One Week in Jaipur

Looking back on these photos I still can’t quite believe December was only last month – it feels a whole world away now! I had to be in Nepal and Pakistan for work and with only a week in between the two trips it seemed so pointless to return to London. So I took a week-long layover in India and hired a taxi for the three and a half hour drive to Jaipur.

Jaipur is like my refuge in the east, and whenever I’m in-between trips or I just need some down time while I’m working I always call up my mum’s friend Devena and ask if I can come to stay for a bit. Her house, which is also a bed and breakfast by the way, is so beautiful and relaxing. And because I always arrive there in the midst of a chaotic work trip, it always feels like heaven on earth to me. She always feeds me up, lets me sleep, and gives me lots of advice on places to go and things to do. And because it’s an artist’s retreat there are always so many interesting people to meet and talk to.

This time was a bit special however, because Adam came to meet me for the week in between my two trips. It was his first time in India and I was so excited to show him around and see if he would love it as much as I do. It’s one of those countries I spend time in where I feel instantly at home, and no pressure for him! but I’m sure he knew how important it was for me that he liked it too.

I’m hoping that the next time we go we can travel around a bit more. I’ve been to India so many times but I rarely get to travel as a tourist and there’s so many parts of the country I would still love to see. But until then, here are a few of my photos from our time in Jaipur…

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India in October: A Travel Diary ii

This morning I woke up to a broken boiler (so no heating), and after a full day on the sofa on Sunday I still felt like I could have slept for another four hours or so. I crawled out of bed, made a cup of tea, got dressed and lost my wallet on the bus. Happy Monday!

It got me thinking so much about how many people there are in the world living their life in parallel. How everyone is having, has had or will have had their Monday by this point and it will be nothing like mine, and yet it will be so similar. We all have to wake up, we have to eat, we all have stuff to do… we're not so different from each other, you know?

 

 


On my second day in India I woke up before the sun. Early starts are not unusual on these trips, you wake up when the people you’re shooting do. Mostly I shoot people who work with animals. I mean, people who work alongside their animals to provide for their family. So usually that’s manual labour of one sort or another and those kind of work days start early.

On these mornings I roll out of bed, jump in a cold shower because so many of these hotels don’t have hot water (when you travel for a charity you travel on a budget), and I jump into my already smelly clothes because by now I have learned to resign myself to packing light and smelling like a horse.
We head back to the fair and I walk through the crowds of horses and people for hours looking for those shots that will show what it’s like here. 

 

There are stories everywhere and although I could write a caption to go with everything my eyes are taking in, it’s hard to get a good shot in the crowds. And animals are so hard to shoot because they’re not exactly the sort to strike and hold a pose. 

By the time we finish and head back to Lucknow to catch our flight to Delhi, we are all tired but so much more alive and chatty than we were when we first arrived. That’s the thing about traveling and working in India, the spirit of the country fills you with energy in-spite of yourself - no matter how long your journey has been.

 

 

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India in October: A Travel Diary

I've never been very good at jet lag math, but looking back on October, I would say that leaving a five day window between arriving in London from Hawaii and flying to India was not the wisest move. Having said that however, I didn't have much choice. Hawaii was organised a year ago and this work trip came up last minute. And when was I ever going to turn down a trip to India anyway? Never.

But it's times like these when I wish I had a bit more energy, a bit more reserve petrol in the tank to just keep going. We arrived at our hotel in Delhi at 1am after being delayed at the airport for about two hours. I remember sitting there waiting for Tom to get his visa and thinking to myself, "that's another hour less to sleep... another hour less to sleep... and another". And then when I finally had the chance to sleep, I couldn't! Because: jet lag. So waking up at 4am wasn't such a problem because I was awake before my alarm. 

It's usually at this point when I am reminded of a few conversations I have had with other humanitarian/international photographers. They always say that the drop-out rate in a career like this is usually pretty high because it is hard! It's exhausting, it's anti-social, it's heartbreaking, it's physically and mentally challenging. It's just hard.

So squeezing into a car that was way too small for three people and all their equipment to catch another flight from Delhi to Lucknow while feeling sick from lack of sleep, it did help to remember that. It's supposed to be hard. You do need to be physically and mentally fit - something I'm really working on these days.

