The Incredible Faces of India

Ardh Kumbh Mela Festival, Varanasi & the Nomadic Tribes of Gujarat

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SAVE $1,100!

Great news! Another luxury camp for the Kumbh Mela Festival has been established and has offered us a competitive bid—lowering expenses by $1,100. We are happy to pass along this savings to you. The tour fee is now $14,495. Additionally, single supplement accommodations are now available throughout the entire trip.

Download Trip DetailsIt is the Ardh Kumbh Mela—one of the largest gatherings of humanity on the planet.  Every six years, tens of millions of Hindu men, women and children congregate during this 45-day religious festival to bathe at the sacred confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers.  At Allahabad the rivers join the “lost” Saraswati River—which mythically evaporated and disappeared some 4000 years ago.  Here these “three” sacred rivers unite to form an auspicious convergence where an immersion in their waters is said to wash away all sins and free the bather from the cycle of reincarnation.
​A spectacle of a lifetime. A photography journey like no other. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris offers the most intrepid photo traveler a unique front row seat for this spiritual celebration with photography opportunities few Westerners ever experience. From our elegant, luxurious tent encampment erected in the heart of the festival’s photographic action we are accompanied by Lakshmi Singh—a princess of the royal family of Tikari in Bihar and daughter of the last Maharaja—who navigates our participants through the sea of people. Her incomparable connections provide us with exclusive one-on-one photographic access to dreadlocked, ash-covered holy men (sadhus) as they prepare for the massive bathing rituals, and help us capture the festival’s colors and chaos as large groups of Naga sadhus sprint into the chilly water for a holy bath, some brandishing Shiva’s trident, others chanting, praying and dancing.​

​Throughout the festival, Allahabad vibrates with energy and anticipation as the streets become a sea of ash-covered bodies decorated with garlands of bright orange marigolds. The colorful sights, music and aromas of incense overwhelm the senses. The akharas—club-like sects also referred to as Shiva’s army—are among the most fascinating groups to photograph at the festival. Each akhara maintains its own tented camp. We have the chance to observe and photograph as these groups meditate and perform religious ritual. Here we meet the Naga Babas, a radical faction of Hindus who renounce all of their possessions, including their clothes, and live in remote mountain forests and caves. Followers of the Lord Shiva, the Kumbh is a significant event for the Naga Babas as it is the only time they come down to these spiritual flood plains from the Himalayas.

​Prior to Ardh Kumbh Mela, we spend time acclimating to India’s spiritual energy in the country’s holiest city, Varanasi. Set along the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi is one of world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities and another important pilgrimage site. Here is the chance to photograph the city’s iconic ghats (broad steps on the riverbanks) and an evening aarti ceremony, where priests set huge butter lamps ablaze as the crowd sings hymns of praise. We observe the spiritual ceremonies of Varanasi from a boat ride at sunrise, but we also have the unique chance to be immersed in fascinating rituals celebrating the goddess of danger at the Sankata Devi Temple.

​After being surrounded by millions of celebrants and worshipers we escape to solitude as we journey to the Great Rann of Kutch in the Thar Desert in Gujarat. This vast expanse of salt desert unfolds out to the horizon like a sparkling white carpet. We reside in a lodge in a region home to fantastically photogenic nomadic tribes, including the Rabari, Ahir and Jat. Few Westerners have had the opportunity to come face to face with these nomadic peoples, whose lives are determined by the moods of the desert.

​During the wet season, the plains turn into an impassible shallow marshland. During the dry season, these lands are home to the nomadic tribes. Some days we travel over 50 miles to visit remote nomadic villages, while another day we work with numerous and varied tribes people that we transport to our lodge for more formal photo sessions in makeshift studio situations. The beautiful faces of these nomadic tribes, from Jat women wearing huge, heavy gold nose rings, to the Rabari, shrouded in the region’s famed colorful embroidered fabrics, will remain in your memory—and images—long after your journey home.

Tour Itinerary

Day 1
Depart home.

Day 2 (Jan 30 in Delhi)
Participants arrive in Delhi, India. On your arrival at the international airport, and after clearing Customs, our representative meets you for the transfer to our hotel.

Day 3
Delhi, the capital of India, is a city that offers a photogenic glimpse of both ancient and modern India. Following breakfast we venture into the walled city of Old Delhi where we have the opportunity to photograph from private rickshaws in the Old City, which was designed by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1648. We shoot vibrant street scenes of the colorful shops of bustling Chandani Chowk, one of the largest wholesale markets in Asia.

