Saturday, November 28, 2015

This is India! - 2016 Calendars Out Now

It's that time of the year again! :)

12 epic images from remote corners that showcase the incredible 
variety and beauty of Indian Landscapes!
(Plus an Early Bird Discount)

After last year's grand success, I'm back with a brand new calendar for the new year! The theme this time is "This is India!". I have picked images that are not typically associated with India or for images I have been asked if the location is India.

I still get quite amused whenever people just assume some of the places I've been to can't be in India. So, now get these images on your desk or on the wall and play a part in enlightening those who think India isn't beautiful enough. ;)

You can order the calendars in two sizes.

6" x 8" Desktop Calendar - Rs.750 (Sample)
9" x 11" Hanging Wall Calendar - Rs. 1250 (Sample)

Free shipping, anywhere in India.
Calendars will be shipped in December 3rd week.
And if you place an order before November 30th, you get an early bird discount. Discount coupon below.

Here are the images featuring in the calendar.

Place your order here:
(For International Shipping, drop me an email.)

Early Bird Offer!
If you place an order before November 30th, you get a 10% discount on the calendars.
Use the discount coupon ws2016 to avail the offer.

And if any you amazing people have a corporate offer, do drop me a mail to discuss. As a freelancer with no steady income, I'll be happy beyond belief to get a bulk order! :)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

I'm in Turkey and I'm Hiking the Lycian Way, for nearly a month!

My New Year resolution is to be more adventurous, climb more mountains, spend more time outdoors and return to the kind of crazy trips that drew you all to my blog to begin with. 2015 will be year where I'll happily embrace discomfort in return for an epic story. 

Earlier this year, I decided I'm going to get back to the great outdoors and to hike as much as I can. Starting the year with tracking snow leopard and later sometime camping in front of an active volcano to the recent trek from Spiti to Ladakh, I've had some great moments this year. Well the year is almost ending and I couldn't be happier about all the adventures I've undertaken so far but the best was certainly was kept for the last.

The magnificent Lycian Ruins at Phellos

I'm posting this short blog post from a camping site in Turkey as I prepare to head to the mountains for 3 days. I'm hiking a 430kms waymarked trail called the Lycian Way which is a footpath along the Turkish Coast from Fethiye to Antalya in the ancient Anatolia region. I'm hiking with a friend I met last year and we are carrying all our food, camping gear, water et al with us as we camp half the times and stay in pansyions(Turkish for guesthouses) the other half. The biggest challenge so far has been carrying the heavy backpack which weighs at least 15 kilos and the long distance we cover each day that range from 10 to 20kms at a time.

What excited me about this particular hike is that it's along distance trail. Going on a week long adventure is so different from doing something for a whole month! Besides, I'm hiking just with a friend which makes it all the more exciting and interesting as we both try to find our way, tackle the abundant shepherd dogs, camp in the wild and walk, walk, walk and then some more for all of three weeks. 

I'm already 10 days into the adventure and I have two more weeks of hiking ahead of us to reach Antalya. The first few days were tough getting used to the rigor but looks like I've fallen into the habit of waking up at dawn and walking till dusk or till the feet give away to the exhaustion. On the other hand, the coastal views have been incredibly beautiful, the charming little town along the sea are most amazing, super friendly locals and absolutely stunning ruins of the Lycian that dot the entire trail. I've got some amazing stories and a lot of research to do once I get back, but for now I can only share some pictures and moments I've captured on my mobile. 

Stunning coastline and the rugged mountains of the Anatolia region of Turkey
I've taken a local sim and there's network connectivity most of the times. This means I can post short updates constantly from my hike. Wish me luck and follow my journey along the trail as I try and post real time updates as often as possible here -

Also, there's a contest running on the blog where you can win a Himalayan trek, have you participated yet? (CONTEST: Win 2 Himalayan Treks in India with GIO! )

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

CONTEST: Win 2 Himalayan Treks in India with GIO!

