasi a boat ride should be in your plans.



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Passage to India – Varanasi Snapshot – Old and New

Ok, it’s not really a snapshot but a quick street shot of a boy in Varanasi.

I came upon him by accident and noticed something about him that made me want to raise the camera to my eye. He showed a calmness that was a counterpoise to the craziness of the surroundings – motorcycles squeezing by, market sellers yelling their wares and arguing about prices.

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The surroundings were ancient and his jeans gave a nice contrast. We were only a short distance to the Ganga and its crowd of tourists.

He posed for me, sort of, and I managed a couple of nice street portraits before I had to move on.

I’m going to back and try to find him tomorrow.



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Passage to India – Varanasi

The Ganga, the sacred river, mother of all that is holy in India; the Varanasi ghats, literally the bathing places with steps down to the river. Varanasi / Benares / Kashi the oldest continuously occupied town/city in the world according to some. Varanasi - narrow-2488

Mark Twain visited here  in 1897and said, “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

I was here eight years ago with my daughter on a whirlwind tour and wanted to come back to learn more. This afternoon I went for a walk and was approached by everyone for a donation or to buy something or to have a massage. This is the problem with a city that has so many tourists from all over the world – everyone wants a piece of your wallet, and they can be aggressive about it.

I have the curry beaten out of me for five-hundred rupees.

I resisted most of the entreaties but I confess to having a wonderful massage on the ghat, lying on a thin mat and having the curry beat out of me by a very competent masseuse. Half an hour and 500 rupees later I felt so darn good. It was as good as any massage I’ve had at home and he threw in some chiropractic moves as well. I needed it. Two months traveling in India can wear a guy out. This  poor fellow near me was getting the full treatment.

Varanasi - -2492

Massage on the Ghat – Not Me, Some other tourist

There is much to see here. As a photographer, I once again couldn’t resist the colors.

Ganga Boats

Ganga Boats

I should have a little more to report after a walking tour tomorrow. There is an evening fire puja and I’ll post some photos from that experience eight years ago, once I return home next week.



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Passage to India – Bodhgaya

I’ll be brief because my internet connection in Bodhgaya is tenuous. I’ll play catchup once I get home in a little over a week.

One photograph cannot begin to do this subject justice but it will have to do. Bodhgaya as the most important of the Buddhist pilgrimage sites is a riot of color and sound and devotion. It has been on my bucket list for a long time and today I explored most of the temples and spent time at the Mahabodhi Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pilgrims of all Sizes Come from All Over Asia

Pilgrims of Diminutive Sizes Come from All Over Asia

Inside One Temple

Inside One Temple – Detail and Color

Everyone Has an Tablet It Seems

Everyone Has an Tablet It Seems

The only thing that was surprising to me was the mixture of the old and new: monks talking on cell phones (mobiles they are called here), monks walking around making movies with their iPads, and the fact that I was the only westerner to be seen for the most part.

As such I was a curiosity but that wasn’t a bad thing. Curious also equals friendly and I talked to so many about “America” and what it really is like.

I have learned over these past months that all isn’t really that different below the surface. Beneath it all we are all trying to be good and kind people; we care for our families; we try to earn our daily bread in whatever way we can. The superficial stuff will surprise the traveler at first and if you are here but a short time those things will stay in the front of your experience. After a time though comes acceptance and understanding and we can appreciate each other more deeply. Criticism falls away and the good memories remain.

Lesson learned today: if you feed a sacred cow (really, there are such creatures) it will follow you around and become your best bovine friend. “Tung, matkaro” – “please leave me alone.”

Safe travels everyone,


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Passage to India – Shooting Calcutta – Part 3

A Word About The Hope Foundation

The major effort of the charity that sponsored this workshop, Hope Calcutta, is working with street and orphan children in feeding, education, and medical care. Hope has its own hospital with a staff of doctors and a dedicated nursing staff. Here some of our photo workshop participants are visiting the hospital.

Hope Hospital -0808

The Chetla Slum

Not far from our hotel in the southern suburb of Tollygunge, is a slum hard by the railway in an area called Chetla.

The children of the street and the slums live in appalling conditions, often dangerous ones. These are the tracks they play on and live next to.

Slum and Train-0895

Somehow they seem to know that a train is coming down a particular track and move to one side. But will the toddlers get out of the way in time?

Kolkata picks-0863

The laundry dries on the ballast while in the background a group of men play cards.

Kolkata picks-0888

Sweet, kind faces everywhere. Always friendly and curious they used the few English words they knew.


A Chetla high-rise. You will be surprised to see satellite dishes here.

Kolkata Slum-0923

The kids are delighted to see their photographs. Jonny Seymour from the photo workshop is enjoying their participation.

Kolkata picks-1001

This father and child made for a wonderful family portrait. I was pleased the next day to have a print made and hand deliver it to him. The entire slum seemed to turn out to look at the image.

Kolkata picks-00535

Kolkata picks-0983

Kolkata picks-0948

Until next time,


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Passage to India – Shooting Calcutta – Part 2

Working people and street portraits.

