We are rob & lauren: two professional photographers who love weddings and travel. This is where all of those things come
together for us. Within these pages we hope you discover and sense our deep love for the cultures that we encounter and
experience. Our biggest hope is that you come away from this site with a great understanding, respect and love for them and
their ways. Enjoy!
The Ajanta Caves
Ajanta (and Jalgaon), India
February 27, 2008
So first off I want to give a big thank you for all the wonderful comments on the last post. There’s always an element of uncertainty when you post some rather negative thoughts about a place like India, which is shrouded in such mystery for so many people, but I’m glad to see that while you all now understand the down sides of this country, you too are seeing all the beauty that we are. And I’ll give a quick note to let you know that the whole country is not as dirty and hectic as Calcutta and Varanasi. I’ll be posting about Mumbai soon, which we both loved, and we just got into Jodhpur today and this city is simply magical. But let’s hop all the way back to Ajanta shall we?
So after we hung out in Varanasi for a while, we caught a train to Jalgaon. It’s a little transit town that serves almost solely as a jumping off point for a trip to the Ajanta caves. Our first night there we were off to the train station (a 2 min walk from our hotel) to reserve our ticket onwards. There are many ticket booths in the station, and we found the one designated for foreigners. We were quite surprised at who we shared the booth with…and I’m not talking about the Senior Citizens…
I’m not sure if any of you have heard of the Ajanta caves, but they are kind of a big deal. After a long and jarring bus ride on a local bus we made it to the caves. We were greeted with this sign that we both found hilarious
But then it was time to get serious, because these caves are serious business. A World Heritage site, they consist of 30 Buddhist caves carved into the face of a horse-shoe shaped gorge. Here’s a shot to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
A walk along the path will take you past each of the caves and so getting around was merely a matter of walking, stopping to take off your shoes, checking out the cave, and then moving along. And it was a blissful refuge from the very hot sun to duck into a cool and dark cave every few minutes. But these were much more than simply places for shade. Don’t get me wrong. The carvings inside were absolutely astounding, I can’t believe that this place isn’t better known! We’ve been to Greece and have seen a lot of the ancient sites there, but nothing even came close to this. So many of the caves had a incredible Buddha carving at the back.
This particular cave was really great. The giant Buddha was guarded by these other figures (his followers, I believe) and with the lighting and the atmosphere we completely felt like we were in an Indiana Jones film.
The carvings on the wall were amazing, and each cave had such different details than the others
Isn’t this incredible? The entire wall was completely filled with these carvings right out of the wall.
As we were taking a break we took a couple of “glamour shots” of each other. Rob really likes this one of me looking like a really cool photographer (you are probably wondering where I got those really cool pants! They are from Bangkok, and are really nifty)
Rob giving us his model pose
And another of me
But I bet you just want to see the caves right? Well even the ceilings were spectacularly decorated
And entrances were amazing as well
Really, how many adjectives and superlatives can I find to describe these things?
A really wonderful reclining Buddha
(insert adjective of your choice here)
We also took a little video to give you a good idea of the magnitude of these caves. I apologize once more for my tired and sweaty demeanor. Rob seems to always bring the camera out when I’m absolutely exhausted from the heat!
And what’s crazier than a troupe of monkeys who just hung out in the trees right beside the walkway?
So there you have the Ajanta caves. We bused back to Jalgaon (though in retrospect we should have continued on to Aurangabad to see the Ellora caves, allegedly just as spectacular….for all those travelers out there, there’s a tip! We already have quite the list of places to visit next time we come to India, since a short two months is really not even near long enough). Then onto another train, and the next stop was Mumbai! And that will be coming up next :)
P.S. I just updated the Maps section of the site, under the Info heading, in case you guys are curious to see what our route has been. I can't believe how much ground we've covered in two months!
So we’ve had a big store of photos all backing up waiting to be blogged. There’s so very very much to see in India and so much to shoot that we find ourselves completely overloading with photos. But we’re taking a nice and relaxing day here in Mumbai to work on getting some edited so that you guys can see some more of India. I hope you enjoy!
We’re going to go back in time here, and show you the last couple of places we’ve visited. Our time in India is rather short when you think about how much this country has to see, so our pace has been quite rapid. We’ve spent incredible numbers of hours on trains and as such haven’t had much time to work on the computer as we stop in a town for just a couple of days. Thus the backtracking!
I’m going to also preface these posts with a note. No amount of photos that we show you could really convey the intensity of India. And I’m not necessarily saying that in a good way. I think we show a very beautiful side of this country, and I’m so glad to see that so many of you are enjoying seeing that. But what we haven’t been showing are photos of urinals in the streets, garbage absolutely filling every crevice, cow droppings making every step a cautious one, and the incredible relentlessness of poverty.
I’ll give you a few statistics to try and give you some perspective on the issue of poverty in India. (These are all taken from the Lonely Planet: India, Published 2007). The last census of 2001 placed the population of India at 1.027 billion, which I believe was up 20% from the decade before. I would guess it’s over 1.1 billion now and is slated to overtake China as the most populous country by 2035 (India is much smaller in land mass than China!). The unemployment rate is 8.6%. Literacy rate is about 54% in women and 75% in men. Families living in one-room homes: 41%. India’s percentage of the world population 16.7%. The worlds highest number of HIV positive cases—greater than South Africa-- with a reported at 5.7 million cases, estimated to reach 12 million by 2010. About 30-40% of India’s population survive on less than 1 US dollar per day. In Mumbai where we are currently staying the population is 16.4 million (about half the population of Canada) and it’s estimated that up to 55% of the population live in slums and shantytowns. It is also home to the largest slum in Asia, known as Dharavi, incorporating 1.7 square kilometers with a population of more than 1 million people (the same population as our home city, Edmonton). But really none of these numbers mean anything until you actually visit this country and see things for yourself.
It’s a side of India that we did not expect. We had been told that India was “dirty, smelly and crowded”. Those words don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what we’ve seen and experienced. It’s been difficult to handle at times, and even more so when every moment outside is punctuated with touts trying to sell us something. We are both quite exhausted many days when we come back, and relish our quite evenings watching a movie on the laptop. It’s a bit of normalcy and stability in a country that seems anything but.