In my seven years of outdoor adventures, I've derived the most joy, exhilaration and anguish from the mighty Himalayas. From being immensely intimidating to feeling like home now, Himalayas have had a very big part to play in what I've become today and what I've chosen to do for a living. An affair with the mountains cannot be a short one, it is a lifelong commitment. Once you're in, there is no way out. They'll be plenty of heartaches along the way but, obviously, all the trouble would be worth it and so much more. And I am so sorry for pushing you towards this agony! ;)

Himalayan Bliss
I stand in rapture on a stormy evening, in front of beloved Himalayas
For I have a new contest on the blog, the first one in fact, and it is only fitting that two treks to Himalayas with Great Indian Outdoors(GIO Adventures) are up for grabs on the blog. As many of you might remember, I had recently gone on a trek from Spiti to Ladakh via Parang La with GIO Adventures. And now, I want at least two of you, my lovely and supportive readers, to head out into the outdoors under the safe guidance of experienced guides and with good equipment.
ReadTrekking Along the Ancient Nomadic Trade Route - Spiti to Ladakh across Parang La

About GIO Adventures
GIO Adventures (est. 1999) is an Outdoors Adventure Company with a mission of making Himalayan destinations, not often found on regular maps, accessible to people who love discovering them. True to their mission, they have one of the largest collections I've seen so far, of Himalayan trek departures listed on their site. From something as offbeat as Parang La to something as popular as Hampta Pass, they can take you mostly anywhere in the whole gamut of Indian Himalayas. With their firm belief in keeping groups as small as 12, eco-friendly practices and world-class equipment, I highly recommend GIO Adventures for your next Himalayan adventure!

What do you win?

First prize winner can pick any one trek from a list of four week-long treks below:


Hampta Pass trek is a popular trek that takes you from the lush green valleys of Kullu & Manali to the other is the semi-arid region of the Lahaul valley
Kuari Pass & Pangarchula Peak is one of finest treks in the Indian Himalayas that takes you to a gorgeous region of Uttarakhand.


Chopta, Deoriatal, and Chandrashila Peak is one of the most enchanting short treks(5 days) and is in the Garhwal region of Himalayas. 
Kedar Kantha Summit Trek through snow-ridden dense forests and vast meadows makes for a perfect winter outdoor escape in the Himalayas.
Runner up can choose any one of the two 3-day treks below:


Nagtibba Trek is a splendid weekend trek near Dehradun with stunning views of Himalayas and plenty of lovely campsites amidst meadows.
Triund Trek near Dharamshala is an easy trek in the lower Dhauladhars where you'll climb a hill top just in front of the mighty ranges.
Now I know that many of you don't prefer to head out on a Himalayan trek alone, so here's something to sweeten the deal! If you win and choose to get a friend along, your friend is eligible to get a 35% discount on the trek fee.

How to Enter?

Using the form below, tell me in less than 300 words why you are enchanted by the Himalayas and you are entered for the contest! I'll look at the entries and announce the results soon.

Things to note:
  • There'll be two winners - first and second. And each winner can avail only one trek selected from the provided options as a prize.
  • All treks will be subject to availability, so the winners will have to give at least 3 options for dates to avail the trek prize. The departure dates can be found on the website.
  • The winners can avail the trek within 12 months of the announcement of results on the blog.  
  • Travel arrangements to and from the trek start and end point are not included in the prize and should be taken care of by the winners.
  • By entering the contest, you agree to the Terms and Conditions and the things listed above.
Last date to enter the contest: November 30, 2015

Results to be announced on: December 7, 2015

So get your creative hats on then, because the most evocative or insightful answers will win the prizes! :)

Enter the contest here
(Note: I have most of your entries submitted via the earlier form but in case you aren't sure 
or have sent me an email, please consider filling this more reliable google form instead)

  • The winners must be at least 18 years old.
  • Only one entry per person is allowed. Participants with multiple entries will be disqualified.
  • The two most creative entries, as judged by Neelima Vallangi, will win one Himalayan trek(listed above) each with GIO Adventures. No disputes will be entertained and the decision will be final.
  • All prizes are nontransferable, and there are no cash alternatives.
  • By entering this contest, you agree to receive updates from GIO Adventures by email in the future. You can unsubscribe at any time.
  • Winner absolves Neelima Vallangi and GIO Adventures of any and all liability regarding accidents, mishaps, problems with the activities, and any unforeseen circumstances before, during or after the trip.
  • The winner is responsible for transport, flights, visas, activities, insurance, personal expenses and anything other than the inclusions mentioned listed on the GIO Adventures website.
  • Changes to the contest terms, prizes or mechanism can be made at the sole discretion of Neelima Vallangi.
Good Luck then! 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Trekking Along the Ancient Nomadic Trade Route - Spiti to Ladakh across Parang La

Despite nearly losing one hiking boot to its flow just minutes before, crossing the thigh-high fast currents of the Pare Chu River at Norbu Sumdo felt strangely exciting. After all, there's only so much walking on river bed that one can take. Walking through dry valleys for days after crossing the high pass, even something as dangerous as a fast flowing river seemed like a welcome obstacle. Parang La is a strange trek, long and monotonous often times but it redeems itself with consistent days at high altitudes of above 4000m and mind-blowing views of Tso Moriri towards the end.

