Friday, 29 June 2007

A Spectacular Event: Mata Mela

Time for a quite long post from me. Saraswati, the lady who comes to help us with the cooking and cleaning, invited us as special guests for a festival in her local neighbourhood: Mata Mela.

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This post contains some rather graphic images. Those faint of heart - especially when it comes to extreme body piercings should consider skipping this post. If you do read on, don't say I didn't warn you!
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Saraswati and Susanna. Sara (as we usually call her for short) is Tamil and lives in a Tamil dominated neighbourhood with their own Tamil festivals. I was the only foreigner there for this occasion.

For this festival everyone gets dressed up in their best clothes. I am not completely aware of the religious significance of this or even entirely sure about the name. But a central part of the festival is to parade around the deity (top right corner of the picture) in the streets. But more than anything this festival is about self mutilation and self torture.

This man has just had a very long metal spear pierced through both his cheeks to demonstrate his devotion to the Gods!

Another young man enduring unthinkable pain to honour the Gods. If you look closely you can see a tear escaping from his eye.

The third man voluntarily undergoing this treatment. This was the youngest of the subjects, and I think he was trying this for the first time - the two older men seemed more experienced in this.

Probably due to his inexperience another man had to walk behind him, to hold him, as he seemed to slip in and out of consciousness.

Although only men would get their cheeks pierced, the women were also proving their devotion, by getting their tongues pierced. In the case of the men I did not see whether they received any anaesthetic, but with the women I noticed that some form of powder or paste would be applied to their tongues causing them to instantly enter into a violent trance. They must be using some extremely powerful drug for this. Above you see two women having to be restrained after entering a trance just before getting their piercing.

One of the women after the piercing.

Local boys dance in what clearly was carefully choreographed moves.

The mela wasn't all about piercings. There were other ways of proving your dedication through pain. This man holds a jar with extremely hot burning coals in it. The only thing seperating his hands from the scalding hot jar is a bunch of thin leafy twigs. He would walk in the parade with this jar for several hours. Given the choice I think I might just go with the piercing rather than this.

A woman with the hot jar. I think this picture really captures the heat and pain she is suffering from.

After the brave men and women, follow other devotees with offerings on their heads.

The long spear is actually not a spear, but rather a trident. To avoid anyone having their eye poked out, they put three little lemons at the end.

It gets incredibly hot in the midday sun in New Delhi in May (when this happened) so these men are followed by helpers cooling them down with ice cold water. Notice the money on the man's flower garlands. Those are donations given in honour of his devotion. They go to the local temple, not to the man himself.

Elder men carrying the deity around for the mighty spectacle.

Fervor dancing, still with the tridents pierced through their cheeks.

The festival nearing it's climax and time to take out the tridents. This man went into a deep trance as this happened with several men needed to pacify him. Take a look at his eyes - they are wild.

An old local man suddenly enters a trance before my feet.

Back in the richly decorated temple where the festival reaches it's culmination.

The deity, wrapped in flower garlands, fruits and money. The deity is honoured in a long range of rituals before finally being tucked away for another year until the next festival.

The final puja (prayer) towards the innre sanctum.

Yet another man in trance. But this is not just anyone. This is one of the priests who will take care of the final and ultimate sacrifice in honour of the God...

And this is the other main character in that ritual! Everyone was very enthusiastic for me to take lots of pictures of that event, but here I politely excused myself and left the temple. I think that would have been a bit too much for me to stomach.

What an incredible day! Seeing things like this on tv or in pictures can be wild enough. But it really is an amazingly intense experience being there. This is a kind of fervor of devotion that I certainly don't know from Scandinavian society. Although I wouldn't say I approve of self mutilation of this kind, I must admit that it holds an enormous fascination for me. This kind of passion is hard to find. Maybe that is why I love football, which is probably the closest we come to similar passion and energy in the cold north - although we are still VERY far off from what is displayed here. I won't pass judgement on this, since it is part of a culture I have only just begun to understand - but now you have seen the pictures, so you can form your own opinion.

