Havelis in The Shekhawati – Mandawa and Nawalgarh

Haveli#children#india#rajasthan

Haveli courtyard in Nawalgarh

Visiting Havelis in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan is like going to an area that is covered with extraordinary street art. Mandawa and Nawalgarh are simply towns that offer open-air art galleries and museums dripping in jaw dropping frescoes. Havelis are the beautifully carved homes of rich merchants, highly decorated by artists during the 19th century. Today, some are thankfully turned into hotels or museums, which has allowed them to be restored, a few used as banks, schools or government buildings but hundreds of others simply abandoned.

Mandawa was the first stop of a photography road trip around Rajasthan with the aim of discovering some lesser visited havelis as well as some better known ones. I came several times in the late 90’s for various magazines and photographed some of the Maharajas and their palaces but not the havelis.

Haveli#Mandawa#frescoes

Haveli in Mandawa

We set off early from Delhi hiring a car and driver from a company called Metropole. It took almost 6 hours to get there as the roads were poor and traffic heavy at times. The Shekhawati region is at the edge of the Thar Desert, so the surrounding landscape was semi arid, dotted with khejri trees, the odd herd of goats and a few irrigated fields of mustard.

Although the Hotel Mandawa Haveli was Trip Advisor’s first choice, I chose the smaller Chobda Haveli, which I highly recommend, not for it’s colourful frescoes but for a delightful quiet and charming place to stay. We walked all round Mandawa, some Haveli’s could be visited and others not. Beware! you will be asked for money the minute you enter a doorway. I don’t mind paying a few rupees to go inside a Haveli, although it’s a shame that more cannot be restored as what you do see is just gorgeous and the restored ones are stunning.

Haveli#doorway#mandawa

Haveli doorway in Mandawa

Haveli#door#frescoes#rajasthan

Entrance to a haveli in Shekhawati region

All Havelis are roughly set up the same way, as you walk into the first courtyard there is a large room where that the visitors would be received, the private quarters opposite with bedrooms upstairs. A usually beautifully carved ornate wooden door in the centre takes you to a second courtyard, which would lead to the female quarters with mashrabiya windows as the women of the upper classes practiced purdah. Depending on the period of the Haveli and the opulence of the owner the frescoes vary considerably. The early ones were influenced by the Mughal era with geometric designs, some offer religious figures and show Hindu mythology. , There are also elephants and camels and the latter ones even depict trains and cars referring to the British influence.

Haveli#Mandawa#rajasthan

Havelis in Mandawa

The second day we drove to Nawalgarh and spent the day there before returning to Mandawa. I think I liked it even more, there were even less tourists and the whole town was full of havelis. We visited several well known ones, one is a museum, but what I enjoyed the most was visiting the schools. Two of them were housed in beautiful if somewhat decaying old havelis.

Haveli@frescoes#woman#Nawalgarh

Woman in a haveli full of frescoes in Nawalgarh

In one of the schools, the children were sitting on the floor of what was once a courtyard but now covered over.   In the other, just the rooms of the haveli had been turned into classrooms where sadly little of the artwork remained except for the exterior of the building. We bought a huge bag of sweets to thank the children for their time although they were very willing models!

Haveli#schoolchildren#school#nawalgarh

classroom in a courtyard of an ancient haveli in Shekhawati,

Lets talk photography for a moment as whoever you are you will take pictures, lots of them, everyone does! There’s so much to take pictures of – the frescoes, the buildings, the people, the daily life, the local market, the cows wondering around, a real street photographers dream. To do a good job you really need everything from a very wide angle to as long a lens as you can carry. There are some magic moments that may require a long lens or the spell will be broken. I brought a Canon and a Fuji and I don’t regret it, particularly as the Fuji XT2 let me down badly in the heat and dust of India…

Nawalgarh#street of havelis#tuk tuk

Street scene in Nawalgarh, havelis everywhere

There are wonderful havelis all over Rajasthan but nowhere else really offers the atmosphere of the Shekhawati. It is a total immersion into an idea of what life must have been like in these small towns and the importance of art to the people of the region. As you walk through the towns at the beautiful sometimes crumbling but intricately carved buildings and look at the extraordinary frescoes, it is like a glimpse into the past that allows you to conjure up images of what life must have been like.

