Travel With Photographers: Alexandra Celia

Travel With Photographers: Alexandra Celia

Where did you travel to? India (Mumbai, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Thar Desert)

Why did you go there? To photograph an Indian wedding and to travel with a friend

How many days? 21

How did you get there? By plane

Tell us about where you stayed and what you like best about it. Do you have restaurant recommendations? What did you see? Where did you explore? Tell us everything!

MUMBAI:

I was lucky enough to travel to India to photograph an Indian wedding. 3 days of celebration, with 1100 guests, in the hustle and bustle of Mumbai. The bride and groom put me up in a hotel on Juhu beach called the Sea Princess. Pretty nice place with friendly staff, the largest inclusive breakfast I’ve ever seen, and a pool hosting a wide variety guests interested in socializing over drinks. Mumbai, what a place, with Tuk Tuk’s competing for space on the road, colorful beaches packed full of naked babies and families, extreme poverty next to high end shops, trendy restaurants and bars hidden in Bollywood-populated parts of town. Since I was involved in the wedding, I only had a brief amount of time to explore the city before heading up north, but was impressed with one restaurant in particular. I stumbled upon this place with friends in the neighborhood of Bandra, which is apparently the Beverly Hills of Mumbai. Pali Bhavan, the secret is out… this place is unreal. I was immediately in awe of this place’s rustic but elegant vibes that give you a glimpse into the British era. The owner collected tiles, light fixtures, linens, dishes and even parts that make up the restaurant from all over India. If this place was in Seattle, I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to get a reservation. The jazz music and fancy cocktails certainly make the place feel swanky, and the modern Indian cuisine is to die for, yet affordable by American standards. I recommend sharing dishes because you’ll want to try everything. I had the Dal Vada aur Vatana hummus and Allepey Mushroom Curry. I also love how the place was packed with both locals and visitors from Europe, Australia and America.

Aside from Pali Bhavan, I highly recommend being adventurous with food. I’m usually on the more cautious side when it comes to eating food in foreign countries, but couldn’t help but try anything and everything on the street.

One of my last days in Mumbai, I hopped on a train heading south to check out the Gateway of India, a monument located on the Arabian Sea and built during the 20th century to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. The Taj Mahal Hotel is just across the street and is known for its architecture and excellent amenities. Definitely worth checking out both, and then grabbing a drink and food at Colaba Social. This restaurant is Americanized with music like John Mayer and Alicia Keys playing in the background, but the food and cocktails are memorable and unique. I also really enjoyed walking around this general area and checking out local shops. 

UDAIPUR:

After a little over a week in Mumbai, I traveled to Udaipur with several guests from the wedding. 19 hours in a packed tight train with 3 level bunks. Definitely an experience, but watch your valuables. 

Laura and Kunal, the bride and groom, decided to do a family-and-friends honeymoon in Udaipur and rented out an entire hotel for their guests. Chunda Palace, think Marie Antoinette meets the Indian Princess. 1,000 square feet rooms with ornate beds as wide as they are long and window seats decorated with local block-printed pillows. With their all-inclusive breakfast, and outdoor pool, surrounded by private gazebos that look out to the diverse topography of Udaipur, I fell in love with this place in an instant. I’d wake up with the sun, drink chai, listen to the birds’ chirp and the call to prayer. If you are looking to feel inspired and present, travel to India. It has a way of bringing you into the moment unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been in my entire life.

My favorite restaurant in Udaipur was Jhumar Restaurant. The Chana Masala & Garlic Naan were some of the best I had in India, and although the ambiance and decor was lacking, the view of the lakes and the service was perfect. I loved watching the sunset here, while eating and drinking a Kingfisher or two.

Meandering around the local shops of Udaipur was probably the highlight of my stay. A friendly man that would hang outside of our hotel would take us into town so that we could sort through the endless bags of spices and chai masala, and drop us off at Rama Krishna Textiles to buy textiles and fancy bags as gifts for family and friends. He also took us to a local art school in the area where I purchased some of my favorite paintings for my abode. Every piece of art in that place is unique and lot more tasteful than some of the art you’ll see in the markets and on the street. 

