On Monday morning we had decided to go for a tour with bikes to the near by villages. In the morning when we watched the sunrise at the lake Stijn had met a nice man who offered him to go for a bike tour through villages. When Stijn told me about the opportunity I somehow imagined that it would be a bicycle tour. Up until the last moment of our departure I thought so… But it turned out to be a tour on motorbike. Thank god! I am big fan of a long distance bicycle rides up the hill. Over the local hills and in the heat that was there already in the morning, I would have not survived a bicycle ride. And Stijn would have to deal with a very grumpy woman beside him.
Family portraits without the woman doesn’t feel correct to us
So it was a tour on the motorbikes. We both were in passenger seats of two locals. We did meet again at the temple where we watched sunrise a few days ago and from there we left on the motorbike. First stop a gas station to fill up the bikes (which we had to pay). Next we stopped to get some breakfast from the local street vendors. It was some potato or corn-omelette kinda thing and rice that were packed in a piece of newspaper for take away. It did seem a bit suspicious but the two guys reassured us it certainly was fine. We would take it with us to have it later. Our first tour stop was rather sudden. We had to get of the bikes and we were brought in a dark house. The men living in the house came outside with their chairs, kids followed. Our guide was persisting that we should go inside the house to take a look and take photos. As I entered the house in a glimpse I saw a woman standing in a dark room. At that very moment I felt, that it is not O.K. for me to just randomly step in someones house without invitation, without knowing the people. I left the house and soon did Stijn too. One of the guides was nudging Stijn to take photos of the family and was very surprised that I had no camera with me. There we both realised that this is not the way we would like to have a tour in the villages. We did take a family portrait outside while the cow was doing it’s business in the background. Stijn did insist the woman should also be in the photo but our two ‘guides’ repeated it’s not according their culture. The woman did stay inside the house.
The next stop was Tiger lake. It is located between hills and is considered to help in curing tuberculosis. It is much cleaner as the lakes in the city. There are also way less people, at least in the morning time. That was our breakfast place. We did not eat much of the local street food as we already have had cookies before and we are still not very used to eating with our hands. (Stijn: and I also did not trust it too much.)
For the next locations we would always stop suddenly. We could wonder a little street or enter a house of local family, if we wanted to. Most of the time those were certain streets/paths where the guides seemed to know the local people, but spending too long time in a location for taking time and photos or wander a little bit in one of the side streets was not really encouraged. We did not find such concept of a tour too inspiring.
The kids of the different villages we visited were definitely entertained. They were very responsive to the camera. Some of the women would pose with their infant kids. Teenage girls were mostly shy. They would have been great for shoots, but our guides didn’t like to take too much time in on place. We did not see many men around the villages. We were told that they are mostly working in the city or near by farms.
In one of the places we were invited to have a seat on the terrace of a house. One of the guides seem to know the family living there. We were offered water served in metal cups, curd mixed with corn and finally a tea. We kindly refused the water as we still are very precautions about what we eat and drink. Stijn tried the curd and we both had a glass of black tea. After hearing so many horror-disease stories it is hard to place a judgment when it is and when it is not safe to eat or drink something. So we go half way, cross our fingers and hope that we stay healthy.
The villages we visited are located between rocky hills. The scenery is beautiful. We both enjoyed the bike ride a lot. The tour in the villages was something else. The way we were brought inside houses of the locals did not feel right. It felt strange and awkward, like we would intrude. For me it is not the right way how to get to know someone. There is more to know and see than just poor life conditions, but you can not learn that in 5 or 10 minutes.
It was a good opportunity to see a different kind of India, one that we won’t see in the city and also not when driving with the bus from one city to the other. The paths where we were driving were sometimes so narrow it was only accessible by bike. But the quick visits and fast leaves sure did not make it feel right. Also from the point of view of the photography. Visiting some places for merely 20 minutes is not enough to gain some trust, get to know the people and their stories (how many time a day do they get water, how far do they have to walk, do they go to school,..).
Sometimes one of the unofficial guides insisted to take photos where I (Stijn) did not want to because it did feel not authentic or forced. A young girl with an empty water can was told to put it on her head for the photo. An older woman waiting for the bus was almost summoned to go and sit in the shadow so I could take a better photo. Since there’s no time to gain the trust and respect from any of these people, giving commands certainly doesn’t feel appropriate. It would only feel right if we were invited by people or if there was something we could do in return.
After the tour one of the guide invited us to have a cup of tea at his home. We were sitting in his room, his daughter was making us masala chai and we were talking about his children and schools. It seems much more honest and personal.