Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Time to grow up (and go self-hosted)

I had been thinking for long time, now I've finally made the decision and gone self-hosted.

In the two years I've kept this blog (which will still be regularly updated), I've loved the interaction with readers and other bloggers, it felt like my travels were more meaningful if I could share my experiences and provoke other people's reaction or even make them plan a trip themselves.

I have also enjoyed the Blogger platform, and admittedly got quite spoiled by it, as it's extremely easy to use. But now I feel I'm ready to challenge myself with a self-hosted website. Not because I feel very HTML-savvy, (erm, quite unexperienced, actually), but because I wanted more space, more "independence", in a nutshell, I wanted to "grow up".

My new website's title is Chasing The Unexpected. Who reads this blog, also knows how much I like unearthing the most hidden and quirky aspects of the countries I visit, and the purpose of Chasing The Unexpected is exactly to highlight nuances of places and cultures that media and tourist organizations neglect.

The best way not to miss any of my future articles, of course is to subscribe to my feed reader, I hope to see you all there!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Would you RANT a motorbike?

Like in every country, also in India the colors are given by its inhabitants. Hanging around the picturesque and quirky towns in the Rajasthan state, my attention was inevitably captured by markets, animals and shop signs.

Many Indians speak a good English, although sometimes they write it how it sounds, making it look exquisitely local.

How can you not be enticed to try the Italiyan restaurant in Jaisalmer?

Would you prefer taking a local "taxi" or rant a motorbike?


Whether you are looking for memorable subjects for your pictures, unusual corners of civilization or colorful samples of humanity, India has it all. A real photographer's paradise, not only when it comes to landscapes.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Unearthing rural India with locals AKA Meet the team

With Chandu, the driver who never gets tired, holding me not to fall off the camel
I admit, I'm a fan of independent travel (read: travel on a shoestring) and a seeker of the unexpected, but when I decided to go to India, I felt right to book a guided tour.

The main reason was that I was staying for only ten days and I wanted to see as much as possible, without wasting time looking for transports, entrances and understanding how to get about.

Certainly, getting around has been much easier, so my first need, as I expected, was fully met, however, I grew increasingly happy to have a guide all throughout rural India.

Traveling in Rajasthan can be tricky, despite my guide's recommendations on basic safety rules, I got sick and spent a whole night throwing up everything I had eaten probably in the past six months, with the result that the morning after I looked like a zombie.
Chandu teaching me how to eat Indian food
Although I love street food, I haven't had any in India, I have always been very careful to drink only bottled water and avoided anything "risky". Probably what got me was some milk-based dish in which the milk could have been expired.

Apart from that, the trip went smoothly, and I have only nice memories. The travel guides I've had were great, and I'm happy we are still in touch (yes, thanks to the magic of the Internet..).

Who stayed with me from day one, worried about my being too skinny, encouraging me to eat more than I could manage and solving each every one of my problems in less than no time was not my mom as you might think, but Chandu, a great driver who never gets tired. Seriously, after ten hours drive I was more exhausted than he was.

Clearly an experienced travel guide, he provided me with colorful anecdotes everywhere we went, contributing in unveiling the idiosyncrasies of the Indian society I wouldn't have been able to capture on my own in such a short time.
Danish, proudly staring in front of his beloved Taj Mahal

From day three, travel agent Sushila joined us. The official reason was that "she had never visited the cities we were going next", but I believe the real aim was that she was worried about a little girl traveling all alone throughout rural India. Not sure why everybody thought I was 20, but I'm certainly not complaining about it.

In every city there was a local guide ready to take over the stint to show me around and all I had to do was follow, listen and, obviously, take thousands of pictures. Traveling has never been that easy.

In Agra, Danish showed me the Agra Fort and introduced me to the story of love and pain behind the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Taj Mahal with such passion that sometimes I thought he wished he had built the Taj himself.
Chhotaram smiling *after* the opium ritual

In Jaipur I was escorted by Bisaj, who explained me Indian complex astrology system, according to which they assess everybody's "luck" in order to arrange future marriages. When he learnt I was 32 and unmarried, he kindly offered to find out what's wrong with me and work out my luck. I'm still waiting full of hope.