THE THAR DESERT:

About ten hours north of Udaipur is the Thar Desert. My friend Mandi met me during this leg of the trip, and we traveled by car all the way up north toward the Pakistan border. If you travel to India, you have to ride camels. And not just ride camels, but spend the night in the desert. We decided to go with ‘Sam Sand Dunes Desert Safari’, but there are several guided tours that take you into the desert for a two day or more experience. Mandi insisted on having our guides run our camels through the steep sand dunes to where we would be staying. I’ve seriously never laughed harder in my life as we flew through the desert just managing to hold onto my camera and other belongings. We stopped to watch the sunset in the sand while locals brought us beer or raced camel carts in the distance. There were also snake charmers and other entertainers willing to play for you all night for a buck or two.

After the sunset we made our way down to our campsite, and got situated in our fancy tents. You can sleep under the stars in the desert, but we chose to stay in tents that came with a toilet and actual beds, mainly because I had lots of expensive camera equipment with me and felt like it was the safer option. Dinner and dancing was included with our one-night stay, and we made the most of it by dancing with the locals until we were so tired that we couldn’t dance anymore. 

JODHPUR (THE BLUE CITY):

I have to say Jodhpur was my favorite city and the perfect ending to my trip. Historically it is known for its blue painted houses and if you have the chance to explore the Mehrangarh Fort, it’s neat to see this part of the city from a higher vantage point. I also enjoyed spending a day wandering through the streets of the old quarters of Jodhpur where the blue is most prominent and the streets are oddly quiet and home to more locals than restaurants and shops. This is a great place to take photos. You could fill up an entire photo album of various shades of blue walls and doors.

My friend and I stayed at a hotel in Jodhpur called Hotel Haveli and only paid about $10 US a night for average rooms. We had both decided to save money toward the end of the trip and agreed that as long as we found somewhere clean and safe, we would be happy. Although the rooms were nothing special, the staff was very friendly and accommodating and the rooftop restaurant was priceless. This tranquil and romantically-lit environment was a refuge from the honking Tuk Tuks and hustle and bustle of the streets of Jodhpur. Every night we would prop our feet up, eat garlic naan, drink beer, watch the Mehrangarh Fort completely lit up and listen to the call to prayer. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, everywhere in India you will find yourself feeling present and happy with your surroundings. This rooftop provided me with this feeling over and over again. A few steps up from the restaurant were fancy lawn chairs and couches with more dim ambient light and partial privacy from dining guests. This is where we could look up at the stars and listen to the drums, music and fireworks of multiple Baraats going on at once. We just happened to be in Jodhpur during wedding season.

About a minute walk from our hotel was my favorite breakfast place, Ravla. Every morning, Mandi and I would order tomato and cheese toast and coffee for under $3. Great food and a pleasant garden setting.

Do you have a good story to share? Our readers would love to hear about it.

When my friend and I stayed in the desert, she convinced our guides to take us out on the camels in the dark. We rode fiercely through the desert away from the camp, just us four. At first I felt content, enveloped by darkness and silence, completely at peace with my surroundings until our two camels drifted apart. I began to worry. I tried to call out Mandi’s name but I could barely see her camel. They tell you not to be alone when you travel through India, and of course scary thoughts started running through my head. I’m alone with a man who I don’t know, I thought. All of a sudden, I heard Mandi and her guide coming toward us, saying something I could not understand. Then they started pointing to the horizon. I watched as a large orange ball of light rose upward. I was so confused. The sun? I remember thinking. But we just watched the sun set? Again, I felt this overwhelming feeling of being fully present, realizing that a full golden moon was in front of me. Rising quickly and growing larger and larger in size by the second. Seriously one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life.  

What are your tips for others considering a trip there? Be our guide!