The best way to visit Rajasthan is to stay in a Haveli, which is not necessarily very expensive, and try and book a heritage room which is like sleeping in a museum. Rajasthan is full of palaces and havelis turned into hotels of all classes and to me, one of the reasons to go there. If they are privately owned in particular, the owner will be happy that you take an interest in his home.

elephant#fresco#haveli#mandawa

fresco of an elephant on a haveli

I loved the Shekhawati but we still have a lot to see and I am looking forward to our 3 day visit to Jaisalmer but first we are going to stop en route at Bikaner and visit the fort and it’s havelis. I would also recommend visiting Fatehpur which we only drove through, but having planned an ambitious itinerary there is no time.

 

Below are some useful links:

http://www.metrovista.co.in/index.htm

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotels-g1162333-c2-Mandawa_Jhunjhunu_District_Rajasthan-Hotels.html

 

 

 

 

A PHOTOGRAPHER’S VISIT TO HONFLEUR AND TROUVILLE IN WET, WINDY, WINTER

Trouville#Beach#winter#landscape

Trouville Beach in Winter

Visit Honfleur and Trouville on the Normandy coast and be sure to pack a camera. Winter and summer alike I love these 2 seaside towns and visit them as frequently as I can. It is just over a 2hour drive from Paris and a car is handy as you’re going to be whizzing between them. A lot more is said of Deauville but for me Honfleur and Trouville have more character and offer a greater variety of photos.

In winter I like to arrive in Trouville in time for lunch at Le Central, a big bustling brasserie that serves wonderful fresh small shrimps or fried whitebait with 2 small soles, although it’s all good here and very friendly. It’s particularly popular with locals, which is always a good sign. Now, a good meal and a couple of glasses of sauvignon later it is time to take out the camera.

Normandy#houses#Trouville#

Normandy style houses along the front of Trouville

Trouville is a fishing port and fresh fish vendors are lined up along the estuary. In warmer weather table and chairs are set up and it is here alfresco, that a delicious fresh seafood lunch can take place. The estuary is very photogenic with it’s fishing boats and loads of seagulls. Right at the end is the casino and then the boardwalk, little huts and parasols. In summer I like to photograph Trouville in colour and in winter I tend to go for black and white.

Shells#beach#Trouville

Shells on the beach at Trouville

I spent New Years day there this year and we drove from Paris in torrential rain but miraculously by the time we’d finished lunch the rain had stopped. Many of the shops were open in the pretty little back streets of Trouville making for good pictures with people walking by with their collars hunched up. After we took to the boardwalk and onto the windswept beach. The tide was way out and the storm had brought in piles and piles of shells of all sorts making for more interesting shots. There were people walking their dogs and screaming gulls swooping down and flying off.

Dog in Honfleur waiting for the door to open

Dog in Honfleur

We had booked into a wonderful bed and breakfast in Honfleur called La Cour Sainte Catherine so by about 4 or so we headed over there. It is a pretty drive through Villers, Criqueboeuf and Pennedepie. There are dozens of great bed and breakfasts and hotels at all prices all the way from Trouville to Honfleur. Some are off the beaten track but easily accessible by car. Most of them open in winter and some offer attractive prices compared to the summer.

The first thing you see approaching Honfleur is the stunning marina lined on two sides with its historic 16th-18th century buildings. A drawbridge connects the marina to the fishing port and on the other side is the town hall and many more beautiful buildings and cafés. It is a jaw dropping sight and you won’t know where to stand to get the best pictures. You’ll walk around it 10 times anyway so will find plenty of possibilities!

Behind the marina is the town with its charming, narrow winding streets, historical buildings, attractive shops, art galleries, food shops, cafés, restaurants and of course the marvellous 15th century church. Taking picture postcards of Honfleur isn’t difficult, what is harder is to take some time and try and take different pictures: The dog in the bicycle basket outside a pretty shop, bottles of calvados, or a particular building or sign, so that they stand out.

