Top 5 places to get lost with your camera in India

Being a recurrent traveller to India I often get asked why it is I keep going back and what it is about the country that I love? To those that have not been, most often I simply reply, ‘It’s an interesting place, you should go.’

To fully explain would never do it justice, it’s a country that needs to be experienced first hand.

Sure, there’s the friendly locals, interesting travellers, the incredible beauty, chaos, colours, noise, mysticism, smells, food, scenery, history, spirituality, it’s a country full of adventure that tests and comforts in equal measure, no two days are the same, and every street corner has a view to tempt your senses. But there’s also something else, something almost ethereal and invisible, an energy that never ceases to amaze and inspire me.

It would be wrong of me to offer a ‘Top 5’ places to visit in India without acknowledging that a list of places to visit in India is surely one of the most subjective lists of all. Every traveller will have their own favourite places, all justified for their own specific reasons, however big or small.

My list consists of places that inspire me and suit the way I travel; slowly. They allow me to capture photographs that document everyday India. Places that would, or do, exist with or without foreign tourists, places that the locals would rather share a conversation and a chai than offer me a t-shirt/safari/cousins brother's guesthouse. Places that the longer you stay, the more wonder you receive, but more importantly, they offer a good chai shop or quiet corner to watch the hive of activity before you, the chaos, colour and laughter.


Varanasi

Nowhere, for me, embodies India more than the holy Hindu city of Varanasi. As raw, congested and feral as it is on the surface, bubbling away just beneath is the beauty, serenity and friendliness is what makes this city great.

Most tourists breeze through in two or three days to see the ‘Burning Ghats’, where Hindus are cremated on the banks of the River Ganges to claim moksha, (freedom in the afterlife) or enjoy a sunrise boat ride on the famous river, but Varanasi is so much more. It is claimed that Varanasi is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world and standing amongst its feverish splendor it is not difficult to see and feel that history. Its atmosphere continually amazes me, from the sounds of early morning chanting to the evening puja ceremonies, and all that happens in between.

Varanasi is a microcosm of the true beauty that makes India magical.

Days can be spent wandering the narrow alleyways that form behind the openings that converge on the River Ganges, the ghats, or chatting to the chai sellers and many Hindu holy men, Sadhus, that live by the river. As a photographer I am yet to find a place richer with scenes of inspiration and intrigue than Varanasi. My camera is eternally grateful.  

Best time to visit: Oct, Nov & Feb, March

Rishikesh

A well known spot that is famous for The Beatles visiting in the late 1960’s, Rishikesh, situated on the River Ganges and close to the rivers source, is where western tourists come to immerse themselves in holistic pursuits and Indian pilgrimages come to pay respect to the holy and divine Ganges. The mix of these visitors adds a vibrant and joyful atmosphere that is felt for the entire stretch of the pathways along the river.

Whether its meditation, yoga, ayurveda, reflexology, cooking, dance, kayaking, tabla, harmonium (the list is almost endless), there are courses for everyone. No visit is complete without a quick dip in the fresh, cooling Ganges, which is said to rid you of any ailments, although depending on where in India you dip and who’s telling the story, it just might add a fair few ailments too.

Rishikesh is a perfect example of when tradition and tourism work in harmony and just 5 hours by train from Delhi it’s the perfect respite from the polluted city streets.

Best time to visit: Oct, Nov & Feb, March

Orchha

Dotted with ancient forts, ruins, an active Hindu temple and surrounded by woodland and farms, Orchha, which sits beside the River Betwa, feels like it’s jumped right out of a storybook. It’s hard to believe how few people actually visit, and out of them even fewer actually spend more than an afternoon, as most visitors stop off on tour buses en-route to nearby, and forgettable, Khaujarho.

The friendliness of the locals adds a warm atmosphere to the peaceful streets, with very few signs of modernity it feels like India of old. Every view provides a different architectural gem to admire, some in better condition than others, but all with their own beauty.

The active, centrally located Rama Temple is not to be missed for its atmosphere, walking through you’ll hear the murmur of devotional chants, the occasional sound of traditional music and a few confused, playful smiles directed at you.

Best time to visit: Oct, Nov & Feb, March

Puri

This beach side town was on the hippie trail in the late 1960’s that followed the famous Silk Road, and some of that charm still lingers in the breezy sea air today.

Laid-back, friendly and full of atmosphere, one draw back for a lot of foreign tourists might be that the beach is not a place for sunbathing and swimming, but more a hive of activity for the locals. Makeshift dwellings line the beach, fisher-wives sell their husbands early morning catch, children play, huddles of squatting men chat; it’s a beach far from Western ‘ideals’ of sun loungers, parasols and beach bars and, in my opinion, so much better for it.

A short wander down the beach road leads to a number of Hindu temples and a splattering of orange clad Sadhus passing through on pilgrimage.  A rickshaw ride into the centre of town leads to the mighty and impressive Jagannath Temple, an exquisite piece of architecture that looms large over the town.

Best time to visit: Oct - March

Hampi

In an attempt to balance out the North / South India divide I’ve added Hampi to the list. Sure, it’s changed over the years and some of its serenity has been lost, but its natural, unique beauty still remains.

Hire a scooter or bicycle and head off into the otherworldly landscape of Hampi, winding roads pass through high-rise assortments of boulders, swaying palm trees and friendly villages.

It’s been dubbed an extension of Goa with its laid-back atmosphere, good restaurants and western influences, but Hampi is also an important Hindu pilgrim site with a steady stream of devotees flocking to its temples and riverside. One word of warning to unsuspecting visitors; a 3 day trip can easily turn into 3 weeks and you might leave wondering where exactly your time went.

Best time to visit: Oct - March


JACKSON GORE is on a mission to start his own permaculture inspired holistic retreat, and can be found in India or Europe photographing his surroundings on a £3 plastic camera. Follow him here: www.jacksongore.tumblr.com

Jackson Gore

JACKSON GORE is on a mission to start his own permaculture inspired holistic retreat, and  can be found in India or Europe drinking ginger tea, meditating, taking long train rides and photographing his surroundings on a £3 plastic camera.