Parang La Trek, Kibber to Korzok
The incredibly blue waters of Tso Moriri, one of the highest lakes of Ladakh.
Ancient trek routes connecting remote lands always held a great fascination for me. Ever since I heard of one such historic route that connected Spiti to Ladakh across Parang La, I’ve wanted to get on that trail. The nomadic people of Changthang used this route in the earlier days extensively to attend the La Darcha trade fair in Spiti where the Changspa nomads came mainly to barter wool and barley in exchange for salt. Even today, many locals use this foot trail as the fastest and cheapest way to get across between Spiti and Ladakh. I was more than excited to be experiencing a slice of the local way of life in the mountains. Just like the Chadar becomes the highway for the people of Zanskar to reach Leh during winters, this route connects the people of Spiti and Ladakh during summers.

Parang La Trek, Kibber to Korzok
Fading Milkyway against a beguiling moon rise on the shore of the farthest end of Tso Moriri
Parang La Trek, Kibber to Korzok
My fellow hikers climbing up the gorge on the way to Dumla
Arriving at Kibber(4200m) with two other hikers, our guide and his support team of five, I stood in front of the ominous notice board warning hikers that the trek can get very dangerous after September 15th. Unprepared as I was and breathless already after barely a minute’s walk on flat ground (that’s high altitude and low oxygen at work!), I nervously made calculations in my mind if we’d be crossing on time. Thankfully, we were almost 3 weeks early before the open season ended.

Parang La Trek, Kibber to Korzok
Camping in secluded locations on moonlit nights is nothing short of magical!
Settling into my sweet little yellow Black Diamond tent at a clearing called Dumla, a small village beyond Kibber and our first campsite, I was immensely thankful for two things. One - that there were no other hikers around, as is the case with most of the popular treks in Himalayas these days. And two - that it was waxing moon period, meaning bright moonlit nights were going to keep me company as we camped in secluded locations over the next 10 days. Considering I am not fond of absolute darkness and that I will be bunked alone in the tent, I was more than happy with the big bright silver moon that lit up the skies every night. Except for the slight scare from the braying donkeys and barking shepherd dogs at night, I’m pretty pleased with this new development of camping alone in a tent. (Of course my group was camped next to me, but still!)

Over the next two days, we walked along gradual trails where we came across several fossils belonging to the Tethys Sea and enjoyed clear views of stunning Mt.Kanamo towering above the landscape. When the time came to cross the 5500m high pass, we got down to a deep gorge and climbed along a punishing moraine to reach the basecamp where furious winds ripped apart our tents for an hour before subsiding. Crossing the pass turned out to be a decent affair, the insane cold before sunrise and the oxygen deprived high-altitude being the only deterrents but nothing too unmanageable for an experienced hiker.

Parang La Trek, Kibber to Korzok
One of our guides, Prashant, sliding on the snow-filled slopes seen after crossing Parang La
The descent towards the other side, however, brought a large swathe of snowfield and plenty of glacial streams. Hiking on top of brittle ice formations over water channels crisscrossing beneath our feet turned out to be quite tiring and often times harrowing but the lure of a distant campsite along the riverbed kept us moving. What we didn’t realize was that much like a mirage in the desert, our campsite would never arrive despite seeming like it’s just around the corner. Looking for greenery so the donkeys could graze, we couldn’t stop just anywhere by the river. We walked and walked on the dry riverbed until we found a small patch of green almost after 9 hours since we started hiking that day. Tired, we collapsed into our tents thinking the worst was behind us. Normally, the toughest days on any trek are the summit or pass-crossing days but not on this one. We would be tested mentally over the next 7 days but for now, we reveled in the glory of safely crossing the 18300ft high Parang La pass, a mighty wall between the two legendary regions.

