In 2015 I returned to India with the intent to spend as much time as possible with the native people and integrate myself the best I could within the local communities. I knew this would be the only way to really get to know the country I loved so much. Travelling solo on a motorcycle, combined with the selfless hospitality and curiosity of the Indian and Kashmiri people this became incredibly easy.
The motorcycle gave me the freedom to satisfy my curiosity and explore independently without any constraint. I camped by the side of the road or would stay with families I had befriended. As a result I was able to photograph some incredible people within their environments.
In Kashmir I was lucky enough to live with two amazing families for several months. Living in Srinagar allowed me to witness how the region’s fragile political situation is affecting its citizens firsthand. I was there when the country was hit by some of its worst ever floods, and was snowed in at the remote village of Kulan for several days before coming close to death on the descent down icy Himalayan roads on my departure from the country.
After its strikingly obvious military presence the thing that sets Kashmir apart from the India to the south is the huge mountainous expanse of ever-changing beauty found in the Himalaya. But with this beauty comes the harsh conditions that make Himalayan life a rugged one. High up in the mountains of Sonamarg, with the help of my friend Shaid, we managed to track down some Gujjar who still continue to live nomadically, shepherding their livestock across the harsh conditions of the mountains. It was incredible to witness.
Varanasi has always been a place of great interest to me. It is a photographers paradise and a great place to philosophise with some very influential sadhus. Varanasi is one of the worlds oldest inhabited cities and one of Hinduism’s seven holy cities. Pilgrims come to the ghats lining the River Ganges to wash away a lifetime of sins in the sacred waters or to cremate their loved ones. It’s a particularly auspicious place to die, since expiring here offers moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death), making Varanasi the beating heart of the Hindu universe.
The city is also a spiritual home for India’s sadhus. These holy men are seen by Hindus as representatives of the gods and sometimes even worshiped as gods themselves. They are ascetic wanderers respected for their holiness and feared for their curses. I had an overwhelming curiosity towards these holy men who had wilfully renounced themselves of all earthly possession and dedicated their lives to the pursuit of spiritual liberation. Their reality is dictated only by the mind, not material objects. Even death is not a fearsome concept, but a passing from the world of illusion.
I spent 6 months living in Varanasi and soon became a regular face along the holy ghats and the old city. I would meet with sadhus and people of the community daily. Arsu Baba was one of the most influential and respectable individuals I have ever met. We spent a lot of time together putting the world to rights, smoking and cooking in my apartment. He was a very well educated man who spoke English perfectly. He came from a wealthy family and was once a criminal defence lawyer, before quitting one day when he decided he could no longer justify defending guilty men. He walked out of his family home with only the clothes he had on his back and continued walking for 4 years until he came to Varanasi.
In my final few weeks I drifted through the Rajasthan desert returning to my favourite cities Jodhpur the historically famous blue city and Pushkar where I eventually sold my beloved Royal Enfield. Using the money to pay for my flight home.