Photo of the Week :: Asia Transpacific Journeys’ India Travel Contest

This week’s photo was taken by Claude Renault.

“A picture of a kid having a great time diving in Amber. Water is very important in Rajasthan, where water is scarce. So it is hardly surprising that wells and tanks or ‘sagar‘ (lakes) were decorated. Water table was found very low and step wells (locally known as ‘baodi‘) leading to the water table are beautiful examples of architecture.” — Claude Renault

Claude Renault © Asia Transpacific Journeys

If you’ve captured that one-in-a-million shot on a recent trip to India then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contest” and you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

See all the other wonderful India travel photos that have been submitted on our Online Photo Contest Album.

Deadline for submission is July 31, 2010. Winners will be announced by August 31, 2010.

Did You Know?—Musings on India

Photo: Mark Downey © All rights reserved | Taj Mahal at dawn

A Look at India’s Place in Intellectual Advancement

By Jane Klein, Asia Transpacific Journeys‘ Writer/Publications Manager

India has been an intellectual epicenter for over two millennia. This was recently underscored when physicists created a fourth state of matter, the Bose-Einstein Condensate, named for Satyendra Nath Bose, and his more famous German counterpart. In 1924 the Indian physicist Bose made calculations on light particles, and collaborated with Einstein who extended the theory, predicting a fourth state of matter. Utilizing their calculations, Boulder-based Americans shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 2001 for making atoms “sing in unison” to form a state of matter that was neither solid, liquid nor gas.

Bose was too far ahead of his time even for the Nobel committee to recognize, but they have honored other Indian intellectual contributions in the fields of physics, medicine, economics and poetry.

Mohandas (also Mahatma, “Great Soul”) Gandhi founded a new type of politics called Satyagraha, literally “persuasion through truth.” He is thus one of the chief architects of modern nonviolent resistance. This social force not only brought the British Empire to its knees, it formed the philosophical basis for the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. and dismantled apartheid in South Africa.

The most influential Indian in history is Siddhartha Gautama, who founded Buddhism in the 5th century B.C. In the two-and-a-half millennia since, Buddhism has spread throughout Asia, Eastern Europe, and most recently to small pockets in North America. Whether termed religion or philosophy, Buddhism has exercised an intellectual, philosophical, social and political influence of the most profound order throughout world history.

The brilliance of India is perhaps most conspicuously apparent in the magnificent architecture found throughout the country. From the world famous Taj Mahal and the sublime temples of Ranakpur, to the innumerable fortresses and palaces that comprise a brilliant legacy, its clear to even the uninitiated that one is beholding masterpieces of the building arts.

Its well known that Indians have been excelling in the high tech industries in recent years. This is due to a world-class education system that emphasizes math, engineering and the sciences. Indians are recruited around the world for their ability to innovate and invent.

From music and dance to ayurveda and yoga, India’s achievements in many fields of human endeavor are tremendous. But if you really want to wrap your mind around its contributions to world culture, try lunch at your favorite local Indian restaurant. One bite of palak paneer scooped up with an onion paratha, and youll be an awed worshipper at the altar of her genius.

Did you capture that one-in-a-million shot on your recent trip to India? Do your friends and family ooh and aah when you show them your best India travel photos? Then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contestand you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

A Postcard from the Field: Mumbai Through New Eyes

India travel notes from Jarrod Hobson, one of Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Travel Specialists

Last month I returned from an interesting trip to India. Despite the exceptionally hot weather I once again fell in love with this country and its one billion residents.

A colleague and I were invited on the maiden voyage of the Maharaja’s Express. The train journey began in Delhi and ended in Mumbai (Bombay). Along the way we saw the Taj Mahal, opulent forts and palaces, took jeep safaris to remote villages and rode camels in the desert to a catered dinner. Oh yeah, I also mastered elephant polo!

Jarrod Hobson with a new found friend

Asia Transpacific Journeys‘ motto is “Journey Beyond the Ordinary™,” and I had the opportunity to check out an area few get to witness. Visiting the Dharavi slums of Mumbai—where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed—may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the day ended up being a highlight of my travels to India.

