July 11, 2011 / Tips + Tricks
"Welcome to India"
The Howrah Railway Station in Calcutta is one of the busiest railway stations in the world.
I am a globetrotter at heart and have always had a passion for learning about various cultures and people. Still, even a chest full of boundless optimism doesn’t stop me from the occasional “I wish I were back in the comfort of home” when I’m traveling.
Travel photography poses many challenges – language barriers, different foods, different time zones and logistical difficulties. And India has definitely been my most intense and trying travel experience. After experiencing India, you truly understand what people mean when they say: “You either LOVE or HATE India.” Many people hate it because of the lack of creature comforts and conveniences to which we in the developed world are accustomed. Conversely, people love it for those exact same reasons – that it’s different from what they are used to and of course, you must have a sense of adventure and expect the unexpected. Nevertheless, my adventurous spirit was at least a little ruffled at my first Calcutta experience.
Upon arrival to Calcutta (one of India’s major entry ports), the humid, hot air and sudden throngs of people can be a rude awakening. Growing up as a competitive skier, I’ve always considered myself the extreme sports sort and thought I could do most anything. But India is a whole different sort of extreme sport. It took me 3 days alone to secure a train ticket out of Calcutta.
As I began my journey to explore the rest of India, I started to think that Murphy’s Law must be invented here. There are two train stations in Calcutta and they happen to be on the opposite ends of the city. Despite showing my taxi driver my train ticket and emphasizing the station name multiple times, he… (take a guess)… took me to the wrong station. I proclaimed that I would not pay him if I did not make my train. That certainly made for an “interesting” ride.
After a stressful journey with harsh words being thrown back and forth in various languages, a fender bender, the 100-degree heat, 90 % humidity and all that jazz, I jumped off the taxi, with bags of gear in tow, and darted toward the train through soiled pathways and open-handed beggars like a deft ninja. Meanwhile, the hot-blooded driver stayed close to my tail, screaming intermittently. I hopped on the train the very minute it was leaving – just enough time for me to throw some cash to the panting cabbie.
In spite of the extreme conditions, India is a photographer’s dream. If I had given up easily, I would have lost the opportunity to document the myriad of color and life – both in the people and surroundings. Learning to cope with extreme conditions has also conditioned me for high-pressure situations.
If you have the bug, get out there and play. Step out of your comfort zone and take the opportunity to see the world and immerse yourself in various cultures.
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Calcutta is incredible. I was married there. and have ridden trains from Howrah. Incredible photo ops. wish I’d had a camera then
Catherine, Judging by how you “suffered” to get out of Calcutta, I assume that its your first trip to India. I strongly insist that you prepare well before you take any further “adventurous” trips to Asian countries. You should definitely have an Indian friend or a guide to show you around. Please do not assume that everybody outside USA can understand and talk English.
Calcutta is an awesome place, all you need is someone familiar with the places to show you around.
I certainly agree with a lot of your sentiment Ashok – I was young when I went to India and to say it was a culture shock is an understatement. I traveled to India after 4 weeks of non-profit works in hospitals in Vietnam and was already a little razzled upon my arrival. Calcutta was to much to fast for me to absorb so I did long to get out into a less bustling environment. I would never assume that everyone outside the US speaks english; however, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the number of people that did in India – much more in proportion to other Asian countries i have frequented.
Thank you for answering Catherine. Somehow the way you put it in the blog didn’t sound right to me. I thought that I should mention it.