The Taj Mahal

I never really thought I would be given the chance to see this seventh wonder of the world, yet there I was standing in her glory! 

I almost didn't think it would be worth the struggle and exhaustion of adding such a long side trip from Jaipur, but last minute I decided to make it happen. I decided to visit the Taj Mahal at sunset AND sunrise! 

My driver was excited for us to be visiting Agra and with him speaking very very little English and me not having phone service, I'm surprised we managed to navigate our way around the city. After going down a few sketchy turns we finally found the Mehtab Bagh on the Yamuna River, across from the Taj Mahal.

Like most of my travels I hardly do any research, so I didn't know a tripod wasn't allowed in the park so I had to run that back to the car. The guys at the front said it looked like a gun and they would take it for me...which I thought was funny. Here a backpack is fine, but not IN the Taj Mahal, so I was able to take my entire backpack. 

Mehtab Bagh Entry: 200 rupees for foreigners

At this point I had yet to actually see the Taj Mahal so I was getting really excited! I was also preparing myself to have one of those Instagram disappointments, yah know...where it's not as good as people make it out to be?

Then suddenly...it was there! I'm not kidding when I say I think I wiped a tear from my eye. It was indeed the most beautiful piece of architecture I had ever seen! 

I made my way across the garden where I came to a fence facing the river with the Taj Mahal overlooking it. I was surprised how few tourists were gathered and I made my way over to a rock wall where I settled in for sunset!

It was around 4:30 pm and sunset would be at about 6pm, so I took some photos for a bit before setting up my time-lapse. During that hour I simply sat there staring at the Taj's beauty. Occasionally I watched some villagers cross the river and I even saw some kind of antelope running around. I think the Yamuna River was lower than normal, but I loved watching everyday life continuing, even with the white marble structure hovering above. 

As the sun slowly starting sinking the colors would shift across the face of the Taj Mahal and I started getting a little chilly. I stopped my time-lapse and grabbed a few more photos before packing up. The Mehtab Bagh closed at sunset, and same for the Taj Mahal. I couldn’t tell you how many times I stopped to look back as I was leaving.

I was so excited to see it even closer tomorrow for SUNRISE!

That night I actually ate the weirdest McDonald’s I’ve ever had, (I might have gotten a little too excited for something other than Indian food) and needless to say was feeling rather gross. Yet when 5:30am rolled around I was out of bed and waiting for my driver exactly at 6am. It was cold and for the first time on my entire trip I was glad I packed my down jacket.

THE PROCESS

I was confused the entire time why my driver was trying to get his friends to be my tour guide. I had to finally tell him enough when he had another tour friend waiting for me inside my hotel. I think everyone and their Mother was confused why I wanted to go alone as a woman. 

However, I was still very confused on if a tour guide was necessary or not? It seemed like it was...but of course as soon as I was dropped off at the East Gate at 6:15am I ended up letting a guy be my guide so the process would go faster. For all I know I paid him too much, but he helped me skip lines and honestly got me in the Gate faster than I would have alone - so that reason alone I would say was worth it!

I also couldn’t believe the line to get in so early. I guess when it comes to seeing the Taj Mahal at sunrise, literally the ENTIRE world is willing to get up early!

It was like waiting to get into Disneyland, but this time there was no Indiana Jones Ride.

I didn’t know when the Taj Mahal was going to reveal it’s sunrise splendor...when I suddenly walked through the final part of the East Gate. I couldn’t help but gasp. I stood there for a moment and had a funny realization that no matter what language we all speak, a “gasp” sounded the same!

Once I was through the final “gateway” it was a madness of selfies, and photos. For some reason this made me want to worry less about trying to get a photo and I found myself focusing on capturing people. 

I noticed people were rarely looking at the Taj Mahal, and I mean really looking at her. People had their phones, go pro's, selfie sticks and large cameras everywhere. In some ways I couldn't blame them. 

After trying to push my way through a few crowds to get some "iconic" reflection shots, I found myself getting lost in something else happening - the SUN! The Indian sunrise that was happening was stunning! It poured all over the gardens and I'd wished I had more than my 35mm. (I only went in with my camera around my neck and one lens.) 

I couldn't help but keep chasing it around the property, making my tour guide so confused! 

I made my way up to the top deck of the Taj Mahal and couldn't believe how beautiful the different areas were. 

I spent a total of about 2.5 hours exploring around the property and as I was heading back down I saw the crowds had tripled.

