The Red Light District: Preparing for India 03/11

I am going to India. In just over a week. On the floor next to me are over sixty rolls of film. My passport has a visa in it and my driving license has gone international. But it is still not quite real. Knowing me it will only become real in a year or so when I have (hopefully) six or seven landscapes embedded firmly into my being, my psyche and essence, nestled amongst all my other images and memories. Then I will be able to look back and know for sure that I was there in India, high in the Himalayas and in amongst the mad crowds and colours of the Holi festival.

Over six months ago Jim won a trip to India when he entered and won the STA travel photographic competition he entered. We have been talking about going on a photographic trip for years but have never got round to it, either because of a lack of money (on my part) or a perfectly understandable desire to go away with a partner or wife instead of a friend. This time however circumstances are in our favour and the gods of photography are smiling upon us. So far. We have the tickets and it really does seem to be happening.

As usual I have been disorganised and busy and do not feel like I am on top of preparations for the trip. While I am determined not to still be packing at one in the morning the day before we leave, I fear there is a certain inevitability about it. I don’t think I can remember a trip where this has not been the case, for work or pleasure. I do however only have one days work between now and our departure on the 12th. Although I also want to do some printing in the darkroom…and lots of housework…and…and…and…

No I will be ready in good time. Honest.

The temperature in Leh is quite hard to gauge at this time of year. It is a small worry, along with the potential for altitude sickness (3500 metres). One forecast for next week says it will go as low as minus twenty eight degrees celsius. That is cold. But there are many reports of March being on average a balmy four degrees by day, with not that much snow around. We shall see. All this technology…sometimes you forget what it’s like to venture into the unknown. A shame really. But it doesn’t alter the fact that I still need to buy some thermal underwear, a new fleece and gloves…and a hat…and some batteries for the camera. My boots leak too, but I think I’ll have to make do.

I should also really test the waterproof plastic cover I have bought for my camera and see if it is worth me buying another two or three. Not for the rain, but for all the paint and pigment and dye that will be thrown at me during Holi. From what I have seen everyone gets absolutely covered and I intend, or rather hope to be in the thick of it. I can also imagine that as a tourist and westerner I will be especially targeted. So. Cotton wool buds, baby wipes and a spare camera body, just in case. So much to think of and do.

The long and the short of it though is that I cannot wait. The nerves, excitement and trepidation are all building and I love it.

Even the surreal experiences getting my visa only added to it…

Here’s a tip for all you freelance television workers out there. Don’t mention what you do for a living on the application form. Lie. Say you do a paper round for the local news agents. I applied for, and got, a tourist visa. But (and vaguely understandably) I had to sign an extra form promising I was not going to do any work while I was there. I promised. I would be a tourist. I was not going to have a news camera hidden down my trousers. I was not on some secret journalistic mission. Yes okay, I am going to take photos for my exhibition and book. Yes, I may see if any magazines want to publish the photographs I happen to have taken on my holiday…but I solemnly promised I was going solely as tourist. I thought that would be the end of the matter. The application process proceeded for a further five minutes. Then I was informed that I had to pay another £25 because I worked in the media. I proceeded to point out that I had just promised I was going as a tourist. They said yes, we know it makes no sense but you need to pay in order to get your visa. So I said well in that case I will pay, but I’ll have the form back as I may as well do some work while I was there seeing as I has essentially paid for a work visa. No. If I did this my visa would be denied. I had to laugh. I was being penalised for a job I was not going to do. We went through the process and formality of some good natured pushing and shoving and arguing, both of us fully aware of the farcical nature of the situation and both of us knowing full well that I would pay in the end…

…and there we are. The story so far. After this will come the packing (a day or so before we leave) the flight(s), the cold (or not), the hire car, the crowds, the colours (photographed in black & white) a few days of random travel and hopefully some beautiful new images to welcome into my home, my psyche, me essence and being.

Wish us luck please…

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