Capturing wanderlust: GVSU graduate showcases photos from trip to India

GVL / Courtesy -
Photo of Patient Vendor, digital print, 2016 by Maya Grant

GVL / Courtesy – Photo of Patient Vendor, digital print, 2016 by Maya Grant

Anne Marie Smit

While studying abroad, many students use photography to document their experiences. In 2016, Grand Valley State University graduate Maya Grant traveled to India under a photography scholarship and is currently showcasing their photographs in an exhibit titled “Traveling with Bangalore Wanderlusters: Reflections on a Semester in India.” The exhibition is displayed in the Blue Wall Gallery in the Richard M. DeVos Center in Grand Rapids.

Grant graduated in December 2017 with a degree in sociology, and women and gender studies. After receiving the photography scholarship, they impulsively decided to travel to India on one of the more affordable study-abroad trips available at GVSU. Grant said they wanted to visit a country most people are intimidated by. 

“I picked it on a whim,” Grant said. “I definitely knew I didn’t want to go somewhere European. I wanted to go somewhere I would never feel comfortable being, somewhere exciting and different. I wanted to be challenged in some way. Plus, I thought, ‘Well, India has better pictures.’ 

“It just sort of added up with the details: I studied sociology, and they had a really diverse population.”

While in India, Grant joined a group called the Bangalore Wanderlusters, a multiethnic group of expatriates who traveled together throughout Karnataka and its neighboring states. 

“A lot of the people in the group are what they call expats,” Grant said. “(Half of them) were just people living daily lives who were Indian; the other half were people who were the expat party, … people who leave their countries. It’s a gathering of people who move somewhere new and need friends, basically.” 

Other than a desire to meet new people, what brought the people in the group together, Grant said, was a strong desire to see new places. 

“The Bangalore Wanderlusters would go on trips every weekend or every other weekend to really cool places, like waterfalls, mountains, cliffsides, whatever worked,” Grant said. “They tried to do it constantly because everybody had this need to travel. Everyone in the group loved being outside and doing things, and that’s how people bonded.”

Grant said the photographs in their exhibition detail the landscapes of India as well as the everyday people they encountered.

“There’s a lot of landscape, but there’s people, too,” Grant said. “(Some of it is), ‘Here is this beautiful view of a mountain,’ and then, ‘Here’s this older man who’s selling food at the market,’ or, ‘Here’s my friend sitting on a mountain, facing away,’ then ‘Here’s a waterfall.’” 

Grant said the photos they decided to display exhibit the aspects of India that most people are either unaware of or don’t talk about. Just like they didn’t want to travel to the more commonly visited countries, the photos they captured raise awareness of what authentic Indian life looks like.

“It’s definitely not romanticized in any way,” Grant said. “It takes a more natural view. It’s less about slums and the gritty city and more about what lies outside of the city that people don’t talk about as much.”

Grant said many people cautioned them away from traveling to India, thinking there was too much risk involved. Despite that, they wanted to explore less frequently visited areas, believing them to have their own beauty that isn’t often recognized. 

“I got so many comments like, ‘Don’t go to India; it’s dangerous, it’s overpopulated,’” Grant said. “In reality, I think it’s this really cool place that has a mixture of dead cities, and yes, poverty, that exists in a lot of places in the world. People want to focus on danger and risk, and there’s less conversation about the natural beauty and the people who are there. 

“They want to talk about fear and problems when India is a really cool place, and people forget that.”