Jodhpur was a blast. Literally. Escorted by Chhotaram Prajapat, Sushila, Chandu and myself ventured in beautiful Salawas village, in Jodhpur district. After enjoying an otherworldly immersion in nature, admiring shy deers, antelopes, black bucks and peacocks, we had a taste of what village life in rural India looks like.

The tour of the tiny hamlet started with the ceremony of the opium, central part of their social mores, carried out during special occasions and to make up in case of arguments. When everything was ready, I was inevitably asked if I wanted to try it out, and my thrilled "Yes" was met by Chhotaram's smirk and Chandu's eye-rolling, who I'm pretty sure was thinking "Oh my God, she's gonna get sick again."

Myself with Sushila and Chandu *after* the opium ritual

Leaving Jodhpur, we drove to Jaisalmer, where my tour of the city was colored by the tales of Papu, or Prem, not sure. Like Chandu, also Papu seemed very concerned about my eating habits, because "not only work is important, you need to take care of your body first." He still reminds me, so how can I forget.

Apart from my not-eating-enough sorrow, Papu was very busy all the time we spent in the desert trying to find a toilet for me. When I realized the best solution he had come up with was to go behind a tree, I decided to keep it, also because the desert is not exactly synonymous with lush vegetation.

Papu and Sushila floating in the air. Yes, guides can also do that
After the desert safari, we "casually" ended up at a 5-star hotel, so after avoiding the tree, I had the chance to try out a 5-star toilet. Still now Papu can't believe it: "I've never met anyone able to keep their wee for two hours."

The last city I've visited was Bikaner, too short time for a local guide, so I Sushila and Chandu brought me to a temple devoted to mice: thousands of mice darting in and out so fast that at every step I made I was afraid to crash some. Like in every other temple, shoes were not allowed, and since mice are not my favourite pets, I threw my socks out after the holy visit. But I still truly appreciate Indian love for animals.

With the benefit of the hindsight, I think I wouldn't have been able to enjoy India as much as I did without the aid of my local guides, who have definitely made my trip more colorful and authentic.

My tour was booked with Delhi-based travel agency, and I recommend it without hesitation:
Millennium Travels,
227 Defence Colony Flyover Market
New Delhi 110024
Tel +91 2431 0476/ 2432 6258
Mobile 9810 116632


**Despite my over-excited tone, this is NOT a sponsored post.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Me, my camels and the rest of the zoo in Rajasthan, India

My passion for camels is not a secret, it was love at first sight in Abu Dhabi desert, and I almost got traded with two camels in Istanbul. It must be a destiny, everywhere I go I see camels, or I unconsciously choose destinations were I'm bound to find them.

India is not just a photographer's paradise, but also a camel's paradise. Or any animal's for that matter, since, as my guide told me many times "In India you don't need to go to the zoo, you'll find it in the streets."

Cows, monkeys, elephants, pigs, any creature you can think of swans around the badly kept roads of rural (and urban) India.

Indians have a sort of obsession for animals, they don't kill them, in the Rajasthan region most people are completely vegeterian, instead of eating meat, they translate animals into gods and worship them. During all my travels I had never been to a place where people establish a so close contact with nature. Almost unbearably fascinating.

I'm not vegetarian, but I realize I'm gradually eating less and less meat. I really I love animals, and during my recent trip to India, along with visiting countless monuments and places of historical interest, and driving around the Rajasthan, I couldn't stop staring at the cows: they are their holy animal, they are everywhere, they live in the streets, they hang around local markets, living just fine among people.

Indians don't even mind until they stumble on them suddenly in the middle of the road while recklessly darting back and forth with their cars and motorbikes: it's unforgivable sin (and very likely also illegal) to hit a cow.

Not only happy cows swinging their head conscious of their importance, but also other animals live carefree in a country where they are loved, protected and worshipped.

As for me, having the possibility to see my camels so often, without rushing and being able to capture their funky smile with my camera was, well, priceless.

More pearls, as usual, on my Flickr set devoted to animals.
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