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Kolkata & Kumbh Mela Kolkata (Calcutta), Allahabad and Varanasi

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January 28, 2019
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12 Days
Availability : 28-01-2019
Kolkata, India

India Kumbh Mela Photo Adventure Vacations – Inspire, Create and Learn.

Welcome to Kolkata and the Kumbh Mela Festival. They are sure to inspire and capture your soul, in more ways than you can imagine.

Kolkata is India’s second-biggest city, and a daily festival of human existence, simultaneously noble and squalid, cultured and desperate, decidedly futuristic while splendid in decay. By its old spelling, Calcutta readily conjures images of human suffering to most Westerners – although that’s not a complete picture of this 350-year-old metropolis. Locally, Kolkata is regarded as India’s intellectual, artistic and cultural capital. Although poverty is certainly apparent, the self-made middle class drives the city’s core machinery, a nascent hipster culture thrives among its millennial residents and its dapper Bengali gentry frequent grand, old colonial-era clubs. As the former capital of British India, Kolkata retains a feast of colonial-era architecture contrasting starkly with urban slums and dynamic new-town suburbs with their air-conditioned shopping malls. Kolkata is the ideal place to experience the mild yet complex tang of Bengali cuisine. Friendlier than India’s other metropolises, this is a city you ‘feel’ more than simply visit.

Kumbh Mela (the festival of the sacred Pitcher) is the largest peaceful congregation of pilgrims on earth, during which participants bathe or take a dip in a sacred river. Devotees believe that by bathing in the Ganges one is freed from sins liberating her/him from the cycle of birth and death. Millions of people reach the place without any invitation. The congregation includes ascetics, saints, sadhus, aspirants-kalpavasis and visitors. The festival is held at Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik every four years by rotation and is attended by millions of people irrespective of caste, creed or gender. Its primary bearers, however, belong to akhadas and ashrams, religious organizations, or are individuals living on alms. Kumbh Mela plays a central spiritual role in the country, exerting a mesmeric influence on ordinary Indians. The event encapsulates the science of astronomy, astrology, spirituality, ritualistic traditions, and social and cultural customs and practices, making it extremely rich in knowledge. As it is held in four different cities in India, it involves different social and cultural activities, making this a culturally diverse festival. Knowledge and skills related to the tradition are transmitted through ancient religious manuscripts, oral traditions, historical travelogues and texts produced by eminent historians. However, the teacher-student relationship of the sadhus in the ashrams and akhadas remains the most important method of imparting and safeguarding knowledge and skills relating to Kumbh Mela.

This adventure is designed not only to guide you to the most photogenic locations carefully planned for the best light, but to aid you in mentally visualizing a scene before capturing the decisive moment. Our aim is to raise your awareness and spark your creativity, so that you not only go home with images to be proud of, but use your new found skills to improve and expand your photographic technique in general. Apart from the technical aspect of learning your camera settings and capabilities, you will learn how to turn an ordinary image into an extraordinary image by using your own creativity.

In addition, you will become knowledgeable on how to survey the landscape, utilize and approach your environment, photograph people indigenous to the region and the cultural considerations and challenges of photographing in a foreign country. Our time together will include individual and group discussions, inspiring ideas and great fun. We cannot think of a better country to express your creativity than India.

KOLKATA & KUMBH MELA 12 DAYS

Day 1 | Kolkata (Calcutta)

Upon meeting at our hotel in Kolkata, we will enjoy our group introductions and discuss the days ahead. We will have lunch at one of our favorite Indian restaurants where we will discuss over lunch our individual photographic styles, preferred subjects, techniques and level of experience. We will also talk about what to expect over the coming days, and how to achieve our photographic goals.

Kolkata is India’s second-biggest city, and a daily festival of human existence, simultaneously noble and squalid, cultured and desperate, decidedly futuristic while splendid in decay. By its old spelling, Calcutta readily conjures images of human suffering to most Westerners – although that’s not a complete picture of this 350-year-old metropolis. Locally, Kolkata is regarded as India’s intellectual, artistic and cultural capital. Although poverty is certainly apparent, the self-made middle class drives the city’s core machinery, a nascent hipster culture thrives among its millennial residents and its dapper Bengali gentry frequent grand, old colonial-era clubs. As the former capital of British India, Kolkata retains a feast of colonial-era architecture contrasting starkly with urban slums and dynamic new-town suburbs with their air-conditioned shopping malls. Kolkata is the ideal place to experience the mild yet complex tang of Bengali cuisine. Friendlier than India’s other metropolises, this is a city you ‘feel’ more than simply visit.

