THE BARBERSHOPS OF INDIA

I kept seeing these sidewalk barbershops as we traveled the roads of India – often too late (our van had already whizzed by). On our last couple days in India I set a goal – get a few shots before it is too late.

Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/28 USM. Having the 300mm helped.

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I think that the blue chair might be a barbershop standard.

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This is the only barbershop that I spotted inside – on the way from Jaipur to Delhi.

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Incredible India! I just loved having a camera there.

ABHANERI STEPWELL, INDIA

Another TripAdvisor advised detour in India, we stopped at our second step well. Throughout the trip it never ceased to amaze me how advanced Indian engineering was. Abhaneri was built for one reason, to harvest rain water.

Stepwells, also called kalyani or pushkarani (Kannada: ), bawdi (Hindi: बावड़ी) or baoli (Hindi: बावली), barav (Marathi: बारव), vaav (Gujarati: વાવ) are wells or ponds in which the water may be reached by descending a set of steps. They may be covered and protected and are often of architectural significance. They also may be multi-storied having a bullock which turns the water wheel ("rehat") to raise the water in the well to the first or second floor.

I wonder when the last time this step well was full?

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We were not allowed down.

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Beautiful green water with thousands of steps and I counted 14 levels. Amazing piece of 8th century work.

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The architecture around the well was stunning.

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Random chunks of block filled the corridors, from temples in the area.

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For the traveller moving from Agra to Jaipur (or vice versa), it is an interesting detour.

THE POTTER, INDIA

As we approached the potter’s home his family gathered around. It was a simple demonstration, showing us his craft.

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I love the bright colors of the community.

With no signs of electricity into the home, it was all done the old fashioned way – by hand.

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His watch seemed an odd contrast to the surroundings.

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A SIDE STREET, INDIA

While traveling from Agra to Jaipur we detoured into a small town. We went to see how the locals live and to see a potter. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

Every street, regardless of location, has one thing in common – water buffalo and cows.

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The potters house.

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Cow dung was spread out on the roofs of many of the houses – they use it for fuel.

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I was allowed to look inside one of the homes (below), and it was as you would expect. Simple open rooms, with a fire pit and sleeping quarters on mats. It was also filled with smiling children, staring at the gaijin.

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The potter was next.

FATEHPUR SIKRI, INDIA

Outside of Agra is Fatehpur Sikri, a small city that would often serve as the summer capital:

The city was founded in 1569 by the Mughal emperor Akbar, and served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585.[1] After his military victories over Chittor and Ranthambore, Akbar decided to shift his capital from Agra to a new location 23 miles (37 km) W.S.W on the Sikri ridge, to honor the Sufi saint Salim Chishti. Here he commenced the construction of a planned walled city which took the next fifteen years in planning and construction of a series of royal palaces, harem, courts, a mosque, private quarters and other utility buildings.[2] He named the city, Fatehabad, with Fateh, a word of Arabic origin in Persian, meaning "victorious." it was later called Fatehpur Sikri.[3] It is at Fatehpur Sikri that the legends of Akbar and his famed courtiers, the nine jewels or Navaratnas, were born.[citation needed] Fatehpur Sikri is one of the best preserved collections of Mughal architecture in India.[4]

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Ornately built with incredible detail everywhere. It is an architectural wonder, and quite the “summer home”.

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While we were there it was quite cloudy and foggy. We are just fortunate that the entire trip was not that way.

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The most interesting part of the fort was the insight into the male/female lifestyle. At different spots through the fort Anu (our guide) would point out where they celebrated – with dancers and musicians – always pointing to where the women would be located/segregated, often behind some type of screen or up on one of the balconies.

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Interesting insight into a Moghul’s summer life. As an aside – a point on literacy embedded in the Wikipedia entry:

Fatehpur Sikri has a population of 28,754. Males constitute 53% of the population and females 47%. Fatehpur Sikri has an average literacy rate of 46%, lower than the national average of 59.5%: male literacy is 57%, and female literacy is 34%. In Fatehpur Sikri, 19% of the population is under 6 years of age

We had many conversations with our guide on literacy, education and the class system in India. It became apparent that there is a lot of local skepticism around the claimed national literacy average of 72%.

WHAT IS THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF TIME IN INDIA?

It is a question I asked many people before we traveled there for 10 days with a wide range of answers; what is the right amount of time?

Reflecting on our time in the country, I would pass on the following opinions (feel free to disagree):

The tourist sites become repetitive:  The pink city, the blue city, Delhi. The architecture of India is surprisingly consistent. Once you see a couple temples, forts and Tajs, they begin to look the same. Therefore if you are planning, remember that. We went to Agra, Jaipur and Delhi. I do not feel that we missed much by not hitting the other northern cities and am very glad that we didn’t make the very long trips.

That isn’t to say that the south isn’t different. It is and we will make another trip to hit the south of India.

It isn’t about the tourist sites:  Had we followed the itineraries that were presented to us by travel companies we would have missed out. I spent a lot of time searching different locations on Tripadvisor and opportunities to take us off the beaten path. Into villages, on to locations that others don’t usually go to. The Taj Mahal was interesting, but I wouldn’t call it the highlight of the trip. The highlights for us were often down side streets.

I began to form this opinion at Sikandra tomb, the tomb of Akbar the great. Magnificent building? Yes. Did it have anything different than the other tombs we had seen? Not really. It was at this point in the tour that we started to actively push away from the top, commonly visited sites in the cities.

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It is tiring.  India is a full on assault on the senses. A 100km drive can take 5 hours. Everything is caked in dust. You will see flaunted wealth and the saddest of poverty. We booked in breaks at our hotel to just relax or it would have been to much.

As I said in a previous post, our private guide gave us this flexibility and truly explained India to us. The culture, the rich history and he was very flexible as we evolved our itinerary as we went.

And to answer the question again on safety – just be smart. We had a few run ins, but we were never in danger. We stood out in the crowd (My wife and boys are blonde), so expect lots of stairs, people asking for money and a few other things. As a group, it was safe. It is just about being smart.

India is an incredible place, but it is not for the first time traveler. 

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