I like a telephoto and a wide angle. For the telephoto I would set the camera with an aperture priority so as not to miss anything and at f2.8 or f4 and focus on what you want and the background will fall away and hopefully give you good bokeh, but that’s another story! With a wide angle, just get up there nice and close and get the atmosphere.

Honfleur#Marina#Night#New Year

Honfleur Marina at New year

We walked down to the harbour to take pictures of the almost full moon over the Marina before dinner. We chose to eat at Coté Resto, a bistro serving well presented dishes with a twist, at reasonable prices. In France we have 4 main types of restaurants, cafés, brasseries, bistros, or gastronomic. Honfleur has its fair share of good eating places, we are in Normandy after all! The brasseries offer moules frites that can be excellent (Le Capital in Trouville). If you are looking for a treat (gastronomic) then I would go to Le Bréard.

It wasn’t sunny in Honfleur the next day either, but we took a walk up to the Chapel Notre Dame de Grace and came back down via a different route and joined the coastal path. We walked along the beach with the industrial skyline of Le Havre barely visible across the horizon. It isn’t a pretty beach in summer but at low tide one can walk all the way to Trouville. I took a bunch of black and white pictures. I love landscapes, and the starkness and the textures did it for me.

Honfleur#Fishing nets#harbour wall#buildings

Honfleur, Fishing nets along harbour wall.

A last walk along the cobbled streets of Honfleur, a few more photos and the purchase of a good bottle of calvados – tastes better when bought locally! We check our watches and set off for Trouville, in time to buy some fresh fish for dinner! We’re photographers but we do like our food!

In 2018 I will be offering tailor made photography tours to Honfleur and Trouville. Join me, you will not be disappointed!

http://www.coursaintecatherine.com/guest-house-charme-honfleur-accomodation

https://www.thefork.com/restaurant/cote-resto/9313

https://www.restaurant-lebreard.com

 

CONSIDER TAKING A PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR TO CHAMPAGNE IN THE FALL

champagne harvesters group

Champagne harvesters celebrate the first day

Consider taking a Photography Tour to Champagne in September or October. It is the best time to visit. In September the grapes are ripe and ready for picking. You may be lucky enough to be there during the ‘vendanges’ when the grapes are picked by hand and the countryside is dotted with people in colourful clothes picking the grapes.

A Photography Tour in Champagne offers the possibility to take the best pictures in the most spectacular settings. You will taste champagne from small and big producers, photograph their cellars, and make beautiful landscape photographs.

champagne cave at Guy Charbaut

Champagne caves at Guy Charbaut

 

 

If you come during the grape picking, last year in early September and probably similarly this year, I will arrange for you to spend part of the day with the pickers, getting up close, offering some superb vivid portraits of the people, the vines and the grapes.

Champagne grape picking harvesters

Champagne grape picking camaraderie

Visiting the cellars at this time is sometimes difficult as everyone is busy with the harvest but the photographic opportunities are wonderful. I also arrange for us to have a delicious local champagne lunch with the harvesters. You will also be able to photograph the crushing and processing of the grapes.

Not to worry, if you miss this event.

champagne vineyards fall

Champagne vineyards in autumn

The countryside with its criss-cross patterns of the vineyards, cyclists and old stone villages make for stunning photographs. In October, the leaves turn from green to a kaleidoscope of oranges, yellows, rust and gold, and although the grapes have been harvested there are always some remaining, as the quotas in champagne are very strict.

 church in Mutigny in Champagne

The church at Mutigny in Champagne

In Fleury La Rivière there is a small champagne house that we can visit which has exceptional cellar full of fossils abounding with shells that are several tens of million of years old.

I took some pretty interesting and different photographs there and of course we will enjoy a glass of their champagne before leaving.

