Asia, India

My Travels Through India

Asia India

Hello, Im Mehdi Hasan. I’m from Bangladesh and a Dhaka based Photographer/Visual Artist. My work focuses on the diversity of people, places and the cultures of South Asia. I would love to describe myself as a Bedouin or a Nomad but eventually I come back to my home.

India is a culture shock heaven. What motivated me to travel throughout India was the diversity. You will be surprised when you travel through India about how different one region is from another. Their people and their cultures are so varied that it’s hard to believe you are still in the same country. It feels like dozens of countries are mixed together to form this vast mystical land.

The people are the most memorable ones and the spirituality is what draws me there. Saying my prayers at the Delhi Jama Masjid to the conversations that I had with the crimson cloaked monks in the monasteries of Darjeeling at top of the mountain are so memorable. I couldn’t forget meditating in the underground temple in Hampi with Hindu sadhus. This is what fascinates me the most, all kinds of culture intertwined together yet retaining their originality. This spiritual journey is not something you want to miss!

Portrait of an young monk. Dali Monastery, Darjeeling

I have been to India a couple of times with each journey lasting a couple of weeks to a month. For me, travelling to India is like a Euro trip to the Europeans. Since its my neighboring country, going there is fairly easy. My longest journey was for almost a month. I traveled mostly by trains. The train journeys were long, tiresome, some lasting even more than 48 hours but the scenery and people travelling along the way kept it bearable.

One of my favorite thing about Darjeeling is the Fog. How it wraps itself around everything from the lonely streets to the mountains of Darjeeling.

My favourite places include Darjeeling, Kolkata, Hampi, Varanasi and New Delhi. I absolutely loved the mountain city Darjeeling. The mist covered streets and houses at top of the hill are one of a kind. Even just taking a walk in the misty street and seeing all the people just living their life feels good. This is a very friendly neighborhood.

Most of the people living there resemble the East Asian people and their cultural traits. The monasteries are one of the best places to visit in Darjeeling, including Dali monastery and Guru sakya monastery. The young monks studying in a classroom were really interesting to see. Also hearing from them about their life, how they grew up in a monastery since their childhood is fascinating. I even made some monks Facebook! We still keep in contact occasionally. Climbing all the way up to see the Japanese Temple was really exhausting, but it was worth it. The mist covered temple was gorgeous.

During sunset with the view of vidyasagar setu, Kolkata
She sells little plants right outside from her house. There was this lovely moment when I photographed her smiling back at me. Ghoom, West Bengal

Some say if you want to experience the true Indian culture, go to Varanasi and I must say, they are right about it. Varanasi is the epitome of Indian experience. The long haired and bearded Sadhus are the iconic figures of Varanasi. With calm expressions on their faces and just chilling at Ganga river ghat, you will find plenty of them. Having a conversation with them however is totally different story. They are so unpredictable from the monks. But being able to speak Hindi helped me a lot.

Sadhus chilling in one of Ghats of Varanasi

The pyres of Varanasi are the most important thing here besides taking a bath in the Ganga. One might get epiphany’s while watching the bodies burn to ashes. The quote “Ashes To Ashes” was stuck on my head during the entire funeral pyre. Also the Ganga Aarti was memorable. On the other side of the Ganga river, there’s a desert like land and it’s totally different from the rest of city. There’s this vast land of sand. I met a young Horse Jockey there. Like him, there were a couple of others who offered horse ride to anyone for 100 to 200 rupees. You can bargain your way through.

Talking bathe in a hot summer day. Howrah Bridge, Kolkata

Hampi was unique in its own ways. Vast lands covered with stone boulders, it’s on the south Indian region. Also it’s a Unesco world heritage site. The temples and historical sites in there are from the Vijayanagara Empire. It’s a bewitching place with endless ruins and open giant boulders. The stone chariot is an iconic site. Walking the stone covered land with an old Shepherd was really fun; he told me about local folklore which was interesting. For a moment, I really felt like a bedouin. Ultimately, a city frozen in time is how I would describe Hampi.

Portrait of a shepherd in Hampi

Travelling through New Delhi and Kolkata was almost the same experience for me. Both are major cities in India. Their infrastructure and transportation is much more developed. Watching the sunset by the Howrah Bridge felt dreamy. In New Delhi, Jama Masjid and the Red Fort were memorable. But the vast amount of people visiting the Red Fort could be an issue for some people.

Almost all of the people I met during the journey were friendly enough. But I would say knowing the Hindi language was a major advantage, I could communicate easily with anyone. Be aware of the auto drivers and taxi drivers. They will promote hotels and tours, which will be priced much higher than they actually are. Bargain everywhere in India; that way one can get better prices for everything including hotels, transportation, clothes, etc. Also, travelling in a car during the late night had my heart pumping for real. I read way too much hijacking and robbery news!

A Hindu sadhu lost in thought

If you are planning to go to India, prepare for the culture shock and loud noises almost everywhere. Don’t be afraid to explore and find new places that you haven’t read about on the Internet. You will be surprised how many places are great! Set yourself up for a journey of a lifetime and spiritual discovery.