#421. The last leg; Narlai, Udaipur and Delhi

#421. The last leg; Narlai, Udaipur and Delhi

When I left you last, we were en route to Narlai and full of trepidation as to what kind of caravanserai we’d find there.

 

Narlai is deep in the Rajasthan semi-desert, but we needn’t have worried. The tiny town – 7,000 inhabitants make it more than a village I think – has twenty Jain temples, a Hindu temple or two and at least one mosque. It also has a spectacular boutique hotel, once the 17th century hunting lodge of the maharajah of the time.

 

At every turn, the buildings, passageways, corridors, staircases and tiled floors speak of a long lost time; India when hunting boar was the pastime and an occasional tiger never went amiss. In this magnificent group of buildings is a collection of time appropriate furniture and a somewhat later style of electrical equipment, including giant rheostats to control the ceiling fans and brass switches for the lights.

 

The Raj experience - The Rawala Narlai Hotel, Narlai

The Raj experience – The Rawala Narlai Hotel, Narlai

 

Locals, Narlai

Locals, Narlai

 

Unitiled, Narlai

Unitiled, Narlai

 

Unitiled, Narlai

Unitiled, Narlai

 

Jain temple under restoration, Narlai

Jain temple under restoration, Narlai

 

The whole effect is like stepping back at least a hundred years in time, the dominance of the Maharajah and of course, the omniscient Brits with their military rule and shiploads of wares from the best factories the Industrial Revolution could then produce.

 

Throw in a bar and an excellent dining room and you have a recipe for a very special hotel – definitely one of my favourites.

 

Unitiled, Narlai

Unitiled, Narlai

 

The drive from Jodhpur was as interesting as any interaction with India’s roads. Narrow, twisting English-Like country roads, with full tolling and toll plazas – manually operated, but tolls nonetheless.

 

The Rawala Narlai Hotel, Narlai

The Rawala Narlai Hotel, Narlai

 

Dawn, Narlai

Dawn, Narlai

 

Untitled, Narlai

Untitled, Narlai

 

Narlai itself offers the tourist little, except for the aforementioned multitude of temples and a huge rock eruption, topped by a white marble elephant. For the travelling street photographer (me), there were endless opportunities, especially at dusk and dawn, as India’s sun rose and set through the dusty air.

 

Two and a half days of blissful not much to do.

 

Untitled, Narlai

Untitled, Narlai

 

Street vendor, Narlai

Street vendor, Narlai

 

Unitiled, Narlai

Unitiled, Narlai

 

Udaipur is a different matter. Built around a man-made lake, the city is in full-on festival mode, with music, drums, chanting and revelry at every turn. We braved the crowds to see the huge City Palace, after which we took in the sunset at Monsoon Palace and followed that with a half day off, before en-planing for Delhi.

 

Sunrise on the streets - Udaipur

Sunrise on the streets – Udaipur

 

Untitled - Udaipur

Untitled – Udaipur

 

Udaipur by night

Udaipur by night

 

After many days of travel, intense heat and getting up early, I’d abandoned my daily dawn walk, but resurrected my meander here in Udaipur, to find the many aspects and lake views enchanting. Or at least they would be if it were possible to ignore the rubbish that every one of India’s 1.05 billion inhabitants think it’s OK to strew everywhere.
For twenty odd days, I’d managed to ignore the mess and animal excrement, but this morning, it finally got through to me and I wandered back to the hotel feeling that while I should mind my own business; most Indians seem to have no problem living in an endless mess.

 

Sunrise on the streets - Udaipur

Sunrise on the streets – Udaipur

 

But, there’s more to it than that. It seems clear that we’re encountering the attitude to litter and mess we also encountered in Egypt; go from place to place, enter the pristine building, office, hotel or restaurant, close the door and the indescribable mountain of shit simply ceases to exist. Until you go outside once more to move on to the next refuge.

 

That said, Udaipur is just as enchanting as the cities we’d already seen and a waterfront dinner in the gentle evening warmth, with lights twinkling and pleasure boats smoothly passing, was an absolute treat.

 

Squabble outside the temple - the disabled man on the gharri (trolley) has taken the other man's begging spot - Udaipur

Squabble outside the temple – the disabled man on the gharri (trolley) has taken the other man’s begging spot – Udaipur

 

Toecaps - Udaipur

Toecaps – Udaipur

 

Untitled - Udaipur

Untitled – Udaipur

 

Our flight to Delhi was delayed, delivering us into this city of 18 million souls long after dark. The hotel – one of the typical glass and chrome creations – turned out to be awful. Grubby, poorly run and with a bizarre Internet access system that required a trip to reception for a new ID and password every four hours. Half the lights didn’t work, along with the fridge and kettle in our room. No-one was remotely interested in fixing either.