Cave aux coquillages Fleury la riviere champagne

La cave aux coquillages

There are a number of small picturesque villages, some along the banks of the Marne with its boats and pretty bridges. As all the Champagne area is hilly there are many vantage points allowing a variety of landscapes that are quite different one from the other.

The difference between a private Champagne Tour and a private Photography Champagne Tour is that you will see a greater diversity whilst receiving full photography tuition and will come home with a great set of pictures. I can organise anything from a day trip to a 5 day trip that will take you to all three champagne areas.

I will definitely be spending a part of September and October in the vineyards taking photographs, so join me!

champagne early morning kiss

Champagne early morning kiss

http://www.champagneeric-mallet.fr/ElementsRubrique.aspx?SITE=MALLE14&RUB=1&MP_SS_RUB=ELEM&MP_ELT=DIA&PAGE=1&Lang=FR

http://www.champagne-alain-mercier.fr/index-en.html

 

 

yangon young nuns street scene

A Photography Tour to Myanmar – A days preparation in Yangon.

The plane has just landed in Yangon. In two days time 6 people are going to join me on a photography tour to Myanmar. It is exciting. I love the country and have planned the trip with a trusted local agent. We’ve been working on it for almost a year but I’m still a little nervous. The driver who picks me up speaks English and tells me how busy he is with so many visitors.   It is time to visit Myanmar as things are changing.

I check in to the chosen hotel where I will be staying for 4 nights. It isn’t the original one I had wanted to stay in but it’s fine. I breathe a sigh of relief as I am shown up to a ‘quiet’ room on the 4th floor. Tomorrow I am going to visit a couple of other hotels for the next Myanmar trip. It is mid afternoon and I waste no time in going to see the agent I use to organise my Myanmar Photography Tours.

Train passengers in Yangon station

Trains stops in Yangon station

Win greets me with a wide smile, sees my anxious face and tells me everything will be fine!  He has even added small things to make our trip even better. Informs me of an upgraded hotel in Bagan and a new guide in Mandalay. ‘You will get even better photographs than the last time’ he assures me. On the way back to the hotel I can’t stop taking pictures, they’re snaps really of people drinking tea on the sidewalks, the hustle and bustle of downtown Yangon, such a photogenic city.

The next day I visit a couple of hotels, one is 5 star and I wonder if I could go more upmarket on the next trip and choose it, a haven of peace between the Shwedagon Pagoda and downtown. Win will have to negotiate the price!

The traffic back to my hotel is pretty dense. On arrival I receive a message. Two of my photography tour students have just arrived, a day ahead of time. I call their room and they come down. A charming Australian couple who are so excited and pleased to see me. It is their first trip to the area and they just flew in from Thailand.

Rangoon Tea House

Rangoon Tea House

It’s lunchtime and I take them to the Rangoon Tea House, which is an attractive restaurant on the 2nd floor of an ordinary looking building, albeit for westerners. They love the place and take out their cameras immediately! The Rangoon Tea House is a good place to try local dishes as spice wise, they do at least cater to the western palate. The place is pretty full and noisy but it’s after 2.00 so there was no wait. We discuss Myanmar, the trip, photography and cameras.

Young monks begging for alms

Yangon Young monks begging for alms

We take a walk where I know there is a monastery in the hope that we will see some young monks then go back to the hotel before we set off to see the sunset. I have two good sunset shots set up for the following two nights at the Irawaddy river and the Shwedagon Pagoda, so tonight we’ll go to Kandawgyi Lake. Just as we are about to leave a hot tired looking woman checks in and gives her name to the reception. She’s one of us! I recognise the name, say hi and never get to Kandawgyi Lake! I send the Australian couple off with a map and wish them good luck.

The next day the three remaining other people arrive and the photography tour officially begins. 12 days of extraordinary photography, laughter and companionship in this stunning, memorable land that I never tire of.

sunset over Irrewaddy river Yangon

sunset over Irrewaddy river Yangon

https://www.annasphototraveltours.com/myanmar/

A Photography Holiday in Jamaica part 1

View of Crow Mountains and Rio Grande Jamaica

View over Crow Mountains and Rio Grande Jamaica

What do James Bond and Bob Marley have in common? Jamaica! I’ve been wanting to go for years and finally decided to book a flight, pack a camera, hire a car and discover this much publicised island in the sun. Not a photography tour with the alarm beeping at 5.30 but a laid back wonderful journey of discovery.  For a photographer this is easier said than done!