The afternoon finds us in New Delhi, founded by the imperial British government in 1911. The city offers additional camera-friendly historical sites to complement our morning shoot, including a visit to Humayun’s Tomb, and a drive along the ceremonial avenue—Rajpath—which includes the imposing India Gate, Parliament House and the President's Residence. (BLD)

Day 4
Following breakfast we transfer to the airport for our flight to Varanasi. We check into our hotel in the afternoon.

Varanasi, known to the devout as Kashi, is said to have been founded by Shiva, Lord of the Universe. Situated on the banks of the sacred Ganges, the city has been a center of learning and civilization for over 2000 years. This evening we visit Dashaswamedh Ghat for the aarti ceremony along the holy river. We are driven to the neighborhood of Benia Bagh and from there walk to Dashaswamedh Ghat amidst the crowded local market with bustling shops and street vendors selling spices, cloth, fruits and vegetables on hand-pulled carts. We arrive at the ghat in time for the glittering aarti ceremony. Large butter lamps are set ablaze—an offering of fire—and held aloft by priests while the assembled multitude chants hymns. Numerous small floating candles and flowers are set afloat on the holy waters of the Ganges. (BLD)

Day 5
We are up before dawn. Boarding our boat we head out onto the Ganges where we position ourselves at a respectful distance from the pilgrims who have come to the 100 or more ghats lining the river to pray and immerse themselves in the river at sunrise. There is an unmistakable peal of temple bells as the sun crests the horizon. Almost on cue, a conch sounds from somewhere along the banks, reflecting what Hindus believe to be the primordial sound that heralded the birth of the universe. Smoke and mist drifts across the river in the morning light. Fires from funeral pyres blaze on the shore. There is never a time when there is a lull in our photography at Varanasi. Here, we have taken a step back in time into the vibrant chaos of humanity.

Following breakfast we drive to Allahabad. Later this evening we settle into our exclusive luxury camp in the heart of the Ardh Kumbh Mela festival and meet our host, Lakshmi Singh. (BLD)

Days 6–8
Welcome to the Ardh Kumbh Mela! From our luxurious oasis of calm amidst the crowds and hectic religious fervor, we venture forth with cameras in hand to capture the color, excitement and pageantry of the Ardh Kumb Mela as it has been practiced here for centuries.

Photography at the Kumbh is all about people. People, people—and more people—in one of the most photogenic and varied assemblages of humanity on the planet. Our photographic success is all about being at the right location at the right time to shoot the incredible spectacle as it continually transforms minute-by-minute. Our exclusive access to a group of sadhus (holy men) is attained with the help of Lakshmi Singh whose deep connection with these holy men and spiritual gurus allows us the opportunity of portrait photography in our chosen settings. On the morning of one of the sanctioned mass immersions of thousands of pilgrims, we will be up early to be with “our” sadhus as they cover their bodies and dreadlocked hair prior to their holy dip—an exclusive invitation to photograph a ritual few westerners have the privilege to experience.

On the main bathing dates—the biggest and most auspicious one takes place during our stay—a colorful procession of radiant sadhus sitting on chariots with caparisoned horses is observed by thousands of visitors. The ceremonial procession of the Naga sadhus—believed to be an auspicious spectacle—has all the trappings of royalty. The Mahant (superior religious leader) is seated on a silver throne placed upon a magnificent chariot. Around him are hundreds of lance-wielding Naga ascetics on foot, their naked bodies smeared with ash. The sadhus take a holy dip first and only then the ordinary pilgrims are allowed to follow.

Historic architecture, massive crowds of bathers, holy men, sacred rituals, elephants, camels, horses, gilded chariots, street vendors, musicians, playful children, and a spectacular variety of eye-catching photography subjects present themselves as this photographic event of a lifetime unfolds.

Currently, we are working to attain VIP passes to special areas and prime locations for photography which, with success, will be announced closer to our departure date once the permits are in hand. (BLD)

Day 9
We have a morning of photography at the Ardh Kumbh Mela festival followed by a return drive to Varanasi. This evening we fly to Mumbai where we spend the night in a hotel near the airport. (BLD)

Day 10
A short morning flight brings us to Bhuj, the ancient capital city in the heart of the Kutch District in Gujarat. We head to our lodge near the Great Rann of Kutch in the Thar Desert. Our lodge, near this glistening world of white sand, allows us wonderful in situ encounters with several nomadic pastoralist tribes who dwell in this harsh desert environment during the dry season.

