Dateline: Rajasthan, India
The ethereal white palace seemed to float on the water’s surface. Shimmering twilight reflections gracefully danced across my mind and across the idyllic Lake Pichola. James Bond came here once . . . well, at least in the Hollywood movie “Octopussy” when it was filmed here in Udaipur so many years ago. This is only one of Rajasthan’s magical cities . . . one that few visitors will ever forget. When you sit at the lake’s edge and the approaching night sky slips into hues of mauve and deep blue, it’s easy to let yourself be transported to another time–one of painted elephants and maharajas and royal floating palaces and extravagance you might only have dreamed about.
A few days earlier I had left the wild Pushkar Fair with its 20,000 camels on display and its frenetic holy festivals and little blue boys dressed as the Hindu god Shiva. But Rajasthan offers even more titillating thrills.
When I visited Udaipur five years ago the floating palace only floated on dry sand. The water had disappeared in a drought and the magic had escaped with the evaporation. So I was ecstatic to find the lake full this time. Only a few months earlier it was barren but then the monsoons came and then me.
Sometimes it doesn’t take much to keep a travel photographer happy.
Naturally, one can indulge in the opulent surroundings of the Jag Niwas floating palace (now known as The Lake Palace Hotel) and experience palatially exuberant surroundings in probably India’s most romantic overnight stay . . . or longer, of course, if your maharaja whims and lifestyle and stash of cash enables you to partake. Or you can simply revel in the splendor by just having dinner there for a hundred dollars or so.
Both sides of the lake have dream views. While you are indulging in the thrill of your lake palace heaven, take a moment to turn around for the panoramic spectacle of Udaipur’s magnificent City Palace of night light reflecting behind you.
I was up bright and early the next morning and back to reality. My budget had been blown on the palatial island and the taste of fine wine had finally worn off. I spent a couple of hours at the City Palace wandering narrow passageways that connect the opulent palace rooms and royal courtyards in a labyrinthine maze of confusion. Directional signs kept me from getting lost. Once back outside I stopped by the nearby Jagdish Hindu temple. Its heavily carved walls featured images of Vishnu and Krishna and dancing nymphs. Now I wanted to shoot fine art photos in the mid-morning light and it didn’t take long for the color to find me.
After a few days Udaipur satiated my creative bent with its offerings and then I made my way to Jodhpur–India’s acclaimed “Blue City”–a moniker best explained by high angle views of crowded, crooked, maze-like alleyways in the old part of town. This cubic color wash of sprawling modular blue houses and shops and narrow confines breathtakingly unfolded before me as I leaned over the walls of the mighty Fort Meherangarh, whose ramparts soar from an impregnable, sheer-sided outcrop of stone high above the city.
The bustling main market next to the Sardar clock tower provided an endless array of photo opportunities where the color seemed to jump out and grab me. There were Muslim tie-dyers and puppet makers and spice dealers and textile merchants galore. So I lost myself in this photographer’s heaven for several hours.
After Jodhpur I journeyed to the far reaches of the Thar desert, close to the Pakistani border, where lies the quintessential desert fort town of Jaisalmer. Lawrence of Arabia couldn’t have dreamed how magically this golden-hued wonder rises from the sand at sunset. Camel caravans of ancient times converged in Jaisalmer and the city was endlessly besieged because of its strategic location as a life-line trade route. In 1298 the forces of Ala-ud-din Khalji laid a seven-year siege on the city that ended with the men of Jaisalmer riding out to their deaths and the women committing suicide behind them. But today the “Golden City” of Jaisalmer lives on.
The previous time I was here the fort’s ramparts were gloriously lit at night so this time I found a hotel with a rooftop restaurant that provided a different angle of view and, hopefully, a similar photo experience. But as nightfall approached it appeared that most of the lights had burned out over time. This would mean a lost photo opportunity. I sat for a while sipping my Kingfisher beer, one of India’s most popular brews. “More Thrilling Chilled,” the label had exclaimed fifteen years ago. I wondered why they have now dropped this phrase. The beer still provides an exciting kick, which no doubt was adding to the glee of my evening. Until the city replaces all the burned-out lights, which previously illuminated the fort walls, no other travel photographer can shoot an image that challenges the one I took years ago. We photographers go ecstatic about such things. My photo now resides at Getty Images:
I love strolling through the narrow walkways of old fort towns in India allowing myself the adrenaline rush when I stumble upon graphically bold fine art image possibilities.
Capturing the wild chaos that is everyday life in India, I’ve featured a collection of intensely vibrant images in my coffee table book, Thrill Me Rajasthan.
Read a review of this book in:
The San Francisco Examiner
Bright and early the next morning I found myself straddling a camel for a three-day trek across the desert.
Rajasthan always thrills me.
See these books to learn more about the rich culture of Rajasthan.