 

Street shave, Chandni Chowk - Delhi

Street shave, Chandni Chowk – Delhi

 

I’m tempted to continue, but I’d end up with more rant than post. If you’re planning to visit Delhi, let me know and I’ll give you the name of this place of awfulness, so that you can avoid it.

 

Untitled - Delhi

Untitled – Delhi

 

Chandni Chowk - Delhi

Chandni Chowk – Delhi

 

Chandni Chowk - Delhi

Chandni Chowk – Delhi

 

That said, the city flops between magnificent, wide, French-style tree lined boulevards and the usual hovels and street living we’d encountered elsewhere. Our guide ensured we saw the huge Jama Masjid mosque and enjoyed a cycle rickshaw ride through the old city’s Chandni Chowk bazaar en route to the Mughal-era Red Fort. From there, it was a brief stop at the India Gate, Humayun’s Tomb and as if to underscore the undeniable role English architect Edwin Lutyens played in the shaping of Delhi, lunch in a restaurant themed around his work.

 

The following day – our last – was spent re-visiting Chandni Chowk by tuk tuk and on foot, followed by a surprisingly good French meal at an almost impossible to find restaurant in an area called Moolchand.

 

We’d have done more, but a midnight hotel transfer awaited us, followed by an 04:00 flight to Dubai and two hours later, a connection to Cape Town.

 

Untitled - Delhi

Untitled – Delhi

 

Untitled - Delhi

Untitled – Delhi

 

Untitled - Delhi

Untitled – Delhi

 

Surprisingly, we were all sad to be leaving. India is truly as incredible the ad blurb suggests. Probably more so. In a month, we spoke only English, had no difficult street experiences, enjoyed the best of hospitality, experienced only helpfulness and at no time felt threatened by crime or bad people. We watched where we walked (vital for all the reasons you can think of), ate in what looked like the most hygienic of places and didn’t drink anything that didn’t come from a sealed container. I also managed to watch some of the Rugby World Cup and South Africa’s cricketers spoiling India’s cricketing day(s) on several occasions.

 

So, in short, it was bloody fab. There were lots of places we didn’t see and a return visit is clearly on the cards – you’ll doubtless be hearing about that from me, too.

 

What about the photography and the cameras? Simple; the Fuji X100T performed flawlessly. It was joined by my new Fuji X-Pro1 and 35mm f1.4 in Agra, which likewise delivered superb images from a bewildering variety of scenes, situations and sights. The files were manipulated – at least until the idiots at Adobe released the so-called Lightroom upgrade, which stopped pretty much everything on my MacBook Pro working while it was loaded – in the aforementioned PoS. I then used one of VSCO’s plug-ins to add various film simulations and effects. For a reason I have yet to work out, India and its population’s brilliant colours lent themselves especially well to this kind of post processing.

 

Untitled - Delhi

Untitled – Delhi

 

Chandni Chowk - Delhi

Chandni Chowk – Delhi

 

The X100T’s 23mm (35mm equivalent) lens is razor sharp at f2 and as good as anything that comes from Leica by f4. For street work, there isn’t much that will beat it. The interchangeable lens X-Pro1 gave me a little more reach with its 35mm (50mm equivalent) lens again setting standards for acuity. In the main, the light was good enough to shoot at a maximum ISO 400. Markets, alleys and after dark meant both cameras were used at up to ISO 1600, still at least a stop below their theoretical maximum.

 

I shot almost 4000 images with no misfires, blank frames or read errors. Now, all I need to do is sort them out and finish the editing process.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

View from the tuk tuk - Delhi

View from the tuk tuk – Delhi

 

Humayun’s Tomb - Delhi

Humayun’s Tomb – Delhi

 

Untitled - Delhi

Untitled – Delhi

 


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10 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Bstrom October 28, 2015

    Interesting bit but left me wanting a greater variety and more dramatic or revealing imagery of this society. In lieu of video, I would have loved to hear some small sound files from the people who could speak English too. I’m sure many of your 4000 images offer this so won’t complain, just saying…

    • Avatar
      paulperton October 28, 2015

      As I said in the first post from Kolkata, it’s a fine line between prurience and what makes an interesting photograph. I didn’t set out to do video or sound and returned with pretty much what I wanted, having sorted out in my own mind what made the cut between looking too close into people’s private lives and the reality of what I saw.