MY TRAVEL TIPS: 

  • Get there EVEN earlier to beat the long lines to enter. 
  • Go ahead and get a guide if you don't mind spending the extra 500 rupees - just don't buy souvenirs from their "friends". 
  • Take your time and be patient if you're wanting to get that one "awesome" shot. 
  • Look beyond the beautiful Taj Mahal and notice all the other hidden gems: Doors, light, people, did I mention light...just everything! 
  • Pack an extra lens in a lens case - I was stuck with just my one lens. 
  • **Really look at the Taj Mahal

Last of all...

be present. 

Why travel the world to simply have your face pressed in your technology. AS A PHOTOGRAPHER I understand the pressure to get some awesome photos + something to share on social media, but just try it. 

- Tara 


Pushkar, India - Solo Traveling

Welcome to Pushkar, India! 

There’s a certain charm about this deeply rooted religious city. Cows wander around every corner and white marble is littered with flowers for Hindu Blessings. It’s grungy, cultural and a solo traveling photographer’s dream!

Pushkar_India_TaraShupe_Photography_064.jpg

When I had first decided to add Pushkar to my solo traveling itinerary, I had originally been on the fence between Northern India, bordering Nepal or heading Northwest towards Jaipur. So once the decision was made to head to Jaipur, Pushkar was also added and I’m SO glad!

When I first arrived to Pushkar I wanted to find a highpoint! Like somebody lost in the woods, I wanted to gather my bearings. So I ran up five flights of stairs following a sign that read "Cafe" and ended up on a rooftop with a few dusty tables and chairs. I was confused, but that become a normal occurrence for me during my time in India, so I stood there taking in the views of the holy Hindu city!  

Then a sleepish man showed up and asked if I wanted anything. Feeling bad, I ordered a coke and thirty minutes later he brought me a warm coke, which I'm pretty positive he went and bought to resell to me.

Once I headed down from my rooftop cafe I started wandering the dirty marble steps. There were palaces everywhere and they all lead down to the Pushkar Lake. Having done zero research before arriving I knew little about Pushkar, other than it is one of five sacred sites for devout Hindus. It is also believed to be one of the oldest cities in India. 

FUN FACT: Pushkar also has almost 400 temples and 52 Ghats, (Holy Lakes) giving this city enormous religious importance. It is also one of the few places in the world to still have Brahma temples, making this city basically filled with religious tourism. 

So now that we know the Pushkar Lake is a holy Hindu Lake formed from Shiva's tears, I just want you to be aware of a harmless scam. 

I'm usually pretty good about knowing when I'm getting into even the silliest of scams, and sometimes I let it happen because I know they're only going to ask for a small fortune...but did I mention I was giddy about this city?

They've perfected this "scam" obviously, but I was so freaking excited I missed that this guy is probably wanting something from me. 

THIS IS THE SCAM: The best part about this is that they literally give you a Hindu mark on your forehead to basically say, "don't ask her, we already scammed her." 

  • You will be warmly welcomed to Pushkar!

  • A very nice younger man will ask if you've been blessed and will in some way say you "must" be blessed in order to explore the city because it's such a religious city.

  • You will say - OK!

  • Or you will not say ok, but before you know it you have flowers in your hands and you're getting blessed.

  • You will then sit down with a "Holy Man" and he will start saying a Hindu blessing, and before you realize you're being scammed, his words seem so meaningful!

  • You will have the Holy Lake water splashed on you and red color put on your forehead.

  • At this point you're filled with joy thinking - man I LOVE this city!

  • Then...here it comes...

  • The "Holy Man" will ask you how much you would like to donate to their "charity" to feed and maintain the 52 lakes and poor people of Pushkar. You might say, well that's not too bad? But...they will then refuse to take anything less than 2,000-3,000 rupee's and will ask if you are from The United States? He will then DOUBLE the donation amount.

WHAT I DID: I sincerely told the man I was upset he "tricked" me and said I would have happily paid for the blessing, but I will not give what you're asking. He wanted me to pay like $50...no! He was very persistent and I finally had to be firm saying this is all you're going to get and gave him like 1000 rupee's, which is still like $8. Honestly, I still liked the experience I just hate falling for a scam. Overall, I would suggest avoiding it or trying to give a price up front so you don't deal with them haggling you!  

After my "Hindu Blessing" I wandered around the markets and alleyways around the lake. In some ways it reminded me of Venice, just a little less romance and again did I mention the Holy cows? 

At one point I was walking past a cow that started peeing in the middle of the street and an elderly man walked up mid-stream....and....started drinking the cow's urine strait from the tap! I am slightly sad I didn't photograph this and then again I'm slightly not. 

