Alex and Sebastiaan are intrepid travelers, who are in search of adventure in far off places. They are open-minded individuals, who have taken on the diverse landscapes of India.
Yo! I’m Alex, an American girl currently backpacking through India with Sebastiaan, my Dutch boyfriend. I’m 25, and Sebastiaan clocks in at an ancient 28. We’ve been on the road for almost a year, seeking out off-beat destinations and friendly people wherever we go.
Prior to adopting a nomadic lifestyle, we both worked in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I worked as a web designer, and Sebastiaan was a salesman. These days, we travel full-time and blog about it at Lost With Purpose. Hopefully the blog will one day fund some of our travels—we don’t want to go back to office life any time soon!
How does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
I’m much more attentive to things others might find trivial, such as lighting, or the way people move about a space. My eyes are constantly searching for moments of perfect composition in the hustle and bustle, or a perfect splash of color in an otherwise monotonous scene. Travel-wise, we’re trying to adapt our sightseeing to fit around the best photography times—early morning and late afternoon. We still need to work a bit on waking up early on a regular basis, but we’ll often spend the middle of the day hiding from the heat and working on the blog, then go out in the afternoon to go sightseeing during the golden hours of the day.
What sparked your interest to travel to India? Which cities have you visited
How could we not be interested in visiting India? The country has such a wild mystique surrounding it. Everyone we’ve spoken to either loves it or hates it with a passion, it’s a kaleidoscope of cultures and colors, and the food… oh the food. It has a reputation as a destination every traveler needs to visit in his or her lifetime, and we understand why!
Of course, we’ve only covered a small portion of India. We initially flew into Delhi from Afghanistan, but quickly moved on to southern Chennai to celebrate Diwali with a friend of ours. After that, we meandered around Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, and Maharashtra. City-wise, we’ve seen the hippie enclaves Hampi, Gokarna, and Arambol, gone a bit off the beaten track in cities like Bijapur and Bidar, and hit up big cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad. We’re currently in Mumbai, but tomorrow we’re taking a train into Gujarat.
What has been your favorite approach to photography while there? Do you generally strike up a conversation with your subjects or just candidly capture the moment? How do people react to being photographed?
I believe in striking up a bit of a rapport before photographing people up close. You shouldn’t treat people like zoo animals!On the other hand, I’m immensely shy, and totally terrified of approaching people to ask for photos. Usually, if I’m a ways away, I’ll shoot without saying anything, but these days I’m trying to be more confident and bold about asking for photos up close. A surprising number of people in India don’t mind having their photo taken, though most old women I ask politely decline.
How did this trip differ from trips you’ve taken in the past? What surprised you most about your experience?
India is probably the most diverse country we’ve ever been in… and we’ve seen a lot! It’s like entering a new country every time we take a long-distance bus, and I swear we hear a new language every other day.
I’m not sure anything has surprised us, though. People made India to seem so overwhelming and intimidating… but it’s not nearly as bad as they claimed. We’ve experienced crushing traffic in Thailand, had just as many near-death experiences with drivers in Iran, and seen equally filthy streets in Pakistan. If I were to be surprised by anything, I’d say it’s the sheer number of men (or lack of women) on the streets in most places.
What have been some of your most memorable travel experiences?
Oof, I could ramble about this all day! Our experiences have been very positive so far… with the exceptions of the cash crisis and the IRCTC website. We’ve been hosted several times, and most people we’ve met so far have been very friendly and helpful.
India also caters well to both our interests. Sebastiaan is all about grand old buildings, and India doesn’t disappoint. From the Mughal architecture in Delhi to the Hoysala temples in Halebidu, there’s plenty of wildly intricate buildings to tickle his fancies.
Me, I’m more about the food. Honestly, I could spend my entire days trying different Indian foods without seeing any sights, and I’d be totally okay with that. I’ve been gorging myself on thali whenever the opportunity presents itself. They’re amazing—you get to try a bit of everything, the good places offer free refills, and they’re usually one of the cheapest options! Utter perfection.
What recommendations can you share for future travelers also interested in exploring the region?
I’d encourage people to travel beyond the beach towns in South India. The beachy tourist enclaves, such as Varkala, Gokarna, and Agonda are the only places that have disappointed us so far. The shores are lined with beach shacks serving overpriced (and underspiced) food catering to Western palates, and there are about 10 foreigners for every Indian. We’ve met a lot of travelers that just hop from tourist spot to tourist spot, feeding on falafel and burgers and what have you. Come on, guys—India has so much more to offer!
Instead of going to Varkala in Kerala state, head to Kannur and catch some Theyyam. Bypass Gokarna in Karnataka and check out the temples in Halebidu and Belur. And please, for the love of god, take the extra effort to walk into town and seek out an actual Indian restaurant rather than ordering overpriced malai kofta at a tourist trap more time. I promise your wallet and your tastebuds will thank you.
How can travelers contribute to India while visiting the country?
Spend your money at places that need it. Buy fruit from the old ladies selling their wares on the side of the road. Get your snacks for bus rides from the little hole-in-the wall convenience stores. On the flip side, be cautious with what experiences you spend money on. Volunteering at an orphanage for a couple of days is harmful, not helpful. Wash or feed elephants rather than riding them—elephants weren’t meant to carry people. And please, please don’t give money or pens or anything to child beggars. They should be in school studying, not begging on the streets.
What would you like people to know about your experience in India that is little known?
Loads of foreigners come to India to find themselves, get in touch with some lost spiritual side, learn yoga or meditation… whatever. Though there are endless religious centers to see, we have yet to meet an Indian that does yoga as we know it from home! All the Indians we’ve talked to find it curious, amusing, or both to see foreigners come and “be spiritual” in India. Sure, there are sadhus walking around doing… whatever it is that they do, and there are people of all religions in India. But we haven’t seen anything in line with what foreigners think spirituality in India is all about, except in the hippie enclaves. It’s interesting. Perhaps we should wait until we’ve explored more of the north before we can be sure about that, though.
Travel has a tendency to look very glamorous, though that is not always the case. What types of challenges have you had during your life on the road as a long term traveler and how did you overcome them?
Getting sick, of course! We’ve picked up parasites twice on our trip, and spent many, many days lying around feeling like death and/or running to the toilet every 10 minutes. Carrying a backpack while weak from never-ending diarrhea and not eating for days is really quite unpleasant. When the time strikes, the solution is a lot of rest, antibiotics, and twice as much water and oral rehydration salts (ORS).
Rooms can also be challenging on occasion. Our room in Gokarna didn’t have a sealed roof, and as a result sported a healthy population of mosquitoes… and rats. The first morning I woke up to a face absolutely filled with mosquito bites, and the next night I woke up several times from rats crawling through my hair and nibbling on my toes and fingers. But hey, it was cheap!
(Though the rats ate my stash of peanuts, which I cannot forgive them for.)
What has been your favorite/funniest memory from your trip so far? Is there a particular moment you would relive given the opportunity?
If we could relive the moments where we ate dosas on the streets of Hyderabad every day, we’d be totally chill with that.
What’s next for you? Do you have any final words of advice?
Well, our visas for India are valid until September, so we have a ways to go! We’ll be spending most of that time exploring the northern part of the country, perhaps heading through Bangladesh at some point.As far as advice goes, ours is simple: come and see India for yourself! It’s not as scary as people make it sound, though it’s definitely as spicy as people say. Have confidence in yourself, and give the country a chance. You won’t regret it.
Images courtesy of Lost With Purpose