So if you are planning to visit India, I encourage you to do so. But with this warning that I wish we had been given. Prepare yourself for a very tough journey, that will be filled with incredible highs (you will see some in this post) and gut-wrenching lows. As I remarked one day to Rob, India tests your patience. It crosses the line of your limits, then it dances well beyond that line, then it punches you in the face, and goes even further. Harsh words I know, but I do pride myself on being a relatively patient person, and yet have on many occasions felt myself completely and utterly strained, and very ready to lash out. Of course, these are only momentary lapses, and in the very next moment something happens to make me fall in love with India all over again. It’s a rollercoaster ride every day, and I just can’t even begin to fathom what we will encounter with another full month here, but I’m sure it will be just as memorable, both in a good way and bad, as what has happened so far. This is not a holiday, but a life experience and a supreme test.
I thank you for indulging me in this little discussion. I know it’s a lot deeper than our usual style of writing. We do try our best to see some bit of beauty in many of these depressing scenes, and those photos are what we share with you. But we don’t want to paint a false picture, and hope that this little side note helps to prevent that. I promise I won’t launch into these intense essays too frequently. Emotions are much more powerful after traveling these sorts of places, and it is always good to share ☺
The first shot here is of our room in Jorhat. It was more than we ever expected, and likely more luxurious than anything else we will stay in while we’re here. Another huge thank you to Runa’s family for putting us up in such a wonderful place.
And now some shots from Varanasi. This is one of the holiest cities in India, situated on the Ganges River. It is the city of Shiva the destroyer, one of the Hindu gods. To die here is a very desirable fate, since it releases a Hindu from the cycle of birth and death. One of the gentlemen who worked at our hotel had been living in Varanasi for 25 years, as his mother had come to the city that long ago, and was still waiting to die there. It is a city that we both found to be incredibly intense and at times quite overwhelming.
On our first day in Varanasi we took a boat ride at dusk along the river. It was a very interesting experience, at once both calming and eerie.
Kite flying is a common past time here.
Our boat took us to the main ghat. A ghat is an area that slopes down to the river where people bathe, wash clothes, and pray, and there are many of them lining the banks of the river. This main ghat had a nightly aarti ceremony (prayer) to the Ganges. It was quite elaborate, and made for some great photos.
After the aarti was done everyone lit candles and put them into the river, as an offering to the Ganges.
The two candles that you can see in this picture were the ones Rob and I lit.
The next day we took a little walk around town. There are tons of movie posters around, especially for the latest blockbuster, Jodhaa Akbar. We attempted to see if anywhere in Mumbai had English subtitles but apparently not. It was quite disappointing, since this is apparently a fantastic movie! We’ll have to wait until we get home ☹
This intrepid young guy saw that we were going the wrong way to get to the Ganges, so he led us in the right direction (in exchange for a small tip, of course). But his English was excellent, so major props to him.
As I mentioned before, the Ganges is where many people bathe during the day. It’s considered a very holy river, and is capable of washing away bad karma. I love this shot of this young guy in a quiet moment looking over the river after his bath.
There are tons of what I believe to be water buffalo wandering around near the ghats. We thought they were pretty cute indeed.
Now, you recall me mentioning that we found Varanasi to be incredibly intense. This will give a glimpse into that. Two of the ghats along the river are dedicated specifically to cremation. It takes place in public, and you can stand and watch it. After we got back to our room that night I took a moment to try and describe what it felt like to see that, but honestly I could not find the right words. This photo is of some of the piles of wood nearby that are used for the cremations that take place all throughout the day. There are over 200 cremations every day, so you can imagine the amount of wood needed…
It wasn’t all just intensity like that though. It was really neat to see some goats just relaxing on the steps of a ghat.
And there were some very interesting characters along the way. This guy has dreadlocks so long you wouldn’t believe. They were all tied up in his turban, which is why it is so big. I found his face and colours to be just incredible.
Another interesting experience in Varanasi was when Rob got an authentic Indian shave. They whipped out a stool, sat him in an alley in front of a big metal door, and went to it. He said it felt really great, and was a nice close shave!
There were cows all over the streets, just watching the swarms of people go by
And one day we hired a rickshaw driver to take us around to see some of the temples in Varanasi. Many of them aren’t open to non-Hindus, so we only saw a few. This one is one of the many Shiva temples in Varanasi. It was small, but still so ornate that I found it amazing. There are so few things like this in Edmonton!
Then we stopped by the Monkey Temple. We weren’t allowed inside, but one of the guards let us walk a bit closer near a gate to see some of the monkeys eating. It looked like there were dozens of monkeys all around this temple! This little guy jumped up into a tree that jutted out over the fence, so that we were both kind of nervous because he looked ready to jump right on Rob! But he certainly was cute, nonetheless.
Here’s the view from our seat on the rickshaw. The road in this picture is so empty because we were taking a quiet ride around the local University. The rest of the time it was so incredibly busy and harrowing. It was quite interesting to see the shirt of our driver saying "Jesus, I trust in you". I'm not sure if he was actually Christian, or just liked the shirt. Neither is outside the realm of possibility in India.
At the local Benares Hindu University there is a large temple that is actually open to people of all faiths, so we took a look. There was a really fantastic sculpture on the outside, I believe of Shiva.
The temple itself
The next day we ventured out to Sarnath, which is 10km outside of Varanasi. It is where Buddha came to preach his message after he achieved enlightenment.
There is a small deer park in the area, and I just couldn’t believe the antlers on this deer.
There was also a small Jain temple nearby. Many people have probably never heard of the Jain religion, but a very good friend of mine is Jain, so I have a bit of familiarity with it. It started in the 6th century BC as an opposition to the Hindu caste system. Founded by Mahavira, the Jain religion teaches that through ahimsa (non-violence) and achieving complete purity of the soul one can achieve liberation. When we walked into the Jain temple and saw this small alter with a black marble statue, I can honestly tell you that I felt a tangible sense of intensity from it, more so than even the large buddhas that we’ve seen.
We walked along the road and came to another Jain site, with a much larger black marble statue. I felt such a sense of gentleness from the way the hands were carved.