And I rely a lot on the compulsion to keep going. I don't know what it is, maybe it's adrenaline or love for my job, or stubbornness? But whatever it is that kicks in when I begin to take photos, that's what gets me through. I don't feel tired anymore, I don't feel panicky that my body is going to pack it in. A little voice inside starts freaking out about the frames and the colours and that golden hour in India that is just... I don't even know how to describe it. And the stories of course, always the stories.

So after a lot of no sleep, whatever it is that gets me out of the car when we arrive at our first location and into the crowds and dust to start doing "photographer squats" every few minutes - I'm grateful to it.

I'm photographing the Dewa equine fair, just me and a videographer (Tom) and a storyteller (Jamie). This is where thousands of animals are bought and sold into work every year and it's a challenging work environment for many reasons. We come across so many heartbreaking stories in our time at the fair, but this first evening is golden and everyone is happy to finally be in the field.

I usually travel with Jamie for work these days unless I have to go by myself, he's the one up there with the goat. It's super helpful to have someone I can quietly complain to about being tired - and someone to take photos of me for the blog of course! And Tom up there with the drone is one of a few videographers I get to work with. When I first started this job I had to film, photograph, write, interview, plan - I was a one woman content collection show. These days I'm lucky enough to get to put together my own team of talented people to take into the field, it's so much fun getting to work with them all! And I learn so much each time.

Part two coming later this week...

 

 

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Fjällräven in the Field

If there’s one thing I don’t like when I’m working it’s being weighed down with loads of stuff. As much as I can I like to be out in the field with one camera, one or two lenses, and that’s it. I finish at the end of the day completely covered in dust, with rips in my jeans and mud on my face from crawling on the ground or climbing something without really paying much attention to anything else but getting a good shot. 

Usually I can leave my bag in the car, but sometimes it needs to come with me into the field and for that I've always just used my every day backpack. But at the beginning of this year when I invested in some new equipment, I tried traveling with my old bag and worried the whole time about the state of my camera. It goes through so much already in the dusty places I work, traveling along the bumpiest roads you can imagine, getting caught in the rain, intense heat waves and general wear and tear – the last thing I need is for it to meet its end in a flimsy backpack.

So I did my research on proper professional camera bags, and I just couldn’t find one that I liked! Either I didn’t have enough equipment to fill them or they just screamed “there’s a camera in here for anyone who’s interested!!!” by their appearance. Or they just weren’t tough enough.

Eventually I had an idea that maybe I could just create my own camera bag. A few brands come to mind when you think of outdoor bags, but Fjällräven has always been a favourite of mine. They were kind enough to let me test out one of their bags on my last trip to India and it worked perfectly. I chose Rucksack No. 21 Large and went for the Autumn Leaf colour.

I bought some camera bag inserts off Amazon and set about constructing a camera bag set up that worked for me and all the lenses and lighting equipment I use. And a few days later I was off to India again to put it to the test!

And of course it did everything I needed and more. I thought I would miss having lots of pockets, but that just meant I spent less time trying to find my memory cards and remember where I put things. I was worried it may be a bit too small to fit two lenses, flash equipment, water, food, clothes, a torch, chargers, my laptop, and a whole long list of stuff but it turns out the Rucksack No. 21 is a bit of a Mary Poppins bag with a secret extension.

(^^perhaps most importantly, having an awesome field bag leaves your hands free to cuddle baby goats^^)

It also offered lots of support for my back which I really appreciated - all this stuff is heavy! And it’s waxed canvas exterior meant that my equipment was protected from the dust and the rain. Also it was really easy to get in and out of which is necessary when I needed to access my camera in a hurry, and also for the four internal flights I did in a week on this particular trip to India where I needed to get my laptop out each time for security.

But most of all I love owning something which will be a part of who I am as a photographer for years to come. These bags are built to last and just having that peace of mind knowing my equipment is safe makes my job a whole lot easier. And while it may not be a traditional choice for a photographer’s bag, being able to build my own bag interior worked great for me and I would highly recommend it, because each photographer’s setup is unique to them. 