Although street photographers seem to decry any non-candid shots, I find that eye contact often helps the photograph. Although I never posed a shot, I would indicate to the person that I wished to take their photo and then I would take another in a candid moment when they had forgotten about me. That way I got the best of both to choose from, as seen below.

Kolkata Shopkeeper-1147.jpg




Kolkate North Friday-1095.jpg

Kolkate North Friday-1233.jpg

More to come,


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Passage to India – Shooting Calcutta – Part 1

For eight wonderful days I was part of the Hope Calcutta street photography workshop. Led by documentary photographer Mark Carey, we spent our days and nights shooting on the streets and in the slums of Calcutta, helping each other, and critiquing the results.

For me, street shooting is something different, in part because where I live is quite rural and I don’t have ready access to the streets of a large city. Calcutta was a visual feast by comparison and all I had to overcome was the fear of photographing strangers, something which which I am becoming more comfortable.

Kolkate North Friday-1169.jpg

There were people who loved to be photographed and a few who did know that they were. This group insisted on it.

Others indicated a firm “no” and that was always respected. Usually a slight head wag and a smile was all that was need to gain approval.


Sometimes black and white worked better than color, India being as colorful as it is.


Kolkata Flower-00506.jpg

Kolkata Flower-0357.jpg

Flower markets of course lent themselves to color work.

Nighttime shooting was harder to determine although I usually chose color too.


Commute time.

At the starting line.

More to come,


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Passage to India – Toy Train II

There are books on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway that you should be reading and a BBC documentary that you should be watching. But here you are on my blog. Silly you!

Part II contains numerous things that didn’t fit into Part I. Whereas Part I was an overview, this is more of a potpourri, and a lot of photographs.


The DHR runs only two services at the moment due to a major landslide that severed the line a couple of years ago and is still being repaired.The tourist traffic from Darjeeling to Ghum and return is handled by the remaining steam engines which haul two or three coaches depending upon demand. The school requirements are handled by one of the diesels with three coaches between Kurseong and Darjeeling.

That the line was built at all I find incredible. The curves are impossibly tight and the gradients always steep. The little steam engines with only two driving axles and all the weight on those axles manage to do the job with the help of a little sand now and then. But it certainly struggles at times.

DHR Water Stop-1772 A watering stop, halfway between Darjeeling and Ghum.

Sadly many of the steam locomotives are up on blocks and being scavenged for parts, such as here at the Kurseong locomotive shed.

DHR-00698 DHR-00701 DHR-00702DHR-00707  DHR-1924

The yard at Kurseong looks abandoned and in sad shape. I saw only two flat cars on the line, although there may be more freight equipment at Tindharia and further down the railway, but clearly with all the trucks hauling goods, the days of the DHR as a freight railway are over.


And yes that is a person sleeping on the car.

Finally a couple more shots from Kurseong.


The diesel is coupled to the head of the 7:00 train ready to reverse into the street and then head to Darjeeling.

Kurseong Train-00717 DHR-00718 Kurseong-2126

That’s all from the DHR. But plenty more India to come.



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Passage to India – The Toy Train

Darjeeling – the name conjures up so much.

Tea surely comes to mind since it is the most famous of its products and sold all over the world. I’ve drunk my share of the tea since I’ve been here. It’s hard to avoid.

Another item of major importance to the tourist industry that thrives here, is what is called the Toy Train, although railway aficionados decry the term. The railway is actually the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) which has been in operation since the late 1800’s when the British built it to access the area for a rest area. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Today the line still exists and some of the steam engines that it owns still run, although on an abbreviated portion of the line. The engines are like no other in appearance. They run on rails that are just two feet apart and run either forwards or backwards as needed.

Darjeeling has been on my radar for some years and any train buff who has an affection for the DHR regards this as a railway mecca. The views around the train station show many there with cameras in hand shooting happily away. I was one of them.

Most of the activity is to be found at the train station itself which becomes orchestrated about ten-thirty in the morning with a train arriving from Kurseong, and another returning from the early morning “Joy Train” from Ghum, the highest railways station in India at 7400’. The 11:00 service for Kurseong and the next departure of the Joy Train are then set up.


All three steam engines are seen here doing the shunting. A note for the railfan: although the station yard has a tail track which could be used for a run-around, it is not used. The engine that heads in waits until another engine comes and pulls the coaches back out onto the street and then pushes them into another siding, then the engine is free to head to the shed or be coupled on the outbound end of another train.


The engines run backwards up the hill to Ghum, although I suppose there isn’t really a “backwards” since they were designed to run in this direction, or the other one. Notice that the fireman has one foot on a little step that he has plugged into the back buffer. This will be removed when the engine is run around at Ghum and coupled in the “normal” way to the coach for the return trip down the hill.

DHR Arriving-1502

The morning Joy Train returns from Ghum.

DHR Street Running-1971

Street running is tight in places. So tight that shopkeepers have to pull their wares from the tracks as the train comes.

DHR Ticket Window-00576

Things can seem a little “pushy” at the tiny ticket window. It may be easier to book online. Even better, have a local travel agent do it.

DHR Leaving Darj-00671

“He’s got a ticket to ride.”

Part II coming up as soon as I get to some reliable internet here in the hills.

Safe travels,


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