Caught In The Act – Candid People Photos From The Streets Of India

UPDATED: OCTOBER 2020

You might have guessed by now how fond we are of exploring the streets and alleys of urban destinations on foot. By ourselves, or on guided walks led by locals in the know.

There is no better way to connect to a city than to get off the beaten path and watch real people. At work, and at play. To witness the rhythms and routines of their daily lives structured by the demands of family, job and religion.

We went on nine such walks last year, beginning with a walk through Montmarte in Paris, followed by three in Delhi, one in Lucknow, one in Varanasi and three more in Kolkata!

Montmarte aside, the rest were at times vivid and intense immersions into the diversity of (real) life in urban India.

Here is a gallery of people doing their thing, all from the walks in India…..not all technically perfect, but special to me for the memories they evoke.


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Let’s begin with the ‘wallahs‘:

A  nariyal-wallah (tender coconut seller) in the Malick Ghat flower market Kolkata.

From the same bazaar, a phool-wallah, or rather, a phool -carrier, in his marigold ‘skirt’.

A languorous ricksha-wallah! (I had just clicked the image that is my current background, when this man rushed in to claim ownership.)

Rickshawallah, Kolkata ——-

The mithai-wallah (a worker in Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandi sweet shop, reputed to be the makers of the best Nolen Gur (new jaggery) Sandesh in town. Can’t vouch for the sandesh, but whatever we tasted was exceptional.)

Mithaiwallah - Kolkata

And the second hand book-wallah from College Street. (OK, I just cooked up this ‘wallah’.)

Bookseller on College Street - Kolkata

A mali (gardner) on the grounds of the Agra Fort (Yes, that is the the Taj Mahal in the distance!)

Mowing the lawns of the Agra Fort

I hope you remember my young chai-wallah 

Chaiwallah, Kolkata

And the lassi-wallah from Varanasi?

Lassi seller, Varanasi

Also the paan-wallah from Old Delhi?

Paan seller - Old Delhi

Then there is the butcher (who wouldn’t keep still long enough for a decent shot. I think he was just a happy soul.)

Chicken Shop, Kolkata

The (jaunty) barber…

Barber,Kolkata

The parantha-maker

Paranthewali Galli, Old Delhi

A tinker (this Lucknowi gentleman crafts rings out of old coins),

Making rings out of old coins - Lucknow

Tailor?  (Zardosi workers actually, but hey, I can see needles. And threads.)

Zardosi embroidery, Lucknow

Locksmith (This man fell out with his brothers, and opted for this tiny slice of a shop over a partnership in their larger space next door.)

Locksmith, Kolkata

And even a little thief!

Cat in a chicken shop, Kolkata

Appreciate your tagging along. If you enjoyed this you might want to check out more posts from the People Of My Places category.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

130 thoughts on “Caught In The Act – Candid People Photos From The Streets Of India

  1. Amazing photos, Madhu, each telling their own story, but the Locksmith’s photo really stood out. It’s amazing he can do business in his “tiny slice of a shop”…and loved the cute little thief!
    Lauren

  2. I so enjoyed this post Madhu! I remember the young boy from when I first started following you along with 2900 others ! Wow!

  3. These types of photos where you get candid shots of people in their environment are my favorites . You travel such exotic places. I love seeing colorful parts of the world through your eyes Madhu. Cheers, Margie

    1. Thank you Margie. Happy you enjoyed this gallery. I didn’t have to go too far to capture these 馃檪

    1. I just had to include the bedraggled little fellow! 馃檪 Appreciate your stopping by Pogirl.

  4. Great photos, Madhu. Rich in culture and tradition and reality. I too wondered where all the women are. Man’s work, I expect. We leave for India in two weeks and unfortunately won’t be making it to Chennai and really wished we could have met. (Next time) What do you think of the following street walk in Delhi? http://www.salaambaalaktrust.com/ You blogged on one of your guides in Delhi and I would love for you to point me to that post/guide again. Because of your post on step wells, we’ll be going to two in Delhi, one in Jaipur and one in Samode.