And from the road we got a good glimpse of the Dhanekh Stupa, which was erected to mark the spot where Buddha gave his first sermon to his 5 followers.
It’s really funny how things that remind you of home can get you so excited when you’ve been gone for so long. Rob and I very very very rarely eat at McDonalds (maybe once a year) but when we saw one in Varanasi, we were pumped. Little did we realize that since this is India, and the 82% Hindu majority consider cows to be sacred, there would be absolutely no beef on the menu. Out the window went our dreams of a Big Mac. Instead we got a couple of Chicken Maharaja Macs….Honestly, I couldn’t make something like that up. They were good, but just not the same.
But the soft serve ice cream was just like back home, and so I was happy.
And that’s a slice of Varanasi. It was certainly a place to see, and to experience, but it was anything but relaxing. The city is notorious for touts, and even more so it can be quite scary at night time. They often turn all the power off, including the street lights, which makes carrying a flashlight at all times a necessity. And during the day time the percentage of people on the streets was about 90% male. At night time, it became about 98%, which definitely can make you a bit jumpy. Thus the lack of night time shots! But now here in Mumbai things are quite different, and we’ve had a couple great night time strolls. As usual, India is always a surprise.
We have food in our tummies (Subway, though it wasn't the same).
We have spent 33 hours on trains in the past 4 days.
We are in Mumbai.
Here's a teaser from the Ajanta caves for you. They were nothing short of spectacular, and hopefully we will get some pictures up soon! All this train travel really drains us, and we haven't had much time for work! But this is a cool city from what we've seen so far, so we'll keep you all posted.
So it has been pretty near forever since we took these photos, and we hinted at them, but we managed to get ourselves really busy, and Rob has been steadily working on the hundreds of photos we took of these guys, but we never put anything up. Well the time has come that we’ve thrown together some of the photos we took of Kevin and Cherie while we were in Ho Chi Minh City. Yeah, I can hardly remember that either! But let’s take a trip down memory lane shall we.
We met Kevin and Cherie in Edmonton as we were talking about their wedding photography. While chatting we found out that they were going to be in Vietnam at the same time as us. We all figured it would pretty much be the coolest thing in the world to do a portrait session of them while in Vietnam, and so that’s exactly what we did. Just to be fancy we actually did two, so let’s start off with the “normal” one.
And now for the really exciting stuff (not that that wasn’t exciting, but this is even more so!). Kevin and Cherie were in Vietnam to get their clothes made for their wedding in Canada. And they had just finished getting everything together before we got there, so these outfits were ready to be photographed! And traditional Vietnamese wedding outfits are beyond cool! Here is Kevin getting ready with the help of his mom
And Cherie doing the same, with Kevin's mom playing make-up artist (check out that amazing hat!)
Some detail of Kevin’s outfit
And detail from Cherie’s (the outfits are made out of Vietnamese silk, and have the long coloured tunic over white pants, along with the really cool hats)
Nice and easy to get it started
And then we started to really use the location. We were at some big theme park thing just outside of HCMC and it was really a photographer’s playground! Enormous credit to Kevin and Cherie, who stood on this bridge for who knows how long, incredibly still, as Rob and I took a million photos. They really were champs. And the photos really were worth it I think!
Kevin has the best smile, his eyes really get into it!
And Cherie looked so classic, like she was meant to wear a Vietnamese wedding gown
And together, it was magic ;)
There’s no better way to finish up a relaxing and romantic photo session than by seeing vicious crocodiles! Right?? We wandered into this little pond area, thinking it’d be a nice background for some shots, and found ourselves right in the middle of thousands of crocodiles. Seriously. I think we may have put pictures up of these crocs before, but here’s another one just to drive the point home.
Scary. Like, I was honestly really scared. But we survived! And came out of there with pictures coming out of our eyeballs. There are still so many more to go through, but I hope you guys enjoyed seeing these and getting to peek at what a traditional Vietnamese wedding outfit looks like!
Alright, everyone, I think it’s about time we added a bit of “wedding” to our “travel”! While we were in Vietnam and Thailand our minds were more on traveling than weddings. But pretty much the moment we got to India things changed. We logged on to the internet to find a very exciting message from Gavin, Rob’s long time friend from all the way back to elementary school. It turned out that Gavin was in India as well for his cousin’s wedding. We had told Gavin about our travels and what we hoped to do with The Wedding Travelers, so he let us know that he had a wedding for us to go to. The stars aligned, the timing was perfect, and we managed to book a flight out to Assam.
To tell you the honest truth, we knew nothing of Assam, beyond me recognizing the name from a type of tea I’ve had back home. A quick check in the Lonely Planet Guidebook told us that Assam is in the North East of India, and is a world renowned tea producing region.
It’s certainly not a region that many backpackers make it out to, and it’s even a bit sketchy, in that there are separatist groups in the area, but we knew that this was the purpose of our trip, to seek out new types of weddings, and so we didn’t even hesitate to make the journey.
A quick flight into Jorhat, landing in an airport that is honestly the smallest I’ve ever seen, and then the incredible hospitality began. At home in Canada when we attend an Indian wedding we adore the fact that we are always treated like family. We weren’t sure what to expect, being that we are really the furthest thing from it, crashing a wedding where we have never met the bride or groom before, but we were treated incredibly well. I’d even go so far to say we were downright pampered! So I’m going to start off by saying an enormous thank you to the families of Runa and Arjun for all their amazing hospitality. We hope that one day we’ll meet up with them all again!
Now down to the wedding. Let’s first introduce you to the wonderful people who made the hook-up with this wedding possible. This is the one and only Gavin (he's half Indian, in case you were really confused about his relation to the groom)
The first time I ever met Gavin was right after he returned from a previous trip to India, and he was incredibly sick. Honestly, he looked like he might collapse at any moment. But since then I’ve had the privilege of meeting up with him many times afterwards, and he got over the sickness and turned out to be a great guy. We give him huge props for hooking us up with this wedding!
