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 kodakgallery.com. 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! http://www.asiatranspacific.com/atj/india.photos.aspx

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.”