India – The Good, The Great and The Downright Scary – Part 1

Part 1 – Tom Corban takes you on a rollercoaster ride adventure into North & Northwest India sharing his experiences, challenges and beauties discovered all whilst using the Fujifilm cameras and lenses.

Jaipuri, India.

By Tom Corban

It spread through the air like static electricity, conducting from one person to another. Fear truly is contagious.

Everyone was running away from the rather skinny looking snake. Skinny or not, the guides and camel tenders were visibly frightened. You could feel the fear in the air.

We had just spent our first night in the Thar desert close to the border with Pakistan, sleeping on the sand dunes with four other travelers we had met the night before. The blankets we had been sleeping on had been piled up ready to be put on the camels. It was then that the snake was spotted.

Three Camels at dusk in the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer District, India. The desert, also known as The Great Indian Desert is the worlds 17th largest Desert. It was here where we had the encounter with the snake.

Armed with sticks, shovels and an axe, the camel tenders returned. One of them went forward and nervously lifted the corner of the top blanket. No snake. He lifted it higher, then pulled it off the pile as he quickly backed away. The others moved in with clubs and axes ready to pounce. Still no snake. They retreated again. This process was repeated four times before the snake was found. Each man swung his stick or axe clubbing the ground wildly before running away, looking back to see if the snake was chasing them. The snake however had disappeared into the sand. We asked Mulla (our guide) how dangerous it was. “It’s a Lundi snake, very dangerous, very poisonous” he said.  The men, armed with shovels, moved in. I thought they were just going to chase it away but the process of digging, hitting and running away continued until the snake eventually received a blow from a stick and a man with an axe moved in to finish it off.

When we got back, we looked up “Lundi snake”. Lundi is the Urdu name for a sub species of Saw Scaled Viper. It is described as a very fast moving snake that strikes quickly & repeatedly, with reports of it chasing its victims relentlessly, and in India alone, it is responsible for an estimated 5,000 human fatalities a year.

Once the snake was no longer a threat, the camels were saddled up and our companions from last night started on their way back to Jaisalmer.

A monk sits on the steps at a Jain Temple in Jaisalmer, India. The temple, which was constructed in the 12 century, is built of yellow sandstone and is famous for its intricate stonework.

Jo, I and Mulla set off in the opposite direction, further into the desert. There are many things one can do on a camel but being comfortable is not one of them, well not at first anyway. It also seems a slow way of traveling but before you know it you have covered a considerable distance and things that were on the horizon are now beside you. It’s a bit like traveling by canal boat in Britain but with more pain and less tea. It was scorching by the time we stopped for lunch and took shelter from the sun as it was far too hot to move when the sun is at its height. Even at 5pm when we stopped at an oasis to water the camels, it was still 42.9 C degrees in the shade. We finally stopped for the night on a small group of sand dunes. As Mulla made us tea, we watched 8 Desert Eagles circle in the thermals above us. Eventually they lost height and settled in a tree from where they kept us company till the morning. We spread the camel blankets out on the dune and looked at the stars till we fell asleep. Even though we woke many times during the night, each time the night sky was stunning.

The next morning Mulla said that there had been a lot of Lundi snake activity during the night and there were snake tracks around the camels. He said that he was relieved that the camels had not been bitten as it would have killed them. We showed him some tracks where something had come up the dune to where we had been sleeping and passed just over a metre away from where my head had been. “That Lundi snake” he said. “A big one”. “But we were sleeping there!“ we exclaimed. “You very lucky” he said.

We were very lucky a lot on this trip. We had started off in Delhi before going to Varanasi, Agra and then Ranthambore National Park near Jaipur. We were told that you should book at least 6 safaris to stand a good chance of seeing a tiger. We booked 6. We saw 8 different tigers including a mother and her two 9 month old cubs.

A tiger emerging from the grass at Ranthambore National Park, Sawai Madhopur, India. The reserve was the private hunting reserve of the Jaipur Royal Family until 1955. The reserve is thought to have 43 adult tigers and 14 cubs although it is difficult to be certain as it is an “open” reserve which forms part of a larger “tiger corridor” in the region.

We met funny and generous people who went out of their way to look after us and show us around. We were accepted into an Indian family to experience the Holi festival with them in Jaipur.

