Off to Jodhpur.

Tuesday 08 November 2016 – Jodhpur, India.

I was up again at 6:00 am to get a final walk up to the camel fair in. I met Trev in reception and we walked to the small shop we went to yesterday to buy biscuits to snack on as we walked, and to get some small change to give to people if we photographed them. We split up at that point, I wanted to take a bit of a walk around the town to look at and were possible to photograph some if the buildings.

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Once the town starts humming around 8:30/9:00 all those frontages turn into shops or stall holdings.

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The streets were pretty quiet at 6:30 which was nice for a change. Like yesterday it was quite cool outside, cool enough for many Indians to be wrapped up in jackets and hoodies. I just enjoyed my t-shirt and shorts and the cool air. The town has some beautiful old buildings in it, a lot of them are temples, like the one below. When the streets are busy with life, stalls and the ubiquitous motorcycle I tend to spend all my time looking where I am going, rather than at some of the interesting things around me. If I ever come back to India I would like to come to Pushkar and see it when it is less manic. 

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After a quick circuit of one side of the town I walked over to the fair ground, the hot air balloons were back, but not attracting such a big crowd today.

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I soon found Trev in the field we met the gypsy girls yesterday, he had promised to come back and photograph the last of them this morning. I said a brief hello, but not wanting to be constantly hassled by people wanting money or food I wandered off to where the main section of camel traders were where there we less beggars, but a lot more tourists.

It is really hazy today, I could not see this hills on the other side of the town and the air was rough, after an hour I was coughing and my throat was quite sore. I didn’t see much that I had not seen before so headed back to the hotel for breakfast and to get ready to leave.

It is still quite early in the morning, the breakfast fires are burning and the people and camels are eating breakfast. A lot camp under their trailer on the road side.

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There was a minor panic when I was told I had to pay for my room and food in cash and I knew I did not have enough. This sort of info really should be on the booking website as I suspect it does cause issues when cash is not easily accessible. I had suspected this may be the case, so went to pay an hour before I had to leave. The ATM had no money, and the second machine took two attempts before it gave me some cash, there was a brief moment of nervousness. As I am travelling solo today I decided to not get much out, enough cash to see me through. I am glad I got some as the Indian Government changed the rules the following day, I wish I had gotten the full allowance!

The taxi ride from Pushkar to the station in Ajmer, 11 kms away, was not too stomach clenching, only one manoeuvre of overtaking a van that was overtaking a bike that was overtaking a horse drawn cart, while being overtaken by another bike – into the face of oncoming traffic. Whew.

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I had a rather dull hour long wait at the station, no other westerners in sight, though I did briefly talk to a family from Delhi who had been down from Delhi for the festival. Thankfully I was not asked about cricket, my knowledge is very slim these days.

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The train arrived a little early, I am in two tier AC class carriage, all my trips are in AC2. My ticket said carriage 2, so I waited where the front of the train should be and jumped into the second carriage, which was an AC2, my allocated seat was empty, Yay. But, hmm, so was the entire carriage. I thought that was great, a nice and quiet trip, no listening to other people playing loud TV shows on their phones, a real bonus.

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Just as we were about to leave I was informed by the ticket inspector that carriage 2 is the OTHER end of train, about 20 carriages away. Fortunately after some consultation he let me stay as there was no time for me to get all the way to the other end before departure. Whew!

It was a rather dull ride, a lot of featureless plain in the 224km between Ajmer and Jodhpur. I wrote a bit, read a bit, dozed a bit and basically enjoyed the freedom of an empty carriage.

I arrived in Jodhpur about 6:30pm and it was already dark. I took a (ripped-off) tuk tuk to my hotel, which is very near the fort, in fact the fort looms over us, rather majestically I might add. I had dinner in the restaurant at the hotel and then spent the rest of the evening in my room catching up on photo editing and writing.

I am really looking forward to visiting that fort tomorrow!

Pushkar Camel Fair

Monday 07 November 2016 – Pushkar, India.

Fortunately last night was much quieter than the one before and I seemed to manage a bit of sleep before the alarm went off at 6:00. Trev and I had agreed to meet at 6:30 and get to the camel fair before the sun popped over the horizon. The alleys and streets between the hotel and the fairground were pretty deserted, fortunately one shop was open and we managed to pick up a small packet of biscuits each to munch on in lieu of breakfast.

I enjoyed the walk to the fair this morning, with all of the tourist shops closed and very few people on the street there was no pushing and shoving, very few motorbikes whizzing past and no-one asking you to come into their shop, or for food or money. The best part of it was the people who were out were very friendly, saying hello or Namaste from their doorways and windows as we walked past. It was so much nicer than the sell, sell, sell mentality during the day. I can see why Pushkar is so popular outside of the festival. A friendly town!

