India – The Good, The Great and The Downright Scary – Part 2

Part 2 – 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.

This is a two part blog into the adventures of Tom Corban and his trip through North & Northwest India, if you missed the original post you can view it here. 

As the trip went on and the temperature increased, I appreciated not having a rucksack covering my back. I began to realise that I was missing something. It was really brought home to me when we went north into the Himalayas to do some mountain biking. We were cycling downhill on a narrow bumpy mud track with a steep cliff face going up on one side and a sheer drop of over 1 kilometre on the other and I realised that there is only so much weight you want bouncing around on you, irrespective of how you are carrying it. I started fantasizing about my X-E2 with its kit lens, but more about that later.

Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. Jo finishing a 26 km cycle ride which started at 3940 m, descended to 3413 m, then climbed back to 3627 m. Quite an achievement at that altitude.

One of the nice things about this trip was that it was a holiday. There was no pressure and no deadline for any images. This gave me the chance to experiment with the Fuji kit without worrying about making any errors. It may sound unprofessional to some people but I have been so impressed by the Fuji Jpegs that I now rarely shoot RAW files. I had not really explored the various film settings and tended to use the Standard and Velvia settings almost exclusively. Having now experimented with the film settings, I am developing a soft spot for the Black and white with a yellow (or in some instances red) filter and I have found that in the right setting the Chrome can be stunning. I had an almost childish delight in finding out what the camera could do.

A man sits on blue steps outside his house in Jodhpur Old City, Rajasthan, India. Jodhpur is also known as the blue city because of the large number of houses and walls painted blue which, according to the locals, repels termites which are a problem in the area.

We had decided to limit our travel to the north and north west of the country, travelling by train, bus and in the more remote areas, camel and 4 wheel drive. I was interested to see how the Fuji kit stood up to the rigour of travel and how it performed in some challenging environments. I was aware that my photography had already changed as a result of using Fuji cameras but it became much more noticeable on this trip. I made fewer images and I have become, on the whole, slower.  This is not a bad thing as I find that I am getting the results I want with the Jpegs straight out of the camera.

Delhi, India. India Gate at sunset, The 42 m high archway stands in the center of New Delhi and commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during World War 1. It also bears the names of British and Indian soldiers killed in the Afghan war of 1919. The structure sits in a large expanse of green lawns which are popular for picnics and cricket on summer evenings.

Slower behind the camera and then less time in front of the computer suits me well. I have also found that I have fewer “technical” rejects. I find that the focusing on the X-T1 is not as fast as the Canon 5D mk 3 so in some circumstances I have more out of focus shots than I would expect. However, for me this is more than made up for by the fact that I have far fewer unsharp photographs caused by camera shake in low light settings because of the wider aperture of the Fuji lenses, the lack of a mirror and the vibration it causes and the ease of holding the camera steady.

Phul Mahal (The Palace of Flowers) in the Mehrangarh Fort,Jodhpur, India. Built in the mid 18th centuryit was probably used as a private audience hall. A stunning room but with with very little light showing what the X-T1 can do in difficult lighting conditions.

Perhaps if I were doing a lot of fast action work I would be more tempted to use the full frame camera but as things stand the Fuji suits me fine.

In low light settings such as religious services in Varanasi, the Fuji kit showed its strengths. Wonderfully sharp lenses and a camera that I could hold in my hands at slow shutter speeds.

Sunrise on the Ganges at Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Garlands of flowers and candles given as offerings float on the river as the sun rises.

The weather sealing stood up well in some difficult situations with temperatures of over 50 C in the desert and below freezing in the Himalayas, as well as rain, sand and huge amounts of fine powder dye during the Holi celebrations in Jaipur. There was a little wear on the camera body and the rubber cover that protects the HDMI, remote release and USB sockets has become a little misshapen with the heat but it’s a solid body built to last.

A man bathes in the river Ganges at Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Hindu’s consider the Ganges to be the most sacred river in India and thousands visit the Holy city of Varanasi to cleans their sins in the spiritually purifying water. Environmentalists are concerned about the high levels of pollution in the river caused by the increase in population and the resultant increase in pollutants discharged into the river.

Did I make the right decision to take the Fuji Kit with me on this trip?

Absolutely. It’s a joy to use. The full kit fitted into a small waist bag with the lens hoods still on the lenses, I had no difficulty keeping the sensor clean, the Jpegs were wonderful straight out of the camera and the film simulations are good (I mean really good). I can also hold it in my hands at low shutter speeds, the lenses are sharp and I had no trouble with chromatic aberrations.

With a kit that performed like that, what more could I possibly want?

Well my X-E2 with its kit lens really.

I said earlier that we had been lucky on this trip. Whilst that’s true, we did have some difficult times. We had a bag with my Fuji X-E2 and Jo’s phone in it stolen on a sleeper train from Varanasi to Agra. I had taken my X-E2 on a various trips around Europe during the past couple of years and was really fond of it. It was the sort of camera and lens combination that you could carry unobtrusively and I loved wandering around new cities with it. Heat, rain, fog – just tuck it under your jacket. As our India trip went on, I found myself wanting it as a second camera.  I know that this sounds a bit excessive but the option of occasionally leaving the full kit in the hotel and just spending some time wandering around with a smaller, lighter camera and the kit lens was very appealing and certainly would have been useful when we were cycling.

It had never been an option before as there was never anywhere secure that was large enough to lock up my full frame camera and lenses and, as a result, I would carry everything with me all the time. You do get used to it but it’s an ongoing nuisance and wonderfully liberating when you get home and don’t have to carry a heavy bag everywhere. To my delight, I found that the small safes that hotels all over the world use was large enough to fit all my Fuji kit in and still leave room for a backup hard drive and a few other odds and ends.

It’s a real game changer as it gives me the option of going out with the full kit or just the X-E2. Well it would give me that option if someone had not stolen the X-E2!  I will clearly have to replace it. Mind you I have not seen the X Pro2 yet but it certainly looks good on paper and the reviews are encouraging. Now, back in England, I find myself wondering if the X Pro2 will be the camera that finally makes me sell my Canon kit and move to Fuji completely.

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India. Young women in traditional dress during Himachal Day. Himachal Day celebrates the creation of the State of Himachal Pradesh after independence in 1948. Hima means snow in Sanskrit and Himachal literally means “The land of snow”

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

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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

See more of Tom’s work at