The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ 2018

Rajasthan, India, Feb / March 2018

Photography Expeditions in India - The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Photography Workshop Rajasthan - Two schoolgirls among the dunes of the Great Indian Desert - Photo: © Dariusz Klemens
Photography Expeditions in India - The that Desert Photography Expedition™ - Photo Expedition India - Portrait of a Rajasthani musician, Thar Desert, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

A Unique Photographic Journey across the Great Indian Desert

Brimming with colour and possibilities for people and landscape photography, the Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ is an exploration of one of India’s most distinctive, celebrated, and historically significant regions on the occasion of its most colourful religious festivity


EXPEDITION’S OUTLINE

Timed to coincide with ‘Holi’, the Hindu Festival of Colours that marks the arrival of Spring, the Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ takes us into the heart of the Great Indian Desert, in the northern state of Rajasthan, to photograph the life of its remote villages and bustling cities, the immense landscape that enfolds them, and the exquisitely saturated colours of a region that has long represented the Indian subcontinent at its most iconic.

CONTEXT & OPPORTUNITIES

THE THAR DESERT: THE ESSENCE OF RAJASTHAN

Best Travel Photography Workshops India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens. Culture of the Thar Desert Photography Workshop. Top Rated Holi Festival of Colours & Rajasthan Photography Workshop, North India. A group of Rajasthani women wearing colourful saris stops to rest in the open landscape of the Great Indian Desert, in Rajasthan, India. Photo © Dariusz Klemens

If few places conform as closely to most foreigners’ idea of ‘India’ as Rajasthan does, nothing is more central to this state than the vast desert that lies across most of its territory – encompassing 70% of the total landmass of Rajasthan, the Great Indian Desert is in both geographical and cultural terms the very essence of Rajasthan.

Also known as Thar Desert, this mighty expanse of fixed and shifting dunes, rocky outcrops and salt pans extending for over 320,000 km2 between India and Pakistan is one of the driest and most inhospitable environments on earth.

Deriving its name from the local word ‘t’hul’, meaning ‘sand ridges’, the Thar is home to about 40% of the population of Rajasthan, the second largest state in India, making it the most densely populated desert in the world.

Best Travel Photography Workshops India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens. Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Portrait of two Rajasthani women in a village in the Great Indian Desert, Rajasthan. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

Against the muted hues of this scorched landscape, over centuries, the people of Rajasthan have developed a sophisticated language of colour denoting castes and tribes that has made the region famous the world over.

Rajasthan’s art, architecture, folklore, costume and jewellery, along with most other products of its culture, are closely associated with colour – from its gilded miniatures to its boldly tinted cities and the brilliant palette of the region’s ‘signature’ turbans and saris, colour is, famously, the overriding visual characteristic of the state.

The context, in which such superlative taste for colour grew, is the immense, ochre emptiness of the sands that blanket most of the state, where numerous nomadic and semi-nomadic communities continue to live, and where a colourful culture rich in tradition endures.

Best Travel Photography Workshops India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Portrait of a Rajasthani musician wearing a red turban in a village of the Great Indian Desert, in Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

While Rajasthan’s reputation as India’s ‘most colourful state’ is amply deserved, it is the contrast between the arid, vastly monochromatic backdrop of the Thar Desert and the intensely saturated colours characteristic of its culture that make the region immensely photogenic – It is this contrast that the Thar Desert Photography Expedition sets out to explore.

Accordingly, the journey spans the desert and its cities, interweaving diverse opportunities to photograph distinct aspects of Rajasthani life and culture, from the tribal communities that traditionally inhabit the Thar, to the vibrant urban centres that make up Rajasthan’s most important desert cities and town.

In keeping with its emphasis on local colour and custom, the expedition includes the opportunity to photograph ‘Holi’, the Hindu Festival of Colours that sees scores of people in the streets smearing each other with coloured powder and water in a kaleidoscopic celebration of the end of winter, the arrival of spring, and symbolically, the triumph of good over evil.

Joyous, boisterous, and dazzling, Holi is a visual feast not to be missed.

THE LAND OF KINGS

Best Travel Photography Workshops India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Rajasthani women wearing colourful saris collect water from Gadi Sagar, in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

Formed from a union of small kingdoms, dubbed ‘Princely States’ during the British Empire, each ruled by a ‘raja’ (‘king’ in Sanskrit), Rajasthan is steeped in history and tradition much of which has been seen as emblematic of the Indian subcontinent.

The region’s very name – Rajasthan, literally the ‘Land of the Rajas’ – conjures up images of opulently dressed maharajas living in princely splendour; of imposing desert forts, and camel trains laden with precious goods wending their way through the dunes; of bazaars shimmering with luxurious fabrics – of much, if not all, that outsiders regard as quintessentially Indian.

Yet the traditions of this frontier region reflect millennia of interaction, peaceful and otherwise, with foreign cultures, particularly ones from Central Asia; from the prehistoric migrations of Indo-European tribes through to the medieval Muslim incursions, since the earliest of times, the northwest edge of the Indian subcontinent has been a crossroads of civilizations.

