Tuesday, 25 December 2007

My Third Diwali in India

Outside our house, GK-1, New Delhi

As I write this I am sitting in my parents' kitchen enjoying a lovely Christmas holiday in Europe. But, as always, my blog is lagging behind so now it's time to continue my posts from the festive season with November's Diwali celebrations. This was my third Diwali in India. I won't write much about Diwali (If you want to read what it's all about you can check last year's post here), but rather just show some pictures of all the lights and fireworks you see in the streets on Diwali night. All pictures were taken in our own colony, GK-1.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Visitor no. 20.000

Just reached my 20,000th unique visitor. This was a (most likely male) visitor from Trivandrum in Kerala in India. He found my blog by searching on google for "nude pictures from nagaland" - honestly! I don't actually have any such posts, what he found was this old post in my archives.

The Triumph of Good over Evil at Dussehra

Crowds gathered for Dussehra celebrations, New Delhi.

In India the season of celebrations is in fall. Usually the festive season is kicked of with the celebration of Dussehra (this year on 21st October), which commemorates the mythical victory of Ram and his allies, over the demon king of (Sri) Lanka. On this occasion the triumph of good over evil is re-enacted by burning effigies of the demon king, Ravana (and occasionally some of his allies). Along with Nitoli and Danish Embassy Intern Andrea I took a rickshaw to one of the city's big Dussehra events at Kalkaji, seen in the picture above. There were thousands of people, but unfortunately just as we arrived and before we had gotten into place for a good view they set fire to Ravana. So disappointed we jumped on a bus back to Greater Kailash...

...only to discover to our great joy, that Dussehra celebrations were also happening in the park right next to our apartment and that the demons were still standing here. It's Ravana in the middle watching the fireworks give word of the upcoming battle.

The first of Ravana's cohorts has been set on fire...

...and exactly 27 seconds later the fire reaches his demonic stomach setteng of an explosion of rockets, crackers, fire and deafening noise.

This tradition of burning demons, is somewhat similar to the Danish custom of burning witches at Midsummer (yes, yes I know - it's a horrible way of honouring one of the most horrible customs of the dark ages, but it's just tradition and doesn't really mean anything). However our witches tend to burn slowly, whereas these Lankan demons are filled with such a massive quantity of fireworks that they tend to explode rather than burn.

And predictably, one of the rockets flew into a nearby pile of old branches and leaves setting our park on fire.

Luckily the well prepared arrangers had taken all eventualities into account, so they had one (1!) bucket and a garden hose ready to combat the fire. I don't know how they did it, but they managed to kill the fire before it spread, so the celebrations could continue.

The second cohort of Ravana goes off. The intensity of light and heat from the climax of the explosion was so intense that I was fearing damage to my camera. It seemed to get through without any permanent damage though.

Finally attention turned to Demon King himself. Doesn't he look evil? Time to get him vanquished until next year...

Here Ravana gets lit...

And in the biggest blast of the night Ravana gets sent back to hell, good triumphs over evil, and everyone goes home happy.

Here you can see how loud the explosions were. Nitoli and Andrea had to cover their ears. But then again, this picture was taken after the event, so they are actually just posing.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Road Trip, part 4: Lunch on Top of the World

Tsokar View restaurant near Taglang La pass, Ladakh

Leaving Rupsu Valley was an amazing experience as it took us to higher altitudes than I have ever experienced. In fact we had our lunch up here at 5300 meters altitude in the restaurant you see in the picture.

Same restaurant seen from the opposite ridge, gives some perspective on its location.

The kitchen inside the restaurant.

Marc and Lasse relaxing while waiting for their cup noodle lunch. It was really simple fare, but under these circumstances it tasted heavenly. At this point I was slowly recovering from my altitude sickness, which had taken my appetite and stopped me from eating for almost 24 hours. So I was very hungry.

The very friendly owner of Tsokar View restaurant. What a weathered face. It is a hard place to do business here, but at least he has a monopoly on lunch in the area.

A really nice bird outside the restaurant. It's a male white-winged redstar.

View of the valley below from the restaurant.

After lunch we drove the few hundred meters on to Taglang La, which is supposedly the second highest motorable pass in the world at 5328 meters. A colourful tablet marks the spot. "Unbelievable is not it?"

At the top I got my hands on the first snow in years. On this picture I am making a snowball to throw at Lasse. Unfortunately I missed.

The view from the pass towards the south. At first it may not look like much, but in fact this is my favourite picture of the entire trip, if not the favourite of all the pictures I have ever taken. I love the play of the shadows of clouds on the valley and how the rocky outcrop with its faded and blackened prayerflags add depth to the picture. In the background you can even catch a glimpse of Tso Kar lake. Click on picture to enlarge.

