This week we had the pleasure of interviewing Arun Bhat, a freelance travel writer, awesome photographer, and owner of the Indian Travel Blog: PaintedStork.com
India is an increasingly popular tourist destination that is very diverse and chaotic. We ask Arun questions about traveling in India; highlights, culture, and destinations, and Arun offers us some great advice on taking great travel photos.
BT: If a travel lover wanted to spend a week in India, what places should they visit, what food should they try, and what things must they experience?
Arun: This is a difficult question to answer, knowing that India is too large to cover in one week. I would recommend different plans depending on whether it is your first visit to India or not.
If this is your first India experience, it is perhaps best to stick to the time-tested path that gives a good beginning to what India can be. Arrive in Delhi and spend a day in a good hotel to get accustomed to being in a new place. Take the well-known itinerary that they now call ‘Golden Triangle,’ which covers the Taj Mahal at Agra, forts, palaces in Jaipur, and important sights within Delhi. This will take just about a week to give you an idea of what India is.
If this is not your first visit to India, I would recommend sticking to one area and spending most of your time there. Choose the location depending on your interest. If you want to have a good time walking along the beaches and visiting spas, head to Kerala. If high mountains and some difficult treks are in your mind, go to Ladakh or Sikkim. If you want to see a glimpse of India’s history, visit Karnataka (Hampi, Badami, and Belur). Go to North-East to see some exotic wildlife. India always offers something interesting for every kind of traveler.
First-time travelers often tend to get overwhelmed by the chaos that India is. Know that you are usually safe in most places and let the chaos sink into you. It is a matter of a few days before you feel at home in the country.
BT: Your home city is Bangalore, what makes it a special city to live in and explore?
Arun: Bangalore offers the unique advantage of being situated exactly between two coastlines with both sides easily accessible for a weekend getaway. The city also has quick access to beautiful hilly regions and to some unique historical sites. This means you are never too far from all the good things in life. Even if you get out of the city every weekend (see weekend getaways from Bangalore), it would take you a few years to visit all the places worth going to. The city itself is known for its pleasant weather with nearly uniform temperatures throughout the year. For some reason, weather gods always ensure that just when it is about to get too hot, too cold, or too damp, a quick change in weather comes along and everything is back to normal.
Another good thing about Bangalore is that it has a large number of people who like to get out, explore new places, try to learn new things, and lead an active life. If you are one of those people who prefer to do things in the company of people, you will never be short of them.
BT: What is it like being a freelance travel writer? What are the best things, and what are the worst?
Arun: Let’s have the best things first. When you start writing about your journeys, you start seeing improvements in the way you travel. Because you know that you have to tell new stories to the world, you stay alert and look for interesting things. You go in search of something new that a few people would have seen. You research well before you go; you make sure that you talk to locals to gather all interesting information. Over time, you start seeing that each time you get out, you experience a lot more, see and do much more than a normal traveler would. Travel writers always ensure that they get the best out of their journeys.
The other good thing about being a travel writer is more obvious – you get many opportunities to travel. First, you create an opportunity by not being in a regular job and keeping yourself available to travel all the time. Second, you may often get invited to visit new places and to try new things.
Coming to the downside, the first thing is that there isn’t much money in it. Writing doesn’t necessarily pay well. It is a lot of hard work to ensure that you always have some stories to sell. Perhaps very few people manage to make a living by freelance writing alone; it is a different thing if you are employed by a publication. This would mean you may be doing other things besides freelance writing to make ends meet. Fortunately for me, my other source of income comes from photography, which complements my writing and lets me travel more. Another problem for travel writers is the burden of travel itself. Anything done too much really gets monotonous. But one learns quickly and creates a balance between traveling and staying home. In the first year of my plunge into travel writing, I traveled a lot and enjoyed every moment of it. Now I prefer to be out for no more than 60 to 90 days in a year. This ensures that the excitement of travel never weens off. Otherwise, it can become just like any other job.
BT: We’re a big fan of your photography, what is one tip you could give travel lovers, so they take better photos?
Arun: Thank you. I would begin by telling travelers not to worry about photography. In a rush to capture the most beautiful sunset you would ever see in life, you will realize that you missed the experience while you were busy struggling through the viewfinder. Linger in the experiences first and only then take your camera out. If you give sufficient attention to your subjects first, you will automatically end up with good images.
For those who want to take photography seriously, do remember that one needs to get a better understanding of what's involved in taking a picture to be able to control how an image comes out. There is plenty of material on the internet, including my blog. Get to know the basic theories of photography before handling the camera. Do a lot of reading first and then get out often and practice with your camera. The more you shoot and more you seriously review your image, the better photographer you are likely to become.
BT: You have over 1200 travel photos on your site, most of which are available for purchase, what are your five favorite photos, and why do you consider them to be your favorite?
Arun: It would be very hard for me to point at a few images and call them my favorites. But let me try to pick a few anyway.
My attempts to capture the beautiful monuments in the small town of Orchha in Central India was a very satisfying experience. I spent nearly five days walking all around the town looking for good angles, viewpoints, and compositions. The weather gods helped me here by creating varied conditions (fog, rain, and clear blue sky!) during those five days. This meant I could capture some very different images and unique compositions that I don’t recall seeing from this much-photographed location.
Another photography session that really had me excited was shooting backstage and the performances at a cultural event. Kathakali is a traditional performing art where artists spend almost half a day getting ready for the show. I shot a series of images of various stages of putting on makeup and costumes. I think I like the backstage images much more than the ones from the performance itself.
The other area where I have felt some success is in photographing landscapes. I often work hard to make a vista prettier than how it may appear to normal eyes and have met with mixed success in it. The image of “strings of water” from a small waterfall near my city, and the photograph of winter fog near the city are something that may appear very ordinary unless you look hard to see the beauty in them. It is always satisfying when your photographs tell a story that bare eyes can easily miss.
BT: India is becoming an increasingly popular destination for foreign tourists, what advice could you give us while traveling, so that we show proper respect to the people of India and their culture?
Arun: Indians are mostly friendly and welcoming and do not have stringent cultural etiquette. You can be yourself most of the time, especially in daily interaction with people. You are usually not even required to get your “please” and “thank you” right, and it doesn’t matter what cutlery you use on the dining table. But it is easy to upset people in a religious setting if you don’t follow some set of rules. Since India is a culturally diverse country, it is impossible to formulate one set of rules that applies across the country. Talk to people and be aware of local customs before you enter a religious place. Other things that are not culturally accepted are – public display of affection and any degree of nudity.
BT: India is such a diverse country, from the mountains of Ladahk, to the beaches and forests of Goa, what advice would you give a seasoned traveler, so that they could see and experience all that India has to offer?
Arun: I would recommend not to become greedy! It is only natural that you would want to see everything you can in one visit. But you would get the best of India only if you give it plenty of time, decide to spend time in fewer locations, and explore those places well. Don’t take it for granted that you will be making that one visit in a lifetime, and you better see everything you can. India beckons many serious travelers so often and so strongly that you will never really keep away for long!