Ganga River Workshop – 1st PART – 10/02/2018
My first trip to India has been in 2011 and since then I’ve never stopped dreaming to come back to that magical land. Mother India taught me so much and somehow that journey gave me the bravery to become professional. Since then I’ve always felt a sort of recall from India, I knew I had a mission to accomplish there.
One day I finally managed to combine photography and travel. In fact, this year on February I hit the road with some of my closer friends. Our aim was to show the powerful spirituality you can breath there and I hope I managed to capture it through my works. This time it was different: I was supposed to teach report photography. This was my first workshop, the first time I had to talk about my experience with photography and travel. I still remember the last nights before my depart. I had a constant flow of feelings throughout my stomach, I couldn’t even sleep. I was about to leave my beloved family for two weeks and I already knew I was going to miss them so much. At the same time, I was excited I was going to be free to take pictures without any limit. I could finally express my personal perspective through my camera and the icing on the cake was that I was going to be on the road. I knew it was going to be a lifetime experience, something I could deeply enjoy and never forget. I guess I’ll never be able to tell what’s “India”. India is something that comes straight to the heart of your soul and it leaves a permanent mark right there. Some people claim to belong there even if they’ve never actually been there. There’s something kind of magical and spiritual there, you can feel it for real. Something that goes beyond logic and rationality. According with born2travel.it agency, we decided to visit and live the real India by following the path of the holy Gange river. In fact, Hindus believe that Gange is Mother of them all. I didn’t even realise I left Italy and we are already in Haridwar. Despite an intercontinental flight, 9 hours of waiting at Delhi airport and a final domestic flight, I’m at the top of my shape to face this brand new experience 🙂 No jokes, I’m thrilled, I feel like a little child entering a candy shop. A stunning whirlpool of smells, colours, faces, sunset lights that embrace women draped in their saris. And then, chai sellers, innumerable sadhus, kids on the street laughing with their gorgeous smiles. All of this, plus the majestic Shiva statue that rises on the Gange shore, welcomes us in India with the power of a Big Bang. We’re all jazzed. For some of us it’s even the very first time in India and I swear it is impossible to describe that kind of feeling. My mission is teaching as much as possible, I want to share my personal experience. I want these moments to be fixed in our memories but moreover I want them fixed in our pictures. All the surrounding people here are getting ready for the evening puja, the holy Hindu pray that here in Haridwar, same as anywhere else in India, is called Ganga Aarti. As the sunlight keeps on changing and vanishing beyond the mountains, a certain aura of spirituality floods all around the ambience. You can actually feel something deeply moving while watching the Hindu ritual and gestures. I even felt a sort of recall from the river, I had to immerse myself. Following the mantra sung by one of the many curious people attending there, I entered the river. The water was at my knees and they poured water from the river on my head. In that moment I realised my sadhu was a fake monk, but never mind: fresh Ganga water, Hindi mantras that keep going up in the air, the emotion is so strong that I feel part of the holy Ganga. They believe that this bath cleans off all the bad karma, it purify souls. I took mine, so let’s see. The sun is already gone down, so now the pray can actually start. First the sound of a shell, then the repeated mantra and the fire of beautiful lamps. It is hypnotic for us to see that performance. You can feel like everything and everyone is part of this huge embrace with Mother Ganga. We designed our workshop in order to connect as much as possible with real local life. I won’t dwell on a daily report, I’d rather focus on some special episodes to show how we managed to integrate there perfectly. We visited Rishikesh, a gorgeous town at the bottom of the mountains, same place where Beatles were searching for meditative peace. Here Gange water is clear just as mountain rivers can be. Residents and tourists live here all together with heartfelt respect for the river all day long, since morning to the evening puja. After that we moved to Allahabad where Gange meets the holy Yamuna and Sarasvati rivers. That is a very important place for Hindus. In fact, that’s one of the four places where every 12 years they celebrate the Kumbh Mela, the biggest religious event on earth. Here I met for the first time one Aghori. He wanted to give me his necklace with a donation in return. However, let’s say he didn’t appreciate my offer, so he suddenly changed his mood. But we’ll talk about Aghori later, in Varanasi. I persuaded my team to choose a night train for our next trip, even though I kept on asking myself “why” until the end. I’m just kidding, even if it has been one of the most hard and challenging experience of our entire journey, we still remember it as one of the most precious memories. It has been rough, but it made us closer to each other. We were sick and tired, but we experienced something absolutely unforgettable. Let me just say that we left with a 3 degrees temperature and we arrived with boiling 28 degrees. We were a tight-knit group, as we knew each other since ages. I didn’t sleep at all during the train journey and it gave me the chance to walk around the coaches. Around 5 in the morning it started to come alive again. I personally love to see the morning breeze that awakes people, the way everybody moves and start living again. That’s one of the most beautiful things I love to photograph. I felt like I was part of what I was looking at. It has been amazing to take pictures while tasting lots and lots of sweet chai, that warmed heart and soul. We stopped in the middle of nowhere in the countryside and there something special happened. There was a school and a small cafe. I will never forget the smile of those children and their teachers, but especially I understood that despite misery and poverty, those people have a dignity and acceptance absolutely uncommon in the West. They can still enjoy simple things. They know how to welcome guests and make them feel comfortable, even if they’ve never met before. They truly stole my heart. Next destination has been Chitrakoot, a very small town I’ve never heard about before. It is called “the little Benares”. Here life flows slowly, you feel like living in the past. This place is amazingly charming, I will definitely come back here with my family. There’s nothing stunning, but the ambiance has something particular. It’s hard to explain in words, you can just feel it. Try to imagine this: five kids with their father going to the barber shop, some sadhus walking by the river, someone taking the holy bath. The tasty smell of fried samosa by the streets, two little kids playing by the dusty road. Colourful dresses enlighten everything, old men play cards by the street, children play with marbles around them. All of this happens with an incredible calm and peace. I felt I was daydreaming.