View to the north side of the pass. A truck has just started it's long descent towards the Indus Valley.

A little bit after the pass, we were forced to make a stop as some men were busy clearingthe road of fallen rocks. They quickly got the job done, so we could move on after 5 or 10 minutes.

Wrinkly hills further down the road.

This concludes my series of pictures from Ladakh. I hope you enjoyed them, because I sure enjoyed taking them. Ladakh is an absurdely photogenic place, and perhaps the most beautiful place I've ever been. There is a grandeur to the landscapes and the life here, despite all the hardship. I cannot recommend a trip here strongly enough. It's simply just amazing.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Road Trip, part 3: Lakes and Rivers of Rupsu Valley

A marshy area near a lake, Rupsu Valley, Ladakh.

Firstly my apologies for not updating for a while. I have been busy servicing a Danish delegation here in Delhi, so other priorities had to take a backseat for a while. But now I am back to go on with my Ladakh pictures. Last time I focused on the dry steppes of Rupsu, but there are also some lakes, streams and marshland giving some variation to the landscape. At this point I had become rather sick with altitude sickness, so in my delirium I was unable to keep track of which lakes were which. I just took pictures whenever I saw something beautiful. So I post some of them here without any caption:

On this last picture it is worth noting that the white stuff is not ice or snow, but rather salt. I don't know why, but this lake has salt rather than fresh water in it.

Finally a nomadic camp shot through the jeep window. I guess it actually belonged in my previous post but I forgot to include it, so here it is.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Road Trip, part 2: Endless steppes of Rupsu

Rupsu Valley, Ladakh.

Although I don't know what we missed by going to Nubra Valley, I'm actually really glad we ended up going to Rupsu instead. I just love these huge mountaint steppes with their grassing animals and a few nomads being the only life you see. Scenes, such as the one above with a small group of Yaks eating the sparse vegetation, look good on pictures: But in reality they are just breathtaking. This post is dedicated to this type of landscape.

Nomads and their sheep.

Another landscape, this one without any life in it. Such desolation.

A single wild ass. These are amazing creatures, which are closely related to the domesticated donkey, but look more like little horses. They are living in Rupsu completely without dependence on humans.

We were lucky enough not only to see the wild asses from afar, but also very close as a group ran straight in front of our car. Luckily we didn't hit any of them, but it got us closer to them. This picture was taken through the window glass of our moving jeep on a non-existent road. Considering that, I think the picture turned out quite good.

Our ride, out in the middle of nowhere.

A large group of sheep down in a canyon. What a strange pattern they form.

And finally one of the cutest animals I have ever seen: A Himalayan Marmot. These animals were a bit shy, but also very curious. They would run a little bit away, but then stick their head up and observe us. I'm guessing no one is hunting them, or they would have been extinct long ago.

A Marmot on the run, looking almost like a furry missile in flight. Adorable.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Road Trip in Ladakh: The Way to Rupsu

Indus River, somewhere on the road to Rupsu Valley.

As nice as the Indus Valley is with all of its old towns, palaces and monasteries, we wanted to experience more of this amazing district of Ladakh. We were planning to pass through the world's highest motorable pass to the neighbouring Nubra Valley. But since massive blizzards had shut down that pass, we had to change our plans. So instead we chose the somewhat longer drive to Rupsu Valley, close to Tibet in the southeastern corner of Ladakh. We followed the Indus river for a long time. As we moved ahead the valley was transformed into the canyon ytou see in the picture above. Not much room for more than the river and a road.

To share cost we teamed up with a Germany guy, Marc, and a couple of Israeli girls, whose names I can say but not spell.

Another picture from the rugged canyon. I love how one little, white house is placed on the mountain ridge seemingly in the middle of nowhere (slightly to the right of the centre of the picture).

Rupsu Valley is unlike any place I've ever been too. It's consisted of enormous, cool, windswept plains at altitudes of well over 4000 metres with very sparing plant growth and very little shelter. Most inhabitants here are nomads, who constantly move their herds of goats, sheep, cows and yaks to where there is a bit of food to be found. In the picture above is one such nomad dressed for late September weather. I can barely begin to imagine what life here must be like in the height of winter. Despite temperatures not far above zero degrees centigrade we saw several people here wearing only sandals without even socks. How they get through a Himalayan winter I simply do not understand.

A flock of sheep making their way through the barren and inhospitable yet amazingly beautiful landscape.

A large herd of goats walks past the shore of Tso Kar lake.

Marc using a break from the jeep ride to take pictures of the landscape.

A close up of some of the formations across the lake. I don't know how or why the rocks have so many different colours but it looks amazing, especially in this very weird sharp and cool light.