Parang La Trek, Kibber to Korzok
Nomadic Changspa returning to their lands after successfully finishing a trek to Spiti
Parang La Trek, Kibber to Korzok
The Pare Chu River and the vast riverbed that we walked along for what seemed like ages!
Over the next few days, we walked endlessly along the riverside in the valley between the mountains. The days were monotonous and mentally taxing for there was little change in scenery apart from more brown mountains and pebble-filled riverbed. The only thing that we were looking forward to, was reaching the shores of beautiful Tso Moriri, one of the world’s highest lakes at an altitude of almost 15000ft! When we reached the shore, I couldn’t resist the temptation to camp an extra day by its verdant shores observing the wildlife and soaking in the greenery around.

Parang La Trek, Kibber to Korzok
Kiangs seen at Kiangdom!
The best part of this trek was definitely hiking in the incredibly scenic Changthang region of Ladakh, one of the very few regions in Ladakh with greenery and abundant wildlife. The Bar Headed Geese that fly higher than Mount Everest roosted right next to our campsite and Kiangs, the endemic Tibetan Wild Asses of high Himalayas, strayed close examining the outsiders in their territory. I also enjoyed stalking the curious and very cute Marmots, which are not used to human presence at all in this region. I woke up to gorgeous sunrise views at farthest end of Tso Moriri and warmed myself around a bonfire at moonrise watching the many glacial streams light up even as the milkyway showed bright in the night sky.

On the last day I hiked almost 20kms along the shores of Tso Moriri to reach the village of Korzok on the other end. With this, I had explored the entire length of the two most gorgeous lakes of Ladakh; I had driven 40kms all across the length of Pangong Tso in India and walked across the length of Tso Moriri from one end to the other!

Parang La Trek, Kibber to Korzok
A view worth waking up to, camping on the shores of Tso Moriri
Now having walked, flown and driven to Ladakh on different trips, the only other means of transportation left to reach the roof of the world was cycling. Perhaps, it will be the next adventure that’ll see me arrive in Ladakh for the 7th time! But for that time, I was more than happy to treat my eyes to some greenery after almost 2 weeks of barren landscapes of Spiti and Ladakh. Between the lush greens, however, flashes of those empty landscapes shining bright on moonlit nights will surface every so often and I’ll go running back to the very same strange place that feels like home!


Trek Operator:
I was invited to join this trek with Great Indian Outdoors (GIO) which happens to be one of the very few companies offering this trek in India at a reasonable price. The equipment provided was excellent and I would even say this was a luxurious trek in terms of facilities and comforts provided when compared to many other treks I have been on in the past.

Two reasons I can highly recommend GIO for your next Himalayan adventure are one - they strongly believe in small group adventures (which means no 30 member teams!) and two - they have plenty of fixed departures which solo hikers and small groups can join to avoid sky high costs.

P.S - There’s a contest coming up next week where two Himalayan treks with GIO will be up for grabs! Watch this space. :)

Also read:
Struggling toward hope at 16000ft – A trek in remote Himachal Pradesh where we crossed from lush green Chamba into barren brown Lahaul through Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary over the 5000m high Kugti Pass

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Eclipsed yet Wondrous Jungles of Chitwan National Park, Nepal

The ubiquitous whistle of Indian Cuckoo was echoing in the far distance and soon it would become the only sound I’d associate with Nepal for years to come. The golden of a dawn sky reflected in the glimmer of River Rapti flowing in front of me as a thin veil mist lifted from the lush hills where the river disappeared from my sight. The grasslands on the opposite bank swayed in the gentle morning breeze and a Riverine forest extended well beyond. It was just my first morning in Chitwan National Park but I was already in love with the magical serenity of Terai.

Deer at Chitwan National Park, Nepal
A misty morning in Chitwan National Park where curious Cheetal stopped to observe the intruders
When I think of Nepal, lofty Himalayan peaks were the only things that sprang to my mind for years! Home to seven 8000+ meter high peaks and many more impressive mountains, it’s hard for anything else to fight for attention living under the shadow of such a formidable presence.

So the first thing that sprang to my mind when I was planning to a trip to Nepal earlier this year was that I need to overlook the mountains and find something else to write about. And that’s how I ended up in the jungles of Chitwan National Park. Recognized as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and declared a World Heritage Site in 1984, the ecosystem of Chitwan is the last surviving pristine example of Terai region.