We’ll spend the afternoon focusing on cityscape photography from the huge 4 points junction in Bowbazar area near Central Kolkata. We’ll take shots from the roof of a tall building capturing moving trams and thousands of commuters, buses & taxis moving in different directions from low light through twilight. In the evening we enjoy a wonderful Bengali “Welcome Dinner”. (D)

Day 2 | Kolkata – River Ganges – Tomb of Mother Teresa Sarani 

After breakfast we will focus on “Life on the Ganges” photography in various ghats on the river to capture a diverse subjects and activities. The flower market will be the starting point followed by the Kumartuli potters’ village (where clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses are made), and finally the Bagbazaar ghat (a flight of steps leading down to a river), downstream on the river. After we will take you to South Park Street Cemetery to view the tomb of Mother Teresa Sarani.

After lunch we will visit the spice market, fish market and vegetable markets. Later we take a tram ride from Shyambazar to B.B.D. Bag, where you will get excellent photo opportunities. (B)

Day 3 | Kolkata – Shadows of Calcutta

After breakfast we set out for a riverside walk where we will capture traditional wrestling, pavement dwellers and morning life. We will take you to Akharas like Shree ‘Swami Gyan Yoganand Parimath’ and Malik Ghat on the banks of the River Hooghly near the Howarh Bridge. Traditional Indian wrestling isn’t just a sport – it’s an ancient subculture where wrestlers live and train together and follow strict rules on everything from what they can eat to what they can do in their spare time. Drinking, smoking and even sex are off limits. The focus is on living a pure life, building strength and honing their wrestling skills.

After lunch we will focus on the “Shadows of Calcutta” featuring portraits, yellow taxis and the old tram.(Typically permission for photography at train stations is not allowed as they are protected areas. However, we will do our best to get permission from inside the railway station and also gain insider access to the depot where they store the trams at night). (B)

Day 4 | Kolkata – Slums – Marble Palace – Sunset

Early morning photo walk through a Kolkata slum to help keep things in perspective. After lunch we visit the Marble Palace, a stunning piece of architecture. Built in 1835 by a raja from the prosperous Mallick family, this resplendent mansion is as grand as it is curious. Arguably one of India’s best-preserved royal homes, its marble-draped halls are overstuffed with dusty statues of thinkers and dancing girls, much Victoriana, ample Belgian glassware, game trophies of moose heads and fine paintings, including supposedly original works by Murillo, Joshua Reynolds and Rubens. In the evening we focus on a sunset scene before going to dinner. (B)

Day 5 | East Kolkata – Ramsar Conservation Wetlands – Portraits

Early morning departure for the wetlands of East Kolkata to capture low light portraits of the fisherwomen engaged in fishing and other interesting livelihood activities. This huge wetland conserved as the Ramsar Conservation Site has a wonderful mixture of urban as well as rural settings so close to Calcutta. After we return to our hotel for breakfast and some leisure time. After lunch we focus on portraits of hand pulled rickshaw drivers, palmists and other interesting people on the roadside. (B)

Day 6 | Kolkata – Varanasi (Flight) – Allahabad

After breakfast we depart for the airport to board our flight for Varanasi followed by a drive to Allahabad. Upon arrival we will check into our deluxe tented camp. Ardh Kumbh Mela is held only once every six years in Allahabad. The Magh (Kumbh) Mela is one of the greatest annual religious affairs for Hindus. Hindu mythology considers the origin of the Magh Mela to be the beginning of the Universe. An important occasion, the Magh (Kumbh) Mela is held every year on the banks of Triveni Sangam (the confluence of the three great rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati) in Prayag near Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh.

