Saturday, 31 March 2007

An Afternoon in Old Delhi

After the Kumbh Mela I thought that perhaps it was time to have a closer look at my own city. So I took an afternoon walk in Old Delhi, where I hadn't been for a long time. I had a good time and took lots of pictures, some of the area but mostly of the people of Old Delhi.

Old Delhi is worlds apart from South Delhi where I live, just 10 kilometers to the south. It is compact, old fashioned, crowded and it is majority Muslim. This old guy must have lived here through the horrors of partition in the late 1940s.

Ornamentation of a local mosque.

A typical Old Delhi workplace. Small family owned workshop.

As dusk grew closer I was rewarded with a beautiful sky, giving me this interesting skyline.

Local juice stand using Lord Shiva as an eye catcher on the big sign above the stand.

Local street vendor. Once you get just a little bit away from the main tourist attraction in Old Delhi (Red Fort, Jama Masjid) the attitude from the locals towards you changes remarkably. Your presence goes from being ignored or seen as a source of money at the tourist hotspots to being almost an exciting event here just 500 metres away. People are friendly and curious and more than happy to pose for pictures (in fact they frequently demand to have their picture taken). The following pictures are some of the most interesting portraits I took on this day:

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Last Reflections From the Ardh Kumbh Mela

Time for my last post from 2007 Ardh Kumbh Mela. All these pictures were taken as we casually wondered around the fair ground on our last day there.

A picture which I really love. Sari dressed women are looking at a jewelry stand. Despite the religious nature of the festival there is absolutely no shortage of stands selling just about everything. It is also a great commercial event.

When we first visited the Kumbh Mela on the 19th it was arguably the greatest and most important bathing date, after which the festival begins to reduce in scale. It still continues for almost a month after that date, but already our second day it was evident that the masses were starting to pack up their belonging and move on. Here you see pilgrims with all their luggage crossing the pontoon bridges over river Ganges on their way back home - or possibly towards the next site of pilgrimage.

A different - almost melancholic - view of the streams of pilgrims leaving Allahabad.

Women washing, drying and folding their saris, by the river.

A holy man, who seemed to be very much living in his own world. I stood and watched him for a long time, in which period he not once took his eyes of his shiny tiffin box. While he was studying it closely he was smiling and laughing seemingly without taking any of the outside world. He must have seen something special in that box, that none of the rest of us could have seen.

A tired Mela participant takes a break from it all with a little nap in the sun.

On a less cheerful note, here is evidence that child labour is still very much common in India, despite being recently outlawed. These girls earn a few rupees supplying firewood to the pilgrims spending their nights in chilly tent camps.

An old lady in a small shack trying to earh a bit of money providing some - to be unknown - religious service to passers by.

As nightfall drew closer it apparently became time for parades around the fair ground. Here a tuba player is proudly showing off his skills for the honour of my camera.

Two participants in a parade carrying flags and other Hindu symbols.

A flag parade seen against the fantastic dusk sky.

A couple of horses waiting patiently to take part in another evening parade, as the sun is hastily setting behind them.

And this is my last picture from the amazing Ardh Khumb Mela: Reflections form a nearby tent camp in a small, shallow stream. An exceptionally beautiful dusk sky provided a perfect end to our trip to this amazing event. I have seen and done many things in India, but this festival beats it all. It is an almost overwhelming assault on the senses. I must strongly recommend all my readers to visit the next Kumbh Mela in Allahad. You have plenty of time to plan your trip: It will be in 2013.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Faces of the Ardh Kumbh Mela

Still at the Ardh Kumbh Mela in Allahabad we wandered the fair ground to interact with the many fascinating people there. And most people upon seeing my camera would insist on having their picture taken, so I managed to take countless portrait photos. Here are those I found the most fascinating. Unlike normal, I will not comment on the pictures, but rather let the faces talk for themselves.

Friday, 23 March 2007

A small update from Nepal

Let me apologise for the slack in updating my weblog recently. I am doing a visa run in Nepal and have succesfully gotten a new tourist visa for India. I thought I would be able to update my weblog while here. However, the Internet connections here have turned out to be too slow for that. The trip to Nepal is quickly approaching it's end, so I promise I'll get with more updates from the Ardh Kumbh Mela and much else in 2-3 days time. And later of course also from this trip to Nepal. This will be my last traveling for a while. Now it's time to focus more on work for the next 4-5 months.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

The Kumbh Mela in Ganges Perspective

Still on the first day of the Ardh Kumbh Mela in Allahabad we took an afternoon boat ride to see the whole spectacle from another angle. After all the festival is so focused around rivers.

At the confluence of the two rivers, Ganges and Yamuna, hundreds of boats with colourful flags are anchored.

You may wonder what this picture is supposed to show. Well, this is one of the very holiest places within Hinduism. The ripples you see on the surface of the water are a very local, but constant phenomenon. It is caused not by wind or currents per se, but rather by the confluence of the three rivers Ganges, the river Yamuna and the mythical river Saraswati said to be flowing beneath the earth.

An old book floating on the holy waters gives a very melancholic feel. I was asked in a comment what this whole festival is all about. It commemorates the following legend. Thousands of years ago gods and demons made a temporary truce in order to work together to harvest the nectar of immortality - known as Amrita - from a primordial ocean of milk. All were then supposed to share the nectar equally. However, the demons - them being demons and all - decided to run away with the pitcher (Kumbh) containing the nectar. The gods managed to chase down the treacherous demons, and then in the sky battled them for control over the Kumbh for twelve days and twelve nights. Just like dogs, also gods live by different time scales than we do, so 12 of their days and nights are equivalent to 12 human years (and 84 dog years). During the battle a few drops of nectar were spilled fromt the Kumbh and fell down to earth. They landed in four different locations: Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. Therefore each of these places holds a large fair (Mela) running in different 12-year cycles. The Allahabad Kumbh Mela is the largest of these, totalling in 2001 over 70 million pilgrims. Every 6 years after (and thus also before) the Allahabad Kumbh Mela, a so called "half" or Ardh Kumbh Mela is held, and this is the one we attended. At this Kumbh Mela "only" 20 million showed up on the day of our visit. Would have been 19,999,992 without us.

Some of the colourful pilgrims seen from the Ganges. India is a colourful country and the Kumbh Mela probably takes the prize as the most complete explosion of colour and humans.

I have already introduced most of the friends who went with us to the Kumbh Mela. However, Emil and Lise, interns at the Danish Embassy, came later and took a boat while we were still on the way back from the fair ground in the morning. However as they were making their way back to town we spotted them from our boat and I took this shot of them.

A seagull on a floating barrel, having little idea that behind it one of the greatest festivals of mankind is taking place.

Susanna having a go at the rowing on the boat back from the Sangam. She did a pretty good job of it!

A brand new bridge leading from Allahabad over the river Yamuna.

An older bridge also leading over the Yamuna, being crossed by many people just as the sun is setting.

Boatmen getting ready to step ashore for the night.