With so many animals arriving in the past few days, and it was noticeable that a lot had arrived overnight, as well as smoke from the wood and dung fires the herders and small stall holders had for cooking and warmth the air was pretty thick, and this would be noticeable as a fine haze in some of the photos. In the fairground itself there were three hot air balloons being gassed up which attracted a large number of people who came along to have a look.I loved this business opportunity, I didn’t buy any, not sure if camel dung paper would be allowed into New Zealand or Australia.

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There were quite a few other photographers around when we arrived and the numbers picked up noticeably as the morning progressed, so there was a bit of competition for angles and shots, some were quite aggressive as well. At times it was quite shameful watching their interactions with the local people. Why are some people so rude?

It was breakfast time, for both the animals and the people as we started to wander around. Some of the herders had their families with them, huddled together near their stock for warmth.

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Not many had tents or camel trailers that were used as a shelter which surprised me. I guess the air is dry most of the time so sleeping in a bed roll under the stars is practical; though probably not comfortable and definitely not a life I would choose. These must be hardy folk.

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More and more herds arrived throughout the early morning. Pushkar is on the edge of the Thar Desert, it is very sandy, and there is scattered scrub around. I am assuming the area we are in is a small farm holding during the rest of the year?

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I think I have been snapped while snapping.

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There are a number of small buildings and fenced areas as well as a number of large water troughs. You can lead a camel to water, but you cannot make it drink!

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I really liked the camels, they have amazing faces, and can pull the most wonderful expressions, most of the time they look a bit stupid, but sometimes you can see a smart knowing look in their eye.

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I was still after a classic silhouette photo, though did not manage to get one while I was there, always so much happening in the background. This was as close as I got.

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I suspect these three in the alley to the hotel were part of the mass dog brawl the other nights. There are an awful lot of dogs on the streets, but so far none have seemed intimidating or dangerous, though they do bark a lot at night.

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I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon in the hotel, it was a lot warmer today, and the town is so busy. There was no need to go outside; plus I had photos to edit and blogs to write. At 4:30 Trev and I met up again and ventured back up to the market. I found this rotting old scooter on the way.

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We decided to approach from a different angle this time and went to a field that was less crowded with tourists. We passed through the fairground on the way, it looks like it is starting up now, it has been quiet the past couple days. I think it is the first time I have seen pigs rooting around in the ground at the foot of a ferris wheel.

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The horse section of the fair is next to the fairground, and there was a lot of horse trading happening today.

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This field seemed to be more focused on farmers with one or two camels, compared to where we went yesterday where there seemed to be larger herds.

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With less tourists around we became a magnet for the kids looking for food or money, some demanding to have their photo taken. We were approached by a lovely looking gypsy girl and as Trev is into portraits rather than landscapes he agreed to take her picture for a few rupees. This triggered off all her friends/family members and within a flash there was five or six girls wanting in on the action. I really don’t photograph people, I am not comfortable doing it, and I am even less comfortable asking someone and then paying them. I hung on the perimeter and watched.

One girl turned up to the impromptu photo shoot quite late and missed out, she followed us around for ages asking for her photo to be taken – and for the small amount of rupees that come with it. In the end I relented and took a couple of pictures of Lila, she was a nice kid, determined to have her picture taken, she was also the only one who was prepared to do more than just stand there, and a did a dance pose for me. I would have liked to have been able to separate her more fully from the background, but over all I was happy with the photo I took.

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As soon as I pointed my camera at her another one of the girls popped into the frame. She was a bit older and far more cynical and bored about the whole thing, as long as she got her rupees. Maybe it is me who is old and cynical and it rubs off ?

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We got a bit weary of the demands in the end and took a slow walk through some of the fields back to where we were yesterday. So many camels, so many tourists!

 
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By the end of the day I was feeling like this.

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There are not many trees – but I had to take at least one photo as I do like a tree.

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Trev and I met up for dinner again and went back to the place we went to last night. It was not far from the lake so we took tripods along with the aim of doing some night shots. There are no bathers at night, and after 9:00 there were very few other people out.

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The photography was a bit of a wash out though. The lake, back dropped by the lights of the town were boring when shooting with the wide angle lens, and the big zoom was too heavy for the lightweight tripod. I tried to zoom in tight on some of the buildings as the shapes and shadows were quite interesting, but I could not get then camera still enough to get anything remotely sharp so we gave up and went back to the hotel. I took this one from the restaurant.

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I had a really good day! Though I think I am eating too much of this great Indian food.