The story goes like this… the drops of the nectar of immortality fell near Sangam and are believed by the people to have given mystical powers to the place as millions gather at the ghats to purge themselves of all sins by taking a dip in the waters and attain Moksha (Salvation). Young and old, fit and frail; all regions, castes, and creed aside, it becomes the single most brilliantly unifying experience ever. The place itself, overrun by Naga Sadhus, who never wear any clothes and are always smeared in ash; Urdhwavahurs, non-indulgent in physical pleasures; Parivajakas, having taken a vow of silence; and Shirshasins, who stand for all 24 hours and meditate, transforms as if from another realm. (B) (D)

NOTE: As vehicles of any sort are not allowed in the fairgrounds, guests should be prepared to walk for up to 4-7 miles during the main event of Kumbh Mela.

Day 7 | Allahabad – Ardh Kumbh Mela

After breakfast we begin our journey to capture the essence of Kumbh Mela. You will witness an amazing array of ascetics, saints and sadhusl from all across India. In Allahabad every six (6) year it is celebrated in the month of January-February when Jupiter is in Aries or Taurus and Sun and Moon are in Capricorn during the Hindu month of Magha. During the main bathing days, it will be a grand spectacle to photograph this sea of humanity as well as to photograph the holy men as they walk to take the royal bath here. (B) (D)

Day 8 | Allahabad – Mauni Amavasya – Main Royal Bath 2nd Shahi Snan

Today is the main bathing date so it’s a full day of photo opportunities at Kumb Mela. The Holy Bath- The Most Important Ritual of the Kumbh Mela. Mauni Amavasya is the New Moon Day of Silence in the lunar month of Paush (Jan-Feb). It is the most important bathing day in holy rivers, preferably in a confluence. The Mauni Amavasya is considered the most auspicious day for bathing due to a special celestial configuration and has traditionally attracted the largest crowds at the grand mela. (B) (D)

Day 9 | Allahabad – Varanasi 

After breakfast we will get our last photo opportunities during Kumbh Mela. In the afternoon we will drive to Varanasi and arrive in the early evening. Varanasi, also known as Benares (Banāras or Kashi), is an Indian city on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, 790 km (490 mi) southeast of Delhi. It is the holiest of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) in Hinduism, Ravidassia religion and Jainism, and played an important role in the development of Buddhism. Some Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Varanasi is also known as the favourite city of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva as it has been mentioned in the Rigveda that this city in ancient times was known as Kashi or “Shiv ki Nagri”. (B)

Day 10 | Varanasi – River Ganges – Widows of Varanasi 

Today we are up early to take a sunrise boat cruise on the River Ganges, and the opportunity to capture vivid photographs of devoted Hindus bathing in the river. These photos of Hindus offering their prayers against morning sunlight make the journey quite rewarding. After we return to our hotel for breakfast.

Next we will experience an emotional visit with the Widows of Varanasi. Varanasi may be colorful and move at a frenetic pace, but the city harbors a darker secret – it is home to 38,000 widows, a marginalized and forgotten population, of which the majority live in poverty. Abandoned in the city and shunned by society, many seek refuge in the different ashrams for widows. When widows are thrown out of their households, they come to Varanasi because it is a holy city. It is the favorite city of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva, and they believe that if they die there they will go straight to heaven. Widows call it Moksha – when the final release from reincarnation is gained. A significant portion of the widows in Varanasi are aged between 20 and 45, along with elders. Poverty and disease, including HIV infection, are some of the main reasons young women are being widowed at such a young age. But cultural practices, namely child marriage, are a major driving force behind this problem in India. Girls are often married at an early age, sometimes as teenagers to much older men. When the men die, the women are left as widows. India has the highest number of child brides in the world. Poverty, dowries, gender expectation, tradition and a lack of educational opportunities for girls are the reasons behind this problem.

Our afternoon and evening will be spent exploring and photographing more of Varanasi. In the evening we will witness one of the ceremonies taking place along the banks of the Ganges. In the evening we will witness the pious and really moving Arti ceremonies. (B)

Day 11 | Varanasi – Bathing Ghats – Bengali Tola – Sadhus

Today we begin even earlier. Our guide meets us at our hotel before sunrise, so you can witness the amazing spectacle which takes place on Varanasi’s waterfront at the start of every day. The principal attraction of Varanasi is the long string of bathing ghats, which line the west bank of the River Ganges. Ghats are the steps which lead down to the river from which pilgrims make their sin-cleansing dip in the holy river and on which bodies are cremated. A boat ride on the Ganges at dawn, when it is full of pilgrims, is an amazing experience, and our guide can explain to you the various rituals taking place.