One of the only 3000 remaining wild One-Horned Rhinos in the world, seen in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
A one-horned Rhino basks in the late evening sun in Rapti River
I have had only glimpses of Terai before while passing through West Bengal; and I have always wanted to spend considerable time reveling in the beauty of Sal forests, Riverine forests and Savanna grasslands that form the ecosystem. Naturally, I was thrilled to have spent a whole week in the jungles of Chitwan that were bound by the Rapti and Narayani rivers where I was staying and Indian border on the other side. I had no clue what to expect from Chitwan in terms of animal sightings and activities that would keep my occupied during my time there. Now, I can safely vouch that you can in fact spend a whole week in Chitwan and not get bored.

Sauraha is the more famous and densely packed village where plenty of resorts and hotels have popped up, thereby creating a very touristy atmosphere. I, on the other hand, stayed at a faraway village called Meghauli where only two resorts existed including the one I was at. My days in Chitwan went by like a dream, calm and serene. I almost saw no other tourist apart from the ones staying at my resort and that’s a big deal considering how inundated Nepal is, with travellers from all over the world.

I spent my days hiking in the forest, going on wildlife safaris, bird watching and rowing up and down Rapti River. Given that Meghauli hardly sees much action in terms of visiting tourists, the animals in this part of the National Park were immensely shy and would run for the cover the minute they would hear the sound of an approaching vehicle. This made observing wildlife even more interesting.

Tracking animals on foot in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
Prem Gurung, one of my guides, looks for wildlife during a long hike in the forest
However, one of the most fascinating things that I had experienced in Chitwan was tracking animals on foot. Unlike National Parks in India, hiking in the forests of Nepal is allowed. I found it insanely exhilarating yet equally distressing to be walking in the same forest amongst the company of wild animals. We encountered massive 2000-kilo One-Horned Rhinos several times during our walks that got my heart racing like it was about to burst out of my ribcage!

Jackal in the grasslands of Chitwan National Park, Nepal
A Jackal in the grasslands next to Rapti River
The One-Horned Rhinos, Tigers, Leopards and other animals of Chitwan National Park suffered severe poaching during the 10 year Maoist Insurgency period in Nepal that lasted till 2006. However, soon after, Nepal’s government took extensive measures to protect the wildlife and doubled the numbers of Rhinos that had plummeted to 375 making it a rare conservation success story in a world where wildlife conservation is increasingly becoming a lost cause. The park is extensively patrolled by a battalion of army who are stationed at several spots in the area. I encountered many of these foot soldiers during my jaunts into the park and I was suitably impressed by Nepal Govt’s commitment to protecting their wilderness.

An 18-foot Rock Python in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
We stumbled upon a huge Rock Python basking in the sun during our forest hike
The jungles were indeed lovely and teeming with all sorts of wildlife creating strange dramas. I remember giggling at the sight of a tiny black Drongo chase a giant Great Indian Hornbill and marveling at the pulsating sound of Oriental Pied Hornbills flying over my head. I also remember feeling spellbound after my first sighting of the marvelous plumage of the exotic and long tailed Asian Paradise Flycatcher. I always thought of myself as a non-birder but somewhere over the course of several jungle explorations, I seemed to have turned into one.

Chilling out at the confluence of Rapti and Narayani Rivers in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
At the confluence of Rapti and Narayani, the two rivers that mark the north-eastern boundary of Chitwan National Park
Probably that’s the charm of Chitwan, it will turn you into an ardent admirer of all things wild. Now, I even fondly look back upon my heart-stopping encounter with a humongous 18-foot Rock Python while I was on foot in Chitwan! And to think that the mammoth mountains grossly overshadow all this glory. Next time you plan a trip to Nepal, do consider starting from the plains before you head up to the hills! You can thank me later.

Where to stay:

I was hosted by Pugdundee Safaris at their recently acquired Barahi Jungle Lodge in Meghauli village. Keeping in line with the Pugdundee ideology, the property is eco friendly, environment-conscious, uses locally sourced material and emulates the indigenous Tharu architectural design. During my fortunate stint as a travel blogger/writer, I’ve stayed in plenty of rather luxurious properties but without a doubt the rustic cottage at Barahi happens to be my most favorite one so far!