Once in the slums you realize what India was like before mass tourism. For example,one thing many people will notice when traveling in India is that there is constant begging. It’s a nuisance because many people want to help the poor but know it’s impossible to do by giving in to this practice. In the Dharavi slums the people have no concept of begging. The people here are from all walks of life and all religions. They live in harmony despite their religious outlooks and views. Indeed, this tour felt like a breath of fresh air because of the peaceful harmony.

The overall cleanliness was what stuck out the most. The residents support themselves by recycling everything in sight. Therefore it is very clean once you get inside the slums. From the outside it looks like a place you would really want to steer clear of. Once inside you cannot take pictures because the people would not know what to think of it. These people live in an area that has narrow lanes that cannot accommodate vehicles or motorcycles. Therefore, you also have relief from the continuous fear of being run over by a Bombay cab driver. The lanes are clean and well maintained. Children play and the people are industrious and happy.

The real estate where these slums are is very good property. Investors are buying up the land and starting to develop the land for the emerging Indian middle class. It’s a shame knowing that the experience I had will not be possible in the near future. National Geographic has also recently published a great article about the slums I visited.

I walked away from the experience thinking, “this is the type of tour that really makes me feel I’m taking a ‘journey beyond the ordinary™.’” There is a section of the slums where they produce pottery. It’s amazing quality that can be bought for a song. I ended up buying a couple of clay pots and unfinished candle holders. This weekend I’m going to help my 2-year-old son, Tucker, paint them with his little paint set. It’ll be nice to have a token from this experience. And all for about 5 cents!

We’d love to hear about your travel to India. Enter our photo contest—your photos of India could win an Apple iPad!

Photo of the Week :: Asia Transpacific Journeys’ India Travel Contest

This week’s photo was taken by Jay Dorfman.

“Shot during recent journey to Kumbh Mela. As the largest religious gathering of people in the world it is a feast for the camera lens. – Jay Dorfman

Jay Dorman Image

Jay Dorfman © All rights reserved

If you’ve captured that one-in-a-million shot on a recent trip to India then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contest” and you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

See all the other wonderful India travel photos that have been submitted on our Online Photo Contest Album.

Deadline for submission is July 31, 2010. Winners will be announced by August 31, 2010.

Photography Tips for Your Trip to India

Pushkar Camel Fair © Stacey Schultz / Asia Transpacific Journeys

By Stacey Schultz, Marketing Director and Travel Enthusiast with Asia Transpacific Journeys

Aside from the obvious (i.e. your camera) here is my list of the top 5 invaluable extras you may not have thought to bring with you while traveling in India. I hope they help you capture great images, but most importantly, I hope they help you make more meaningful connections with the people you meet.

Villager in Udaipur © Stacey Schultz / Asia Transpacific Journeys

#5 Speak the Language. Most recently one of our clients used the Lonely Planet Mobile Phrasebook app for their iPhone on a trip to Japan, using it to have the phone ask questions to locals. Not only was everyone mesmerized by this talking gadget, it also allowed people he met along the way to type in their questions in Japanese and have it translated in English. You can be sure this will be on my list for my next trip to India, once they come out with the app in Hindi! Short of this, learning a few phrases such as “Hello” and “Thank you” in the local language goes a long way in making a connection.

#4 Get in Front of the Camera. I’ve always found that when I give something first, I get a lot in return. On my last trip to India, I gave several trustworthy looking children my camera, securing it safely around their neck with the strap. Of course, do this with caution, as they could run off with your camera. However, I’m a trusting individual and found they had so much fun photographing me smiling and being funny, that when I got my camera back they were more than willing to be models for me. Who knows, I may also be inspiring future photographers!

Children in Udaipur © Stacey Schultz / Asia Transpacific Journeys

#3 Share Faces from Your Travels. On a recent trip to India I made a photo book from my other travels. This featured my favorite faces from travels as far flung as Laos and Vanuatu. The reason I chose faces is that I feel everyone relates to a smile or a kind expression. You can have very professional looking books made using iPhoto or many other online services such as As I met locals I wanted to photograph, I first shared this book with them, then asked if I could take a photo of them to include in my next book. My experience was that they were very flattered to be part of my personal project.

#2 Shake it Like a Polaroid Picture. This is a bit time consuming when you are on the go, but bringing a portable printer is the 21st century version of the Polaroid photo, minus the shaking. You can now get very small, battery-operated printers that plug into the USB port of your camera. Printing a photo you just took pays big dividends when you are able to give the memento to your new friend. It’s so hard when traveling in India to make promises to send photos you take back to a local, even given the best of intentions. Now you can share your photos on the go.

