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.


Day 2: Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village

We started our tour by making our way from Tel Aviv to Nablus in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. Our first stop was to the Greek Orthodox Church that sits atop the two-millenia-old Jacob’s Well. Next, we made our way into Nablus city to visit an olive oil soap factory that’s been making hand-cut soap for 180 years. It has made Nablus famous throughout the middle east for its soap. Next, we arrived at an event prepared by Slow Food Nablus, the culinary school for The House of Dignity which is an empowerment and education program for Palestinian women. The women of this community are incredibly joyful and were so happy to serve us. Our meal was an unbelievable feast we will not soon forget. Next up, we visited a Samaritan museum on Mt. Gerizim. This Samaritan Priest explained to us much about the Samaritan faith and its deep history in the region. Such an amazing day. I am always touched by how welcoming the people of Nablus are. There’s a certain sense of tranquility over the city. 

A Voluminous Vision of Venice

On a recent trip overseas I was able to stop over in Italy on my way home. I had the incredible blessing of returning to what is perhaps my favorite city on earth, Venice. The scenes of this enchanting city of water provide a limitless potential for photography, with an abundance of light, atmosphere, and water as the backdrop for waterborne vessels, classic architecture, weathered doors, and untold mysteries waiting to be discovered around every corner. These are a few of my favorite photos from the visit.

Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Nablus

Our first official day on the tour itinerary was a very full one. After leaving Tel Aviv-Yafo, we drove to Nablus in the Palestinian Territories. We started out the day with a visit to the Greek Orthodox Church that houses the biblical site of Jacob’s Well. Since we’re traveling with the CEO of Living Water International and several of the organization’s board members, it was an especially meaningful visit to such an historic well.

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We then made our way through the old city of Nablus, toured the spice markets and were treated to various samples of delicious street foods and sweets. At every turn in Nablus there was an initial confusion triggered by our presence, yet once they realized we were tourists (very rare for Nablus), we were greeted with smiles and enthusiastic welcomes by very warm people.

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Then we met up with a Sufi imam who invited us to tour his mosque. You’ll remember that part of Breaking Bread Journeys’ purpose is to build bridges of peace through dialog with real people on both sides of the issue of the Palestinian/Israeli tensions. From what I understood today, the local Sufis are moderates who are against the use of violence and want to see two states living peaceably side by side.

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Next we made our way to an Islamic women’s empowerment cooperative known as the “House of Dignity” which aims to show the community how women can make a positive impact in the local society. Women in the program learn to make traditional meals from scratch using only locally sourced ingredients. This style of cooking is known as “slow food.” They are also working to improve conditions for the children of the community— we were saddened to learn that there are no playgrounds in the old city of Nablus. The organization is currently working on converting an old garage space into a garden and playground for neighborhood children. The Sufi imam from our mosque tour also joined us and we discussed several viewpoints involving the challenges of his community at large. We were immensely blessed to be the recipients of their hospitality— we were served a delicious home-cooked meal of traditional Palestinian cuisine, prepared lovingly by the women of the organization.

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Next we visited The Samaritan Museum where were heard about this distinct religion from a Samaritan priest. We learned that the Samaritans have lived in the holy land for over 3,000 years consecutively. At their peak, there were more 3 million Samaritans, yet today there are only 875, mostly living on Mount Gerizim. To underscore the diversity of this region, a Muslim woman introduced us to the museum, teaching a Christian tour group about the Samaritan religion.

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After this we visited a nearby Israeli settlement which is home to the award-winning Har Bracha Winery. The owner of the winery allowed us to sample many of his best wines and shared with us some of his vision behind his business as we snacked on fresh olives and apples. The settlements are at the crux of the deepest tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Yet the Israelis of these settlements firmly believe they have a right to be there, and their beliefs are fueled by deep-seated religious convictions of which he briefly shared a few of his. Again, remember that the tour is designed to help build bridges through dialog and sharing of meals with real people from both sides of the issue. Pastor Chris shared with us on the bus, “We love Palestinians, we love Israelis, we love Samaritans and we love peace.”

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Bonus section: for those who share my obsession with doors, here are some of the fascinating doors of Nablus.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Sunrise on the Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem

Because day 6 of our tour was so jam packed, I’m breaking it into two, maybe three blog posts. I will keep this one simple and let the photos do most of the talking. Suffice it to say that that we made it to the Damascus Gate before sunrise to begin our journey on the Via Dolorosa, ending at The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Jerusalem’s old city is sublimely empty and serene at that hour of the day.

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