  2. Avatar
    pascaljappy October 28, 2015

    Paul, superb article. I’m particularly impressed at how much your personal style shines through all these various places. I wish reportage and travel mags were more like this: a personal account of the highest quality with no concession to either lake palace tourist hotspots or voyeurism. Brilliant. Creative travel photography at its best! “Bloody fab” sums up your articles as aptly as it does the country. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Avatar
    Luca October 28, 2015

    First: great work, this looks like the trip of a lifetime!

    Now down to business. If you want Lightroom to be working again, you should try the following.

    You will have to disable:

    – in Lightroom “Preferences” > “General” uncheck “Show ‘add photos’ window” (not sure about the exact name in English given my copy of LR is in Italian, but it’s the 2nd checkbox in the “Importing options” section
    – in Lightroom “Preferences” > “Performance” (the 6th tab) uncheck “Use graphical processor”
    – restart Lightroom

    Should this not work, the only option will be to go back to version 6.1; here the instructions to do so from Adobe:

    https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/kb/roll-back-to-prior-update.html

    Hope this helps!

    • Avatar
      paulperton October 29, 2015

      Thanks Luca. I did exactly that – we probably found the same “fix” in the same place on the Interwebs.

      As a former (very happy) Aperture user, I moved to LR earlier this year and then started migrating images etc. into LR. I stopped when my ancient MacPro hit some technical snags and I bought a MacBook Pro to replace it. That worked well enough, but it’s agonisingly slow and hugely disk space and personal time intensive.

      Eventually, I found a workable fix for the Mac Pro and unwilling to simply ditch it, I’ve set it aside as a dedicated Aperture workstation and will not update its OS, meaning I should always have access to my Aperture images.

      For me, Lightroom is a snake pit. Feature-wise, it’s OK, but I’m very leery of the technology under the hood and dread using that awful interface. After the elegance and usability of Aperture, it’s a mess.

      I still haven’t finished the migration and probably never will. I’ll stop now, as I feel a serious rant coming on.

      A big black mark to Apple for dumping a fine product.

  4. Avatar
    Volker Hopf October 28, 2015

    I enjoyed your trip report very much. Although my bucket list is getting pretty long I might still add it, you never know!
    In the mean time I really appreciate your lens testing guide. Thanks for that.
    Cheers.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy October 28, 2015

      Thanks Volker (about the lens testing guide). I share your appreciation of Paul’s great trip report. It’s made me want to start saving my pennies for a plane ticket.

  5. Avatar
    Philberphoto October 28, 2015

    Paul, you know that I am a card-carrying member of your fan club, but I must say, this time, you outdid yourself. Your production is easily worthy of any glossy magazine. Is it because you got more attuned to the Indian scene as time passed? Or more used to your gear? Or simply more inspired? At any rate, your post redefines the word “inspiring”. I wish I were there now. Failing that, your pictures are the best substitute. Well done and thank you!

  6. Avatar
    Mel November 03, 2015

    I enjoyed (and admired) your travel commentary almost as much as the wonderful slice-of-life images of India. Perhaps you could tell us how you handled (and protected) your photo gear in crowded streets, on transport, and wondering about. Looking forward to the next adventure. Thank you.

    • Avatar
      paulperton November 04, 2015

      Mel, if you’ve bought and read one of our InSight city guides for photographers, you’ll know the section where we deal with exactly this issue.

      In short, keep the camera bag simple and if possible, find one not emblazoned with logo(s). I’ve been using a black Crumpler messenger bag for several years. It’s weatherproof, strong, very grubby, worn and ideal for a couple of small cameras and lenses, or will hide a full-on DSLR, providing you don’t mind the odd sharp edge jabbing your thigh from time to time. Batteries, memory cards and other small paraphernalia lives in a large pocket inside the bag.

      It has a large plastic clip should you want to secure the flap against unwanted hands – I generally don’t bother, but did use it in India when guides warned us of the skills of a city’s pick-pockets.

      The camera kit I carry around lives in a collection of padded mitts, sleeves and cases. Re-packed every morning, the bag is pristine when I hit the streets and goes downhill from there. As I use and replace stuff, the equipment is supposed to be put back into it’s protective case, but usually ends up hurriedly tucked back between the folds of whatever I see first as I open the bag up – I’m much more interested in getting the shot than I am pristine paintwork.

      Finally, I always have my cameras on wrist rather than shoulder straps. The latter screams “tourist” and “photographer”, while a wrist strap is discreet and allows you to hide most of your camera in your hand.

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