THE SILK ROAD CONNECTION

Best Travel Photography Workshops India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Street Photography Workshop in North India. Traffic swirls under the city gate of one of the cities of the Great Indian Desert at dusk, in Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

Contact with the outside world also came by way of commerce – once on a spur of the Silk Road’s southern route, the Thar Desert formed a key segment of the ancient network of economic and cultural trade connecting China with the Mediterranean, functioning as a corridor of cultural transmission between distant and diverse communities.

For centuries, the caravans that traversed the Thar with goods as diverse as opium, sugar, spices, textiles, tortoiseshell and ivory, introduced new traditions, costumes and styles to the region, contributing to the formation of an extremely diverse culture.

At the basis of Rajasthani society, cultural and ethnic diversity continues visibly to define the character of a state where every clan and community still has its own distinctive costume, jewellery, and ornaments. This includes the significant proportion of the state’s almost 75 million-strong population made up by ‘tribal’ peoples, who also frequently have their own gods and festivities.

Best Photography Workshops India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Portrait of a Rajasthani woman wearing traditional jewellery. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

An essential symbol of the wearer’s identity, reflecting ancestry, occupation, marital status, and religious persuasion, amongst other social markers, contemporary Rajasthani dress is thought to have changed little from the costume worn centuries ago.

Evident in both rural and urban environments, this living tradition of costume contributes greatly to the colourful atmosphere characteristic of the region.

From a photographer’s perspective, the sum total of these elements is a glut of opportunities across different subjects and environments if the landscape and villages of the Thar seem to hark back effortlessly to a remote past, with their well-preserved architecture and hectic markets, its urban centres pulsate with colour and energy, at once modern and historical, progressive and traditional.

Best Travel Photography Workshops India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Holi Festival of Colours & Rajasthan Photography Workshop in North India. A crowd of revellers during Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colours, in Pushlar, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

The Expedition’s itinerary is crafted and paced to explore such opportunities at the optimal time.

Travelling across the Thar Desert to photograph some of its more remote villages, and embracing the great Fort Cities of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and Jaipur, the journey unfolds in the run-up to Holi and builds to a crescendo that culminates in the sacred town Pushkar, where we photograph the most colourful of all Hindu festivities against the backdrop of one of India’s oldest and most important religious sites.

THE JOURNEY

The Blue City of Jodhpur, Gateway to the Thar Desert

Best Travel Photography Workshops India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Holi Festival of Colours & Rajasthan Photography Workshop in North India. A view of Jodhpur's Blue City at dusk, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

Jodhpur, Rajasthan’s celebrated ‘Blue City’, a magnificently colourful market town on the eastern fringe of the Thar Desert, is the starting point of our photographic journey. Amongst the most bustling and colourful cities in India, Jodhpur offers excellent photographic opportunities across a range of subjects.

Enclosed by a 10km-long, 16th century city wall, Jodhpur’s old city spreads at the base of the colossal Mehrangarh Fort, the ‘Sun Citadel’ of the Rathore dynasty, an architectural marvel that stretches for over 5km along the top of a rocky hill, which was once the heart of the Kingdom of Marwar (‘the region of the desert’).

Its gigantic ramparts rising from a sheer-sided sandstone outcrop that towers 120m above the old city and its distinctive indigo-tinted houses, Meherangarh Fort is considered the most majestic building of its kind in India; in the words of Rudyard Kipling, “He who walks through it loses sense of being among buildings. It is as though he walked through mountain gorges.”

Best Travel Photography Workshops India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Holi Festival of Colours & Rajasthan Photography Workshop. A view of Meherangarh Fort, in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

Vast, ornate, dramatically positioned, and extremely popular with visitors from the surrounding region, for whom it is also a centre of religious pilgrimage, Meherangarh affords spectacular views over the Blue City and presents outstanding opportunities for architecture and urban landscape photography, as well as people photography.

Beneath the stone citadel, cascading towards the city wall in countless shades of blue, the old city is a tangle of indigo-coloured houses, temples, shops, and bazaars in a seemingly constant flow of bikes, rickshaws, camel-drawn carts, and the occasional elephant, transporting people and goods, across a medieval maze of cobalt lanes.

Top Rated Travel Photography Workshops India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Street Photography & Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop. Two women wearing colorful saris feed a cow at the entrance to their home in the Blue City of Jodhpur, in Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

Vibrant and intensely-colourful, the old city presents innumerable opportunities for street photography, which we explore extensively during the day as well as after sunset, when the city becomes particularly atmospheric.

Our base in town – an 18th century Rajput palace looking directly onto the fort, in the heart of the old city – is ideally positioned for access to shooting locations, enabling us to make the most of our time on the ground.

Jaisalmer, The Golden City

Best Travel Photography Workshops in India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Top Rated Holi Festival of Colours & Rajasthan Photography Workshop. Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. A view of the Golden City's fort at dusk, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

From Jodhpur, the first part of our journey through the Thar takes us 300 km north-west, to the remote town of Jaisalmer, in the westernmost corner of Rajasthan, near the border between India and Pakistan, a region so arid and wind-swept it is known as Marusthali, or ‘Land of the Dead’.

