Communal Tipi, Hampi, New Year’s Day, 2011.
November 2011
#Ecology , 960 Views
Bottled Water

Byline: Kapil Das
Photographs: Kapil Das

The visual quirks of a well-trodden backpacker route.
The way to Baba School of Music. Meer Ghat, Varanasi, 2010.

These photographs were taken in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh in the fall of 2010 and in Hampi, Karnataka during ten days over the 2011 New Year period. Hampi and Varanasi are key fixtures on a well-trodden backpacker route which spans from the peaks of Ladakh in the north and Manali in Himachal Pradesh, right down to the beaches of Gokarna in Karnataka. I visited these two places with a curiosity about the different young people who come to India and the visual ways in which their presence has impacted such places.

The travellers immerse themselves in a simple, frugal lifestyle, and a culture unto its own. In these travel destinations, pre-selected outlets of Indian culture, they seem to blend into the landscape as much as they do with one another. They don a similar look: lungis, harem pants and baggy, seersucker cotton clothing. One traveller I met had his hair dreadlocked in Thailand, thinking he’d preempt the spirit of what it was to be in India.

Vince, 22, a mechanic from France, was travelling through India for six months. He spent two months in Hampi and would spend a few days at a time collecting semi-precious stones from the river to polish and sell later on in his travels in places like Japan, where he anticipated a decent sale. Hampi, 2011
Discarded plastic water bottles piled up behind the favourite travellers haunt, Arba Mistika, Hampi. As there is no proper garbage disposal, the empty bottles are a permanent, growing fixture behind the hotel.

And the locals of Varanasi and Hampi, as well as those of other towns along this trail, have over time, shaped pockets of their locales to play up to travellers’ needs. A visual thread connects these places. The cleverer proprietors of guesthouses and restaurants dress their establishments up in the same, distinctive, bohemian new-age aesthetic the travellers chose for their outfits.

Locals also take to the streets to send out signals with hand-painted signage. Take for example, the painted sign in Varanasi for a German Bakery, an ubiquitous offering along the backpacker route. Signs for eateries, guesthouses and other traveller-centric services are cluttered on walls amongst other miscellaneous signage related to political or religious groups, but in a sense, stand out only to travellers who are accustomed to looking out for them.

Vadim, 22, is from France. He was unemployed and was travelling through India for six months. He made leather handicrafts which he hoped would fund and prolong his travels, but the leather dragons and trance hats that he made, exacted few customers. Hampi, 2011.
Graffiti on a boulder in Hampi. Amaar, dressed in a lungi, is standing behind the huge bush. Amaar is a jack of all trades: writer, poet, equestrian, singer, photographer, traveller and Sufi aficionado. He hails from New Delhi and has seen most of the country.

Travellers spend months on end in Hampi. During the day, the rock landscape heats up, making it hard to stay outdoors; I spent a lot of time hanging out in a communal tipi. Backpackers stick to their own kind here, having little contact with locals.

The images in this series are a glimpse into this backpacker trail and the visual dynamic between travellers and the places they visit. The travellers may wash infrequently and wear threadbare clothing, but they’ve always got the luxuries of bottled water and hand sanitizer. And one can’t help but wonder if what is approached as an adventure isn’t, in reality, little more than a guided tour in disguise.

Yovav, 21, a former Israeli soldier, was travelling across India for six months. Hampi, 2011.
Assi Ghat, Varanasi, 2010.
Rishab, 22, playing chess in Arba Mistika in Hampi, the guesthouse that he co-owns with a local partner. From a wealthy south Bombay family, Rishab spends half the year running the establishment and the other half travelling the world.
The entrance to Arba Mistika guesthouse and tipi, Hampi, 2011.
Stephan, from Sweden, was travelling in India for three months before heading to Nepal and then South Asia. He was photographed just before crossing the river. Hampi, 2011.
Remains of a boat, Varanasi, 2010.