And next, Gavin’s cousin Talya. Rob has met her a couple times previous, and I had heard her name mentioned in conversation, but never had the chance to meet her. It turns out we have lived about 10 minutes away from each other our whole lives in Edmonton, and we end up meeting in Jorhat, Assam, India. Go figure. But I need to give her an enormous thank you for all her kindness in showing us around, lending me a ton of clothes and shoes so I didn’t look like a total dweeb, and just generally being incredibly entertaining. Here’s a shot of her teaching the chef how to “pound it”.
And now the stars of the post, the bride and groom. This is Arjun, Gavin and Talya’s cousin. Doesn’t he look like a Bollywood star?
And the gorgeous bride, Runa. I adore this shot of her, so serene and peaceful. And at her own wedding too! Would you believe it?
So it wouldn’t be a wedding if there wasn’t some form of rushing around. Rob and I arrived in Jorhat in the afternoon after flying from Calcutta. We had been up since very early in the morning, we tired and worn out. And the moment we arrived and said hi to Gavin and Talya, I was whisked away to change into some Indian clothes and head over to the mendhi. It was a very low key and calm event, which I was very glad for. And the mendhi artists here do some amazing work (P.S. If you are reading all this and haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, check out the Hindu article under the Wedding menu at the top of the site. It’s still a work in progess, but it explains a lot of this stuff!)
After all the girls had their mendhi finished, it was back to the house so that they could change. That’s one thing about an Indian wedding. If you’re properly prepared, you never wear the same thing to more than one event, which means some days you might change 3 times. I, of course, was not that well prepared, so I just chilled with Rob and Gavin, who had a strenuous afternoon of walking down the road to buy some beers.
Back to the wedding location for the Sangeet. At home this had usually been just a dinner and dance party, where everyone just has a ton of crazy wild fun. Many of the weddings we have been to have been Punjabi weddings, and they are notorious for being partiers. The Assamese are much more reserved, I’ll have you know. And the evening was a quiet one, just a relaxed cocktail party. Some music did break out at one point, though it didn’t last very long, thanks to some terrible DJ-ing. But one moment that was quite memorable was when a traditional Assamese dance broke out. It was unlike any Indian dancing I’ve ever seen, and the movements were very bird-like, in a sense. It was really wonderful to see!
And then the next day was the ceremony day. Here in India the ceremony takes place in the evening. That’s very nice, in terms of keeping things cool, but makes our job 100 times more difficult! Nevertheless we managed to get our flashes out and do our best to capture some of the crazy events that were going on. The night started out with the arrival of the groom’s family to the bride’s family’s house (where all the wedding ceremonies took place). They were greeting with the largest display of firecrackers I’ve ever seen. And fire safety regulations are pretty lax here in India, so they were setting these huge fireworks off just meters away from us. Kind of scary, but it sure got the adrenaline going!
Then what happened next is something I’ve never heard of before, so I’m going to attribute it to the Assamese for the time being. If anyone knows of anyone else who does this let me know!
When the groom’s family got out of their cars to walk up the path to the house they were absolutely bombarded with rice thrown by the bride’s family. Naturally I had to be right in the thick of it to get some good shots, and was hit by the stuff, and boy, does it hurt! But it was hilarious to watch.
The groom is accompanied by his best man, who carries an umbrella to protect him. Arjun is the one on the right of the two young guys in white suits.
The groom’s family had come prepared with their own rice to counter-attack, but they weren’t expecting to be showered with soap foam! Arjun’s mom got it pretty bad!
Then things settled down and the bride’s family performed an aarti with Arjun to welcome him into the home.
And here’s something that we will never seen in Edmonton. The ceremony took place in this absolutely enormous structure that was built on the property for this purpose. It was entirely made of bamboo poles that were covered in fabric. I would say it was about 40 ft high and 150 long….rough guess. Huge, is all I can tell you. And it looks absolutely spectacular. The ceremony was performed under the mandap, which is the little tent-type-thing, and it was gorgeously decorated with tons of fresh flowers.
At Hindu weddings there are always many offerings to the gods. Here they are set out, and those little dishes that they are on are actually made out of banana trees, which we thought was really fantastic.
One important part of the Hindu ceremony is when the couple exchanges garlands. If you look closely at what Arjun is wearing you’ll see that he has a wreath around his head. I believe this is an Assamese tradition, and the wreath is made out of Indian basil.
Another new tradition that we haven’t seen before is that the couple’s hands are literally bound together with string. I absolutely love this shot, and the way Rob processed it. It’s so simple, but I really feel like you can sense the emotion and meaning.
The entire ceremony is performed in Sanskrit, which meant that Arjun had no idea what was going on! Poor guy! But he trooped through, and Runa even translated for him once she came.
The entire ceremony under the mandap took just over 2.5 hours, and for the first hour Arjun was all by himself. You might think that is an insanely long time to be performing a marriage ceremony but this was actually a heavily shortened version, and people told us of weddings they were at recently that lasted about 6 hours. Wow. Thankfully there were guys here that were serving snacks so we didn’t get too hungry.
One ritual that we have seen many times is that of pouring ghee (clarified Indian butter) into the fire. I believe that this is a way of offering the gifts to the gods, by turning them into smoke that will go up to the sky. Don’t quote me, of course, but that’s what I’ve been told! Here’s a great shot that Rob got of Arjun pouring the ghee into the fire (which he did innumerable times throughout the night)
At home the ceremonies are generally indoors, and because of that the fires for the ceremony are generally very very small. So when we saw the size of this roaring blaze, we were quite surprised!
After all the ceremonies were over it was time to eat dinner. But not for Arjun and Runa. They went and paid their respects to their ancestors, and then to all of the elders present. It was hours before they were able to go and eat something, but they never once looked unhappy about it, so major props to them.
The next day was for the reception. We made our way to the house around 3:00PM, which was an hour later than we were told to. And we still ended up being a few hours early. Such is the nature of Indian Standard Time! But we had a fantastic afternoon. We ate some amazing food, had fresh jalebis made for us (no pictures of that, since we were too busy eating, but I’ll take a picture of jalebis soon to show you all what you’re missing out on), had some incredible chai, played with some puppies and just generally sat around enjoying the peace and quiet. We were expecting things to really pick up and get going once the reception officially started, but we were in for a surprise. Nothing really changed for us all evening! We sat by a fire, chatted, and watched the streams of people go by. This is a shot of where we sat on the left, and a good idea of how large the structure was
And the evening for Arjun and Runa was another long one. They sat inside the tent, in front of this massive and gorgeous tree, and greeted all their guests. All told apparently around 1500 people came, but not in the sense that guests come to a reception in Canada. Here people would walk into the tent, greet the couple, go and have dinner, and then leave. And they just never stopped arriving and leaving all night. So at one time you could look around and think there were only a couple hundred people present, but they were different people all night. Very strange, but also very smart! This one shot here pretty much sums up the events of the reception.