I am not sure that Indian drivers really need the encouragement!

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‘No drugs, alcohol or non-veg food’. Pushkar.

Sunday 06 November 2016 – Pushkar, India.

I have come to Pushkar for the camel fair, the fair takes place over the first week or so of the annual Hindu Kartika festival. The camels and their herders arrive over the first few days and the bulk of the buying and selling happens four or five days after the fair starts. There is an expectation that up to 50,000 camels will come this year, along with numerous horses, goats, pigs and cows. My plan was to do the town based activities in the morning and then venture out to the fair in the late afternoon as the day cools down. I am also hoping to get some of the classic, camel silhouette against the setting sun shot, no originality here!

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It was a really bad night last night, the music stopped pretty much dead on midnight which was great, but the honking of motorbikes in the alleyways and from trucks, and buses delivering pilgrims to town, on the main roads went on for quite a lot longer. Once that had settled the dogs started howling and barking and there was a dog fight right outside the hotel at 2:30. Finally to cap it off; at 4:30 the mosque started up. I am so glad I had a full sleep the night before.

After breakfast I loaded up my camera bag and sauntered down the hill into town, I am getting a little familiar with the various alleyways and paths, and am reasonably confident I can find my way back to the hotel from most parts of the town. I was planning on walking around the lake today, the far side seems to attract a lot less people and I was hoping to be able to spend some time sat on the lake side enjoying some piece and semi-tranquillity.

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I made it about a quarter of the way around before running out of road. I could have walked around on the lake side; barefoot, of course, but was unsure if I was allowed to. So I didn’t. I spent a bit of time looking around town, the main streets are really crowded, loads of pilgrims are arriving for the religious part of the festival and loads of tourists are here to take photos. Hopefully obeying the cultural rules (as if!).

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Back at the hotel I met up with Trev, who I briefly met yesterday. We chatted for a while, he is English, a couple of years younger than me and into portrait photography. He has been to India numerous times, including the camel fair and speaks a little Hindi, which is very useful if you are doing portraits and want to communicate with your subjects! It was great to meet up with someone to go exploring with, it makes things so much easier having someone to talk to and watch your back as it were. It also meant that going out of the hotel at night to eat somewhere else was much safer, not that I ever felt unsafe at all, Pushkar is quite a friendly town.

Trev and I met up at 3:30 and started off with a visit to the lake. The lake is very busy in the morning, and quietens down in the late afternoon. As Trev has been here before and was more familiar with customs I found it is perfectly acceptable to walk around the lake front, so we did. Being careful to not to take photos of the bathers that were on the shore, as per the rules!

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When the light dropped and started to get a bit more interesting we went to the fair to look for some camel photography action. There were far more camels than yesterday, and I was surprised at A) how docile they were, walking around them was quite safe, and B) there was no smell. I had though being in proximity to a large number of animals would be a bit stinky. Not at all; maybe the fumes of Delhi and Jaipur had dulled my sense of smell.

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By my standards I took a lot of photos, almost 100. There were a lot of other people taking photos, and it times it was a bit of challenge to get shots with no photographers in them, or without one jumping in front of you. There was no such thing as manners here. The herders, in the main take it all in good, if rather bewildered, spirits.

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I loved this chap, you cannot just attend camel fair, you have to attend camel fair in style!

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By accident Trev and I found a good spot where the camels were coming round a corner of a field and the sun was dropping almost over head. We set ourselves up and ten minutes later we had been spotted and a whole bunch more people came over, almost crowding us out. We stayed there for a while as small groups and individual camels and herders passed by.img_0778 img_0800 img_0801

Along with the ever present camel tour. I was offered one by the hotel before I met Trev and am glad I did not take it, they do not look to be as interesting or as much fun as getting in amongst it all.

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Trev grabbed these two guys and had them pose for him, he got right down on his belly to get the post shots, and I snuck a quickie in while he was shooting. It was like watching a master at work.

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Once the sun had gone below the horizon we abandoned our spot and headed back to the area while the herds were going to camp.

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There was a little bit of trading gone this evening, a good study of a camels teeth is obviously crucial.

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It was a good session, and we left as the sun had almost gone. Back at the hotel it was a quick rush uploading images from the camera to the computer to see what I had got. I was pretty happy with my first day effort. It is quite tough shooting, lowish light, hazy conditions, a lot of movement in all directions and loads of others competing for the same shot. Fun in other words…

Trev and I went out for dinner, the food in our place is great, but Trev had found another restaurant that quietly sold beer, which is very rare in Pushkar. We met up with Greg, another photographer and England resident for food, a couple of cans of lager and lots of travel and photography talk.