Leaving the boat after passing the most important Ghats, we will continue on foot for a fascinating exploration of the narrow lanes of the Bengali Tola area of Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth. Here we will pass countless small temples, shrines, and traditional shops. Our guide will provide a unique insight into this most fascinating of cities, which would otherwise be incomprehensible to the outsider. Along the way we’ll set up several photo sessions with local Sadhus. In the evening we enjoy a wonderful “Farewell Dinner” at a favorite Varanasi restaurant. (B) (D)

Day 12 | Varanasi – Delhi (Flight)

After breakfast we transfer to the airport to board our return flight to Delhi for your connecting flight home or book a later departure hotel room and rest up. (B)

May all who come as guests… leave as friends®

Experience | Difficulty

Beginner, amateur, enthusiast and semi-pro photographers

DSLR, mirrorless, compact or iPhone cameras

Busy schedule

Travel by private air-conditioned car or mini-van, domestic flights

Minimal elevation changes and lots of walking

(non-photographers also welcome)

Includes

Professional photographer | guide

Photo walks & discussions

Small group size (4-8 guests)

5 star hotels

Tented camp (deluxe tent)

Breakfasts

5 lunches and 4 dinners

Airport transfers

All Entrance fees

Local transportation

Accommodations

Kolkatta – The Oberoi Grand or similar

Allahabad – Tented Camp (Luxury Tent)

Varanasi – Hotel Madin or similar

Travel Information

Our adventure begins at 11 AM on the first day and ends at noon on the last day.

Travel Visa: A visa may be required depending on your nationality.

Price

Single Supplement:  $1400

Upgrade to Super Luxury Tent Camp:  $800

(Optional) Early Arrival Hotel Room:  $350

(Optional) Late Departure Hotel Room:  $350

Options and Benefits

Private Guided Tours & Adventures

We offer amazing private guided photo adventures, cultural tours and vacations for individuals, couples, families and groups. We can customize any of our published adventures, as well as others, to meet your individual needs, schedule, budget and interests. This may include the finest 5-star accommodations, business-class travel, and private guides and fixers who are able to make the impossible possible. If you are not interested in a photo-centric vacation, but you love our approach to private travel, we will be happy to design and deliver an amazing adventure focused on travel, culture and cuisine.

Travel Insurance

We offer travel insurance through Travelex. The cost for travel insurance can be as low as 4% of the total trip cost, depending upon age and other factors. Knowing you have trip cancellation coverage can make a big difference should you have to cancel for some unforeseen reason. Travelex Insurance Services is a BBB Accredited business with an A+ rating.

About Photographer

LAURIE COHEN

Street, Landscape and People Photographer

ISRAEL

Born in Jerusalem, raised in London and spending most of his time since a teenager traveling around the globe, you could say that living in Barcelona for the last 10 years has been the longest time that you could find Laurie in one spot!

Combining his extensive travels with his photography background, Laurie has been offering photography tours for over 20 years. He enjoys nothing more than using his experience to aid photo enthusiasts in the technical and creative skills needed to turn an ordinary image into an extraordinary one – all the while guiding his students to Barcelona’s most photogenic locations.

His first foray in photography started when he was just 13. He documented his adventures when he sailed with his brother, father, and Ruby the family dog, from England to Israel on a 3.5 month sailing trip on their yacht. With a deep connection to the sea, and still a teenager, he set about his first freelance business in Southeast Asia where he offered underwater photographic tours to divers using the Nikonos underwater camera system. Since then, he has been a photo tour guide in some of the most exotic locations found anywhere on the globe.

As well as using professional DSLR’s and lenses, Laurie considers himself a purist and still uses his film cameras on occasion. He tries to convey on his tours that it is not the equipment that makes a great image, but what the photographer is trying to achieve before they even take the lens cap off the camera. A difficult thing to achieve, with so many photographic opportunities in this amazing city.