Passage to India – Sikkim and Gantok

Sikkim is a state, and former country, in the north east of India that still seems like a separate entity. It even has its own border crossing where foreigners must present a special permit to continue.


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Bridge Over the Teetsa River


I traveled from Darjeeling to Gantok on some very narrow and frightening roads in a crowded ‘jeep’ for about five hours.
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The scenery was beautiful although the main road didn’t look like much compared with western roads. Wrecked Jeep-00827There was evidence of risk-taking on the part of of some drivers. This is what is called a ‘jeep’ here but they are made by Tata or Mitsubishi or Toyota. Fully loaded it can carry sixteen inside and another few on the top.

Kalimpong is the capital of Sikkim and I spent four days there. I was lucky to have a brief clearing in the fog to see Kanchenjunga from above the town.

Kanchenjunga - the third highest mountain in the world.

Kanchenjunga – the third highest mountain in the world.

Enchey monastery just a few kilometers north of Gantok is well worth a visit. Is is often visited by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and is a site of great importance to Buddhists.

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Enchey Monastery, Gantok, Sikkim


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Spinning Prayer Wheels in Enchey

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Very Colorful Paintings on the Windows of the Monastery

At the local zoo there are many native and sometimes elusive Himalayan species including this snow leopard.

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard

As an aside, you may wish to read Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard if you have a chance.

Gantok hosts numerous Buddhist monasteries and is a jumping off point for treks in the mountains. To give you an idea of its isolation and the condition of the roads, It took me five and a half hours in a taxi to go from Gantok to New Jalpaiguri (the railway station) just 120 Km distant.

Safe travels everyone,



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Passage to India – Faces

Some of the people I met during my two months in India. I don’t know all their stories but I’ll never forget their faces.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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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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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