Rajasthan, India: Amer Palace, Streets of Jaipur, Neemrana Fort Palace

Continuing north from Gujarat we made our way to Rajasthan in northwestern India. I’ve been traveling back and forth to India for my entire adult life but never had the chance to visit Rajasthan. It’s known as the archetypical India of old, the source of many of the hyperbolic images you probably associate India with. So I was of course very eager to get my first taste of it.

I didn’t have a lot of time to fully immerse myself, and I didn’t get my dream shot of camel merchants in the desert at sunset lol, but what I was able to take in was thoroughly spellbinding. While I didn’t have time to hit every famous site, the real treasure of India is her people so I’m very grateful I had the chance to meet a few of these living jewels.

The two sites I did get the chance to take in, Amer Palace, which you will see first here, and then Neemrana Fort Palace on the way to Delhi provided endless scenes of classic Indian architecture and history. I hope you’ll enjoy the photos!

India: Mumbai to Ahmedabad

After my visit to South India, I took a flight to Mumbai where I joined my friends Edward Sanchez and Anita Jaisinghani to take the overnight Gujarat Mail train to Ahmedabad. Anita is originally from Ahmedabad so it was a real treat to have her show us around her hometown. Edward is an award-winning filmmaker who came along to do a short documentary about our journey and the work of She Has Hope.

Anita is the owner of what she refers to as an “India-Inspired” restaurant in Houston by the name of Pondicheri. She is currently embarking on her latest venture called Queen Scarves which will feature a line of headscarves made from fabrics sourced in India.

Many of the scarves will be made by trafficking survivors who are recovering at the She Has Hope rehabilitation home where they find purpose and empowerment as they learn various tailoring skills. A generous portion of proceeds from the sale of the scarves will be used to pay the artisans fair trade prices for the pieces they produce as well as to fund their programs.

Thus you will see many photos in this set showing you the amazing fabrics we shopped for while we were in Ahmedabad.

Then, of course, there were the amazing people of Ahmedabad. They were extremely welcoming and so happy to be photographed. I have found this to be true all over India. It’s a photographer’s dream come true to be able to freely interact with the locals and have the honor of shooting their portraits.

For my fellow statistic lovers, here are some mind-boggling stats I’ve gathered on Ahmedabad and India population topics. Honestly, this is just me rambling but in case you find this kind of thing interesting I wanted to put it out there:

Ahmedabad is the seventh-largest urban agglomeration in India by population (6,361,084), and the fifth most populous city in terms of people living within the official city limits. Interesting to note that my hometown, Houston, has about the same urban agglomeration population as Ahmedabad at 6,315,000.

However, the real difference can be found in the population density of the two cities. Ahmedabad is extremely crowded with 22,100 people per square kilometer, whereas Houstonians enjoy a sparse urban sprawl of just 1,300 people per square kilometer!

This kind of density is seen throughout India. Many do not realize that India has a current estimated population of 1.339 billion which is more than four times the population of the United States. Here’s the rub: India sits on a landmass only 1/3 the size of the United States. So we’re talking about four times the population of the US, on only 1/3 the amount of land.

Add to this the challenge that 31% of this population lives in urban areas. This means that just India’s cities alone hold a population of 415 million people, more than the entire population of the United States and Canada combined. I do not envy the infrastructure challenges the Indian government is faced with.

Yet in spite of these challenges, India is finally taking some bold steps to fight its environmental crisis. I am so happy to report that almost all of India’s 29 states have banned plastic bags, and many have banned all single-use consumer plastics such as plastic drinking straws as well. It’s a wonderful thing to see the people of India standing up to take pride in the beauty of their amazing country and unparalleled heritage.

This is a major step for India’s staggering environmental crisis, as most cities do not have any well-organized trash collection systems and estimates put the time it takes a plastic bag to decompose at anywhere from 20 to 1000 years. Even at 20 years in a best-case scenario, imagine the accumulation of plastic bags in such intensely dense population centers with no organized trash collection systems?

The plastic litter had completely overwhelmed Indian cities and meanwhile, plastics disposed of before the bans are still seen strewn about the landscapes, seashores, and riverbanks taking their time to decompose. But this new of the bans is great progress and gives me a lot of hope for the future of India to avert a full-blown environmental catastrophe.

So I have given you quite a lot to think about regarding India! Now let’s take a look at some of the beautiful Gujarati fabrics and the beautiful, hospitable people of Ahmedabad!

Note the bonus content at the end of this post with some food shots and a few Ahmedabad restaurant recommendations! 

Bonus content: food shots taken with my iPhone along with a couple of videos of street life during the rainy season. Restaurants you MUST try when you’re in Ahmedabad: Swati Snacks (could eat here every day), The Vishalla, House of MG, and the Green House.

South India

My recent trip to (South) Asia began with a visit to a boarding school for at-risk youth including trafficking survivors in South India. My lifelong local friends operate these programs, so I’ve been able to visit their campus many times during my travels to India since I first fell in love with the country in 1993.

It is always so inspiring to see the smiles of these children knowing the circumstances from which they have come. Learn more about this education program at PeaceGospel.org and their girls’ trafficking response programs at SheHasHope.org.

The program includes an accredited day school for local at-risk children, many of whom, without the free education and fresh-cooked meals the program provides, would otherwise be involved in child labor because the families cannot afford the supplies needed to keep the children enrolled in other local schools. Orphans recovering from trafficking (slavery) situations are able to find boarding at the school where their complete resident care is provided for. Much of the evidence of the success of the programs is found simply in their smiles.

Photography note: I took over 600 photos of these kids but had to face the hard task of narrowing it down for this blog post. I managed to get it down to 105, I know it’s a lot, but it’s the best I could do in choosing from so many great smiles!


India orphans express their love and concern for Hurricane Harvey survivors

Children of the Peace Gospel India girls home and boys home recently heard the news of Hurricane Harvey devastation in Houston. I told them about the storm and showed them images that appeared on their local newspaper’s front page, and they were shocked. I asked them to express their feelings through artwork, and here are some of the results. Toward the end of this post, you’ll also see some of the younger children expressing their love through their smiles and the simple handwritten message offered by their teacher.