Recently, I posted some images from my family’s trip to India in April.
During my trip, I spent some time in the south of India (where my family is from), Chennai. There, I stayed at a local alumni club and visited my parent’s friends and family. Also, while in the south, I attended my cousin’s wedding at a temple near Chennai.
Overall, I found the south to feel very welcoming. Maybe it is because I can speak the language, but I felt a little less rush and rumble as the rest of India.
For example, I wandered outside the temple where my cousin got married and found myself in a small, friendly, and vibrant community.
I went exploring a courtyard of temples, hoping they would be empty and I could some of the architecture and light flowing in from the windows. As I walked into the temple, I noticed young boys walking around with ‘poonals’ and ‘vaishtees’, Indian spiritual and comfort garb, respectively. I knew right then it was a temple school for Hindu priests.
One by one they noticed me walk into the school, and scaled curiously towards me. After 30 seconds, about 12 boys crowded around me like I was a movie star. They must have been taken with my obvious western style: ray-bans, a yellow polo shirt, and white cargo shorts. Shortly after, the elder of the school showed his face and cooly beckoned me into his office.
As the 5 or 6 mostly pre-teen and teenage boys poured into the office and listened intently, the elder asked me where I was from and otherwise about me. Through my broken Tamil, I conversed with him. After a brief time, I asked politely if I could take some photos of the students. He respectfully obliged and led me out to the main room of the school. Once the boys figured out what was going on, they started streaming from up and down the halls, so excited to get a picture.
After some portraits, I packed up back towards my cousin’s wedding. When I bid them goodbye, it was a warm but humble feeling. I couldn’t imagine a life where I would get so excited to see someone just like me. Yet, in another life, the life of those kids could have been my own, if I were to have been raised where my ancestors had.
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A school of young Rishis crowd around for a portrait, while one is just a little late to the party.
A little later that day, I came back to explore the courtyard of temples. There, a young student grabbed me, excited to show me something a little further down the way.
I followed him past the temples, and was taken aback by a large domesticated male asian elephant. After I took some shots of him, I conversed a bit with the elephant’s owners or stewards. One of the boys suggested I take a photo of the steward and he meekly accepted everyone’s encouragement. I think the warmth of this man shows through his portrait, along with evidence of a different type of life:
A friendly steward of a domesticated elephant in a temple near Chennai, India
While south India and India in general is often a warm and welcoming place, there are elements that still remind that it’s still lacking in some ways.
As nice as I felt after interacting with the students and the elephant stewards, I felt bad for the state of the earth and life in India.
For example, while it was nice to see an elephant, it was NOT nice seeing it captured, chained by the leg, and writhing with discomfort. I don’t know whether the elephant was always in such a foul mood, or that he was distressed by my presence. But it seemed to me that the elephant didn’t have the most tenable living conditions: an open shack that rose slightly above him, no moving let alone running space, and no social interaction. This portrait shows the intensity in his eyes and reminds of his status in his ‘innoculated’ tusk:
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At a temple near Chennai, a domesticated elephant, chained by the leg, writhes and bellows with vigor.
Also, the environment across India is not treated with respect. This photo, taken just outside the spiritual temples and right next door small houses, is worth a million words:
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A cow wades for food in an ad-hoc landfill near a Chennai temple.
This scene is repeated across India. And when this next-door, makeshift landfill is full, residents will walk next door to burn it to make more room.
I can do little more to describe this. It seems to me a bit hypocritical when compared to the basic Hindu values of sanctity in the earth and life.
After spending time in south India with my extended family, we headed north to tour the famous cities of Agra, Jaipur, and New Delhi.
I enjoyed visiting the ancient and adorned cities, when I could deal with the searing heat. In comparison to the south’s green, humid lush, the north was tinted a hazy sepia, and was drier on land but seemingly not in air:
Sunrise brings light to the depths of the the Pink City: Jaipur, India.
Of course, the tours of the Taj Mahal and the several palaces of Jaipur and Delhi were engaging. I think of all the sights I saw across north India, my favorite is the Akshardham temple. Ye s, yes, the Taj was great, but I really have never seen anything as beautiful in structure than this temple. Too bad no photography was allowed. Here are my favorites from the north:
The Taj reflects a rusty orange from the rising sun.
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At sunrise, the entrance of Taj reflects clearly in pools.
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A snake charmer lures a gold-eyed King Cobra.
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One of the many rhesus macaques that surround the Taj Mahal.
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A boy by the road between Delhi and Agra charms passerbys with a snake.
Check out the rest of my India images in the Asia gallery.
Oh and as always, let me know if you’re interested in a high-quality print :).
Until next time!