Authentica In India
During the summer of 2015 we were invited to accompany the immersive educational travel company Authentica along with The University of San Diego for a month long tour across India culminating in a private audience with the Dalai Lama. Visiting different cities and exploring some of the country's greatest temples and landmarks with a touring student group, we documented the experience on camera to produce this promotional piece.
The journey began in the urban center, New Delhi. Arriving a couple days earlier than everybody else, we spent our time jet lagged and going out at night to climb the tallest roofs we could find and try to get a better look at the city we hadn't seen yet.
Next we arrived in Varanasi, a spiritual mosaic and center point of religious pilgrimage for so many Eastern religions, considered by many to be the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. Mark Twain said upon visiting Varanasi, it is "...older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together." Running through Varanasi is the Ganges, the holiest river in Eastern tradition. Today was Dan's birthday and we'd spend a portion of it floating down the river and even taking a hesitant dip in the water.
Upon arriving at the river's ghats under a setting sun, we found this shipwreck and Jimmy promptly climbed on top. I hope he had his tetanus shots. There were kids with baskets passing out these little candle flowers to everyone for 10 rupees each which equates to about a penny. We didn't have any money but they gave me one anyway, and made sure everyone else got one too. Young, old, and everything between.
We were led down by the banks of the holy river where some locals invited us to join in for our first ever game of cricket. Even though I think Jimmy was holding the bat the wrong way, the kids were tossing the ball slow enough to let him hit whatever the cricket equivalent of a 'home run'. After piling into the wooden vessel we set off, the sun had just set, and the stretch of river ahead of us was full of the crowds of people who had come to bathe in Mother Ganges.
Here along the Ganges, at the Manikarnika ghat, the dead are carried to the water and burned on funeral pyres around the clock, their ashes given to the river. It is believed that to die in Varanasi and be burned at this most auspicious place is to achieve moksha or freedom from saṃsāra, the cycle of rebirth. In the shallow water children can be found diving to sift through the sediment for gold jewelry left behind with the dead. Of all the things I've shot, this is among my favorites. It was truly something to behold.
We learned that if somebody were to die on the streets as a beggar, penniless and without family, the people who found that body would take it upon themselves go around asking for donations to buy the wood necessary to burn the dead at the banks and see them off properly.
Further down the river was a celebration. Attaching our boat to the many other boats all gathered to watch. The whole connection forming a little boat island of sorts bumped up against the shore. We sat and watched as fire twirlers, drums, and fireworks went off, and I learned that this celebration happened every night, not every year. I couldn't believe it. It was here that we were instructed to light the candles we were given and float them out into the water.
After a period of time visiting some of the most ancient and historically significant sites around India, our trip came to the mountaintop city of McLeod Ganj. Built at the seat of an 18,000 foot peak, it has become the Indian refuge of the Tibetan government-in-exile and home to the Dalai Lama temple where we'd have the honor of a private audience with His Holiness.
The air up here was thin and cool, and more like the Colorado climate we're accustomed to. We spent a lot of time in the hills and trails around the area exploring with new friends we had made.
Climbing higher and higher up the pass, past the pack animals, the temples, the tarp-covered tea-houses, ascending even through the cloud layer, we reached a valley called Triund. Up here the surrounding fog captured all sound and cast a placid quietude over its green hills. Cows wandered about grazing contentedly and ravens disappeared in and out of the mist. Every so often a portion of the clouds would thin and reveal a length of the jagged snow-capped Himalayas that surrounded us.
It seemed to me like a hyperborean paradise hidden away from the world, a liminal temperate clime between the heat below and the icy peaks above.
By the trip's end we'd seen so much and developed a deeper respect and understanding of one of the most diverse and richly cultured places on earth. We had somewhere around 24 hours of footage to look through and now we're proud to present the finished product.