You can see that great tree, Arjun and Runa standing on their platform, and the guests streaming by.
Here’s a quiet moment near the end where they were actually able to talk to each other!
And then it was all over. It was certainly much more subdued then we are used to, and as a result all of the family members involved with the wedding seemed very relaxed and calm. The whole thing had a very peaceful air about it and compared to the chaos of Calcutta, this wedding in Jorhat may as well have been an oasis for us. We were so honored to have been a part of it all, and to have seen everything we did. We were even given these amazing gifts as we left.
They are little metal dishes that are generally used to put offerings of masala and paan and whatnot onto. Then there are packets of Assamese tea (which we can’t wait to make when we get home) and some little towels that are used when they want to be respectful (this is what I was told, and I’m clearly doing a terrible job of explaining the meaning, but I hope you get my drift). Isn’t that the most fantastic gift ever? We were so excited to get something so meaningful, and that will always remind us of our time in Assam.
Well, there’s the wedding in a very condensed form. There were, of course, many other little ceremonies, with varying meanings, but we tried to just highlight some of the differences we saw. The Assamese have some very unique traditions and we were very happy to get to see them!
And as if to reinforce the way weddings just bore down upon us as soon as we got to India, last night as we were in our room in Varanasi, we heard this incredible racket, and run out onto the balcony to see what was going on. It was a barat, which is the procession of the groom and his family to the bride, and it was incredible! Here’s a quick video to give you an idea
And while we’re just throwing up videos, here’s a neat one of the rhino in Kaziranga.
(same thing for this video too, I'll put it up as soon as I can!)
Well, I hope that keeps you all occupied! We’re staying in Varanasi a couple more days, and then will be making our way south to see the Ajanta caves. So many more neat things in store!
Our apologies for the delayed post here. We have been up in Assam and the internet connection at our hotel literally took 5 minutes just to open up a blank Google screen. So you can imagine that we didn’t have much patience for it. Add to that the fact that we were attending a wedding, and our free time was pretty scant!
But we arrived in Varanasi today, and already we know that this is going to be an amazing place to photograph. So get ready for some great stuff coming up soon!
I’m not posting the wedding pictures just yet, since we are taking an evening boat ride soon, and I know it’s going to take a long time to write all about this wedding. (although it turns out we were tricked, and there actually weren't any elephants at the wedding, boo!)
So for now we’ll share with you a few pictures of the safari we took near Jorhat. But even before that one last shot from Calcutta, that really demonstrates that “movie set” quality we talked about. Can you believe the lighting here?
Incredible. Now after the wedding was done we had a free day in Jorhat, so we woke up bright and early (4:30 AM) and hopped into a car that took us to Kaziranga National Park. As always in India, things didn’t go completely smoothly. The car that came to pick us up was half an hour late, and when we finally got out to Kaziranga (1.5 hour drive away) the driver didn’t know where the guest house was. After he asked a ton of people and they just pointed down the road, we got there to find out that the tour had already left. So he drives us out to where the elephants start from, and heads down this crazy dirt road. A ways down the park ranger guys stop us, and it seems as though we’ve been driving down the path that the jeep safaris take. Yikes. I guess we were in a bit of trouble. But in India things just seem to work their way out, and even though we had already missed the elephant ride, the rangers were able to get us out on another elephant, and we even got to ride all by ourselves, rather than in a group. So imagine yourself at dawn riding out on a solitary elephant into this large grass area, totally surrounded by deer and morning mist. It was completely and utterly worth waking up that early for. Let’s get into some pictures shall we?
Our elephants riding up out of the mist (we rode the one on the far left)
The rising sun was absolutely red. It was impossible to really catch with the camera though. But this shows you the landscape. You certainly couldn’t be faulted for thinking you somehow stumbled into Africa.
As we slowly marched along on our elephant the number of deer we saw was incredible. And they weren’t really scared of us either. This little guy was really quite curious.
As were these two
That setting again. Africa, right?
Check out the antlers on this one. They are new, and still covered with the fuzzy velvet
If you look closely you will see the elephants that we were supposed to be riding on.
And the big star of Kaziranga, the Indian one horned rhino.
The population of around 1800 rhinos makes up over two thirds of the worlds population, so we definitely had a good chance of spotting a bunch
And we certainly did. The guide would even make the elephant grunt so as to rouse the rhinos from their naps, to make them more photogenic for the crazy Western tourists and their cameras ☺
There were a bunch of baby rhinos as well, just starting to grow their horns
Sitting on the elephant, just seeing these massive creatures was incredible. The armour on them was beyond anything we could imagine. They certainly looked like some fearsome creatures, and yet were so calm at the same time.
The guide steered the elephant deep into the grass, and we were able to spot a few more rhinos hiding in there
A good view of that horn
And on the way back we came across a big herd of deer
The male watching over everything
And at the end of the ride we got off our elephant, and enjoyed just checking out the big animal, and taking some shots. The beautiful eye
A shot from above. The seat was actually quite comfortable, although after an hour I was pretty ready to get off
And one last shot of the big gal!
So that was our great time at Kaziranga. We went to the zoo in Singapore, and saw elephants and rhinos, but to be out there in the grass, with nothing separating you from the rhinos was certainly an incredible experience. And to add to our excitement, we hope to visit another national park to see some tigers! We can’t wait!
So stay tuned, and we’ll get those wedding pictures up soon! We can’t wait to share them with you, it was such a fascinating and enjoyable time!
And to everyone who has emailed us, we definitely apologize for the delay, since we've been away from the internet for so long (I just logged on to over 50 new emails, which means a lot of work for me tonight!) We'll be responding to them as soon as possible, now that we have an internet connection. Thanks so much for all the patience, and we'll be talking to you soon!