A child covered in coloured dye during Holi Festival, Jaipuri, Rajastan, India. Holi is a Hindu festival celebrating the beginning of spring. Bonfires are lit the night before Holi and offerings made to ensure a good harvest. The main Holi festival takes place the following day when people throw coloured dye on each other. It is often celebrated privately within family groups but in the streets anyone is fair game. Holi provides an opportunity to disregard social norms and young men have been known to act disrespectfully as the day goes on. Advice is given for single women to avoid going out alone and for tourists to be off the streets by early afternoon.

We then went on to Spiti valley where we met the Lama of the Kee Monastry who showed us around, unlocking rooms and ushering us in as he went. In one room there was a metal encased Stupa about 10 ft high,decorated with emeralds and other precious stones containing ashes of the 6th to the 13th Dali Lamas. Afterwards he took us into his private room and gave us tea and cake before giving us his blessing and waving us off.

Kee Monastery (also spelled Ki and Key), Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. The Buddhist monastery, believed to be a 1000 years old, sits on a hilltop at an altitude of 4,166 meters. It has a collection of ancient scrolls and murals and is the biggest monastery in the Valley.

On previous trips through Nepal, Vietnam and Cambodia I had taken my Canon kit. It had worked well but it was heavy and took up a lot of room. On the Nepal trip for instance, we had hired an extra porter as we were going into the Annapurna Sanctuary. It’s a long walk if you are carrying heavy gear and are not used to the altitude.

Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. Buddhist prayer flags at Dhakar Monastery with the floor of the Spiti valley in the background.

This time I wanted to travel lighter so I took the Fuji kit. This consisted of an X-T1 and three lenses. The XF 10-24 f4 lens, the XF 16-55 F2.8 and the XF 50- 140 f2.8. I also took a XF 1.4 Teleconverter and a Nissin i40 flash.

Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. Farming in the Spiti valley near Kee (also spelled Ki and Key), The Valley is a high altitude cold desert. It is very remote and covered in snow for much of the year. Although this photograph shows tractors they were the only ones we saw in the valley where, because of the steep slopes, the type of cultivation is terraced and tractors are of little use.

In practice this meant that I could carry the complete kit with ease in a waist pack. It was a bit of a tight fit when everything was in it, but when I was using the camera it was easy to change lenses or get the flash out. I found it much easier to manage the Fuji kit than it was to manage the Canon 5Dmk 3 with its lenses, where I needed a much bigger camera rucksack. Although the Fuji lenses I was using are not much smaller than the Canon Lenses, the X-T1 is significantly smaller than the Canon full frame. This meant that everything fitted into the waist bag even the lens hoods! The lens hoods may not sound like a big deal, but to me they are. Previously I had tried everything I could think of to accommodate lens hoods for my Canon lenses, ending up with collapsible rubber ones that I would keep in the top part of my camera rucksack and put on when I was using a particular lens. It was less than ideal. Changing lenses would usually require taking the rucksack off, opening the bottom compartment to change the lens and then opening the top compartment to get the lens hood.

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India. Housing on the hillside around Shimla. The town, built on seven hills, was the summer capital of British India, becoming the capital of Himachal Pradesh after independence.

With the X-T1 body and the Fuji lenses with the lens hoods fitted, all within the belt pack, changing lenses became much easier. It was certainly a lot safer when changing lenses in crowded environments where there were warnings of pickpockets operating.

The other thing that is worth mentioning is that although in practice there was not much difference in size and weight of the Fuji lenses compared to the Canon ones, the Fuji ones have an aperture of f2.8 as opposed to the f4 on my Canon lenses. As a travel kit, I found it worked wonderfully. I had a good range of focal lengths and a comparatively wide aperture when I needed it.

Kalpa, Himachal Pradesh, India. Tribal women in traditional dress in Kalpa village. The Indian government has given ‘Tribal Status” to the area in order to give special focus on the social and economical development of most deprived class of society i.e Scheduled Tribes. The region is very remote with no air, rail or waterway links. Roads which can often be closed by snow, swept away by floods or closed by landslips, are the only means of communication.

Part 2 of Tom Corban’s adventure through India can be found here. 

And if you’d like to read more from Tom check out:  To Glastonbury and beyond featured here at

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