All photos of me taken by Jamie 

 

 

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Snapshots of India, two.

Moving on from Delhi, we caught a late night train to Lucknow to start a few days of intense filming. This was the part of the trip I was most nervous about because we had a pretty long shot list and the heat combined with working in direct sun for long hours was something I had been dreading.

But actually, it wasn't so bad. I think the human body can become accustomed to anything pretty quickly, and while we avoided the worst heat of the day, there were very few moments where I thought I couldn't handle it.

Someone mentioned to me that Lucknow is "a little rough around the edges", and I would say that's a pretty accurate description. It's a bit run down, and though it has the bones of some pretty beautiful architecture in parts, I wouldn't say it's the romantic India that travelers dream of.  

Lucknow is famous for it's kebabs, and while I like to keep to a mostly vegetarian diet when I travel for work, I made an exception for these because I've been told by many that they are not to be missed. And they were pretty good! I tried the mutton kebabs, and the best way I can describe them is that they were mince which had been ground into a paste, heavily spiced and molded in a patty which was then fried. It's a funny texture, but it tasted pretty good and came served with chapati. 

From Lucknow we took a 15 hour train ride to Pathankot, drove through the Punjab and arrived in Himachal Pradesh and Dharamshala. Arriving in our hotel in Palampur was such a breath of fresh air. There were loads of pine trees creating so much shade, the temperature was perfect, streams and tea plantations were everywhere, and it seemed like it was snowing with some sort of strange jellyfish like pollen. And the Dhauladhar mountain range was the perfect backdrop with its blue shadows and snowy peaks. 

The feeling of peace which comes from leaving somewhere like Lucknow and arriving in a quiet and remote location like Palampur was overwhelming. The beauty of it all was so striking, and the location was perfect for a photo shoot! I'll share that next.

But the sunset on our first night was gorgeous as we walked back from town with a few presents for friends and a belly full of galub jamun, which is a delicious and super sugary desert in India.

We filmed for a few days in the relative cool, which was so refreshing, and then one afternoon the team took us to McLeod Ganj which is where you'll find the Dali Lama's temple. I was so excited to visit, mostly because it was so unexpected - I didn't even realise it was there and I never expected we would have the time to go and see it! I wrote a bit more about it here, but if you ever get a chance, definitely go - don't let the crazy tourism of it all put you off.

If I could go back to India for a holiday, I would definitely go back to Himachal Pradesh and explore it all a bit more. It's full of so much natural beauty, so much history and it's pretty easy to travel around. There are lots of buses you can take, but if taking a bus is your idea of hell (like it is mine - hello car sickness!), I would recommend a taxi or a driver which wouldn't be too expensive.

I hope you get the chance to visit, and I hope I get to go back there one day.

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Snapshots of India.

When I travel for work (which is mostly for photography or filming), it isn't like normal travel. I don't often come back from a trip having visited any tourist sites or tried any of the must-do things on a travel list. My days usually start at any time between 3am and 7am, and end anywhere from 12pm to 9pm - depending on the location and the travel time. And when I'm not photographing or traveling to location, I'm backing up and re-backing up my work which is a time consuming process.

So I haven't come back from this trip with too much advice on where to go and what to see. I wouldn't recommend the hotels I stay in, and mostly I ate room service. But what I can show you is a bit of an inside view on the real India, what it's like in towns or houses where you wouldn't visit as a tourist, unless you had a good reason for being there. And I did visit some places which are a definite must, along with some places that are more of a maybe-if-you-have-time.

Our first location on this trip was Delhi. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Delhi. It's a great city, but it's very industrial and polluted and as happy as I am to arrive I'm usually equally as happy to leave. And last week when there was a heat wave in India, with temperatures over 40 degrees, it made it all seem a bit claustrophobic. I think if I were traveling to India for holiday, I would probably just pass through Delhi on my way to somewhere else.

This trip I took sleeper trains for the first time, and I was a bit nervous because I've heard a few scary stories about trains in India. I'm happy to say I actually really enjoyed it! We had second class tickets and it was really comfortable and felt pretty safe - I slept with my camera behind my head and wasn't worried about it at all. I mean, it's still cramped and the toilets are fairly basic but it's definitely a great experience. 

