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Two Cities: Engaging with Kolkata and Varanasi

The Two Cities Expedition with Robert van Koesveld and Manjit Singh Hoonjan invites you to engage with the extraordinary people, places and cultures of Kolkata and Varanasi, India.

You will meet pilgrims and wrestlers, boatmen and market women, students and priests.

It is also a focused opportunity in these two amazing old cities to take your image-making further and deeper.

Aug 9 – Aug 17, 2019
Kolkata & Varanasi,  India
Group Size: 4-8

Duration: 9 Days
US $4,950 p.p.
Single Supplement : US $850

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Meeting the diversity, colour, and rituals of India’s two most famous and magical cities.

Kolkata and Varanasi are two of the most unusual and magical cities in India. Varanasi (Benaras), settled millenniums ago, eventually trading in silk and muslin while becoming a city of learning and pilgrimage, attracting Hindu pilgrims seeking salvation at the abode of Lord Shiva by ritual bathing or being cremated alongside the Ganges. Kolkata (Calcutta) on the banks of the Hooghly River was the child of the British East India Company that became the second city of the British Empire, and then a leader in the Independence Movement; over the centuries it has been a major Indian centre of commerce, culture and education. The diversity, cultural and visual richness, and unceasing energy of Kolkata and Varanasi makes them very exciting and memorable. For photographers they offer endless special opportunities to make atmospheric images centred on people and place.

Manjit has been leading photography walks in Kolkata for many years, enthusiastically sharing his beloved home-city with visitors from all over the world. He really knows the historical and cultural layers of the city and its people, and we will draw upon the special relationships he has built over the years. He is a skilled and committed photographer and generously coaches his guests in making better images. Robert, an experienced phototour leader and award-winning photographer, has visited Kolkata several times, always finding new stories and making picture essays. As good friends, Robert and Manjit have travelled to Varanasi repeatedly; like Kolkata, it draws people back.

We have chosen to travel in the rainy season rather than the short and crowded cooler time and because August is not as hot as other times; the rain, despite its obvious challenges, makes for particularly interesting images. We have also chosen to be in Varanasi at the time of the unique Shravani festival, which we really enjoyed last year. It is definitely worth the adventure.

Indian cities can be challenging as well as extraordinary, but it makes a real difference going with experienced photographers who know them well. In the narrow lanes of Varanasi, we will add an assistant guide, so we can get ‘lost’ in small groups but still engage with spontaneous opportunities and find our way back. In both cities we will be using our local contacts for additional unique photographic shoots and experiences.

As well as the adventure of exploring these amazing cities, our goal is also to work with you to develop your image-making, so you can bring back work that you can be proud of and use in ways of interest to you.

We go above and beyond to make your trip memorable. Read our 100% 5 Star Trip Advisor Reviews.

Voygr’s Expert Guides

Robert van Koesveld    

Robert is a full-time photographer whose work reflects his life-time interest in cultural travel. Since retiring early from his psycho-therapy practice in Perth, he has concentrated on photography, and travels extensively. Robert co-authored (with wife Libby Lloyd) the photo book Bhutan Heartland: Travels in the Land of the Thunder Dragon’ (Fremantle Press, 2010). His book ‘Geiko and Maiko of Kyoto’ (Presence Publishing, 2016), in advance form, won the Australian Professional Photography Awards category of Best Photo Book for 2015. As well as leading phototours in Bhutan, India, China and Japan, he has had solo exhibitions in Kyoto and Dubai, and articles published in Kyoto Journal and Better Photography magazines. Robert is interested in capturing ‘spirit of place’ and ‘people with presence’ in a cultural context. He is increasingly fascinated with the liminal – the space between. www.robertvankoesveld.com.

Also check out Robert’s photography expedition to the Trans-Himalayas of Ladakh in September, 2019.

Manjit Singh Hoonjan   

Manjit pioneered heritage and cultural walking phototours in Kolkata and is a full-time guide of these much-valued experiences, recommended by The Guardian, The Telegraph and the Wall Street Journal; he recently assisted Steve McCurry photographing for five days in Kolkata. Manjit’s passion for Kolkata and his personable style means he has gathered an extraordinary range of knowledge and contacts, so that each tour is unique, responding to the interests of the guest. As a professional photographer he is primarily focused on the people of his home-city who bring alive its fascinating history, cultural richness, unique architecture and urban narratives. His photos have been published in many publications, including National Geographic, Outlook Traveller, Financial Times (UK) magazine, Esquire (Malaysia) and Lonely Planet. His images of the idol-makers colony (Kumortuli) and the Durga Puja Festival were recently showcased in London. His philosophy of travel and photography reflects Henry Miller’s: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things”.   (www.CalcuttaPhotoTours.com)

Photography Matters:

The trip is designed for photographers, who will get good use of all photography gear from iPhone to DSLR and beyond. Non-photographers may enjoy the trip as well, especially if they have a plan for activities while others are photographing, eg meeting locals, writing, sketching or really looking. We can advise you more about options after you join the tour. We will offer individual photography coaching and some structured talks during the tour. Please bring some examples of your images and examples of other images you are interested in, so we can be clear about your goals. If you bring a laptop we can work on post-processing your images together, when time permits.

