Sorry, but we had to break our Free the Slaves India blog post into two posts. It was quite hard to fit the petty details of first class flights and five-star hotel stays and other side adventures into the same post with the serious business of documenting the lives of slavery survivors. We probably should have just cut this post out completely, but we thought there might be a handful of people who would appreciate the nit-picky details of our second trip to India.
Picking up after our Free the Slaves project in Nepal where we produced two videos, we were on to our next Free the Slaves project in Varanasi, India, where we would be filming and producing three videos. Our flight out of Kathmandu was delayed though, so by the time we landed in Delhi, our flight to Varanasi had already left. We did get to fly first class from Kathmandu to Delhi though, which was an unexpected bonus.
Since we missed the only flight to Varanasi for the day, Air India put us up in a hotel in Delhi. It all sounded good until we found out that the next flight to Varanasi was early the next morning, so we would not have enough time to visit the Taj Mahal, which would have been the best-added bonus to our missed connection. Little did we know, this wasn’t going to be our only chance to see the majestic structure before departing India.
We shared a ride to the Delhi hotel that Air India booked for us with a very disgruntled Indian woman who kept declaring, “What Air India did to us was unethical!” Our 16 hours at the Shanti Palace were uneventful. The hotel had no windows and the dining room’s only “window” was a wall covering of a green grass park with lots of trees, which was unlike any view you’d see in India. At 8 a.m. we were off to the Delhi airport bound for Varanasi and somehow found ourselves upgraded to first class again!
Though we were a day late, we finally arrived at our next project destination of Varanasi, the holiest city in Hinduism and also an important city to Buddhists since it’s where Buddha gave his first sermon. It was here during our film days that we saw Hindus actively worshipping trees and cows, which gave us very weird feelings. Varanasi is apparently a tourist destination though, since it’s known as “the Athens of India,” but we never saw those areas. The closest beauty we saw in the holy city of Varanasi was one morning before sunrise, when we drove over the biggest bridge we’d seen in India, over the Ganges River.
The villages where we filmed for four consecutive days were a two-hour drive from our hotel. On this two-hour drive each morning, we saw so many pictures pass us by through the car window, as is always the case when driving in India. The bright color palette of the buildings and the patterned clothes covering women from head to toe, the fast-moving turquoise trains and the slow moving bicycles on the roads, the overloaded motorbikes, the golden light on the fields and the women carrying heaps of cut grass on their heads. What seemed like every 30 seconds, we would see an amazing photo, but the car continued on, and 30 seconds later we’d see another. This would go on for two hours straight. Through the glass of the car window rather than the glass of our camera lens, we’d envision the picture it in our minds thinking of how we would position ourselves for the perfect-layered frame, always constantly seeing beautiful images that we never got to capture. These car rides were mentally exhausting because of the constant mental capturing of moments. It’s hard to let them go, but it’s a good experience because you’re seeing the world and there’s no way you can capture it but in your mind so you’re forced to just see.
We will never run out of inspiration. We will never run out of subject matter. We will never run out of paint for our canvas because this is God’s canvas and He keeps the world beautifully in motion. His palette is never ending.
After our four full filming days in the remote villages (see that blog post here), we gave a daylong photo and web design training to Free the Slaves’ partners, as we do with each FTS project conclusion. Then the next seven days were slated as editing days, since we needed to produce a video every two days for the next six days. The plan was to do our editing in Varanasi, but after many hotel misfortunes (a toilet that wouldn’t flush for three days, no running water another day, loud construction going on in our floor, and basically non-existent internet), we decided that it would be better for us to head to Delhi for our editing phase, which would actually help us avoid a seven-hour middle-of-the night layover when we departed for Africa. This decision was the best decision of our trip so far.
We landed in Delhi during a lunar eclipse. The full moon, partially covered in shadow, was orange and still rising, a beautiful first sight to see on our ride from the airport to the hotel. The hotel where we were spending the next nine nights in Delhi didn’t even compare to the previous hotel option in Varanasi. We were put up in our first five-star hotel, and we were blessed far beyond our expectations. Modern comforts like a big showerhead and a lamp with a built-in iHome excited us. Even a desk to edit on, so no more back aches or falling asleep while editing on the bed! An infinity pool taunted us every time we walked by the hallway’s windows on our way to the massive elevator to go down for our incredible continental breakfast that offered anything you wanted. We did finally make it in the pool for an hour after we finished producing all three videos, but most importantly, we were able to take a full day off in order to take a day trip to the Taj Mahal! We booked a tour that drove us — just the two of us — in a private vehicle for four hours from Delhi to Agra. We had a wonderful English-speaking tour guide and we enjoyed wandering in and outside the Taj with the perfect weather that offered a nice breeze. From the intricate hand carved details cut from a single piece of the hardest marble in the world to the embedded precious stones that glowed if you held a light up to them, the pictures you see on the web don’t do it justice. We even trekked over to the opposite side of the Taj Mahal, after our tour, so that we could see the less-crowded (and free) view of it from across the river.
Stay tuned for our next project update (coming soon) from our wonderful first experience in Africa!