Set high on a ridge that emerges abruptly from the desert plains, the 99 honey-coloured circular bastions of its hilltop fortress rising sharply against the vast, open vistas of the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer, the so-called ‘Golden City’, shimmers like a mirage.

A medieval fortified town built entirely of yellow sandstone – to which, at certain times of the day, the sun imparts a golden glow – Jaisalmer retains a distinctive atmosphere that recalls its origins as a staging post for camel trains.

Best Travel Photography Workshops in India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Street Photography Workshop in North India. Top Rated Holi Festival of Colours & Rajasthan Photography Workshop. Two Rajasthani women hang colourful saris to dry outside their home in Jaisalmer's fort, the oldest part of the 'Golden City', in Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

Founded in the 12th century, Jasialmer was a major halting point on the east-west caravan trade routes, its exquisite temples and lavishly decorated merchants’ havelis (mansions) a reminder of the wealth accumulated through the taxation of silk, spices, precious stones, and countless other precious goods that once passed through here.

Dominating the town and the surrounding desert, the hilltop fortress of Sonar Kila (‘Golden Fort’, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is the last living fort in India – a honeycomb of houses, palaces, temples, and bazaars that is home to a quarter of the city’s population.

Our time in Jaisalmer is spent exploring this living structure alongside the life and architecture of the Old Town that stretches below its ramparts, where some of Jaisalmer’s most magnificent havelis are found.

Best Travel Photography Workshops in India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Street & Architecture Photography Workshop in Rajasthan, North India. Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop. A woman wearing a colourful sari steps into Patwon ki Haveli, one of Jaisalmer's most intricately carved havelis (mansions), in Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

Built to accommodate in comfort and seclusion the extended families of the wealthy merchants who commissioned them, these grandiose buildings functioned as status symbols for their owners who, in an effort to outshine their competitors, had them embellished with ever-more intricate carvings and frescoes.

One of these remarkable buildings serves as our base in Jaisalmer; located just below the fort, the royal haveli we call ‘home’ during our stay here provides a vivid glimpse into the workings and atmosphere of these extravagant townhouses, along with easy access to the different areas of town that we photograph during this part of the workshop.

the Dhanis of the Marusthali

Best Travel Photography Workshops in India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Top Rated Holi Festival of Colours & Rajasthan Photography Workshop. Culture of the Great Indian Desert Photography Workshop. A row of camels walks along the crest of a golden-coloured sand dune in the Marusthali region of the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

In the area surrounding Jaisalmer, where the desert edges closer to the Pakistani border, there lies a pristine stretch of topaz-coloured sand dunes.

Though only about two kilometres in length, this band of high, wind-scored dunes encapsulates the forbidding, desolate beauty of the Marusthali, the most arid portion of the Thar Desert, where the sand accumulated over the past 1.8 million years, forms a landscape of rolling dunes and sandy plains.

Constantly sculpted by the wind into varying shapes and sizes, the sand dunes of the Marusthali are amongst the most iconic sights in Rajasthan (so much so that they frequently appear in commercials and Bollywood productions).

From Jaisalmer, we travel some distance into the Marusthali to photograph this ancient, incessantly shifting landscape, alongside some of the isolated villages of this very sparsely populated region of the Thar.

Best Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshops: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Portrait of a Rajasthani woman and her child, in a small village in Great Indian Desert of Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

This takes us to the so-called ‘dhani’, the tiny hamlets where, utilising the extremely scarce natural resources at their disposal, the indigenous dwellers of the Thar Desert live according to customs and traditions that have remained largely unchanged for centuries.

Here, over the course of two days, we spend time with the tribal communities who inhabit this part of the desert – including the Bishnoi, a sect whose 500-year-old beliefs in protecting trees and wildlife have earned it the title of the ‘world’s first environmentalists’.

Best Photography Workshops in India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Portrait of a young boy tending a herd of sheep near a Bishnoi village in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

To make the most of the photographic opportunities that this environment presents, during our stay in the area, we camp among the dunes, in a small, luxury desert camp; this provides us with access to some of the more remote dhanis and the extraordinary landscape that surrounds them, and enables us to immerse ourselves in the unique atmosphere of this region of the Thar Desert to observe a way of life that, with the spread of modernisation, is now fast disappearing.

ACROSS WESTERN RAJASTHAN

Best Travel Photography Workshops in India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Culture of the Great Indian Desert Photography Workshop. A group of Rajasthani women wearing colourful saris on pilgrimage to a Hindu temple in the Great Indian Desert of Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

After returning to Jaisalmer, we travel 450 km east, across the Thar Desert, to the town of Pushkar. The journey, which spans Western Rajasthan from its western to its eastern limits, presents the opportunity to observe the changing desert landscape and provides access to an important religious site.

The resting place of a 14th century Rajput ruler, whose heroic deeds and miraculous powers turned him into a local Hindu folk deity, the shrine illustrates the breath and particularity of local traditions and belief.

Worshipped by different social groups within India, and revered by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs alike, the temple of this hero-saint draws pilgrims from far and wide, and offers excellent opportunities for people photography.

