Our beloved photographer assistant, Daniela Zondagh, is back from her one month trip around India. There was very little chance (none actually) that the Flat Art Studios team was to forgive her temporary abandonment of us without her giving a detailed account of the adventure accompanied by the beautiful photographs we knew she’d take. Here’s her story.
We started our journey in one of the most infamous cities of India – Delhi. Even coming from the impoverished continent of Africa I was still shocked by the poverty that walked the streets and lay to rest (and live) on the busy roadside. Despite this you cannot ignore the vibrant culture reverberating through every corner of the overcrowded city. We visited one of India’s oldest and busiest markets – Chandni Chowk and I had the best butter chicken and naan I have ever eaten. Fortunately I have quite a tolerance for spicy food or else the dreaded Delhi Belly would have gotten me and the rest of this story would have remained unwritten.
Next we were off to the iconic Indian landmark, the Taj Mahal in Agra. Early morning is the opportune time to get the best photographs. Just don’t make my mistake of asking a passerby to take a photograph of you or you may end up with a beautiful picture of the Taj Mahal in the background and your floating, neckless head in the foreground. Always take your tripod! The great mausoleum is steeped in history having been built between 1631-1654 by a workforce 22000 strong. It was constructed by the Mahal Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife who died giving birth to their 14th child.
The ancient city of Jaipur was next on our list. Built in 1728 it’s now known as the pink city and every building in the old city has to be painted pink. It is one of the most orderly planned cities in India and is built in a nine-part Mandala known as Pithapada Hindu Architectural theory. It was in Jaipur that we had the great privilege of watching a Bollywood movie. “Watch” isn’t quite the right word as the outing was more of a sacred experience. The cinema was the epitome of bling with satin drapes, bright colours and jewel incrusted surfaces. The audience was as much a part of the movie as the actors. They would boo loudly when the bad guy came on screen and cheer when he was caught. The movie was long enough to warrant an interval and during this time families would gather together to unpack and share decadent picnic feasts prepared just for the show.
Our first stop in the South of India was Kochi. The state of Kerala has a multinational past of Portuguese and later Dutch and British influences, having become the first European colony of India in 1503. This major port city also shows oriental influences as we discovered fisherman using Chinese fishing nets during high tide. The city’s mulicultural heritage comes through in Kathakali Dancing. A combination of drama, dance, music and ritual, characters with vividly painted faces and elaborate costumes re-enact stories from Hinu epics, Mahabharath and Ramayana.
We landed in Wayanad next, one of the most scenic regions of Kerala. With its rolling hills crowned with rain forests and blanketed in tea, coffee, rubber and spice plantations, it was a beautiful stopover. Two hours from Wayanad we visited Ooty, another tea and coffee growing region. It was here we had the unique pleasure of experiencing Dewali – The Festival of Lights. It is a very important hindu festival where the lighting of the lamps signifies the triumph of good over evil. All the celebrants wear new clothes showing how thankful they are to Lakshmi Mata, the goddess of light and prosperity, for providing them with good fortune.
Just outside of Mysore, a popular destination for spiritual tourism we visited the National Tree of India – the Banyan tree. It is a symbol of the country’s strength and unity. From Mysore we took an overnight train to Chennai where we visited Mamallapuram, a 7th century temple that is one of the World’s Heritage Sites.
In Pondicherry, a former French colony, we gave our systems a break from spicy food and indulged in the simplicity of bread and cheese! I hadn’t realized how little cheese there was in India. After this stop we headed to Mydurai where we took a bicycle tour around the fruit and veg markets and the Gandhi Museum.
It wasn’t long before we were back on our spicy trail and what better way to mark this than to visit Thekkady, the spice capital of India. The surrounding Cardamon Hills are where the finest cardamon in the world is grown. Spotted with cloves, pepper, nutmeg and tea factories, it is an indulgence for the olfactory senses.
Kerala Backwater Homestay was our last stop before heading back to Kochi. It is situated on the manmade Connecting Islands and can only be accessed by boat. Families in the area live only off what they farm, mainly coconuts and rice.
We arrived in Kochi to catch our connecting flight to Mumbai at 6am and because of a petrol strike only ended up leaving at 4pm. It was starting to feel like we were home already. On our last night in the cosmopolitan city of Mumbai we decided to spoil ourselves by having supper at the second best restaurant in India – Indigo. All dressed up and lus for wine you can only imagine our disappointment on finding out it was a “dry day” when the sale and consumption of alcohol was prohibited. We made do with our mocktails and just as well or else we would never have made our flight if we’d had one too many glasses of wine. It was an exhausting and exhilarating trip but after a month of traveling it was time for our next and last stop – home!