The word kutch means “island” in traditional Sanskrit. The Great Rann ("desert" in Hindi) of Kutch was once submerged as a vast shallow in inlet of the Arabian Sea. As earthquakes and geological uplift closed off its connection to the sea, this immense shallow briny lake dried up becoming a vast desert of saline flats and salt marsh. The Great Rann of Kutch is one of the saltiest deserts in the world and the salt harvest is an important industry here. The Indus River was once a major source of water to the Rann but its course was altered westwardly after a devastating earthquake in 1819. These days, major sections of the Rann are seasonally flooded during India's monsoon season. Then the inundated landscape becomes a magnet for many species of migratory birds that rely on this critical wetland. (BLD)

Days 11–12
The 4000-year-long habitation of Kutch developed many trading and migratory relationships between ancient civilizations as far flung as Zanzibar, the Middle East and Greece, fostering today's unique ethnic mix of people and tradition in the region. This exotic mélange of intriguing and spectacularly photogenic pastoralists occupies three days of intense photography. We venture out to isolated villages of several tribes—and welcome invited guests to our group camp—to work closely with them to create dramatic images of them in their traditional finery.

The Rabari, Ahir and Jat are renowned for their exuberantly-detailed embroidered costumes and conspicuous jewelry. During ceremonies, married women are frequently adorned with large gold nose rings, earrings and neckpieces—often decorated with rubies, sapphires and emeralds—given to them as a bride for a dowry by her soon-to-be husband's mother.

To live in this environment requires its inhabitants to be highly adaptive. Along with traditional cattle herding, camel breeding, seasonal agriculture and salt harvesting, handicrafts (especially intricate textiles) and tourism have changed the financial landscape of the 25-odd villages in these barren salt pans. Here we work on environmental portraiture to convey the life of a person by combining portraiture with a sense of place—the kind of house they live in and how they decorate it; about what kind of work they do and where they do it; family life and their relationship with their livestock.

Typical villages have no streets. The alley spaces between houses are used as pathways. The houses of some villages have a characteristic circular architecture called “bhunga” with a mud and lightweight thatch roof construction capable of withstanding earthquakes. The thick outside walls are decorated with vibrant motifs and are designed to keep the house cool even when the temperature reaches close to 50°C/120°F in the summer.

Though the tribes people will be compensated as photo subjects during this part of our trip, it will be our job to interact with them to create a comfortable atmosphere where we will be able to capture unguarded moments and genuine emotion that enlivens the photo when a person's character shines though. A number of rarely photographed tribes people will be brought to our lodge from distant locations around Kutch for portraiture in our makeshift studio. Our trip fees provide their meals, transportation and accommodation to create this unprecedented photo opportunity. (BLD)

Day 13 (Feb 10 in Mumbai)
We enjoy a final morning sunrise photo shoot. Following lunch we drive to the airport in time for our early evening flight to Mumbai where we have dayrooms reserved at an airport hotel for our use prior to our homeward flights. (BLD)

Day 14
Arrive home

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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

The Incredible Faces of India

Jan 29, 2019 - Feb 11, 2019

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits only, we accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Final payment of the trip fee must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable.

A deposit of $1,000 per person is required. Full payment of the trip fee is due 150 days prior to departure date. We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:

If Written Cancellation is Received:                                           Cancellation Fee:
122 days or prior:                                                                          100% of deposit
121 to 91 days prior:                                                                      50% of entire trip fee
90 or fewer days:                                                                           100% of entire trip fee

Emergency evacuation insurance is REQUIRED for this tour. As noted in Section 3 below, we send a brochure for trip insurance to US and Canadian residents. The policy offered includes the emergency evacuation coverage required for this trip. Participants purchasing trip insurance on their own—that is, not through our office—should confirm that emergency evacuation is included in their policy.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay or changes in air or other services, sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in air schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 4) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

  • Photograph one of the largest gatherings of humanity on Earth
  • Trip is planned to be present on one of the most spectacular and auspicious Ganges bathing days of the Ardh Kumbh Mela Festival
  • Exclusive photographic access to sadhus (holy men) as they prepare for their ceremonial dip in the Ganges
  • Reside in a world-class luxury camp in the heart of festival activity
  • Photograph the incredible nomadic tribes people in the Thar Desert in Gujarat
  • Photograph remote tribal villages as well as tribes people from distant locations
Jan 29 - Feb 11, 2019
Fee: $14,495 From Delhi, depart Mumbai Includes airfare for 4 internal tour flights
Deposit: $1,000
Limit: 16
Tour Leaders
And local guides