HOLI IN PUSHKAR

Best Travel Photography Workshops in India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Top Rated Holi Festival of Colours & Rajasthan Photography Workshop. Street & Architecture Photography Workshop Rajasthan. Culture of the Great Indian Desert Photography Workshop. A view of Pushkar Lake at dusk with the Aravalli Hills in the background, Pushkar, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

When we reach Pushkar the light is beginning to fade over the valley where, surrounded by mountains on three sides and sand dunes on the fourth, this small pilgrimage town lies.

Encircling a sacred lake that Hindus believe was created when a lotus blossom slipped through the hand of Lord Brahma – the God of creation – Pushkar is amongst the oldest and most sacred towns in India.

As one of the five sacred dhams – the pilgrimage sites that devout Hindus must visit at least once in their life – Pushkar sees a constant stream of pilgrims, who come to pray at the over 400 whitewashed temples that ring the lake, and bathe in its holy waters.

Best Travel Photography Workshops in India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Top Rated Holi Festival of Colours & Rajasthan Photography Workshop. Street & Architecture Photography Workshop Rajasthan. Culture of the Great Indian Desert Photography Workshop. As blue and pink coloured powder explodes around them, young boys play Holi, in Pushkar, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

It is here that we photograph Holi, the Hindu festivity that, once a year, for one day, turns this tranquil pilgrimage town into a blizzard of colours during which all distinctions of caste, class, age, and gender are eclipsed in a flurry of ‘gulal’ (coloured powder).

Celebrated all over India, Holi is an ancient Hindu Spring festival that takes place over the course of two days, the first of which is called Holika Dahan, and the second Rangwali Holi.

Though outside of India the festival is known primarily for the throwing and spraying of colours that takes place on the second and last day, from a photographer’s perspective, the whole event presents excellent and extremely varied opportunities.

Best Travel Photography Workshops in India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Top Rated Holi Festival of Colours & Rajasthan Photography Workshop. Street & Architecture Photography Workshop Rajasthan. Culture of the Great Indian Desert Photography Workshop. A pyre burns in the town's main square during Holika Dahan , the first part of Holi, the Hindu festival of Spring, in Pushkar, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

This is particularly the case in Pushkar, a small town where Holi is celebrated with great enthusiasm, whose layout and architecture are ideal both in terms of setting and access to viewpoints.

On the eve of Holi, celebrations begin with Holika Dahan (‘Holika’s death’, from which Holi takes its name), a huge bonfire on which an effigy of the demoness Holika is ritualistically burnt.

Amassed from pieces of wood that the inhabitants of the town bring to it in the days prior to the festival, the Holika pyre symbolises the victory of good over evil, or more specifically, the power of ‘bhakti’, devotion to a personal god, over malice.

Best Travel Photography Workshops in India: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Tribal Rajasthan Photography Workshop - Specialist Photography Workshop in Rajasthan with Dariusz Klemens - Environmental Portrait Photography Workshop in North India. Top Rated Holi Festival of Colours & Rajasthan Photography Workshop. Street & Architecture Photography Workshop Rajasthan. Culture of the Great Indian Desert Photography Workshop. Drummers accompany the celebrations for Holika Dahan, the first part of Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colours, in Pushkar, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens

On Holika Dahan, as evening approaches, people gather in ever greater numbers in the town’s main square, where the pyre is assembled, to attend ‘puja’, the prayer ritual that opens the ceremony.

Just after sunset, as the pyre ignites, the air swells with the pounding of drums, and people begin to sing and dance around the fire, praying that, like Holika’s effigy that represents it, their ‘inner evil’ be consumed by the flames.

Later in the night, after photographing the ceremony in the main square, we head into different neighbourhoods where, marking the festivity in their own way, people gather around small fires, whilst the women sing, dance, and shower one other with flowers in anticipation of the following day’s Holi celebrations.

Specialist Rajasthan Photography Workshop: Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Rajasthani women wearing colourful saris dance on a bed of flowers during Holi, the Hindu Festival of Spring, in Pushkar, Rajasthan. ©Dariusz Klemens

On the morning of Rangwali Holi, heralded by the sound of drums, crowds of young people armed with balloons and squirt guns filled with coloured water, and pouches full of dry pigment, begin to assemble in the streets.

When they converge onto the main square, the town erupts into an enormous, immensely colourful street party; a no-holds-barred play fight with only one rule: blast as many people as possible with as much, and as many, colours as possible.

As the crowd grows and the revels get into full swing, ever larger quantities of pigment are discharged from all angles – from windows, balconies, and rooftops, sackfuls of gulal rain onto the streets below, combining prismatically mid-air with the dye rockets bursting from beneath, saturating the atmosphere with colour as far as the eye can see.

Specialist Rajasthan Photography Workshop: Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - As clouds of blue gulal coloured-powder engulf them, revellers celebrate Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colours, in Pushkar, Rajasthan, India. ©Dariusz Klemens

At the appointed time, when the colour fight suddenly stops and the dust settles, the town re-emerges quite transformed, its architecture tie-dyed in primary colours, with every exposed surface – every facade, doorway, and balcony – soaked in pigment, and every alcove and recess a pale background.