It was a really good day, I very much enjoyed hanging out with those guys, seeing Pushkar and a hell of a lot of camels! Roll on tomorrow.

PS, yes I do love lens flare.  It was deliberate, honest!  🙂

Pushkar.

Saturday 05 November 2016 – Pushkar, India.

The big mission today was to get from Jaipur to Pushkar. By Indian standards they are virtually neighbours and the journey will only take three hours. However, for a middle aged westerner who has not travelled for a while and is out of the ‘zone’ this still seemed like enough of a challenge for one day. Though, in the end it was all too easy. Thankfully.

As I only have a short time in India and no room for faffing I have fully planned ahead. Train tickets and accommodation has been booked in all the towns I am staying in. This allows for no flexibility, but it does mean when I get up in the morning on a travelling day I know what I am doing, where I am staying and mostly, how I am going to get there. This does remove all of the stress of travelling when it has not been done for a while.

Not having to worry about the logistics of the morning, and having been awake for 30+ hours I surprised myself by sleeping for well over 8 hours last night. I was groggy when I woke, but felt damn fine for all that sleep. My first Indian breakfast of lassi and paratha was really nice and set me up well for my travels. The hotel had a roof top eating area and I found an old fort (maybe?) out the back, cool!

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I took a tuk tuk to the station which was about 1.5 kms from the hotel, the traffic around the station was pretty intense, but I was left alone as I made my way into the main hall. The sign providing information about the train was helpful.

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There was a version in English too I realised after watching for a while. English is spoken to some degree everywhere here, all the people I have met so far have had some English which does make travelling less complicated. The train was late, but not by a huge amount, I was a little nervous standing on the platform, I had no idea what to expect and had visions of very crowded trains.

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Even though I had booked the more expensive air conditioned carriage; it was still very cheap by UK standards. I expected there to be more westerners waiting for the train, I am going to Pushkar for the annual camel fair, which attracts a lot of tourists, so I was surprised to find there were only four other westerners on the platform, a group from Germany and they were heading somewhere else. This did ramp up my nerves a bit.

Which was all unfounded of course… I found a birth just fine, I was facing backwards which is not my preference, but it was entirely comfortable, quiet and ultimately enjoyable. I even had lunch on the train, a vege biryani that was very nice too. I took a few photos out of the window over the course of the 2 ½ hour journey. There was not a lot to see, flat, semi-arid farmland, all the way to Ajmer where I disembarked.

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I had heard stories of tourists being ‘pounced’ on by touts when they get off trains and was expecting this as I walked through the crowded ticket hall. Nothing. Outside only one bloke came up to me to ask if I wanted a taxi to Pushkar, which I did, he offered me a price less than I expected, so I said ‘yes’ to that and jumped into the back of his very small Suzuki mini-van. The ride took about 40 minutes, there was a lot of traffic on the road, so it was nice and slow, I didn’t need to hang on once, even as we snaked up and down through the small hills.

Pushkar is a small town, with about 14,000 residents normally. During the festival this swells to over 300,000. It was very busy when I arrived. I am staying in the Everest Hotel, up the hill from the main drag and with a great view over the town. If it were not for the numerous signs pointing in its general direction it would be impossible to find through the myriad of alleys and pathways in the upper town. It is a real warren, with the hidden dangers of speeding motorbikes to add to the fun, plus the dogs and cows and their little land mines…

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Pushkar is a small Hindu town wrapped around a very small lake on the edge of the large Thar desert. The lake was supposedly formed when the god Brahma dropped a lotus flower onto the earth. It is a very important Hindu pilgrimage town and all Hindus aim to make at least one pilgrimage here in their lifetime. The main pilgrimage time is now, in the month of Kartika, the eight month of the Hindu calendar. The desert tribesman come to the town for the pilgrimage and for the annual camel fair, up to 50,000 camels are caravaned across the desert to be traded. This is what attracts the tourists. The main camel fair takes place in the first week of the festival, with the main religious day being on the full moon later in the two week celebration period. I will not be here for that long sadly, but I do have three nights, so will see plenty of camel fair action I hope.

I met an English guy, Trev, as I checked in, he has been here before and promised to give me some camel fair tips, which was cool. Once I checked in and dumped my gear in my room, I grabbed my camera bag and headed out the door. I like my room, it is large and airy and reasonably comfy, and blessing of all blessings the shower is hot, something I will appreciate once the layers of dust start to make my hair feel like a nest.

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Unlike Jaipur I was not given a map of the streets, I doubt one exists, I was led down the hill a short way to a main intersection and left to it. I expected to get immediately lost. Which is fine by me, I am sure there is a lot to see.