We picked up a car in Kingston and drove through part of the Blue Mountains to the East coast which was stunning, with luscious tropical vegetation. We stayed in Port Antonio for a few days, overlooking the Crow Mountains and the Rio Grande, at the Rio Vista Resort, which offered a view to die for.  I took loads of pictures of it and yes, I did get up at 5.30! There were loads of gorgeous sandy coves with crystal clear water and the famous Blue Lagoon.

frenchmans cove beach jamaica

Frenchmans Cove beach, Jamaica

I am a fan of those old Bond movies so we decided to continue our pursuit of Ian Fleming’s Jamaica. On our first night in Kingston we stayed at the Liguanea Club which was one of the locations used in Dr. No and where Sean Connery was a guest. So, with reggae blaring out, we left Port Antonio and stopped in Oracabessa to take a swim at the James Bond beach near where Ian Fleming’s old house Goldeneye is now a luxury hotel.

The next port of call was Ocho Rios. A slight disappointment as like most of the north coast, all the luxury hotels have bagged the best beaches making access almost impossible. However, our airbnb at Sandcastles allowed us private access to the beach over the road, which was very picturesque. Our main aim was to visit the touristy Dunn’s Falls first thing in the morning the minute it opened. It is the most visited spot in all of Jamaica and another famous movie location.

Wedding photo at Dunns Falls Jamaica

Wedding in Dunns Falls Jamaica

We enjoyed half an hour’s solitude before the hoards arrived. I don’t usually do touristy things but it is extremely beautiful and fun to walk through the falls. They look really slippery but they’re not.

Leaving Ocho Rios the whole north coast is peppered with sandy beaches and coves, all the way to Montego Bay. The real shame is that the coastline is spoilt by huge holiday resorts that appropriate huge stretches of beach or a whole bay. We managed to get into one of them on the pretext of meeting people for lunch there . The entire beach was covered in sun loungers and tourists and although the water was marvellously transparent, and the reef right there in wading distance it was absolutely thick with people so we left immediately.  That is not what I look for when I go away.

Our next main stop was the old colonial town of Falmouth.

Street scene with colonial building Falmouth Jamaica

Street scene, Falmouth Jamaica

It was Sunday and the town crowded with locals walking around and shopping. I thought this a terrific opportunity to take some street photos, particularly as buildings are really pretty. Jamaican’s aren’t too keen on cameras, even the little Fuji I had with me. I had a couple of conversations with them to explain that although I had loads of fabulous photos of beaches and scenery I wanted to take some photos of every day life in a pretty Jamaican town. Somewhat reluctantly they understood and I was at least able to convey the atmosphere and finally obtain some street photography.

a street scene in Falmouth, jamaica

Street scene jamaica

We arrived in Montego Bay in the evening. At first sight it was nothing like I imagined it to be. The hip strip as its called is a road between the beach, which is backed by buildings and hotels so you can’t see it and another massive block of hotels and restaurants on the other side. Be vary wary of where you stay if you intend to sleep at all whilst there. There are a few beaches that are walking distance, the best by far being the justly famous Doctors Cave Beach. From there you can get a glimpse of what it must have been like in that bygone glamorous era of art deco, luxurious houses, hotels and casinos. The old buildings are mostly still there, converted, deserted and overshadowed by the modern.   The best thing to do is to lie on the comfortable pristine beach, put on a pair of flippers, mask and tuba and swim out to the reef which is right there, unspoilt, with pretty coral and an array of multi coloured fish. From the beach, you see the planes from all over the world coming in to land every few minutes bringing visitors of whom many never venture much beyond their reserved hotel. What a shame.

Doctors cave beach jamaica evening

Doctors cave beach jamaica