For us, Rangwali Holi is, therefore, a particularly intense day; one in which we shoot almost uninterruptedly from dawn to dusk. After photographing the colour fight and its aftermath, as the energy of the festivities begins to ebb from the town, we climb a nearby hill where Hindu pilgrims come to pray.

Crowned by a small temple, the hill, which Hindus believe to be of divine origins, offers dramatic views over Pushkar and the surrounding landscape; it is an ideal spot from which to view the town, particularly at sunset, when the lake at its centre often turns a decisive shade of pink.

JAIPUR: THE IDEAL CITY

Specialist Rajasthan Photography Workshop: Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - The astronomical observatory of Jantar Mantar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jaipur, Rajasthan. ©Dariusz Klemens

From Pushkar, the last part of our journey takes us 150km north-east, to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. The largest and by far the busiest of the cities that we photograph during the expedition, Jaipur’s striking architecture, enormous bazaars, and intensely chaotic streets are a thrill to explore and, in photographic terms, present their own set of challenges and opportunities.

Based on mathematical grid, Jaipur’s orderly layout stands in marked contrast to the labyrinthine arrangement of Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, lending the capital a very different atmosphere from that of the medieval towns that we photograph during the first part of the expedition to which it forms an interesting counterpoint.

The first planned city of its time in India, Jaipur was built as a ‘new city’ in the early 18th century by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in accordance with the principles of Vastu Shastra, the traditional Hindu system of architecture, which calls for strict geometrical planning.

Specialist Rajasthan Photography Workshop: Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Silhouette of a child begging in front of Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds, Jaipur, Rajasthan. ©Dariusz Klemens

Divided into nine rectangular sectors corresponding to the divisions of the ancient Hindu map of the universe, Jaipur’s famous pink walled city is the product of its founder’s bold attempt at combining the latest contemporary knowledge of astronomy with ancient Hindu religious and philosophical principles.

In so doing, Jai Singh – ruler of the Kachchwaha Rajput clan, and a renowned astronomer in his own right – intended to create a city that, besides providing protection for its inhabitants, would offer them the ideal living and working environment in which they could thrive, both spiritually and materially.

So successful was the Maharaja in his endeavour, that much of what Jaipur is today closely corresponds with what he had envisaged – a flourishing commercial city structured by a sumptuous architectural frame that married grandeur with functionality.

Specialist Rajasthan Photography Workshop: Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Surrounded by a sea of colourful textiles, a group of Rajasthani women shop for saris in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India . ©Dariusz Klemens

Devised to foster all aspects of commerce, the straight and unusually wide and regular roads that separate the Old City‘s nine blocks were created to house specialized markets for specific goods, in particular textiles and jewellery.

Criss-crossing at right angles, their sidewalks purposely widened to facilitate the flow of pedestrians, the thoroughfares still function as originally planned, connecting a seemingly never-ending succession of bazaars, each containing hundreds of shops, selling an immense variety of items – from handicrafts to precious stones and everything in between.

In photographic terms, this intensely hectic and colourful environment presents an almost overwhelming array of opportunities – a multitude of subjects and moods that we explore extensively during the day, when much of the gem cutting and trading takes place, and in particular, after sunset, when the emporia come alive with shoppers.

Specialist Rajasthan Photography Workshop: Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - A jewel-cutter holds a lilac-coloured semi-precious stone to the light, in one of Jaipur's jewellery markets, Rajasthan, India. ©Dariusz Klemens

As this involves working in both mixed and low-light conditions, in a crowded, fast-paced environment, it calls on many of the technical and decision-making skills that participant are given the opportunity to acquire during the expedition.

During our time in Jaipur, we also explore its remarkable architecture, a blend of Rajput and Mughal concepts of style and design, whose stateliness is enhanced by the uniform pink colour that characterises it, from which the capital derives its informal title of ‘Pink City’.

One of the most significant monuments in the Old City is the astronomical observatory of Jantar Mantar. Meaning literally “instruments for measuring the harmony of the heavens”, Jantar Mantar is a collection of architectural astronomical instruments for measuring time and celestial altitudes, predicting eclipses, tracking stars in their orbits, and performing other complex astronomical calculations.

Specialist Rajasthan Photography Workshop: Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ - Jantar Mantar Astronomical Observatory, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. ©Dariusz Klemens

Built of local stone and marble, the instruments are huge structures set in a courtyard with lawns, which give the visitor the impression of walking through solid geometry and offer excellent photographic opportunities.

In its modern incarnation, Jai Singh’s ideal city is, therefore, also ideal for photography. Filled with magnificent architecture, splendidly chaotic, and supremely colourful, Jaipur is, in many respects, the essence of a historical Indian city, one whose modernity is still visibly defined by tradition.

Its markets overflowing with garments, jewellery, ornaments and handicrafts that have their origins in the multitude of artistic, cultural and artisanship traditions of the communities that inhabit the Thar, Jaipur also brings together the many different strands of our journey, forming a fitting conclusion to our photographic exploration of the Thar Desert and its people.