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Deciding to check out the camel fair first I sauntered off in the direction I was pointed in, once out on the main road it was pretty easy to spot. I am assuming these two ferris wheels are not here all year round.

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It is still early days in the fair, and there are not many camels around. I did see some though, but these are dressed up to give rides to tourists. I am sure I will find plenty more during my stay.

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Horse trading is also part of the fair and there are a number of horses here, all tied into position which I thought was harsh on the horses, however I am not in England anymore and what is unacceptable there is not the case here. The horses from Rajasthan are unique in that their ears stick straight up from the top of their heads.

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It was about here that I discovered the recently repaired 24-105mm lens does not work. It worked when I last went to Epping Forest, but now it does not focus at all. I have been forced to use the heavier and longer 70-200. It is a lovely lens, but hopeless for close up work.  

I found this snake charmer who I paid about £1.20 to take some photos while he charmed the obviously stupored cobra, which I also got to touch. When in India. A bunch of Chinese tourists also took photos and when they did not pay they were followed down the road while he yelled at them. I wanted to go and tell them to not be so bloody rude!

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Knowing I would be back tomorrow I left the fair and walked down to the lake in the middle of the town. The lake is surrounded by 52 bathing gnats. These are not temples as such, but places to go and relax, meditate, pray and bathe in the holy lake.

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A couple of these are commercial operations aimed pretty much (being blunt) at scamming tourists. I got scammed. Not by much, but still more than I would have ‘donated’ to their charity. It did leave a sour taste, and sadly I did not read about it being a scam until later in the day. Fore-warned is for armed as they say. I also discovered that you should not take photos on the lake, as a number of the women bathe bare breasted, that was after I had taken photos…

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I was a bit disgruntled from being ripped off so went back up to the hotel, where I took a few photos over the town from the really nice roof top restaurant/relaxing area. It is a bit hazy today, but that has kept the temperature down to a decent level, which I appreciated.

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And of course the neighbourhood rhesus macaques!

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I spent the evening in the hotel, I am not yet confident enough to walk the streets at night on my own, getting lost in the dark would possibly not be a good idea, though I am sure it is a very safe place. It was a Saturday night and I ended up reading till midnight when the music finally stopped. And the dogs started…

This post has taken two hours to assemble from the already uploaded text and pictures, the internet it diabolically slow here.

Advice wanted on Pushkar and camera bags. These things are not related!

Thursday 01 September 2016 – London

After a fairly busy period we have had, what seems to be, a quiet couple of weeks. It hasn’t been of course; it is summer and it feels like we have been fully occupied, making the most of warm and rain free days and nights. I have just not taken many photos worth sharing!

We did visit Tate Modern and explore the brilliant new wing, what a fantastic building it is, inside and out. With bonus great views in all directions.

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We also went to a preview screening of ‘The curse of The Chills’ a film about one of my favourite New Zealand bands. Singer/songwriter/guitarist and main-stay Martin Phillips did a solo set after the screening which we both really enjoyed, he played a couple of my favourite Chills tracks, which is always a good thing.

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Amongst all this busyness we have been planning a bunch of new activities and the next couple of months are crammed with things to do. We have trips away, concerts, dinners, parties, and all sorts of other stuff organised or semi-organised before I head off to India and New Zealand in November.

Planning for my trip is going well. I have all my flights booked, which means dates are now all confirmed. I have two weeks in India, followed by three days in Brisbane visiting my son, two weeks in New Zealand with family and then two final days in Dubai on the way back to London to break up the journey. If life was perfect then I would be able to spend more time in each of those locations, but I guess I have to pay for these trips somehow. I should not complain, my life is pretty near perfect!

For this trip I have finally decided to take my DSLR with me. It is an old and heavy beast and I have avoided taking it away for, probably, all the wrong reasons. With the exception of visiting my daughter in Mcleod Ganj in the far north of India I am going to spend my time in Rajastan. I have timed my visit to coincide with the annual Pushkar Camel Fair a major festival in India and one I am expecting to be a source of some great photographic opportunities. Visiting this major event has prompted me to take more than just my pocket sized Canon G16.

Have you been to the camel fair ? If so please come and say hi, let me know what I should expect, or better still send me a link to your story if you have it shared on the interweb.

I am going to buy a new camera bag for the trip, mine is just not robust enough. I want something practical for a large DSLR body and three lenses, plus a 13inch laptop. It needs to be easy to carry for long periods in hot and dusty conditions and would be my day bag so it must have room for all the bits you would carry on a day out – not just camera things. I would like something that does not scream ‘I have a really expensive camera in me!’ I am open to any recommendations, so hit me with some in the comments.

Thanks Smile