First off a long overdue post about our friend Jon. We mentioned him briefly before but he really needs more attention given to him and his greatness. I intended to make this a seperate post, but since fast internet here is tough to come by, and requires us "soft hacking" our way into using the connection, we regretably don't have time to post every day and give him his due in that manner.
So we're starting this post with Jon, and then there will be lots of fun pictures.
But first: the man, the myth, the ninja master legend, Jon.
We met this guy and his amazing fiancee Sarah when they dropped by to talk to us about their upcoming wedding. We had shot a couples session with Jon's older brother Dave, and they liked our work so thought they would stop by and chat with us. In our discussion it came up that Jon was a web developer, and specifically worked with blogs. We had had the Wedding Travelers on our mind for a while at this point, and knew we needed to figure out a way to make a wicked cool blog. It was a match made in heaven.
The work started, we gave Jon a template that we wanted to use, and somehow from that simple Photoshop file he put together the complex and easy to use blog you see before you. It still is in it's beginning stages, and he has a ton more tricks up his sleeve, if you can believe it. I'm sure you all haven't even used half of the cool feautres he has created, and we'll be sure to let you know all the great ways to use the site as they are finished.
In our business we have worked with many many companies, from people who make our websites, to the people who print our business cards, to the people who ship all of our gear to us. I'll tell you right now that dealing with all those people is easily the most frustrating, time-consuming, and difficult part of our job. But this has never ever been the case with Jon, and for that we value him so very very much. Not to mention his incredible talent. I'll tell you right now that when it comes to small businesses working with small businesses, honesty, promptness, and general friendliness is the most valuable thing, and worth much more than saving a few dollars along the way.
So if you have any web related ideas, need someone to consult with, need a website or blog designed, or anything along those lines, Jon is without a doubt the guy you need to talk to. His company is called Streamline, his website is www.streamline-web.com, and he is the man. No questions about it.
If you miss this post later on as you are looking for his link, it's at the bottom of our website, and also on our Photography Resources page, for your convenience :)
But before that, let's finish up with Thailand.
Oh, and by the way, this is Rob writing. I usually prepare pictures for the blog and Lauren writes up the post, but today I bring you both! We’ll start off where we left off, in Krabi, Thailand. Here’s a little video of a temple we climbed close to Krabi:
The thing about this temple was that there were 1237 huge steps (sometimes a single step was greater than 2 feet!) to get to the top. I guess it wasn’t actually a temple on top (the temple was at the bottom) but there was a giant sitting Buddha and what looked like a giant bell and various other smaller ornaments. It was a tough climb but definitely worth it. I’ll let the pictures do the talking!
First picture is unrelated to the above, but right outside our guesthouse was a banana tree. I’ve never seen a banana tree before and it was somehow different from what I expected (it looks like some kind of carnivorous plant!)
On with the temple!
My grandma had asked to see more pictures of what people’s homes looked like (which I thought was a great suggestion!). This is one of the nicer looking places that we came across on our scooter ride to the temple. In the rural areas along the road a lot of people just live in metal corrugated shacks, as well as rickety looking wooden houses. In cities and towns most of the buildings are reinforced cement or cement layered brick.
Cool rock formations (I can’t remember if they are mountainous or karst limestone formations). Anyways they are all around Krabi.
A view from the road of the temple we climbed. You can just barely see the enormous Buddha and Bell on the top of the second peak from the left.
That’s it from Thailand, we’ve moved onto India now. Our time so far in Calcutta is actually the reason why I wanted to write today. There is so much about this place that cannot be told in pictures. One reason is that this city stimulates the senses in much more than just a visual way. Even now in the dark recesses of our windowless hotel room I can hear horns honking somewhere. On the street it is a never-ending cacophony of diesel engines, horns and sirens of every frequency, jack hammering, construction of every kind really, and people. People yelling, people laughing, people crying, people whistling, people spitting, belching, and even peeing. Maybe you can’t really hear people peeing but it sure seems like that when you pass open urinals on the side of the street, which brings us to the smells. Walking around is like this: Your baseline is diesel fumes, if you’re outside and on street level then you smell them all the time. If you pass a dark looking alley it usually smells like urine, if you pass an open urinal it definitely smells like urine. You’ll pass a chai stall and the sweet smell permeates the air and you can smell nothing else. We’ll pass sweets stands and spice vendors and their respective smells will sweep over you. You’ll pass garbage dumps and the same will happen. And when you’re not passing near by something that smells (which is rare) you will return to the baseline of diesel fumes. We actually clean our noses out at night and it blackens the Kleenex. I’m really not exaggerating. As far as tastes go we’ve been pretty cautious about what we eat (no fruit or anything unpackaged) but I can tell you right now we’ve had the best Indian food of our lives. Actually it’s pretty much all we’ve had for breakfast, lunch and dinner since we arrived here. It’s all so familiar but at the same time on a different level than the stuff we get at home. And the chai here is fantastic. A typical meal at a restaurant with chai, a couple sodas, a couple pieces of Naan and two or three small dishes usually costs around $5. It’s by far the best value we’ve seen.
Another reason this place cannot be told well in pictures is because of the poverty here. I shouldn’t say that it cannot be photographed, it’s just a really difficult thing to photograph. I’m having a difficult time right now even talking about it. I can’t speak for all of India because we’ve only been to one small part of one city, but when I think about how many people live in India (1.03 billion, 16% of the worlds population) it makes sense to me that the quality of life here can’t be the same as anywhere else. And its not the amount of beggars or homeless people that account for the poverty I’m talking about—though there are many. It’s the standard of living that is so shocking. I wish I could describe this all in more detail but I really feel at a loss for words. We’re going to try really hard to show more in our pictures. I don’t mean we’ll focus on the poverty here, but it really is an intricate part of where we are.
Anyways here are a few pictures from our little walk yesterday:
Like the title of this post suggests, we do attact considerable attention (particularly with our big cameras) and the people here certainly do not mind staring at us!