Physical requirements:

This is not a trek, but we shall be walking in each location, usually on uneven paving. We will often get to the locations by car, taxi and boat, but then there will be walking and sometimes steps. So, you’ll need firm walking shoes, rather than full-on trekking boots; slip-on crocs style footwear (maybe with socks) will be handy in some locations. There will be lots of early starts and late finishes as well, though often some down time in the middle of the day. It won’t hurt if you get fitter before you come. It’s called an ‘expedition’, so expect to be outside in this wonderful environment a good deal and to be adaptable to the unexpected and to great opportunities.

US $4,950 p.p.

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Quick Itinerary for this Photography Expedition

Day 1. Arrive in Kolkata, India

Check into our central and comfortable hotel, The Oberoi Grand. We begin with a group dinner and orientation.

Day 2, 3, 4. Kolkata Explore Kolkata
Day 5. Kolkata to Varanasi

We will fly to Varanasi and transfer to our hotel located right on the ghats. We will explore the location from the hotel and take a boat trip in the evening light.

Day 6, 7, 8 Varanasi Explore Varanasi.
Day 9. Depart Depart from Varanasi for home, or extend your travels around India.

What’s Included in the Two Cities Photography Expedition

  • Robert van Koesveld and Manjit Singh Hoonjan as your expedition guides/coaches
  • Special activities and assistant guide in Varanasi
  • Twin-sharing accommodation in India*
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner, bottled water
  • Domestic Flight between Kolkata & Varanasi
  • All tips and gratuities while with the group
  • Airport pickup and dropoff at start and end of tour
  • Pre-trip advice and briefing

What’s NOT Included

  • International flights
  • Domestic flights (other than Kolkata>Varanasi during the expedition)
  • Visa for India
  • Travel insurance. (Required)
  • Personal expenses
  • Room Service extras, minibar or alcoholic drinks.

Single accommodations are $850 per person.

*To book the twin share rate, you must book together with a friend or partner, as we cannot be responsible for pairing you with others.  

A non-refundable deposit of US$1,500 per person is required when booking this Two Cities Expedition.

The balance should be paid by 120 days before departure.

Please read Voygr’s terms & conditions for further details.

US $4,950 p.p.

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Full Itinerary for the Two Cities Photography Expedition

Two Cities Photography Expedition with Robert van Koesveld and Manjit Singh Hoonjan

Rather than a day by day plan for each city we will have group activities together for the days, and sometimes even subgroups of two or three people. We will decide on the best timing each day, considering the latest information from our contacts and new options that will present themselves. That’s part of the magic.

Day 1 (August 9): Kolkata

Check into our central and comfortable hotel The Oberoi Grand.

We begin with a group dinner and orientation.

Day 2- 4 (Aug 10-12): Explore Kolkata

As Nobel Literature Laureate and Calcutta resident Rabindranath Tagore said: “Something undreamt of was lurking everywhere, and every day the uppermost question was: where, oh where would I come across it?”. Some options:

  • The busy, colourful, large, fragrant and friendly vegetable and fruit market.
  • The districts of Hindus, Buddhists, Chinese, Muslims, Parsis, Jews, Christians.
  • The fading glories and surprising details of the British Raj and Europeans.
  • Food, glorious food: watch it being made, eat tasty food and sweet food.
  • The famous Flower Market (India’s biggest) by the Hooghly
  • The wrestlers and sadhus beside the Hooghly Bridge.
  • The laneways of the makers of beautiful idols of goddesses and gods

Day 5 (August 13): Fly to Varanasi

We will fly to Varanasi and transfer to our hotel located right on the ghats. We will explore the location from the hotel and take a boat trip in the evening light.

Day 6-8 (August 14-16): Explore Varanasi

As Mark Twain said: “Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together“. Even Buddha would have visited after his first sermon on the Four Noble Truths in the nearby deer park of Sarnath over 2,500 years ago. Some options in 2019:

  • Sunset boat trips or walks to the ghats with Aarti rituals for mother Ganges.
  • Wandering the laneways with endless surprises, shops and meetings.
  • Evening boat trips to the burning ghats.
  • Talking with priests and pilgrims and Indian tourists.
  • Watching the devout carry holy water to the amazing decorated temples on the final day of the Shravani Festival, during the holiest month for Hindus.
  • Being moved at the one-year anniversary ritual after a loved one’s death: prayers, offerings, shaved heads.
  • Wondering at the extraordinary scenes of humanity, cows, and monkeys.

Day 9 (August 17): Depart

Depart from Varanasi. Return home or extend your travels in India.

Note: This is an ‘expedition’, so this itinerary is the plan. The actual tour may vary slightly due to weather, road conditions or other things beyond our control, or if new opportunities present themselves.  Either way, we will ensure you get the best photographic tour that we can provide, and you will come away with fantastic images and memories that will last a lifetime.

US $4,950 p.p.

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Accommodation on your Two Cities Photography Expedition

Our goal is to balance the challenges of India in the wet season with well-located high-quality accommodation. In Kolkata we stay at the Oberoi Grand, arguably the best hotel in this city. In Varanasi we want to be located right on the Ganges for early starts and late explorations, so we have chosen the best traditional hotel we can find, (rather than a bland 5 star ‘international’ hotel at a distance that makes early mornings and evenings too difficult). You can walk out the door and be on the ghats.


US $4,950 p.p.

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These maps will give you a rough idea of the places of interest in Kolkata and Varanasi.


US $4,950 p.p.

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Contact Us

Ready to book? Send us a message through the form below, or call us in the USA at +1 646 905 0550 or in the UK at +44 1316 080 049

Two Cities by Robert van Koesveld & Manjit Singh Hoonjan

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