Barahi Jungle Lodge, Overlooking Chitwan National Park, Nepal
I'm usually not that in self portraits but had to take out the tripod to capture the blissful memory of watching over the grasslands from my room balcony 
Located on the banks of Rapti River, right opposite the grasslands of Chitwan National Park, location is golden in case of this property. My room had huge glass windows through which I could see the grasslands, night sky and the colors of sunrise sneak up at dawn every day. Every single minute of the day that I didn’t spend in the jungle was spent sitting in the lovely balcony overlooking River Rapti and the National Park. Without getting into lengthy descriptions of the property, I would just highly recommend spending a night or two here to experience the beauty of the Chitwan yourself!

As the tourism season for Nepal draws near after the devastating earthquake, I can't help but think of the immense beauty of the country and how it needs tourism to return now more than ever. Go now!

Disclaimer: My stay at Barahi was sponsored by Pugdundee Safaris, opinions as always are mine!

More Stories from the Jungles:

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Foundry Photojournalism Workshop 2015 - Review and Takeaways

3 weeks ago, I, along with almost hundred other photographers from all over the world were packed in a room somewhere in Ubud, spellbound by immensely powerful and beautiful visual stories by some of the world’s top photojournalists. I was at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop 2015 happening in Bali, Indonesia.

So what is this Foundry Photojournalism Workshop?

Few months ago, randomly scrolling through my twitter feed I stumbled upon a link to the Foundry Workshops. At the outset, the workshop is all about mentoring emerging photographers from developing nations so we can tell our own stories better. And the best part is that they get world’s top photographers, actually working in the field to mentor you as instructors for a whole week at insanely affordable cost($450). The instructors and the whole Foundry team volunteers their time to make this happen and the fees collected from attending students are just to cover the ground expenses of conducting the workshop. I took one look at the list of instructors for 2015 and I knew I had to sign up for this.

Represented by world’s top agencies such as Getty, Panos, VII and covering stories for reputed publications such as National Geographic, New York Times, TIME, etc, the list of photographers teaching at the workshop seemed too good to be true.(Anyone from developing nations who has considered or attended workshops with top international photographers knows how steep the workshop prices can be!) At that time, I had no idea how intense or inspiring that week would be.

This is how it works.

After registering at their site, few weeks before the workshop commences you get to choose your instructor(s) whose class you want to attend. You arrive at the location (changes every year) hopefully with a story idea already chalked out. Then you work on it during the whole week under the guidance of your instructor. There will be daily sessions where your work is edited, discussed, story is fine-tuned and you take the feedback and work on it the next day. At the end of the 5-day workshop, your work is edited down to a 10-image story and shown on the final night along with all other students’ work.

Along with all the shooting that you’ll do, the week is also packed with sessions - daily classes with instructors, additional classes on marketing, copyright laws, privacy, image processing etc and evening sessions where the instructors themselves showcase and talk about their work.

Despite being a travel photographer, why did I choose to attend a photojournalism workshop?

Months after registering, I was flying into Bali with much anticipation and equally anxious about learning the craft of visual storytelling from the best. I had chosen to attend Adriana Zehbrauskas and Paula Bronstein’s class. I was somehow very curious to know how women photojournalists worked in tough conditions. And my main motive of attending the workshop was to infuse some much needed story telling and if possible, few documentary style elements into my otherwise “just pretty” photography.

I knew I was sitting on a gold mine of important stories and had access to some insanely wonderful places and communities (a fact reinforced by discussions with few of the instructors). Going forward I wanted to be able to tell the stories of these wonderful places and communities in an insightful way and not just document them for the sake of posterity. For instance, imagine how awesome it would be if I could sensibly portray the tough life of Bakarwals, the nomadic shepherd community of Kashmir or document the mind-boggling water shortage faced in the world’s wettest place!

So what did I learn?

That photography is just like writing, actually it’s very stupid of me to not realize storytelling is the same no matter what the medium is. But this exact point was driven home like crazy during the one week, how to infuse your story into a compact set of images.

Beyond that, it was the complete approach that happened to be a great learning experience. Thinking of a story, finding your subjects then trying to form a narrative. And it felt so rewarding to go back to a place and shoot everyday on the same subject - trying to get more familiar with the story, predict what would happen and shoot images representing a specific idea.