Old style Ambassador taxies
Crazy motor rickshaw
Street side barber
A cup of chai from a street vendor and the little clay pot they serve it in. We drank our chai by the vendor expecting we needed to return the cup, but it turns out they just throw them out afterwards. Weird.
Where chai comes from...
Good to the last drop
The Indian flag
A busy street scene
Power lines and birds
I’ve done some different processing here on a few photos from today’s post, and I'd really love if you guys would let me know what you think! Leave a comment!
We haven't posted for a while, and that's because we have been on the move, as usual. We left Krabi, Thailand and took another 12 hour bus ride (that was blessedly uneventful) back to Bangkok. The fates were smiling upon us, and at 5AM when we rolled into the Khao San Road, a kind taxi driver pointed us to a hotel with a room. A clean, nice, and comfortable room right on the Khao San. It was certainly a very different experience from our arrival in Thailand!
A busy day was had after we woke up. We mailed things home, which was a very simple process (it is not always that way!). Then we treated ourselves to a bit of pampering. We each had a half hour foot massage, Rob got his head shaved, I had a half hour Thai massage, got my hair shampoo'd and cut, and my eyebrows waxed. Total cost for all of that: 790 Baht. A whopping $25.50 Canadian dollars.
If I could get an hour long massage for $6 back home I would certainly have one every day....everyone sigh with me now as we imagine that.....
Ok, moving on.
We fly from Bangkok into Kolkata (Calcutta), early the next morning. A lengthy wait for our bags to come out, a harrowing 2 hour taxi ride in which we both were certain we were going to die numerous times (note: we both were hit, and hit someone else, both times not hard at all, but I guess that is quite common here!), and finally we come to the "backpacker district" of Calcutta. I use quotations around "backpacker district" because really we see hardly any other travelers at all! The hotels were still mysteriously all booked up, and we finally found a seedy place complete with a cockroach in the bathroom (as I write this I hope that it is still trapped under the water glass that we utilized this morning).
It certainly has been an incredible shock arriving in India, and even a month of traveling South East Asia couldn't prepare us for it. The poverty is all around you, and it is very hard to comprehend. Even the street we're staying on looks like a movie set, and I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it is not pretend, but shockingly real.
But, the purpose of The Wedding Travelers is soon to be fulfilled, as we have already found a wedding to attend. It is in the North East, in a town called Jorhat, and we just finished booking some tickets to make our way there in a couple of days. We have no clue what to expect, but elephants are rumored, so we've excited.
And now we take our leave to go find something to eat. Although Calcutta has scared us and startled us, the food we have had is fantastic enough to make up for it all, and a good cup of chai in our bellies calms us right down.
WIFI has been non-existant, thus the lack of photos, but we're going to do our best to figure something out. Until then, just use your imaginations :)
Hoi An, Vietnam - Bangkok, Thailand - Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
February 3, 2008
Well, we haven’t gotten a good blog post up in a long time, so I bet you’re craving some pictures and some videos! Especially all of our friends and family back home in Edmonton who are enduring temperatures of -50 degrees Celsuis right now. I can’t imagine you guys are going outside, so here are some photos and videos, dedicated to you! I hope they help you try and think of warmer places!
I’m going to keep the chatter to a minimum here since there are really a ton of photos and videos to get through!
We’ll start with our last day in Vietnam, which was spent in Hoi An. First we have a rooster that we came across. I absolutely love how he is the one splash of colour in this shot.
And before we left we had to go back and visit our good friend Chompsky. Here we are having a good last snuggle.
We made our way to the Central Market in Old Town, which provided some fantastic photo ops
And some nice light as we were walking home
We got up incredibly early (4AM) to go to the My Son (pronounced Mee Son) ruins just outside of Hoi An. They were built by the ancient Cham people, and were Hindu temples, which was surprising and also very cool. In the end we were very glad that we got there so early, since we didn’t have to try and work around hundreds of visitors to get some great shots.
And then we were out of Vietnam. We had originally planned to visit the North, but in the end chose to cut it out of our itinerary. We ended up spending 10 hours in the Hanoi airport, and saw that the weather looked absolutely dreadful. We actually wore a couple of the winter coats we had made for us, as well as scarves, because it was so cold! So we were happy with our choice for sure!
When we got to Bangkok we headed straight for the Khao San Road. I would say that it could be considered the center of the backpacker universe. In the morning after a good nights sleep we were up and exploring. We had some absolutely amazing Phad Thai from a street vendor
Breakfast of Champions: Street food, Red Bull, and Coke…mmmmm
There were some really cute kittens at our hotel
And here’s the Khao San Road at night. It’s really a crazy assault on the senses!
They have these things here in Thailand that they call “buckets”. It is essentially a small plastic bucket that they fill with alcohol. The “traditional” mixture is cheap Thai whiskey, Red Bull, and Coke. It’s potent, to say the least!
And while on the Khao San pretty much anything can happen. As we were sitting there this women came up and just plunked this weird hat on my head. Clearly I was a bit surprised!
And then we made our way to Ko Phi Phi, nothing less than an island paradise.
Our first night there we wandered around and came across a wicked fire dancer show
They make just amazing patterns
Here are a couple of videos that will hopefully give you a better idea of the madness of these dudes than pictures can. In this first one if you just saw the end, you would definitely think it was on fast forward. But no, he’s really just that fast.
And then the finale consisted of about 6 of these guys just going at it. It was way too cool.
Then the next morning we went snorkeling. Now in Vietnam the snorkeling we did blew our minds, and we were hoping that Thailand would measure up. I’ll tell you right now that it completely blew all of our expectations right out of the water!
This was the sight we saw when we first jumped in to the nearly bathwater warm water
The visibility was incredible, you could see way deep down beneath you!
The variety of sea life we saw this time around was mind blowing. Check our this enormous eel we came across
This is a giant clam, and you could see it opening and closing if you watched for long enough
A sea cucumber
A rather scary looking sea urchin (I think the thing in the center is it’s eye…..creepy!)
And perhaps one of the coolest things was seeing these clown fish (think of Finding Nemo!).
They were hiding in the sea anemone and if you wiggled your finger they would dart in and hide, then pop back out, ready to play some more!
Other strange creatures? No, just us! I’ll tell you, it’s rather hard to smile while wearing a snorkel!
