Laura Grier’s photographic guide to India
The experience of growing up in Indonesia, surrounded by different languages and cultures from a very young age, instilled in Laura Grier a fierce sense of wanderlust. The dynamic travel photographer and writer has been to 78 countries and 7 continents during a career spanning 16 years of shooting. Not surprisingly, Laura has become an authority on the world’s best travel destinations. She tells us about one of her favourite countries, India.
One of the reasons I love going to India is because it’s a photographer’s paradise. All of the colours, textures, architecture, and people are just some of the many reasons why India is a photo-op on every corner. I swear even the way that people languidly sit on their front steps is better than any professional model can pose. Even a woman sweeping up her trash is wearing a colourful sari and looks stunning.
At times it feels like you are driving through a Hollywood set while you sit in your tuk-tuk, zooming through the crowded streets, horns blaring to avoid hitting cows, dogs, and street vendors. It’s a cacophony of sounds, smells, and chaos, but somehow it all works.
When I talk about going to India, some people are afraid of going and they fear getting sick or how dirty, poor, or dangerous it may be. To me, those things have never bothered me, because the energy and vibrancy of it’s people and it’s rich, beautiful history outshines the rest. Even though I have gotten very sick there before (don’t EVER drink the water there), that memory still couldn’t keep me from coming back to visit over and over again.
Again, what I love about India is its diversity. When thinking of religion in India, Hinduism readily comes to mind. However, Tibetan Buddhism is also thriving in the mountains of northern India close to the Tibetan border. Up there, you can spend time with Himalayan monks and nuns in some of the monasteries in Ladakh or Zanskar and really experience one of the most simple and spiritual cultures.
Also in the north is a region known as Kashmir, famous for their goats that produce the namesake cashmere wool and textiles, but also famous for their Great Lakes region. Here, you can stay on a houseboat and go trekking in some of the most beautiful countryside. There was a time when these ‘floating hotels’ that have rested on the lakes of Kashmir since the 1800s, were host to movie stars, artists, writers, and famous travellers searching for inspiration and tranquility. Now they are mostly unknown to tourists and sort of a symbol of a long lost era.
If trekking and monks aren’t your thing, travel south to the ‘Delhi Triangle’ and visit New Delhi, The Taj Mahal in Agra and Rajasthan in one trip. It is pure culture shock just going from the calm, tranquil North of India, to the insanity and crowds near the country’s capital. Hinduism is prevalent here, even though India’s most famous building, the Taj Mahal, was built by the Islamic Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal may be the most impressive building I have ever seen and is just impossible to describe how awe-inspiring it is until you have been there.
Next door to Uttar Pradesh is Rajasthan, one of my favourite parts of India. Rajasthan has the most colourful, artistic, musical, and cultural traditions which reflect the ancient Indian way of life. Known for their jewellery and textiles, there is a rich folk culture which makes Rajasthan one of the most charming states of India. Here, each city has a theme such as Jaipur, the Pink City, Jodphur, The Blue City, or Jaisalmer, The Golden City, and the colours and architecture all match.
India is famous for the many festivals that they celebrate all year round, but Rajasthan’s are the most unusual, all dating back to nomadic tribes that congregated here to sell their camels and horses and religious pilgrimages. Depending on what time of year you come here, you can help celebrate the Pushkar Camel Festival, the Elephant Festival, the Desert festival, the Holi Festival of Colors, the Summer Festival, the Full Moon Festival, the Gangaur Festival, the Monsoon Festival, Diwali, the festival of lights, and the list goes on and on! You can even stay in a luxury tented hotel in the desert that pops up only during these festivals and ride camels and live like a nomad…well, one with amenities. With some of the most amazing local food, dancing, and music I have ever enjoyed, it’s no wonder that in Rajasthan they are always just trying to find ways to throw a good party!
As a country, India is so vast that it will take a couple of visits in order to see as much of it as possible. The less-explored southern region of Karnataka where you can take the train from Goa to Kochi via Karnataka is a must-do. You can travel the entire coastal peninsula of Southern India and have the chance to see the breathtaking ruins of Hampi or the opulent palaces and coffee plantations in Mysore and Madikeri.
India’s smallest state, Goa, has coastlines stretching along the Arabian Sea. Its long history as a Portuguese colony in the early 1900s is evident with its 16th-Century churches and tropical spice plantations. Goa is mostly known for its beaches,
ranging from popular stretches at Baga and Palolem to laid-back fishing villages such as Agonda. Beach life is calmer here, but Goa is an ideal place for all types of travellers.
From Buddhist Monasteries in the North, to Rajasthani Festivals, tented Camel safaris in the desert, rich opulent floating palaces, exploring the wonders of the Taj Mahal, tiger sanctuaries, elephant rides, or taking a train or motorcycle around the beach towns of the South, India will blow your mind with its vastly complex, colourful, and diverse culture. You won’t even know where to begin taking photos once you are there, but I guarantee you will come back with the portfolio of a lifetime!