    1. Thank you Lynne. What a pity that we will not be able to meet. but I understand your time constraints. Happy though that you have included so many stepwells! I look forward to reading all about it.

      We did not use Salaam Balak trust, but have heard great things about them. I certainly hope to try them on a future trip. We used three companies in Delhi…Delhi Heritage Walks, Delhi by Foot and one group tour with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). The former two also have scheduled tours on weekends that are a lot cheaper than their private tours. I have linked to them here, but you could also search my Delhi posts, mainly ‘Giving Delhi its Due‘.

      Hoping you have a great visit Lynne. Do drop me a mail if you need any more help.

      1. Thanks, Madhu for the link to your post and to the different walks. I will check them out and settle on one. At last, I’m getting to visit India and celebrate our 50th anniversary as well. 馃檪

  5. Love your photos, Madhu. These are real gritty shots – documenting daily life. Fascinating 馃檪

    1. Thank you Cornelia. That email I promised you is still in my drafts folder! Shall get it out over the weekend. Hope I am not too late.

  6. It’s the people! It really is the people that you can really the very sense of the destination. This is one of your best sets ever! You do this well, Madhu. I need your charm to be comfortable photographing people, setiously.

    1. Many thanks for the generous compliments Rommel! I think you are being too modest 馃檪 I was uncomfortable too, at first. It is just a question of getting over the initial self consciousness.

  7. Although we do some of the touristy things when we visit a new place by far the richest experiences are when you get off the beaten path and dig a little deeper. Lovely post Madhu!

  8. Such an industrious nation, India, Madhu! I liked the “meanie” guy with his own personal lock space. He looks friendly enough 馃檪 And that marigold skirt is quite something! Did you talk to them as you wandered, or just ask permission for the photos?

    1. We talked to some of them Jo, not all. the ‘skirt guy was just passing by, so we didn’t even ask for permission 馃槈 By the way, that ‘meanie’ locksmith was featured by WordPress in a compilation of 12 shots from around the world!!

    1. We especially liked Lucknow, although there wasn’t that much to do there. Thanks for stopping by Kalpana.

  9. Lovely shots ! I’ll have to visit this place one day 馃檪

  10. I love these images, Madhu! Bursting with life and colour, and I can almost hear the sounds and imagine the smells emanating from the mithai-, paan- and chaiwallahs. Your invention of the term ‘bookwallah’ brought a smile to my face… all this is a reminder that I really must come to India sometime, hopefully next year!

    1. Thanks James. And I am delighted that you are planning a trip to India! Let me know if you plan on coming down South and if I can help in any way.

  11. I love your street photos, Madhu. The joy in the butcher’s face, the colorful displays and … too bad … about missing out on that tasty treat. It probably really was excellent. 馃槈

    1. Happy you enjoyed my gallery Judy. Yes missing out on the special jaggery treat was a bit disappointing, but I did get to taste it elsewhere.

  12. A wonderful wallah tour Madhu, not only the colourful sights but the stories to go with them – imagine the locksmith’s family get together!

  13. I love these. You’ve captured the essence of life there. I love it when my pictures do that, so know how these must bring the memory of it back for you.

    1. It does, but I was struck by how his demeanor belied his gruesome occupation 馃檪 Happy to have stirred fond memories. Thank you for stopping by.

  14. Thanks for taking us all along with you. I love the amazing variety of interesting people. I’d love to go there sometime.