Boy in Samode © Stacey Schultz / Asia Transpacific Journeys

#1 An Extraverted Travel Companion. While traveling in India with a friend, she naturally engaged with everyone we met. In one instance we came upon a woman bringing well water back to her village in a pot carried on top of her head. My friend, gesturing her intent, asked if she could help carry the water for this woman. Soon a crowd had gathered, she entertained, and I took photos. I usually start shooting everyone, including my friend, to capture the scene and get everyone used to the presence of the camera. Then I’ll start zooming in on the subject I’m most interested in, for instance, the colorful woman in her sari or the young child in a fit of giggles. The result is I’ve captured a candid moment and a great memory of my trip to India. I once traveled with a professional magician, true story, and he was priceless. As he did magic tricks, I took photos, and they remain some of my favorites in my personal collection!

The most important thing, however, is to walk away from your trip to India with wonderful memories of your time there, whether recorded on your camera or simply in your memories. I know photography helps many travelers (like myself) form a deeper connection with the people they meet, and we see this daily through the many photos our clients share with us upon returning from their trips to India. If you’d like to share your own photos of travel in India, we’d love to see them!

Photo of the Week :: India Travel Photo Contest

This week’s photo was taken by Andrea Perullo.

“I had just walked out of the Taj Mahal and was greeted by these women in their colorful saris.  I think the colors of the saris with the Taj Mahal as the backdrop is absolutely breathaking.  It actually brought tears to my eyes!” – Andrea Perullo

Photo: Andrea Perullo (c) All rights reserved

If you’ve captured that one-in-a-million shot on a recent trip to India then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contest” and you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

See all the other wonderful India travel photos that have been submitted on our Online Photo Contest Album.

Deadline for submission is July 31, 2010. Winners will be announced by August 31, 2010.

India Travel Photo Contest

Photography is a means for many travelers, including many of us at Asia Transpacific Journeys, to form a deeper connection with the people they meet. We’ve seen this through the many photos our travelers share with us upon returning from their trips and wanted to begin to create a larger community of passionate travelers with an ongoing photo contest featuring different destinations, the first being photos showcasing travel to India.

So starting in May, we are encouraging everyone to share their personal experiences of travel in India with us, revealing the insights and connections to the local culture that they have captured in their photos.

Submissions will be accepted on our site through July 31st. The winner will announced by August 31, 2010 and will receive a new 16GB Wi-Fi enabled Apple iPad!

Enter today >>

Interview with Traveler and Award-Winning Photographer Dimitra Stasinopoulou

Among the things that make our jobs so rewarding are the special people who travel with us. Dimitra Stasinopoulou has been to Asia four times with Asia Transpacific Journeys, and photography is her means of connecting with local cultures. She has traveled with us to India, Bhutan and Papua New Guinea and has published books about her travels. But the books are not for sale—Dimitra gives them away. She has given away nearly 10,000 books so far.

We called Dimitra in her native Athens to talk travel, photography, and how she finds joy in “giving the books away.”

ATJ: What drove you to begin photographing people and producing such beautiful books?

DS: “Five years ago I was 52, I quit my job at Chase Manhattan Bank in Athens, in order to be involved in the pharmaceutical business my husband has in Romania. This was a big change in my life. I was feeling depressed there until I bought a camera and began taking pictures, mainly of the local people and their life. I had never photographed anything before. This was like opening a door for me, to really see the people. I published a book called Romania of my Heart. In this book I tried to express my love for this country that has moved me with its genuine character, its beauty and its boundless hospitality. The 4,000 copies printed have been offered as a gift both in Greece and Romania. For this book they gave me the UNESCO prize, since, as they said, it has deepened the friendship between our two countries. The book was officially presented to Greece by the President of Romania. After distributing the book I received many letters, but what I cherish the most is the Romanian people, who, as they told me, felt again proud for their country. It was a labor of love and they understood it. It changed my life.”

ATJ: In your book, Bhutan—Smiling Faces From the Roof of the World you take many portraits and seem to have a gift for engaging people. Can you comment on that?