Here’s the thing, locals rarely eat meat. Prepare yourself to try some yummy vegetarian dishes. Meat is offered, but you will not find beef anywhere. In fact, you may or may not be killed if you eat beef in India considering the prevalent Hindu population who believe that the cow is sacred. Street food, specifically dosas, are a must try! If you are in India long enough you might begin to grow tired of everything dowsed in sauces (like curry), and want a change. Try various “dry” dishes, and new sides specific to Rajasthan, like Raita on anything! Raita is a common condiment for Indian cuisine; a yogurt mixed with veggies creating a nice cooling effect to contrast the spices in Indian dishes. Also you must try their Chai Masala, which basically comes from heaven. It is so damn good and puts your local chai tea latte to shame. 

One piece of advice to make your trip easier, pack light. It will make everything so much easier. With stairs and uneven streets, you don’t want to be lugging around a lot of luggage. For three weeks I packed: 

  • Sandals
  • Tennis Shoes
  • Flip flops
  • Scarf
  • One long skirt
  • One pair of leggings
  • One jumpsuit
  • One pair of flowy pants
  • 7 shirts
  • Swimsuit
  • Socks
  • Undies
  • Toiletries
  • Loose sweater
  • Patagonia down coat (cooler in the north and in the desert)

 What essential items you need to take with you on any trip?

  1. Probiotics, you’ll need them. Even if you eat food that is cooked properly, it’s often prepared with more fats or spices than our bodies are accustomed to here in the states. (Also don’t forget Imodium!)
  2. Osprey Porter 46 Trekking backpack. This bag looks small but it’s perfect for India. I love how it’s not top loading but lays flat and unzips like a suitcase. You can actually see what’s in your bag without pulling everything out like your typical backpacking backpack. This is my 5th travel backpack and my favorite.
  3. Packing cubes. They help keep your things organized and allow you to pack more.
  4. Toilet paper. This is a MUST have. Lots of places do not have any toilet paper!
  5. Noise canceling headphones for 20+ hours of travel and loud planes.
  6. A scarf. Great for chilly plane rides. Also, for covering your shoulders in temples and more conservative parts of town.

Do you have any tips about how to create the financial freedom that's necessary to go on such amazing adventures?

Oh goodness, this is a loaded question! I can’t say I have specific advice except to put aside money each month that you would typically spend at restaurants, concerts or coffee shops. Flights are usually about $800 - $1,000 to fly to India from Seattle but once you are there you can eat and sleep for cheap. Much cheaper than the states. 

My 3-day itinerary of places to stay/eat/see/do/shop:

Day 1: Begin in Jaisalmer (less than two hours outside of Thar Desert)

  •  8:30am – Wake up
  • 9am – Breakfast at 1st Gate Home Fusion
  • 10am – Check out the Jaisalmer Fort (lots of great shops and people watching)
  • 12pm – Head to Thar Desert
  • 2pm – Ride camels into desert
  • 4pm – Watch sunset and camel cart races
  • 6pm – Dinner & dancing

Day 2: Jodhpur 

  • 8:30am – Wake up
  • 9am – Breakfast at camp
  • 9:30am – Head to Jodhpur
  • 12:30pm – Stop for lunch at Manvar Desert Camp & Resort
  • 3:30pm – Check in to Hotel Haveli
  • 4pm – Wander around the clock tower market
  • 6pm – Dinner & drinks on the rooftop of Hotel Haveli

Day 3: Jodhpur

  • 8:30am – Wake up
  • 9am – Breakfast at Ravla
  • 10am – Take a Tuk Tuk to the old quarters of Jodhpur
  • 10:30am – Wander the quiet streets up to Mehrangarh Fort
  • 12pm – Explore the Mehrangarh Fort
  • 1pm – Take a Tuk Tuk to Jhankar for lunch
  • 2:30pm – Check out the Toorji ka jharlra Step Well
  • 3pm – Stop for a cup of Chai Masal at Bhati tea stall
  • 4pm – Regroup at hotel
  • 5pm – Dinner & drinks at Kesar Heritage

~

I am Alexandra Celia, a traveling wedding photographer living in Seattle. Lover of candid-human connection. On my free time you can find me making a mess in the kitchen, testing out a new recipe for my cookbook or hiking anywhere in the PNW with my boyfriend and friends. I live for dinner parties, long summer nights, avocados, dogs, people with a sense of humor, and creating relationships with couples in love.




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