Discussing daily with the instructors, I also learned how to interpret a story and individual images when I see one. Editing was an important part of the process; we had two instructors and two assistants. And everyone had their own way of seeing and editing a given set of images. I realized maintaining that individuality was pertinent to arrive at your own style.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible to have such a positive experience without the very patient and helpful instructors and the incredibly warm people of Bali who made me feel very welcome. I spent many hours every day in someone’s home watching and photographing them go about their work. We couldn’t communicate much because often I would be alone without my guide and my hosts would speak little or no english. But the lack of much talk notwithstanding, they always took great care of me and it felt amazing to be a part of their lives for that one week.

When I travel, this is what I look for and in many ways, I realized, working on a story leads to that exact outcome I’m after - immersive experiences that show me a glimpse of the local life and their culture. I specifically chose to document a Balian(traditional healers) who specializes in black magic. He commands unwavering faith and people take everything from him - beating, hair pulling and even spitting. It turned out to be a big challenge to first, find an authentic Balian and second, photographing the entire ritual stuck in a small box shaped room.

In the end, I'm quite happy with the story (not the result) I chose to work upon. Because any person you would speak to in Bali will have a story about visiting a Balian and this is a very integral part of Balinese culture. I will share the images from this project very soon. I found a direction and focus that I felt I was missing earlier. Hopefully, my stories henceforth will be more insightful and well thought out. *Fingers crossed*

Here are my tips to get the most out of this workshop!

  • Have a story idea ready by the time you arrive at the first class and if possible do the recce too. You will get the most out of the workshop if you get daily feedback on your shoots and image edits. Unfortunately for me, I had just one round of edit and feedback as I took long time to find my subject. Taking the feedback and heading back to shoot the next day is immensely helpful and so is the daily edit process. On an average, you’ll have classes on four out of the five workshop days before the final edit and presentation happens on the last day.
  • If there’s a particular idea or vision that you want to work on, fight for it and get guidance on how to make it work. Just doing something for the sake of doing something drastically different from your usual work won’t be helpful. Work on something that challenges you yet aligns with your end goal.
  • Do attend all the evening sessions to get massively inspired as the instructors and the assistants present and talk about their work. It’s also a great opportunity to strike a conversation with the instructors and network with fellow students who have come from all over the world. The community and the connections you make, I realized, become a very important and rewarding outcome of the whole workshop experience.
  • With a changing location every year, there are bound to be some challenges and unexpected issues. Be prepared for some minor setbacks and talk it out with your class assistants and instructors when you face any issue or feel like you are not getting enough time with the instructors.

Finally, here’s why I think Foundry is absolutely bang for buck, especially for Indian Photographers!

Storytelling and especially visual storytelling is a difficult craft that needs a lot of honing and mentoring. Above all, it needs a lot inspiration. During the 5 years that I have taken up photography, never have I been inspired so much to tell a story, any story. It was always about getting one good shot, just an independent shot that fit nowhere in the arc of storytelling. Without a purpose, I was as lost as a fish out of water. I always just thought of making pretty pictures, now I see that even a landscape can have a story to tell.

In the beginning when I had just bought my camera, I was eager to meet the photography community and go on one of those several photowalks where several DSLR-wielding people flocked a market or a slum or a busy street over the weekends. Try as I may, I could never get excited enough about the prospect of shooting in a market. They all came back with beautiful pictures but none of those images stuck with me. I forgot them as I saw. They made no sense. And when I saw a photostory, it all went above my head. Learning to see is just as difficult as telling I suppose. I related more to the traveller tribe(who always had the most outrageous stories to share) and never integrated into the photography community.

Now, it surprises me that there are so many wonderful amateur Indian photographers out there creating beautiful and strong individual imagery but so few of them actually work on a full story. I cannot even imagine the amazing work that will be produced with some guidance. I’ve noticed that many of the top visual storytellers of our country at the moment have studied in international photography schools where they possibly learnt how to tell and decode a story. Here in India, there seems to be no easy access to learn the craft and the difficult onus is completely on us if we want to find guidance, learn and understand the complex art of visual storytelling. We hardly have prominent photo festivals or a way to interact with the professional photographer community working on real stories across the country. Wish this would change in the coming years but until then, we at least have Foundry for that much-needed inspiration and learning!

P.S - Just in case you’re wondering, the entire trip and workshop was self-funded :)

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