DS:  “Communicating with people for me is the most interesting and rewarding experience. In Bhutan my eyes opened to a completely different world. It is so peaceful and the people are so innocent and welcome you wherever you go. I believe they understood that I really liked them and that I wanted to communicate with them. It was very special.”

ATJ: How do you go about getting someone’s permission to take their photo?

DS: “I never ask. I just engage. If you ask, then they freeze, everything changes. With my photography I try to really see the person. I smile and they smile back. That’s the permission. My camera does not come between us, it helps me to really see their heart. They feel this too.

I don’t look for perfect light or position. I don’t know how to adjust the camera for this type of thing. I just try to communicate with people.  Even if I knew I wouldn’t have time enough to adjust the camera since it is only a second that you capture.”

Dimitra Stasinopolou © All rights reserved | Girl at Pushkar, India

ATJ: You also just published an amazing book of photographs called India—Unity In Diversity. Can you highlight some of the differences and similarities between photography in India and Bhutan?

DS: “Bhutan is unique. There are so few people living there. They have had very little contact with outsiders. India is quite different, India has a billion people, it can feel overwhelming at times. But, everywhere I went in India, I met an unparalleled cultural heritage and magnificent people, sometimes sad in their poverty, but always positive and peaceful within. Hindu people are the most compassionate, sweet and calm people anyone can come across. Violence is never part of their emotions. It is these people, with their disarming innocence, in reality, that represent the biggest treasure of the country. Take the slums—the people are smiling, beautiful, clean and hard working. I decided to attempt to capture with my lens the human dignity of the Indian people, their sweetness and their optimism. The qualities of these people are so strong that conditions of life are a secondary matter.  I am really exhausted after the India project but I will always remember Indian people and their smiles.”

ATJ: Do you have a favorite place or destination for your photography?

DS: “It’s very difficult to say. Every country has its own beauty. Bhutan is special, very quiet and calm. The people are smiling all the time. You must be there to feel the peace. It’s one of the happiest places on Earth.  India is also exceptional, Papua New Guinea is unique.  Every place has its own beauty.”

ATJ: Do you use all digital technology or also film?

DS: “I only use digital. That’s how I started and I think it is unique, if a person like me that knows absolutely nothing about cameras is able to take good pictures.”

ATJ: What type of camera do you use?

DS: “Canon. I started with a Canon EOS 30D, 50D and now I shoot with a Canon Mark II 5D. I am used with them and also very pleased. I don’t think I will ever change.”

ATJ: Can you give a tip or two to aspiring photographers?

DS: “Shoot from the heart. Don’t think about the quality of the picture. Engage emotionally.  Share with other people. Today’s technology is so huge, a picture can be fixed, but it should be as close to reality as possible. No Photoshop, don’t try to turn the sky blue. The technical things are not important to me.”

ATJ: Do you have any other books planned?

Dimitra Stasinopolou © All rights reserved | Boy in Mt. Hagan, Papua New Guinea

DS: “Maybe the next one will be for Papua New Guinea. I am also going to China’s Silk Road with Asia Transpacific Journeys in May. Maybe China will be the next one. I don’t know yet.”

ATJ: Where can someone buy your books?

DS: “They are not for sale. I give them away to people I love, to people I admire, to friends, so that they pass them on to their friends, and of course to people I meet while traveling—fellow travelers and local people. It’s the biggest gift to give myself, for me to be able to give to others. For example in Romania while I was at a diplomatic reception I gave a local woman who was attending the coat check the book Romania Of My Heart. She thanked me so sincerely, and said she had been working at that coat check for 30 years but no one had ever given her a gift before. When she said that to me she gave me a gift to remember and treasure for the rest of my life. She and I both made a friend that day.

It’s so personal. I put my soul in these books. I couldn’t sell them or connect them with money. I don’t think a professional photographer would spend thousands of hours putting a book with more than 950 pages together. It’s a huge effort, it takes months. It could never pay. A publisher is now asking me to reprint the Bhutan book and sell it to India. If that happens I will donate any money away to charity. I know I am very lucky I can do this and I also know that so many other much more talented photographers could have made an even better book if they had the means. I believe the most important things in our life are given free, so what I am doing is the minimum I can do. I am a happy person doing this now.”

ATJ: Thank you so much Dimitra, it has been our sincere pleasure to talk with you.

