As 2015 ends, and 2016 begins, I write off the back of the two most exciting years of my life. For those of you that aren't familiar with me, my story, or my @London Instagram channel, you can read more about it here.
Today @London is closing in on 1.8 million followers, we are still growing at 100,000 new followers per month, we've had 100 million likes, and in the last 12 months alone we've taken part in projects in France, Morocco, LA, Singapore, Indonesia and India, and we've met all sorts of wonderful people along the way.
A great end to the @TieBreakTens! A real privilege to meet and chat with @AndyMurray, especially after his heroic Davis Cup victory! He's a huge inspiration to me and fans all around the world. I loved the #TieBreakTens format - quick fire tennis and anything can happen! And the @RoyalAlbertHall is a killer venue! @daveburt 🎾❤️ // #thisislondon #andysaces // 📷 @chrisjphotography
I guess the most exciting thing Instagram has done for me is afford me the gift of travel and the ability to explore new cultures. When I was younger, we probably played it quite safe as a family, traveling predominantly to European destinations such as the Med. But going further afield to Asia has been a highlight of 2015 for me.
In December 2015, I was lucky enough to take part in a 10 day itinerary travelling across Rajasthan, starting in Jaipur. This was my first time to India. Having been to Morocco, I was told it was probably my only reference point for what "crazy" looks like... the cows, cars and bikes, needing eyes in the back of your head... I'd heard it was similar in India, only more crazy!
Rajasthan, known as "Land of Kings", borders with Pakistan up on the West side of India. Its desert is pretty inhospitable, but travel through it we did, and for 2 nights we stopped in a desert camp, and we'll save that for Part 2. Part 3 will take us to Jodhpur. But let's start first with the Pink City, known as Jaipur...
Rajasthan Part 1 - Jaipur - The Pink City
Jaipur is home to over 6 million people. This busy, hard working city, never sleeps. My entry into India is one of two parallels. I'm to be exposed to the streets and the day to day way of life for the community here. And I'm to enjoy life-changing experiences with our team by invitation of Princess Diya and Maharaj Narendra Singh, and British Polo Day.
The moment I land into Jaipur, your senses are assaulted. The taxi journey to our hotel took us through the heart of Jaipur and its market places, during one of the busiest periods of the day.
Everyone is doing something. Building something, selling something, going somewhere, carrying something, driving someone. It's full on. I've never experienced anything like this. The non-stop beeping of every scooter, bike and Tuk Tuk rings in your head. But I'm too excited to care.
Rather than enjoy the air-conditioning in my car, my window is quickly put down, and my camera set to burst. I shoot away en-route capturing all sorts of street scenes as the local people go about their day. One of the first things I notice is how there are NO RULES when it comes to the roads. I mean literally. People pick a direction, and go for it, fully committed and with no fear of the consequences. In 10 days I would find that I only witnessed one scrape. One minor scrape! How?! They drive the wrong way up freeways and over roundabouts, and if there isn't a free lane, they make their own! They all seem to have a sixth sense, like this "crazy" is actually normal, and they collectively expect the unexpected, because, well, it's expected!
On our first evening, we are hosted by the Royal Family at Amer Fort (pronounced Amber Fort), where 1,000 candles light up the courtyard, and a candle-lit sky provides the backdrop for our welcome reception. It's a chance for our beautiful team to throw on their finest dresses and suits as we enjoy the finest India cuisine, but with a view over Rajasthan that will live with me for sometime.
The next day I return to my passion for street photography. Of all of the types of photography and content I personally produce, its people that fascinate me the most. One photo can give you a powerful glimpse into someone's life, and their world. I love the romance of capturing moments. That for me, is really what got me into Instagram in the first place. The ability to share these powerful moments with people all over the world.
Back in 1876 Queen Victoria was to be welcomed to Jaipur, and in preparation, the city was painted pink, with pink being the colour of hospitality. That romantic tradition remains to this day. In 1961 Queen Elizabeth also visited Jaipur where she was treated to a Royal Welcome and Procession at the City Palace. The City Palace has a museum today, but it remains largely a royal residence for the Royal Family of Jaipur. Our team were to be given the incredible honour of receiving the same welcome that Queen Elizabeth received 44 years before, with a reenactment of that welcome and procession, and a showing of a new film, which was to be projected onto the palace walls, telling the history of the Maharaja.
My welcome was out of this world.
Rose petals rained down on my head as I walked through the palace gates, flanked by elephants and horses, musicians and dancers. One of our team, Milly Hibbert, is waiting to receive us and our guests, with the Royal Family just beyond the gates. As the evening progresses, a procession of animals and performers make their way around the guests, fire-breathers, elephants in full dress, dancing horses, an incredible band. It was too much to take in. I will never forget that evening, and THAT welcome. This hasn't happened in 44 years. What an incredible honour. We are forever grateful.
And that's why this Instagram journey continues to fascinate me. Things like this just don't happen. Well not normally. But increasingly, it appears that they do. My co-founder Ed Olver often says to our team, "Trust is the accumulation of positive, shared experiences". It's a great code to live by. I get it, and so do the team. It keeps you humble, but it also fills your sails with a wind of confidence, knowing that through community, through friendship and collaboration, you can do incredible things.
After several days in Jaipur, the team packs up and prepares to head out of Jaipur and into the Rajasthan desert to a remote desert camp called Chhatra Sagar, situated at a reservoir in the Pali District. The camp, is the perfect mid-point for us as we travel ultimately towards Jodhpur. We'll continue the story in Part 2.