Most of these photos are from a small train station far outside of the city. There's always so much life congregating around train stations, and you can usually find everything from a great snack to a road-side shave - you know, if you need that sort of thing. 

Next post I'll share my thoughts on Lucknow and some photos from Dharmshala which (spoiler alert) I loved!

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Just a Moment :: twenty eight

I'm back from India having had a great trip, London is looking beautiful in the summer sun, and everything feels right with the world. 

I have so many photos to edit and share with you - I went to some amazing places, trekked up the side of a mountain (or tried to), hung out the side of a train, cuddled with some foals, had an altercation with goat, and popped in to pay a quick visit to the Dalai Lama's temple. I was so happy I could share it all with you on snapchat and instagram when I had decent wifi, and I have lots more to share here on the blog, but for how here's a few moments from the past ten days

Foals in India

1. Getting a peek inside a traditional Indian home put together with sand and slate. Everywhere we went people were so friendly and accommodating, always smiling, always willing to chat, and almost always keen to pose for a photo. 

2. Getting to visit the Dalai Lama's temple in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala. I had no idea we would be filming so close to where he lives and because we finished work in the early afternoon, the India team drove us up to the temple to take a look around. There are no cameras allowed inside but of course people brought them in anyway. I took a few photos on my phone and I shared a couple on Instagram, but I can tell you that the temple is very simple - a yellow compound with a lot of monks and some amazing mountains views. The town itself is pretty touristy, but it has some beautiful mountain views.

3. This lamb who was just one big floppy ball of fuzz. Someone bent down and scooped him up and put him in my arms where he just sat resigned with a 'I get this all the time' kind of attitude - I asked Jeremy to take a photo because it's not every day you get to cuddle something so ridiculously cute.

4. This kid drinking his milk out of a cup with a spoon. Because there's a time in everyone's childhood where we all preferred to drink out of a cup with a spoon.

5. We visited some families in Himachal Pradesh and came across these slabs of stone with faces carved on them. It turns out that in that particular village, when someone dies without children, they carve a stone for them and put it together with the other stones so that they will never be forgotten when they don't have family to remember them.

6. Walking across this rickety wooden swing bridge in a slate mine. It was very rocky and the boards creaked alarmingly, but crossing it made me feel like Indiana Jones so it was totally worth it.

7. This mule foal. I think if I had given him the chance he would have cuddled up in my lap for a nap. Every time I stopped scratching behind his ears he would start biting me in protest.

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Two days in Delhi.

I've been in Delhi only two days but feels like it's been about ten. India is such an all consuming country, it demands your attention every minute and there's no getting away from it - not a chance that you can think for one moment that you're somewhere else. Lucky for me that I love it so much, otherwise I think I would be about ready to head home. Although I could do without the 40 degree heat!

I'm about to run out the door and catch a night train to Lucknow - this will be my first train ride in India and I'm nervous and excited. I've heard so many amazing stories and a few scary ones. To be honest, with my jetlag not allowing me to sleep combined with a few 4am starts, I'm quite looking forward to ten hours uninterrupted sleep! If I'm lucky.

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Travels Through India :: a Film

Every time I go somewhere really exciting I always try to do a little filming so that when I come home I can put a little video together. This usually happens a lot later than I intend, but I'm always so glad when I finally finish it. 

On my first trip to Kenya I shot on the Canon G12 and I was a little disappointed at the quality of the footage. This time I shot on a GoPro and it was pretty fun! It's so easy to carry around and if you can get over the fact that it doesn't preform all that well in low light, and the fisheye effect can be a bit much in some clips, it's a pretty awesome little camera!  

Next time though, I think I'll shoot on my good old 60D because you just can't beat that 50mm lens.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the film! Music by Alt-J.  

On the Road: India's Golden Hour

Have I mentioned how amazing India's golden hour is? I think I must have, once or twice... a post. But I can't seem to stop myself. I don't think I can explain quite how ethereal and other-worldly it feels, and the fact that it seems to last much longer than one hour means that I took about a thousand photos every evening. Though, can you blame me? I didn't even attempt to edit these photos, I couldn't bear to tamper with the colours.

