Dhrangadhra is a rural, medieval desert town. If you’re looking for an authentic experience of the Indian lifestyle, then look no further. Dhrangadhra is not a tourist location; therefore, any foreigner—especially light skinned folks like myself—sticks out like a sore thumb. Whether we’re walking through town or driving in a vehicle, all eyes are on us. At first I was worried that the looks would be judgmental or from lustful men (considering the history of rape in India). But people are just naturally curious. For some people this is their first time seeing a white person. Their reactions often express confusion or excitement.
Our second day here, Ojasviba (one of our translators) dropped us off by the bus station and had us walk through the crowds of people. People were smiling and laughing. I actually saw a woman laugh and take a picture of us on her smart phone. It’s somewhat ironic because usually its the white people taking pictures of the Indians. I suppose the thrill of capturing something exotic is universal.
Before coming here I was nervous about flashing an expensive camera around and taking pictures of people. Because I’m white, I’m already assumed to be a rich person here. I by no means want to make someone feel inferior to me because I have an expensive camera in my possession. I worried that locals would be offended by my excessive picture taking. The camera makes me automatically look like a tourist, but I figured my skin would reveal that even sooner.
However, I was surprised to find that most Indians enjoy having their picture taken—some even ask. At every village we visit, the children follow us around and giggle. They especially love being photographed. Most of the elders don’t mind either, though I try to always ask first. The language barrier is definitely an issue, but pointing can go a long way. I like to show the people the picture on the camera after I take it, and they usually smile. I’ve actually had quite a few Indians ask to photograph me with them on their cameras!
I met one family in a temple who especially enjoyed my presence, as I attempted to film the sacred gestures they partake in before the goddess. I was the only white person in the temple, and the family welcomed me into the ritual, offering me the sweets and holy water. They spoke barely a word of English but the father knew enough to tell me that he has a daughter who studies in Columbus, Ohio. They took quite a few pictures with me in the temple on their camera. The parents tried to get the daughter to speak English to me because many children in India are being schooled in English now. The girl was too shy to speak; all I got out of her was something about a picnic in Niagara Falls. Later on, when I had found my translators again, we visited another temple and the same family was there. The translator spoke with the family, and I learned that the family had walked over 100 miles barefoot to come praise their gods in the temple. India is a deeply religious country, and it amazing to see what people will do out of faith.
Two quick tips for visiting temples:
1. ALWAYS take your shoes off before entering
2. Receive offerings only in your right hand, generally Indians avoid using their left hand because it seen as not pure
Here are some video stills of the family in the temple:
It is common to see men breaking open coconuts in Hindu temples. The coconut is an essential offering in Hindu rituals. It is said the coconut is a fruit of the gods, and that breaking its hard shell is symbolic of breaking your own shell of vanity before God. The coconut is shared and eaten between the people in the ceremony.