Since joining Facebook, the pressure to have an impressive profile picture has been an ongoing concern.

In order to counter this worry, I have resorted to taking semi-frequent trips to exotic locations, in the hope that I might be snapped next to something stunning, and therefore evoke the impression that I lead interesting life.

Having spent over a year holding the office kitten, I was feeling the need to update my profile picture. The perfect opportunity presented itself when my good friend from university accepted the proposal of her now husband, and invited a large group of us to attend her wedding in India. In a country so colourful, and diverse I felt certain that a decent profile picture (DPP) was possible.

Here is a synopsis of my attempt to find one…

Travelling in Mumbai, Pune, and to some ancient Buddhist caves

After landing in a bustling Mumbai I spent the day seeing the DPP hotspots with a Swedish guy call Carl, who was in my hostel. We hit up the “Gateway to India”, bought Shantaram, and wandered around the busy streets observing people getting on with their daily lives.

The train back to the hostel was probably the densest formation of human bodies that I’ve ever been part of, and was unlike any journey I’ve ever taken; the scene of watching commuters attempting to hoist themselves onto a moving train was akin to people clambering into the last helicopter out of a warzone…

In the morning I called Jijoy. Since meeting my friend Lori six years ago, the two have been in semi-regular email communication, and I exchanged a couple of messages before flying out. Hoping we could meet for a tea in case he could offer me tips, I took a bus over to the city where he lives, Pune, which is 4 hours inland from Mumbai.

I was immediately welcomed into his home like a close relative, and encouraged to stay with his family “for as long as I want”. I’m still incredibly humbled by his generosity.

Over dinner on the first night I met Soorej, who was also staying with Jijoy, owing to his film debut being shown at the Pune Short Film Festival. Soorej was about to go on a 3 day trip to a city called Aurangabad to visit some ancient caves. Jijoy and Riya (his wife) were green at hearing this, and so upon being invited to join him, I was encouraged to say yes.

The next few days were spent driving to the UNESCO World Heritage sites (Ajanta, and Ellora caves) and marvelling at the beauty and complexion of the structures, carved hammer and chisel out of the bare rockface.

We weren’t alone. I believe most of India’s primary school population were also on trips to the caves on these days, as everywhere we turned a swarm of curious, grinning faces would sweep by. Soorej hypothesised that I might have been the first white person they had seen, and out of each group one or two of them would apprehensively approach us.

After completing formalities “owar yoo?” “I’m well thank you, how are you?”they would always ask for a photo. The next ten to fifteen minutes would be spent ensuring every phone within a 5 metre radius had a picture of their friends, and myself on it. I was only too happy to stand smile with them; helping their own search for a DPP.

Back in Pune, Riya and I exchanged food recipes. On my final night we ate chicken in a white sauce, with mashed potato, which was received well, despite my anxiety that the whole thing would be too bland. The neighbours were invited around to try “the English food” and in the morning, breakfast was an ad hoc banana custard.

It was then a night bus to the south of the country, as I said goodbye to them all.

Christmas in the rainforest

Three years ago, a guy named Madhu built a bamboo hut for Jijoy.

Madhu lives in a village in the Wayanad rainforest, and as it was sort of en route for me, Jijoy suggested that I stay with them. For four days I lived with them in their house, and met each of the 40 or so families who have their homes there.

Between the immediate family, there were perhaps 100 words of English spoken, and so the majority of communication was non-verbal. My notebook soon filled up with drawings to answer questions like “how old is your father?”and “where did you grow up?” and on one evening we effectively played a game of charades as I described the types of sport played in England. I seem to remember horse riding getting the most laughs…

Days were spent seeing local #nature and #culture, amongst the attractions were tea plantations, local temples, lakes, nature reserves and a game of carrom — which seems to be a mix between pool, backgammon, and air hockey that the guys in the village play.

One of the nicest things about going was the chance to lend them the camera that I was travelling with. Almost immediately, Sirasan (my ‘point man’ in the village) was directing his family and friends to get in shot so that he could photograph them, and in the evenings, we would flick through the images from the day.

On Christmas Eve, I went for a wander with Sajeev down to the paddy fields and we took it in turn to take some photos. Keen for me sit on his bike, I pulled the most ridiculous face I was capable of at that time in the morning, and then we went up for breakfast.

Food was always the highlight of the evenings — a mixture of dishes surrounding a heap of rice. I was taught techniques for eating with my hands, and my the end I was probably at 60% the pace that they could do.