One day when we were traveling back from a remote village, we drove along long stretches of road, through small towns and past people getting ready for their evening meal on the side of the road. Dogs scavenging, horses let loose after a long day of hard work, buffalo still working to transport people and goods from place to place. India has such a buzz about it that never seems to die down, even at 4am. There always seems to be something to celebrate, or some work to be done. But far from feeling frantic, I found the consistent movement to be quite familiar and peaceful.

I've always found stillness is activity and noise, and a golden sky makes it all that more wonderful. 

Missing India

I've been really missing India a lot this week. I miss the sunshine and the colour, the friendly people and the excitement. I know we can't all be traveling all the time, I have friends who travel for work six months of the year and I don't think I could handle that, but two weeks back in the office and I'm already starting to feel it. I think it's just being indoors too long, and I think I'm also better suited to warmer climates. But who isn't, right? This is nothing new. Everyone prefers traveling, no one likes sitting in an office, and no one likes being cold. Get it together, Freya.

But just look at how beautiful India is, who could blame me for missing it? These are a few shots from monuments around Jaipur. The Wind Palace, the Amer Fort, and the City Palace. It's easy to see why they call Jaipur the Pink City, isn't it?

I have a feeling I'll be back visiting India soon enough, it just seems like one of those countries that, once it gets it's hands in you, it doesn't easily let go.  

Sunset at the Stepwell and a Hidden Temple

Driving from Delhi to Agra and then to Jaipur takes a long long looooong time. It's a really great way to see parts of India you wouldn't normally see, but it requires a lot of patience and a lot of snacks.

When we were almost in Jaipur I mentioned my desire to see a stepwell, I've seen them in a few films and I thought they looked pretty interesting! This added another hour and a bit onto our journey, but we decided it was worth it.

Chand Baori stepwell was really beautiful. We arrived there just as the sun was setting and had the place to ourselves for a while as we explored. Where it was once used as an ancient form of water conservation, it now stands unused but still quite popular with tourists. I was a little sad that the railings prevented me from actually going down to the bottom of the well, but it was definitely worth the detour. It also made me a little sad that Adam wasn't with me, as I think he would have really loved it.

As we were leaving we saw a small temple down a little lane. We would probably have missed it if it hadn't been for the sun blazing behind it, illuminating it for all the world to see. As we approached it I got a bit nervous that they wouldn't appreciate tourists sticking cameras all up in their holy business, but they were more than friendly, and that little monk even did a magic trick for us. 

India has sunsets like you wouldn't believe. I think the haze does something to the light, it filters it in some way or breaks it up with dust and humidity. It's almost as if the dust captures the light and holds it in the air a little longer, allowing you to enjoy it and photograph it to the full extent. I think secretly India loves having its photo taken.

Expectation vs Reality at the Taj Mahal

Both my parents grew up in India, so I've grown up hearing about it constantly. My Mum and Dad traveled a lot so I've heard about all sorts of places that I have wanted to visit myself one day - but sometimes when I've visited a place it doesn't quite lived up to my imagination. It's all too easy to get wrapped up in a movie or a book's interpretation of a place, and then be let down by a rather harsh reality.

India has been an exception though, it's everything I ever imagined and more. Even the Taj Mahal was better in reality than I ever thought it would be. I'm not usually blown away by buildings, I'm often more in awe of nature than anything made by people, but the Taj was something else.

It was especially interesting to visit a shop and see craftsmen creating the traditional inlay patterns that make up the decorations all over the building.

We stayed at the Taj all through the sunset, just wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere. When darkness finally came we were shunted out by cranky security guards, and spent some time chatting to the many shop owners hanging about outside the gates.

It was such a lovely and warm evening with a beautiful sunset. Something about the enormity of it all, the fact that it's a monument dedicated to love, left me feeling very calm and relaxed - I wonder if that's the building's intention...

