Friday, 28 March 2008

A Himalayan People's Struggle for Freedom

Exile tibetans protesting China's violent crackdown on their countrymen. Such sadness in their faces.

The Indian Himalayas are seething with anger and frustration as the Tibetan exile community watches China crack down on the protests of their countrymen back home in Tibet. In Shimla a number of Tibetans had organised a hunger strike to raise awareness for the issue. It was truly moving to see the desperate, yet dignified and peaceful protests of a people too long denied their most basic right to self-determination and protection of their human rights. In a recent piece of news, China has sent civilian-clothed forced into Nepal to disrupt Tibetan protests there. It is truly despicable.

I will take this opportunity to extend my best wishes to the Tibetan struggle for freedom. Whether Tibet should be sovereign or whether some form of autonomy within China can be satisfactory I'm not sure. But Tibetans should be able to freely express their culture and their opinions, and those exiled should be able to return to a Tibet, where the will of the people is expressed in the political arena. I truly understand the call of Tibetans for the Olympics to be boycotted, but in some sense I hope that the international spotlight created by the Olympics may cause the Chinese government to enter into negotiations with the Dalai Lama, so a process of normalisation can start.

More hunger strikers, young and old.

Nitoli writes a message of support for the Tibetans, while standing in front of the photographic documentation of China's violence and human rights abuses.

The tired, hunger striking protesters sat silently, while signs behind them expressed their - very reasonable - demands.

Later in the day a large group of Tibetans had changed their tactic by doing a parade through Shimla.

Even a mock Red Army showed up for the protest march.

A group of ladies shouting out for Tibet. I wonder if they will ever get to set foot in their homeland.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Shimla - India's Favourite Hill Station

Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh.

Shimla is the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh and used to be the summer capital of the entire British East India, until India gained independence. Being a hill station nestled on the sides of several hills, it is a popular destination for - especially domestic - tourists to escape the heat of the plains and to soak up the remnants of the colonial, British atmosphere.

I had been to Shimla once before, but was eager to revisit this place. Firstly because the weather was very bad last time, secondly because my last visit was before my interest in photography had taken off so I didn't get many pictures and thirdly because Shimla is just a very nice place to relax. In large parts of the town no cars are allowed so the only means of transport is walking. This is a nice change from the rest of India where cars go everywhere and pedestrians are under constant threat from motor vehicles, cows and other obstacles. We spent the first day just strolling about the town, enjoying the atmosphere and the old buildings.

The central square of Shimla "The Ridge" lies beautifully at the top of a hill with great views to the surrounding valleys.

Scandal point, where the Ridge meets the main street called the Mall.

Rush hour, Shimla-style.

Since cars are not allowed in the central town, this is how stores get their goods.

Nearby hill in the morning light.

We splurged on tea in the classy lobby of Shimla's fanciest hotel the Oberoi Cecil. Expensive, but nice.

At the other end of the scale we went to the very cheap, but equally cool and old-school Indian Coffee House. They still charge in ten paise (tenth of a rupee).

The head waiter at the India Coffee House.

Old British building.

Monkey fight at the Ridge.

Nitoli in front of a cute post office.

Having a bridge to your door is pretty cool.

Jeppe on the way up to a Hindu temple above Shimla.

At end of the Ridge stands Shimla's principal landmark, the raj-era Christ Church. Next to it the Himachal Pradesh State Library.

Town hall of Shimla.

One of Shimla's hill sides by night.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Kurukshetra - Birthplace of the Universe

India's largest water tank, the Bhramasarova

Some seven kilometres off National Highway 1 between Delhi and Chandigarh lies the regional centre of Kurukshetra. Seen from the outside it looks like nothing but yet another mid-sized Indian town of less than 50,000 people. Only a decorated gate on the road leading from the highway down to the town indicates that this is in fact the birthplace of the entire universe! It is also where good triumphed over evil in the most epic battle the world has ever seen, that of the Mahabharata. Other singificant events include Krishna delivering his legendary Bhagavad Gita Sermon here. All this, according to Hindu teachings of course.

Kurukshetra was the first short stop on our Easter trip en route to Shimla. It is the kind of place very few foreign tourists visit as there is no infrastructure in place for it. Only because we had a car could we do it. Our visit was limited to two attractions although there are more things to see there.

First we visited India's largest water tank, the Bhramasarovar, of which you see just a small part in the top picture. It is quite huge.

After that we went to the Kurukshetra Panorama and Science Centre, which displays a curious combination of science and religion. While the ground floor is dedicated to science the panorama upstairs scenes from the mythical Mahabharata Battle. Real figures fight it out in the front with dead soldiers and vultures adding to the drama, while paintings on the panorama wall attempt to add some depth and show the scope of the entire battle.

Above the ghats of the Bhramasarova. I expect this place would be packed in the early morning, but since we arrived around noon only few people were out in the scorching sun.