BEST SUITED FOR

Open to photographers of all levels, the Thar Desert Photography Expedition is a fairly intense journey that traverses the Great Indian Desert and involves extensive travelling.

Photographing in the Thar Desert presents its own challenges and rewards, and requires falling into step with the rhythms of this particular environment. On the vast desert’s horizon, the dawn light grows harsh rapidly, and remains unforgiving till dusk. Besides very early morning rises, this means photographing in high contrast situations for the majority of the time.

More challenging is the natural shyness of most desert dwellers; the development of different techniques with which to approach and photograph people in this very traditional region of India is, therefore, a key aspect of this Expedition.

Encompassing rural and urban environments, the workshop extends from the hamlets of some of the desert’s most sparsely populated areas to its most densely inhabited towns, offering a wide choice of opportunities ranging from landscape to people photography and requiring of participants a good amount of flexibility both as travellers and photographers.

The festival of Holi, as well as the time we spend with the tribal communities of the Marusthali, in particular, provide superb opportunities for photographing people in their environment and throughout the workshop, opportunities for street photography and environmental portraiture abound.

As such, this workshop is ideal for photographers who enjoy adventure and diversity, and who are interested in exploring Rajasthan and the culture of the Great Indian Desert on the occasion of its most colourful, religious festivity. For photographers who are already familiar with Rajasthan, the Expedition provides the opportunity to explore a key element of the region’s cultural and geographical identity.

Whilst the workshop includes numerous opportunities for both natural and urban landscape photography as well as architecture photography, it is particularly well-suited for photographers who are interested in people and street photography.

As is always the case with our photographic journeys, curiosity, flexibility, a strong sense of adventure, and a good level of fitness are essential to participate.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


Practicalities

The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ 2018

Dates: From 22nd February to 5th March 2018

Expedition Leader: Dariusz Klemens

Group Size: Limited to 6 participants

Fees: £4800 – Include: Photography tuition. 12 nights’ accommodation, with breakfast daily. 2 Lunches, 2 suppers, and bottled water during all transfers. All ground transportation (for details, see Overview Tab).  All entrance and related camera fees, visits, and excursions.

Fees are per person, based on two people sharing twin-room accommodation. For single use of a double room, a single supplement of £750 applies.

Fees in other currencies:

On double occupancy: USD 6,198 / EUR 5.243 / CAD 7,792 / AUD 7,806

Single supplement: USD 968 / EUR 819 / CAD 1,217 / AUD 1,220

(Fees in other currencies are based on current exchange rates and are approximate. Billing is in GBP)

 

The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ 2018

START & END POINT
To make the most of our time on the ground, this Expedition begins in Jodhpur and ends in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. Both cities are well-connected by internal flights to Delhi (1 hour) and Mumbai (1h 45m), as well as all other main Indian cities. Jodhpur and Jaipur are also easily accessible by rail, or road from within India. If you require assistance with making your travel arrangements to/from the start and end points of the Expedition, please let us know.

ACCOMMODATION
As the purpose of our journey is to take pictures and immerse ourselves in the atmosphere of the places that we photograph, besides cleanliness and comfort, our choice of accommodation is based on ease of access to shooting locations, and ambiance. We make it a point of staying in places that reflect the historical character – and wherever possible, preserve the natural resources – of the areas in which they are located, and that permit participants independent access to places of interest (in their own time, if they wish to, outside of the scheduled shoots where we photograph as a group.) All the hotels in this itinerary are classed as ‘heritage hotels’; they are housed in original, historical buildings and offer traditional Rajasthani hospitality. At every location, rooms are clean, comfortable and well appointed, with en-suite facilities.

In Jodhpur, our hotel is housed in an elegant, 18th century haveli (mansion) in the heart of the ‘Blue City’ that was once the private residence of the aristocracy of the fiefdom of ‘Pal’, who still own the building, and inhabit one of its wings. The spacious rooms of this grand, traditional Rajput home look directly onto the fort and the city below, while the restaurant, located on the highest roof terrace in the Old Town, offers 360 degree views over the city’s main bazaar and two principal monuments: the imposing Mehrangarh Fort and Umaid Bhawan Palace.

Our hotel in Jaisalmer is also housed in a striking heritage building offering a unique vantage point over the town – an ornate, 18th century haveli at the foot of the fort that is still owned and inhabited by the fifth generation of members of Jaisalmer’s Royal Household, for whom it was originally built. The hotel’s roof-top restaurant is reputed to be the best in town and affords excellent views of the magnificent fort and the adjoining Royal Palace. Like all the properties we use during the Expedition, the hotel is ideally located in relation to shooting locations.

In Pushkar, our base is the top hotel in town, a former Maharaja Palace overlooking Pushkar Lake. Rooms here are spacious and ornate, with carved wooden furniture, and views over the lake. Centrally positioned, the hotel is perfectly located to reach shooting locations, and affords the best vistas over the lake of any building in town.

In Jaipur, our hotel is a large, 19th century haveli fronted by a long portico and sprawling lawn, in the heart of the city. With its beautiful frescoes and columns, the large central hall that now functions as a reading room is a perfect example of the open and cool spaces characteristic of this traditional type of building. As is the case for all the properties that we use on this itinerary, the hotel has a very good restaurant and is perfectly positioned to reach shooting locations.