The market shops are wonderful though and the prices are half of Jaipur, so I bought most of my fun jewelry from here. I also found it to be a more pleasant shopping experience than in Jaipur. The shop owners weren't as aggressive and actually quite warm and welcoming. 

Oh, and monkeys. 

Yes, they are cute...but seriously keep your distance! I had one run after me in Jaipur and a nice Indian man literally grabbed my am and pulled me to safety. They look so cute and small, but I watched these monkey's knock over a motorcycle and chase kids walking down the streets. So be careful and keep your distance!

My favorite place was along the palace steps around the lake. I was dodging cow urine and poop, (notice the brown on the walls) but the architecture was amazing. 

I never felt unsafe, even after a few people yelled about having my camera out. Pushkar is still  a city to be a little more aware and conservative.

Throughout all of India I wore longer shirts over pants even though the weather is beyond hot and humid. In Pushkar I added a scarf not only to cover more, but to help mask some smells when needed, but I wouldn't say it was necessary. 

I also traveled all through India with my Lowepro Flipside Trek Backpack, which allows for quick access to my gear without even putting my bag on the ground. 

I seriously don't even know how many hours I spent running around before I realized I hadn't eaten anything all day, and for the first time in India, I found a pizza place! WHAT?

It was surprisingly good pizza, (or I was just starving) but again I was on a rooftop. When I told the man I was in a hurry (because I realized sunset would be soon) he said, "When you come to Pushkar, you should be relaxed...you're not relaxed!" So I told him I'd take his advice for at least an hour and sat and enjoyed my pizza while I overlooked the city.

I was still surprised how touristy this small desert city was, but at the same time I could see why. 

I did notice that due to the higher tourism in Pushkar, it was a little more difficult to capture street photography and portraits. I have always found this to be a fine dance, especially traveling alone as a woman. I always want to be aware of the situations I'm getting in, and the dark alleyways I might end up wandering down with a large camera around my neck. 

So if you only feel comfortable on the main streets, stay there.

If you feel okay photographing some guys in an alleyway because the lighting is amazing...do that - but be careful! By the end of my time taking portraits of the younger man above, a crowd of men had formed. They were harmlessly watching, but I kindly and quickly said thank you before heading on my way. 

PHOTO TIP:

  • In Pushkar you'll have a harder time taking portraits of the Holy Men or decorated elderly women without them expecting payment.

  • There are signs everywhere asking you to not take pictures of people bathing in the Ghats.

PUSHKAR BY CAMEL

It was finally time to explore OUTSIDE of Pushkar and the best way to do that...by camel! 

Pushkar hosts one of the largest Camel Fairs in the world, with 400,000 people per year and over 11,000 camels, horses and cattle. It is held during the full moon in November, a holy time in the Hindu calendar and pilgrims come to also bathe in the Pushkar Lake. 

The rest of the year the camels are used locally for transportation and for tourists. I still had a few hours before sunset so I decided to end my day in Pushkar with a camel ride into the Thar desert. First I had to use the "bathroom" which was a bed sheet hanging by a rope. So you have an idea what the camel "booking" area is like and then we headed on our way. 

As we started our way out of the city we stopped to let our camel get a drink, which for some reason I found to be a fun experience before we crossed the main highway and headed to the hills! On the way out of town you see locals headed home in carts being pulled by camels and the locals smile and wave. 

I also had my first experience of trying to balance my photo equipment on a bumpy camel and loved having my CapturePro Peak Design camera clip. 

We walked for almost two hours and finally stopped to enjoy the sunset in the Thar Desert. 

I couldn't believe I was here..sitting by my camel, listening to a man playing a Ravanahatha instrument while the sunset fell over the desert horizon and gypsies danced in the distance. 

-Tara 


QUESTIONS: I'm going to start asking you guys what things you'd like to know about certain trips or traveling and answer them below each post - so here are the ones from Instagram. 

  • How I pack for multiple climates:

I make sure to pack layers that could work for cold nights and hot days. I usually have my compressible down jacket, a long sleeve shirt, hiking pants that can roll into capri's, a wool pair of socks and scarf in case I switch to a chillier place.
**In India, I brought a lot of conservative shirts and clothes even though it was hot - so long quarter sleeve shirts and leggings or pants.  

  • How long have I been on the road:

I'm not constantly on the road, but I will be gone for up to a month at a time. As of right now, my husband and I like having a home base and don't see that changing anytime soon!