Inside the Shish Mahal at Agra Fort

Hello from Lahore, Pakistan! Sorry posting has been quite sporadic around here lately. I've been so busy with work, then I took a week holiday in Jaipur, and now I'm back to traveling for work again but this time in Pakistan. I've been so all over the place that I quite frequently have to be reminded what day it is! But here's a post from the start of my holiday in India...

After working in Delhi for a week I went to visit family in Jaipur. On our way we stopped off in Agra for a few days to visit the Taj and have a look around the famous city. I love to visit monuments and see all the popular tourist spots when I can, but I find them a bit hard to photograph. We visited the Agra Fort and I did try to take photos, but I just couldn't seem to find an angle that I haven't seen shot before.

That is until we came across the Glass Palace, or Shish Mahal. It's closed to tourists but because this is India, everything is available for the right price - and when our guide offered to help us find a way in, we agreed. It felt like an adventure, even though I'm sure he does this for all the tourists that come his way.

The Shish Mahal was the royal bath house at the Agra Fort. It doesn't let in any natural light so you have to light candles to see all of the mirrors scattered across the walls and ceiling. It really is beautiful in there and if I ever become a millionaire I'll build myself a bath house just like it. I did have more photos to share but the patchy internet here has decided that four is enough...

Even though it was only last week that I was in Agra, it feels like ages ago. I'm coming to the end of my trip now and I have one day left in Pakistan before I fly back to London. I have taken LOADS of photos though and I can't wait to share my whole trip with you, one blog post at a time. I sure do hope you like travel posts!

They Steal My Heart Every Time

I'm sorry for overdoing it on the selfies - are they still selfies if someone else takes the photo? Anyway, every time I come overseas for work my heart breaks for all the overworked animals - especially the horses. 

This poor girl was so thin and so sore - you can see how her hip bones stick out and you can count every rib. What you can't see is how she's only got three working legs, her back left can't touch the ground. I'm not a vet, but my experiences with horses suggests this is an injury that won't heal. I nearly included a photo of her whole body, but I don't think anyone needs more proof of how hard life can be for every living thing trying to earn enough just to eat.

I'm a little tougher than I was when I first started my job, but even my friends who have been working with these animals for years rarely make it through a day without having to take some time to themselves to cry it out.

All I could do with this girl was give her some time, just a little bit of love. Take a little while to persuade her that I don't mean her any harm, I don't want anything from her, I'm not asking her tired self to do anything. I don't know if it meant anything to her, or did any good at all, maybe it's more to make myself feel better. But I hope it helped her a little.

In the grand scheme of things we are there to help of course, but helping the whole takes a lot longer than helping just one. I so wish I could have helped this girl though, and make her the exception to the rule. 

*a big thank you to my friend Emily for taking these photos*

Traveling from Village to Village

I always forget how tiring these trips for work can be. I get so caught up in the excitement of filming and project planning, and I forget about the seventeen hour work days, exhaustion and sickness. It's all so worth it though, and these once in a life time experiences combined with a crazy love for my job keep me coming back.

Often we try to visit two to three sites in one day before focusing on one as a filming location. I managed to take a few photos on one of these scoping days in between the footage I have been gathering for work. India is just the most photogenic and humbling place I have ever visited - it is extreme in every way. It is so beautiful and so harsh, there is incredible kindness here and yet at the same time life seems to be incredibly unforgiving for some. 

My work is done now and I have ten days in India with family before flying to Pakistan for work again. It's been such a wonderful challenge to try and capture all that I've seen. I haven't let go of my camera for a second and I have so much more to share. I hope you don't get tired of photos from India!  

A Misty Morning in Delhi

My first introduction to India has been everything I could have hoped for. It's crowded and manic, the horns from the crazy traffic never stop beeping even at 3am, you take your life in your hands every time you get in a car, and I just want to photograph every cow snoozing lazily in the middle of everything.

When I'm working overseas I usually find myself heading away from the city and into the poorer neighborhoods or slums. There's so much life to be found on streets where every front door is open and looks directly into the bedroom. Animals live right in the thick of it and children run wild all over the place.

I feel so fortunate to be invited into these people's homes on a foggy January morning, given tea, and allowed to try and capture their life on film.