    1. My pleasure entirely David. You would find plenty of fodder here for your imaginative flash fiction 馃檪

  15. Stunning street captures Madhu! I love the one with all the books! You will find me lingering there for sure. Thanks for sharing. 馃榾 *hugs*

  16. Great shots which are pretty much the same as they are in Bangladesh. I was pleased I understood all the Hindi (?) being used to, with just slight alterations it is the same as the Bengali I know and love. Now I’m back in the UK I think I love your photos of India all the more because of how closely related they are to my beloved Bangladesh. At the same time, India captures my heart in another, very special, way.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts Ken. The election poster behind the Panwallah is in Hindi. Bengali script as used in West Bengal, and I assume in Bangladesh as well, differs distinctly from Hindi. I hope you are able to return soon 馃檪

      1. Yes, we used Bangla from Kolkata all the way up to Darjeeling when we visited and had no problem being understood.
        I was referring to the terms you used which I could understand well. Hindi is different in script and sound but both languages are close enough that I can read the script well enough and often, with just changing some of the vowel sounds, I can understand Hindi too. I am learning the language little by little but it no longer surprises me that so many Bangladeshi kids can speak and understand Hindi fluently from simply watching Indian TV for so many years of their childhood!

  17. Very apt pictures.Caught in the act!

    Great job…I meant yours,
    And all the wallahs…who in India is not acquainted with a few of them at least . I really love the way you capture the essence of their livelihood.

  18. Wow! That was indeed a beautiful trip down the alleys of India. 馃檪 Is there any place more vibrant and colorful than this part of the world? I can’t answer that because I haven’t traveled even one hundredth part of the globe. 馃檪

    1. Yes India is certainly very photgenic. Cleaning up our alleys, would make them even more so 馃檪 Thanks for joining me on my walks Rekha.

  19. That is a colorful and fun array of street shots! Thank you for the tour, Madhu 馃檪

    1. I imagine you must be feeling just as exhausted after all the unpacking! Have a great weekend Marina 馃檪

  20. oh thanks for having us along with you on those walks Madhu, such a thrill to see all your wallahs up close, I can smell the aromas and hear the sounds only too vividly from your images! the laughing butcher, the young chaiwallah, the languorous rickshawallah and the phool carrier are my favourites 馃檪

    1. It is my pleasure Christine…thank you for your company, and the kind comments 馃檪

  21. I had to chuckle at myself when I read your first sentence here, Madhu: “You might have guessed by now how fond we are of exploring the streets and alleys of urban destinations on foot.”

    It would never have occurred to me to do anything else!! I would never feel like I could connect otherwise. So I never thought about this in your postings. No wonder I enjoy yours so much! 馃檪

  22. Such interesting images. What a loss it will be when ‘shops’ eventually replace these hardworking artisans. From my very early childhood I remember the ‘wallahs’ noticeably the paniwallah (water) and the chaiwalla. Great photos. My fav is the rickshawwallah.

    1. Now that you mention it, I don’t think I have ever seen a paniwallah!! I have no doubt time is numbered for the rest as well. Thanks Tony.

  23. Thank you. That brought back memories of my own happy wanderings. Life is more interesting away from the fancy suburbs isn’t it?

  24. Very interesting, Madhu. Thank you. Where are all the women by the way? I suppose you are going to make a separate post?

    1. Thank you Subhan. The thought crossed my mind while I was compiling this post! The trades shown here traditionally don’t employ women, although I do see the odd female autorickshaw driver. The ratio of female vendors is pretty high in markets though. The rest are most probably back in the villages tending their lands or working on construction sites or as housemaids. Not sure if it is gender bias or just a more practical distribution of work. Could be both 馃檪

    1. You should see how they are transported Gilly……upside down with their legs tied together in a bunch!!! Yep, the lassiwallah is a safe bet 馃檪

  25. Fabulous photos, Madhu! Indeed, there is nothing like walking off the tourist track to really see and feel the place you are visiting.

    1. Thank you Angeline. I can see from your people pictures from Mexico, how much you enjoy doing the same.

  26. What a wonderful post! I particularly loved the barber shops on my visit to India, and how handsome the men looked after a visit.

    1. Not sure how good this guy was Debra……I would have been mighty nervous if my barber was doing his job with one hand shoved in his pocket 馃檪

  27. I love the picture of the butcher. What a happy face. There is suspense in the cat picture. Will he be able to have at least a lick of the bird?

    Thanks for the photos, Madhu. I like their candid quality. It’s like being there, too. 馃檪

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