During our stay in the Thar Desert, we lodge at a small, luxury Desert Camp set amongst the dunes of the Marusthali region. Accommodation here is in individual, large, Luxury Swiss Tents; these are spacious, comfortable and well equipped, with electricity and en-suite bathroom with shower.

FOOD
Since one of the joys of travelling is discovering the local cuisine, we chose where to eat just as carefully as everything else. Within Rajasthan, the cuisine is quite varied and each of the cities on our itinerary has its own specialities – during the Expedition, all the properties that we use have restaurants that serve top-quality, traditional Rajasthani food (as well as continental dishes) and, depending on where we are, we also eat at well-known local restaurants, all of which we have used for years. Indian sweets (‘Mithai’) are an integral part of Indian culture and cuisine – it is said that almost half of all Indian dishes are either sweets or desserts; no celebration in India is considered complete without them, and  Holi is no exception. So, at various locations, between shoots, we find time to taste various specialities at some well-chosen patisseries, including in Pushkar, on Holika Dahan, when according to tradition, people exchange sweets that are prepared specially for the occasion.

TRANSPORTATION
During the Expedition, all transfers between cities are by private, air-conditioned, vehicles. Travelling in our own vehicles throughout the journey allows us to move in comfort, at our own pace, and gives us the flexibility needed to access shooting locations, including areas outside the reach of commercial tourist routes that offer the chance to capture images of a unique way of life.

During our stay in the Marusthali, all excursions from the camp into the surrounding desert are be by jeep, the only vehicles capable of navigating the terrain.

Whilst in Pushkar there is no vehicular traffic, during our stay in Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, for short rides between urban locations, we sometime also use rickshaws as these can navigate the traffic more easily than cars.


Please note that whilst all details are correct at the time of publishing, the Expedition’s itinerary as described on this page is an example and not a guaranteed schedule of activities or events.

The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ 2018

This Expedition is crafted to inspire you to expand your photographic skills and refine your understanding of photography whilst assembling a portfolio of expressive images illustrating your journey.

To accomplish this, the workshop balances intense shooting opportunities, with ‘pauses’ for editing and individual/collective review, and covers both technical and aesthetic aspects of photography through location shoots, individual assignments, one-to-one reviews, targeted feedback and group discussions.

As the goal of the Expedition is to produce a photographic story, emphasis is put on assembling strong coverage of one or more, particular subjects – the itinerary and all its components have been created, planned and timed to deliver this specific goal, enabling participants to produce a complete photographic essay/story documenting their own, unique journey, or particular aspects of it.

TAILORED TUITION
The workshop is structured to provide you with the most favourable conditions in which to experience first-hand, the decision-making processes that support the creation of meaningful images and underpin the development of photographic narrative, along with guidance that is tailored to your photography interests.

We like to focus on the individual needs of our participants well in advance of each workshop; so, by the time the Expedition begins, we have already given some careful thought to how best to help you achieve your photography objectives – whatever these may be.

During the workshop, enabling you to become immersed in your surroundings and anticipate the moment, whilst remaining in full command of the technical skills needed to capture it, is central to our endeavour. For this reason, every aspect of the journey is aimed at facilitating your interaction with your environment, and making you comfortable enough on the ground, to be able to bring all of your photographic skills to bear in rendering your subject.

The group is small enough to permit each participating photographer as much one-to-one tuition with Dariusz as they need to develop at their own pace, yet large enough to generate discussions and opportunities usefully to confront individual approaches.

FEEDBACK & SCHEDULE
Time to edit and review images is an essential feature our daily schedule and feedback session are timed to allow you to make the most of each shoot.

During the Expedition, our day normally begins with a dawn shoot. Depending on location and circumstances, this generally lasts until mid-morning, and is followed by an interval of what we like to call ‘RDR’ – time to rest, download and recharge. According to participants’ needs, later in the day, there is usually time for individual review and feedback sessions, before heading out for an afternoon and sunset shoot. Supper is often followed by group-wide feedback, image presentations and discussions but, during this Expedition, there are also a number of evening and night shoots.

You can therefore expect to be shooting, editing, receiving feedback on your images and have the opportunity to implement the insights that you have gained, on a daily basis, even on the days involving long-distance travel.

This alternation of extensive shoots and targeted feedback is an extremely effective way of understanding the practice and principles that govern the making of distinctive images, and of gathering a body of photographs that is coherent in style and content. As such, it is particularly useful for photographers who are interested in expanding both their technical and interpretative skills and developing a portfolio of images showcasing their work.

Besides generating ideas and inspiration, the feedback sessions (particularly the group discussions) provide the opportunity to move beyond the specifics of particular images, to consider the techniques that can reliably be employed to produce strong images, construct stylistically consistent narratives, and make the best of any photographic opportunity/situation.

As the journey progresses, and participants develop their individual projects and ideas, the scope of the feedback and group discussions widens, generating debate on extremely diverse aspects of photography and producing an intensely creative environment in which to advance your photographic goals.