Present Danish Embassy intern Jeppe, joined us on our trip. Here he is looking out on the tank.

Panorama and Science Centre.

The ground floor of the centre has a number of interactive scientific exhibitions, allowing visitors to discover scientific principles themselves. There is a focus on scientific discoveries made by Indians.

One of the funnier exhibits allows you to literally have your head served on a plate.

A scene from the panorama upstairs. Fun to see but not as well made as Ranjit Singh panorama in Amritsar.

Happy Easter!

Danish Easter lunch in Delhi.

A belated happy Easter to everyone. Since Nitoli had a few days off around Easter we took a short but intense trip to Shimla, Anandpur Sahib and Chandigarh. It was an eventful trip, which I will dedicate a number of posts to in the coming days. But before we left we had a nice Danish påskefrokost (Easter lunch) with some of our long time friends from Delhi. The menu included marinerede sild (marinated herring), karrysalat (curry salad), rugbrød (dark rye bread), frikadeller (fried meat balls with flour and onion), panerede fiskefilleter (fish fillet), reindeer meat and a number of other Scandinavian favourites. And snaps of course. Many of our friends are leaving Delhi within the next months, so it was one of the last times we will all get together.

Next post is about our visit to the birthplace of the Universe...

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Sultanpur National Park

Three male Strawberry Finches in breeding plumage in Sultanpur National Park.

Since nothing much has happened recently, I have dug into my archives to find some old pictures from a day trip I haven't mentioned before. In December 2006 Nitoli and I rented a taxi from Delhi in the middle of the night to make it out to Sultanpur National Park in Haryana for sunrise - we arrived at 7:00 in the morning. I am a big fan of nature and apart from the getting-up-early it was a wonderful break from noisy, crowded, polluted Delhi. What follows are a few pictures of birds and animals in this often overlooked but really nice bird park, which hosts up to 250 species of Indian and migratory birds. For anyone who wants a relaxing day out of the capital it is highly recommendable.

Sunrise over the waters of Sultanpur.

Another single Strawberry Finch, also known as Red Muna or Red Avadavat. It's a very attractive bird.

Another very beautiful bird: An adult Purple Swamphen.

Sultanpur has many lakes and swampy areas, so it's ideal habitat for a number of water fowl, ducks and other birds. Many mammals also enjoy the shallow waters.

A handsome male nilgai. This animal is a very large type of Antelope

A whole family of nilgai. The black dot in the right side of a picture is a Wolly-Necked Stork.

A Black-Winged Kite. A beautiful predatory bird.

Large numbers of birds hide in the long grass of Sultanpur. But if you get to close they'll suddenly make for a collective escape.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Winter in Delhi

Parakeets in our local bombax tree at sunset.

Since we came back from our wonderful Christmas holiday, we have had some quiet winter months here in Delhi. No more travelling. Since I have now been offered a job starting on 14th of April (more about that when/if details fall into place) I now have a final deadline on my thesis, meaning I've been very busy and will continue to be so for a while. However, I have managed to take some pictures from since our homecoming in January, showing different aspects of our winter in Delhi. We have been to a wedding, socialised a bit with our friends and other than that not much.

On the last day of January our French friend Vivien got married to his Indian fiancée Boishali. Congratulations to both of them!

From the ceremony inside the Sacred Heart Cathedral here in New Delhi. Professional camera crews such as the one you see in the right side of the picture are very common at weddings here in India.

The exterior of Sacred Heart Cathedral.

There have been other happy events in Delhi. 5 months ago Susanna's old friend Ilin gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. A couple of weeks ago the whole family came to visit us. Standing with mother Ilin and baby Sheni is the proud father Lepcha, who was one of our very helpful witnesses at our troublesome court wedding last year.

Baby Sheni enthusiastically exploring our orange tree. She tried to put the whole branch in her mouth, but was stopped by her mother.

Male purple sunbird drinking nectar from an Aloe Vera plant on our terrace. I have earlier dedicated a whole post to this beautiful bird before, but I liked this new picture of the elusive male.

A lone yellow-footed green pigeon in our lovely red bombax tree (or silk cotton tree) in bloom.

A rose-ringed parakeet on a wire just outside our terrace.

We do occasionally meet of with our many friends here in Delhi for parties or other social events. I tend to keep party pictures mainly on my facebook-profile and dedicate my weblog to things of more general interest. But I like this "ghost" picture of our friend Juho - the guy whose parents we stayed with in Helsinki.

During this winter we also celebrated the Indian festival of Lohri, which is centred around bonfires and meant for giving of thanks. People walk around the bonfires and throw in popcorn, peanuts or other snacks as an offering to Agni, the God of fire. This fire was set up on the local basketball court by the 's welfare association.

People also light smaller bonfires outside their houses and musicians walk from fire to fire to play for people.