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.

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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.

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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?

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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The morning Joy Train returns from Ghum.

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

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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.

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“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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Passage to India – Morning Rituals

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The morning bathing in the Hooghly, a branch of the Ganga, is an important ritual. Never mind the trash. The river is all important and takes care of all.

Kolkata-puja-0348Meanwhile in a quieter part of the ghat, a worshipper performs a puja at a small shrine.

Safe travels everyone,

Grover from Kolkata


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Passage to India – In the Kolkata Flower Market

A friend wrote that she thought I had been enhancing the colors in my images. I’m sure it looks that way sometimes but in fact the colors here are so vibrant that I usually have to work to keep them under control. Like any modern photographer using Lightroom, I surely do work with brightness and contrast with a dab of clarity, but I never have increased the color saturation; sometimes I even have to lower it a little.Kolkata Flower-00503

Kolkata Flower-0357Kolkata Flower-00506Safe travels everyone,

Cheers from Kolkata, India


Technical note: images from a Canon EOS 1200D shot in RAW and edited in Lightroom 5.  Lens 10-18mm Canon.

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Passage to India – The Charnel Ground

I went to the cremation ground in Puri today. I was deeply moved and it helped me to reflect on our own lives and deaths.

I’ll only show one photograph because it seemed that my taking lots of photographs was disrespectful. That said, as I was leaving, two more bodies had arrived at the gate and one entire family was having its photo taken with the deceased, whose head was being held up so it was more visible.

“Incredible India”

This is the cremation ground just across from the beach. The small fire on the left is the last of someone’s funerary pyre. The fellow with the pole is poking some body parts back into the fire. I watched another one being started nearby, complete with a ceremony I didn’t understand.

Cremation Ground, Puri

Cremation Ground, Puri

It was not quite what I had anticipated, which by itself should teach me to not anticipate anything in this country. People wandered through yakking on cell phones (mobiles) since there was a walkway here between streets. There were the usual dogs and cows, and hawkers too.

Wood Stash

Wood Stash

This is the hardwood used in the cremation. As you can see the whole affair is tucked in between beachfront hotels.

It was a good experience. Actually none of my adventures here can be said to be bad. It’s just life and death in another manner than our own. And that realization has been important to me.

Safe travels everyone, and keep your minds open while you’re at it.


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Passage to India – A Short and Sad Life

Beach Dog - Puri

Beach Dog – Puri

I see the street dogs and the beach dogs here and I am saddened because I know they will have a short life. Except for a few families who treasure their dogs, most of the strays are ignored or poorly treated. There are large numbers of them here on the beach and  I see many who have just had a litter of pups, but the pups are nowhere to be seen. Others suffer from mange and have ticks as large as your thumbnail. This is one of the few things about India I don’t like.

“Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, did you enjoy the play?”


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Passage to India – Thoughts on Pondicherry

Pondicherry (Puducherry) has a distinct French colonial flavor.  A settlement was established by the French as early as 1674 although the place was taken by the British twice after they came to dominate India. The French finally turned the Puducherry area over to the Indian government in 1954, seven years after India won her independence.

It’s a colorful place with a mixture of architecture. Beautiful tree lined street are seen in the French half nearest the waterfront.Reduced Blog-00227

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In the east is the commercial Tamil district with its bustling markets, scooters and motorcycles by the hundreds, and little side streets often devoted to just one trade.Reduced Blog-00240 Reduced Blog-00244 Reduced Blog-00223 Reduced Blog-00251I found the usual street dogs here including this one whose sleeping quarters were nicely decorated.Reduced Blog-00218Finally a note about the weather. The photos above were taken on the only sunny day during the five days I was there. The monsoons had begun and finding a bit of dryness was difficult. This is the rooftop restaurant at my boutique hotel L’escale (highly recommended by me). The rain is driving in from the Bay of Bengal.Reduced Blog-00215


I love this place. I would have spent more time had the schedule allowed and visited nearby Auroville. As it was I backtracked to the Nilgiris and Ooty.

Until next time, safe travels everyone,





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