I will post a few videos from this event soon.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Rafting in Rishikesh

In late April we went with a bunch of friends for white water rafting near Rishikesh in the Himalayan foothills. It's a pleasant train ride from Delhi and a really cool activity. The picture above doesn't show any of us, but I thought I would start out with a bit of white water action. The rapids do get significantly bigger than this one though - but this is the one I could reach by foot from the camp.

Our camp. We were living on a really nice sand beach with a long row of two-man tents facing the river. In the chair is Howell from the American Embassy.

Susanna inside our cosy tent. As you can see we brought some supplies.

Two happy rafters, Sidsel and Susanna, getting ready to conquer the river. About 10 minutes after this picture was taken, Susanna left her 7000-rupee sun glasses on a rock, forgot about them and never saw them again.

Finally on the raft. We could bring our cameras, but they were kept in a dry-bag, so we could only get it out on the calmest stretches along the route. So not to much action here, but we did get into some pretty massive rapids - by beginner's standards. From the left this is Mirva (From the Finnish Embassy), Emil (earlier at the Embassy now working for a Danish company in Delhi), Cathrine (just peeping out from behind my head), me and Sidsel.

Mirva, enjoying the trip.

Even on the calm stretches of the river you don't get bored. The nature is amazing and there is plenty of life around you to look at (monkeys, deer, birds etc.)

Towards the end of one of our trips we stopped for an opportunity to make this terrifying jump. Since I'm not a very good swimmer and too comfortable with the element of water I chickened out, but Alistair (from Iceland) here made a couple of nice jumps.

And also Howell jumped, using a slightly less orthodox style.

After the raft, there was time for hanging out in the camp with some (relatively) cold drinks. At night a fire would be lit to keep the party going.

It's not all about rafting and partying though. It is also an interesting area for someone interested in wildlife such as myself. Across the river from our camp we would see this tiny species of deer, called Muntjac, come down for a drink. This animal is also known as the barking deeer, since it barks almost like a dog.

Nice lizard of species unknown to me. Haven't seen this one before.

Peacock landing after crossing the river.

The remnants of some unfortunate animal near the river.

A couple of Grey Hornbills. Very large and spectacular birds, which I had wanted to see for a long time. Enlarge picture to see them better.

Me caught by Susanna dipping my feet in the cool water in a lovely spot a good 15 minute walk upriver from the camp. I wouldn't mind going back there soon...

Friday, 22 June 2007

Last Morning in the Desert

We woke up in the desert and along with the two guys from London who had joined us on this trip I went to the top of the hills to see the sun rise over the Thar.

On top of the world. Yeah okay, bad hair - but I had just gotten up.

View of the camp (using 12x zoom) from the top of the biggest dune. As you can see we were staying under very modest conditions. The cluster of stuff in the left side of the picture was mine and Susanna's "night fortress".

Our two new friends running down the dunes. As you can see they are quite huge (although I have seen much bigger in Morocco).

James running down along a sandy ridge.

On the descent amongst hills and canyons made of sand. I just love the unspoiled patterns in the sand.

A dung beetle after working the entire night has found a good piece of dung, rolled into a ball and is now trying to get it back to it's cave.

Dung beetle footsteps on the top of the dune.

After finally leaving the dunes we rode our camels for another few hours to the village where we were picked up by car. These are some of the desert village kids.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Night in the Dunes

As I showed last time we arrived in a rare stretch of Thar Sand Dunes to camp there for the night. However, before settling down for the night there was time to play around for a bit.

Susanna enjoys the Dunes. It really is amazing spending a night in such untouched virgin sands without a single footstep prior to our arrival there.

Me and English guy James have fun by rolling down one of the largest dunes we could find.

Lasse and Cathrine with the setting sun behind them.

Sun setting over the Thar Desert.

After sunset our guide cooks for us.

But as the sun sets these little creatures come out to play: Dung beetles. At first they seem innocent enough, but as I learned for myself they bite! And there are tons of them. A nuisance taking a bit of the romance out of the desert experience.

To defend ourselves against the beetles and against the wind carrying plenty of sand with it, we had this little night fortress made. Although we were sceptical at first it kept the wind and beetles out and we actually had an excellent sleep under the stars.