I’ll save you from the full run through, but a bout of delhi belhi struck on Christmas Day, which was all sorted by the time I was in a city called Alleppey on the 27th. Hopping out of a tuk-tuk I saw the smiles of Eve and Chris, aboard a houseboat as we were about to embark on a tranquil trip around the lake there.

With friends for the wedding

Eve, Chris and I spent a day and night gliding through the Alleppey backwaters and, after picking out some of the biggest prawns I’ve ever seen from a local fisherman, having a feast of delicious seafood. In the morning we drove down to Trivandrum (Kerala’s state capital, and location of the wedding) and met up with the rest of the Durham crew.

The wedding itself was on January 2nd, however there were events planned for five evenings whilst we were there. Most of our free time was spent exploring the city, preparing for the evening’s event, or at the beach.

The first night was where Pranav (husband) was officially welcomed to Ami’s friends and family. I believe that normally this is more of a meet and greet, however with Ami being an excellent dancer, this also presented an opportunity for her closest to effectively perform a dance-off against Pranav’s fam.

There were five or so dances on each side and, yes, myself and the Durham group were one of these. What we lacked in talent, we made up for in enthusiasm, and the performance was received well by a somewhat stunned crowd.

New Years Eve was spent dancing at Ami’s lake house, passing around champagne at midnight after a mini monsoon (though I suppose you could just call it a spell of rain..).

A few of us intended to remedy our fragile start to 2015 by going for an ayuverda massage, however it was in fact one of the more stressful experiences of the trip, as all of our battle reports attest. I spent 45 minutes sliding around a plastic table having a golden syrup-like substance vigorously rubbed into a few too many crevices than I was bargaining for, and it was topped off by the elderly gentleman throwing buckets of water at me whilst I sat starkers on the metal chair in the corner.

The wedding itself was fascinating, and amazing to see our first friend walk down the aisle. Despite being the only white people out of the 1600 people in attendance, Ami had ensured that we looked the part — the girls in saris, and the guys in a khurta (tunic) and mundu (bedsheet/ dress).

When Ami and Pranav weren’t on stage, had a prime opportunity for some collective DPPs, as all of us agreed that saving another Indian wedding, it is unlikely that we would again be in this attire. Food was a traditional Keralan feast, served on a banana leaf and Ami’s uncle did a fine job of taking the camera and capturing some of the more precarious moments of transferring the dishes to our mouths.

The remainder of the trip was spent by the beach. The final wedding evening was again a lovely evening with food and drinks, and served as a last night together as a whole group. The guys from Imperial also taught us that The Fish Jumped Into The Pond Splash which everyone found amusing. Eve, Carmen and I saw some lions in the morning at a nearby sanctuary and had a lovely meal with the remainder of the Imperialists to finish off our time, before flying back to England.

Finding a Decent Profile Pic

Owing to my unphotogenic nature, the pool of contenders for the heralded status of profile picture will always be limited. Through the swathes of pictures taken however, a few key moments from the trip were captured, and made it to the shortlist.

1. Visiting Ellora caves

They were places I’d never even heard before going, and I still find the feat of carving the structures out of one piece rock mindblowing

2. Swarms of schoolchildren

These episodes were always amusing, and almost certainly the most excited any group of people will get at the sight of seeing me

3. Cooking with Riya

I really enjoy cooking, and teaching Riya chicken and white sauce with“potato smash” was a pleasure

4. Dinner with Madhu’s family

Meal time was when the family came together, and it was fantastic to be a part of it

5. On Sajeev’s bike

I really enjoyed our trips around Wayanad, this was before heading out for the day

6. Putting on mundus

We all struggled putting on the rather precarious Indian garment…

7. The final night

It was good to capture a natural pic of all of the Durham guys before we left. I think we’d just done Indian tiger pose, or similar…

Outtakes

And of course, it wouldn’t be right to exclude some of the collateral that found its way onto my SD card in the search for a Decent Profile Pic…

The one that won out of the seven contenders was number five.

I took long, deliberating walks, consulted close friends, and weighed up the pros and cons. In the end, I used Facebook likes as a proxy for how decent each of the pictures were, and there was only one winner.

Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who made the trip to India as phenomenal as it was — it was incredibly fun to go and search for this profile pic in such a great country.

Epilogue

This is an overview of the trip for people who (understandably) found the original blog tl;dr

If, however, you’re interested in reading up some more on what went on (including recipes in the Great Anglo-Indian Cook Off), then you can head to the following link: Finding a Decent Profile Pic: in India