DS: “I want to make a comment about your company. I feel I am the luckiest person on earth to be able to discover Asia Transpacific Journeys out of so many companies existing. I really believe you are working in such an exceptional way that you are also the ones to be credited for the books, at least for Bhutan and India. You organize things in such a way that you made me discover the best of each country. The personnel is so friendly (especially Rebecca Mazzaro with whom I talk the most) and well informed and always understood what I am looking for and guide me accordingly. I am always traveling alone, and in the beginning I thought it wouldn’t be easy. Most of the times the rest of the group are Americans, but they all are so very kind with me, making me feel at home with them. These pictures are a wonderful keepsake of our trips together. I am honored to have traveled with them and feel so privileged to have them as my friends. I thank you from my heart for existing and enabling me to make my dreams come true.

Since English is not my native language it is not so easy for me to express what I feel but I hope you understand.”

Dimitra in Ladakh

Dimitra Stasinopoulou is the recipient of the International Aperture Award for her photography and the artist behind three books of photography. Her book on Romania was awarded a UNESCO prize. She picked up a camera for the first time five years ago.

Asia Travel Photography Contest

Asia travel photography contest judged by National Geographic Traveler photographer Bob Krist

Asia travel photography contest judged by National Geographic Traveler photographer Bob Krist

Our travelers crossed time zones, date lines, and oceans to experience an Asia tour or South Pacific Asia vacation— where they may have found a fabulous photo opportunity around every corner. We asked previous travelers with Asia Transpacific Journeys to submit photos of their travels with us. We started with 109 beautiful entries, our staff narrowed it down to 20 semi-finalists, and then we asked National Geographic Traveler photographer Bob Krist to select the winners.

He noted that “Great color, story telling, and strong compositions made it very hard for me to pick only three. Obviously, your travelers are exploring their destinations with an appreciative eye and a knack for going beyond the postcard views.”

Here are the winning entries and Bob’s commentary on the photos. Congratulations to our winners and thank you to all who participated. These photos truly define a journey beyond the ordinary™.

1st place, boy riding camel at sunset in Pushkar, India (Annie Katz )

1st place, boy riding camel at sunset in Pushkar, India (© Annie Katz )

“This is a wonderful moment, and very carefully composed. Notice that the low angle the photographer chose fully silhouettes the camel and rider against the sky. The moment is captured perfectly, and the position of the camel and rider is just right. The setting sun behind this great silhouette just adds that extra sense of ‘moment’ to an already strong photograph.”

2nd place, women on a wall in India (Susan I. Cohen)

2nd place, women on a wall in India (© Susan I. Cohen)

“Another great job of ‘seeing.’ The repeating patterns of the women sitting in a row, plus the great light and color, makes this a very strong graphic and story-telling picture. It’s carefully composed—there are no distracting backgrounds. The photographer has done an excellent job of eliminating all extraneous elements, and distilling the composition to a powerful, simple graphic.”


3rd place, two boys watch a ceremony in Bhutan (Scott Carroll)

3rd place, two boys watch a ceremony in Bhutan (© Scott Carroll)

“A wonderful ‘storytelling’ shot. The photographer looked beyond the obvious shot (that of the ceremony, whatever it was) and looked around the “edges” of the event to see how it was affecting the onlookers. Beautiful light, two very different expressions, and subjects who are totally into the moment. A great moment and a careful composition.”

We wish you Happy Birthday, Mahatma Gandhi

Today, Oct 2nd, is Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, a day that is celebrated as a national holiday in India.

In the 20th century—so marked by violence, war, fascism, totalitarianism and oppression—Mahatma Gandhi proved that the spirit of peace could prevail against the forces of violence. The small, thin, unassuming man in the homespun loincloth developed the principle of satyagraha (literally “the force from which truth and love are born”). In practice this took the form of non-violent civil resistance that would force the end of British colonialism. It also laid the philosophical groundwork for the American Civil Rights Movement. Leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. to Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi have adopted Gandhi’s ingenious methods, whereby one’s opponents are not vanquished but rather converted—to truth and love.

TIME magazine, in naming Gandhi runner-up to Albert Einstein as the most important person of the 20th century said, “The Mahatma, the Great Soul, endures in the best part of our minds, where our ideals are kept: the embodiment of human rights and the creed of nonviolence.”

We wish you Happy Birthday, Mahatma.