Our snorkel tour even took us to Maya Bay, which was where the movie “The Beach” was filmed. Back when Rob was here 4 years ago he had the whole place to himself. Unfortunately we had to share with 100 other people. But we still really enjoyed the white, soft sand and the clear blue waters. Here’s a shot of one of the long boats inside of the bay.
Then on the way home we saw an incredible sunset. Here’s a shot of Ko Phi Phi Ley in the gorgeous evening light (which is the island that is home to Maya Bay, we stayed on Ko Phi Phi Don, a short boat trip away).
And one of that sunset (straight out of camera, no Photoshop to this one. The colours were really spectacular)
And to finish up our time on this island we headed off to a local bar to watch a bit of Thai Boxing. It was definitely intense!
So you might wonder why we only spent a couple days on such a gorgeous island? Well, I shall tell you. First off, Ko Phi Phi is actually really expensive now! We were paying roughly $100 dollars a night for our room, and it was not as nice as I was expecting! It was really quite standard. And we were lucky to even find it, everything on the island was practically fully booked! So with our traveler’s budgets there was no way we could afford to stay there very long.
Secondly, Ko Phi Phi has become something of a Cancun of South East Asia. The number of young, tanned beach beauties around was astounding and they were all there to just party and lie on the sand. As we were wading in Maya Bay, easily one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, I overhead a girl say “This is fantastic. But if only it had a bar!” Can you believe that?? The chilled out travelers vibe is totally gone, and the place is just packed. Not exactly what you want for a place to relax, since it’s tough to even walk down the street without having to push through crowds! Not exactly our scene.
That being said, we honestly thoroughly enjoyed our time on the island. We had some incredible food (easily the best sushi we’ve ever had) and indulged in a Thai massage. We don’t have any pictures of that, since we were too busy getting massaged, but it’s so very different from a typical Swedish massage! It involved a lot of pushing and pulling on your limbs, and has been described as “passive Yoga”. It sounds very strange, but I assure you it was fantastic!
So that’s the scoop with us. Right now we’re in Krabi and are very happy to have found a simple room for $10 a night. We’ll be spending a bit of time here catching up on our work, and then preparing to arrive in India. So get ready for that, and we’ll talk to you all soon!
Our apologies for not having posted sooner, and for the lack of pictures. We hope you guys haven't been orrying about us! We're currently safe and sound in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand (the place where the movie The Beach was filmed, although a different island a few kilometres away). So you can just imagine the scenery. And if you haven't seen the movie you should watch it right away and then just picture us there!
We have a ton of new stuff to post up to show you the beauty of this place, we just need some time (and some WIFI) and then you'll be able to take a peek!
Anyway, so far our time in Thailand has been rather trying. We arrived in Bangkok around 11PM after having been on the move since 5AM. All the guidebooks said that this wouldn't be a problem, to just make our way to the Khao San Road (the main backpacker district, also in the movie The Beach) and we'd find something. Well after getting a taxi ride there (which ripped us off) we began walking around looking for a place. About 45 minutes of searching turned up nothing at all, so we took our bags and started to walk to another road that was just a few minutes away. We trudged down this road for probably another 45 minutes searching, and finally found something. It was expensive (30 dollars a night) and not very nice, but it had a bed and air con so we were happy. But we weren't too happy with Thailand!
The Khao San Road is crazy and busy and just teeming with people from all walks of life. I'm pretty sure this is the best place in the world for people watching! But it's a pretty large assault on the senses, and one that we can't take for long. So we planned to make our way to the islands in the south. We found a travel agent, booked our tickets, and thought all was well.
Well we got onto a bus after waiting for about an hour and half after they told us it would leave. At least it was a nice bus! We left Bangkok at 7PM. Around 7AM (yes, it's a really long bus ride) the bus stops at this little out of the way place that consists of nothing more than a thatched roof structure selling cold drinks, and a building that seems to think it is a travel agency. All the people in the bus were told to get off, and take all of our stuff. Then we were sent into the "travel agency" one at a time. Rob and I sat there wondering what on earth was going on in there, since people would be in there for quite a while. When we finally got in there we found out, and were none too pleased with it.
They tried to tell us that we needed to buy another ticket so that we could take a mini-bus to Krabi (the place where we catch a boat to Ko Phi Phi) right then. Otherwise we would be waiting for 3 hours until the next one came, and we would miss the first ferry. One thing they should have known is that you do not mess with Rob & Lauren early in the morning. After we've had a good nights sleep and some food, we're totally chilled. But when we've only had a few hours of sleep, we're a force to be reckoned with. We really gave them hell for trying to rip us off like that, demanding that they phone the travel agent in Bangkok.
Eventually after refusing to pay for the fake tickets, and raising our voices a bit (the rest of the bus was still waiting outside, and I'm pretty sure they could hear we were upset) they put us on the mini-bus, but not without a slew of Thai that I'm pretty sure wasn't "Thank you for your business".
After all that we were hoping that we'd just get there without any more hassle. But no, not in Thailand! We had one more stop at a random travel agency, a wait there, some more Thai yelled at us, and finally we made it to the port, just in time to miss the ferry by half an hour. 4 hours of waiting, and we got onto the boat and made our way to Ko Phi Phi. Total travel time from Bangkok: 24 long, hot, hassle-laden hours.
But was it worth it? Well the scenery here is probably the most beautiful we have ever seen, the water is clear, turqouise and sparkling, and the food so far has been great. We're off to go snorkeling in a few hours, and I pretty much know that is going to be mind blowing. So even though Thailand hasn't been so kind to us so far, we're still optimistic that we'll see some beautiful scenery and have a great time.
And we don't mean to give Thailand such a negative review so far, and hopefully things will pick up. But Rob was here 4 years ago and he feels like things have really really changed here. It's easy to see that the massive increase in tourism (we see far more travelers than Thai people) has spawned a slew of unscrupulous travel vendors, and we have unfortunately have had far too much experience with them so far. It's funny because the Vietnam we saw seems a lot like Thailand was 4 years ago. Perhaps that makes it a better bet to travel to, though hopefully they cope with the increase in tourists in a more honest manner.