ACCESS & OPPORTUNITIES
The workshop is built to provide you with unrestricted access to the innumerable photographic opportunities that the journey presents. Accordingly, the itinerary is structured to allow you the possibility of exploring them outside of the planned location shoots, where we photograph as a group.

We believe that the more opportunities you have to become familiar with your environment, the greater the fluidity with which you will be able to photograph it, and we see no need to restrict your experience of the places to which we travel, to the locations that we photograph as a group.

Further, we think that travelling within a group should not mean having to be constantly ‘tied’ to the group, and that between the times in which they enjoy the company of others, participants should have the opportunity to rest, explore, or just soak in their surroundings independently, in their own time, if they so wish.

Our policy of using strategically-placed accommodation supports this approach by ensuring that, even when you are not with the group, you have easy, independent access to shooting locations – The RDR portion of the day is, in fact, often used by participants to explore particular subjects, or locations, individually or with other participating photographers.

The journey provides access to a wide variety of subjects, ranging from landscape to environmental portraiture, and includes specialised tuition on how to photograph people in a variety of situations. Since, as is the case for all our photographic journeys, this Expedition is based entirely on real-life situations, interaction techniques are a fundamental aspect of this workshop.

Dariusz has photographed the Thar Desesrt, the Holi festivities, and every location on this itinerary numerous times. He’s therefore familiar not just with the many ‘nooks and crannies’ of the places that we photograph and the different opportunities that they each offer at different times, but also with local customs and traditions. This experience enables him to provide workshops’ participants with guidance on approaching and rendering specific subjects and events that we encounter during the journey.

Throughout the workshop, Dariusz’s objective is to share his knowledge and expertise in the most effective way possible to help you define and accomplish your own, individual, photographic goals.

The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ 2018

Type of camera
We recommend that you bring a single-lens reflex (SLR) type of camera; this can be for film or digital, in 35mm or medium format. The camera can be of any make, but it must have a manual option for aperture and shutter-speed adjustment. Compact’ and instant cameras, or any other camera without adjustable f-stops, focus and shutter speed is not appropriate for the type of photography that we practice on our Photography Expeditions. Whatever camera(s) you choose to bring, we strongly recommend that you bring a back-up body, as fixing any problems during the journey would be impossible.

Lenses
Whilst a choice of different focal length lenses will allow you greater flexibility, you do not need more than one lens to take full advantage of the workshop. If you bring only one lens, it would be preferable for it to be a zoom lens with a range of 28-210mm. The optimum selection for this workshop is 2 or more zoom lenses covering the 20 to 200mm range, plus a fast prime lens – e.g. 50mm f1.8 or 35mm f1.4, preferably both.

Digital SLRs
To ensure that you have sufficient memory to shoot high-resolution images throughout each day on the Expedition, you should bring a minimum of two 32GB memory cards per camera. Additionally, you will need a 500GB, and up to 1TB of external storage to store your images.(Cloud storage is not a realistic option during the workshop).To edit and process your images for review, your laptop needs to be reasonably fast; we recommend at least 500GB of free hard-drive space. Please ensure that you bring all the necessary ancillary equipment including connecting cables, memory card reader and software back-up disks.

Film
If you shoot film please note that professional transparency film is not widely available in India, so you must bring a sufficient number of rolls with you when you join the Expedition.

Flash
If your equipment includes a flash unit, you may find it useful to bring it. A flash unit is not an essential piece of equipment, but can certainly prove useful in some circumstances.

Filters
The only filter we recommend that you bring is a standard UV Filter. A Sky 1A or Sky 1B is also a useful alternative. Although the workshop covers the use (and misuse) of filters, these are not essential.

Tripod
Although a tripod can be useful for photographing landscapes and working in low light conditions, this is by no means an essential piece of equipment for 35mm camera users on this workshop. However, a tripod is a must if you are planning to bring a medium format camera. Bear in mind that a monopod can be a useful, more portable alternative to a tripod for both 35mm and medium format.

Cleaning Equipment
During the Expeditions, we put our camera equipment through its paces; a good camera and lens-cleaning kit is essential for daily maintenance.

If you have any questions, please contact us

The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™ 2018 - Booking Form Request

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step " (Laozi)

If you would like to join this Expedition, please fill in the Booking Form Request, below. (The booking form includes our Terms & Conditions). We do not share your information with anyone else.

Please wait...

Postcards from The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™

Photography workshop Rajasthan: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™, best Rajasthan photography workshop, specialist photography workshop in Rajasthan - A Jain woman celebrates her Dishka in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens
Jain Diksha (II)
Photography workshop Rajasthan: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™, best Rajasthan photography workshop, specialist photography workshop in Rajasthan, India photography workshop - A Jain woman celebrates her Dishka, in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens
Jain Diksha (I)
Photography workshop Rajasthan: The Thar Desert Photography Expedition™, best Rajasthan photography workshop, specialist photography workshop in Rajasthan, photography workshop India - A Hindu wedding procession, in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. Photo: © Dariusz Klemens
The Wedding Party
Photography Workshops