A Veiled Legacy

Sikh Women

While visiting Kolayat during the full moon festival, I took so many photographs that my head was spinning nonstop, turning in all directions. As always, it is the people who capture my imagination, particularly the women who were flattered by my interest.

For the most part, they are village women whose lives involve much physical labor and are subject to a strict conservative code of behavior and even dress. As their daughters move to the city, this is gradually changing.

When I began reviewing all my photos, I was struck by how all the women wore head scarves or veils, an import left over from the legacy of India’s Muslim invaders that established the separation of men and women known as purdah.

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P1070566A Lurking Smile

A Lurking Smile

It is not unusual to see women completely cover their face with their veil.

P1070567Veiled interest

Bright colors like red, magenta and orange are the most popular, off setting the drab desert landscape. These cheerfully veiled and dressed women are like magnificent flowers blooming in a harsh garden where water is scarce.

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Full Moon Gathering at Kolayat

Ever Watchful Eyes (on me!)

The car bounced along the road and the landscape turned barren and dusty; I wondered what I was getting myself into. Always up for an adventure, I eagerly agreed to accompany my host into the Rajasthan desert for a special, annual full moon festival.

As we approached our destination, Kolayat, traffic came to a standstill. Everywhere vehicles were bumper to bumper, inching slowly forward. Colorfully dressed groups of determined villagers walking along the side of the road caught my attention. Excitement pulsed through me. Although I am uncomfortable in large crowds, a unique experience like this one was why I had traveled to this distant corner.. There wasn’t another foreigner in sight and everyone was smiling, including me.

The focus of this occasion is a dip during the full moon in the artificial lake that has the power to absolve one of all sins. In this distant corner of arid north-western Rajasthan, all sources of water are extremely rare.

The Lake that Never Runs Dry

Apart from its contradictory location, in the middle of the desert, the lake is unremarkable and murky but has miraculously never run dry. Fifty-two  assorted stone steps or ghats lead down to the water’s edge where the pilgrims gather at auspicious times for the holy dip. India has hundreds of such places. This occasion honors Kapil Muni, a revered sage who according to legend attained salvation under a Peepal tree here and left his worldly body.

My host left me to wander, observe and photograph to my heart’s content. It was another uniquely Indian ambiance where the serious and spiritual and the festive and gay converge.

Family Fun

I quickly gave up on the idea of circling the lake because of the throngs of people everywhere. All sorts of scenic vignettes popped into view without having to go too far.

Holy Woman

There were hundreds of holy people seeking donations, offering trinkets like prayer beads, lockets and charms. The mood was congenial without the usual persistent pressure to buy.

Mischievous Sadhus

Blessing Aplenty

 

Naturally, my presence was cause for interest and amusement but all in a bemused and friendly way. Most people thrilled when my lens landed on them. They were enjoying the scenery as much as I was.

The Villagers Look On

 

 

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Life on the River

The Tailor

After a bumpy bus ride and a ferry across the river, an hour’s walk awaits before we reach the beach, our destination.  Though we land in a tiny fishing village on a sleepy river, the town hums with life and people are either waiting for the next ferry or are off in different directions.

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Waiting for the Ferry

It is the walk through the minuscule town that grabs my attention. The people are all engaged in their daily activities yet every activity is so arresting, colorful and eye-catching that my head is turning in all directions.

 

Dirt Road

Most people are preoccupied with their labor but manage to spare us a smile or a wave of the hand.

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Making Fishing Nets

Just before we leave this small fishing village behind and turn off onto our short cut through the rice paddy, we pass a family on their veranda. The children come out to watch us. I am charmed by the scene that surrounds us and take a few photographs.

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On the Veranda

It is a beautiful morning and I look forward to more scenes along the way,

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At the End of the Line: Kutch

Grandmother with Grandson

Places that are at the end of train lines or are remote and difficult to get to are some of my most favorite destinations in the world and Kutch in the state of Gujarat is no exception. Over the years I’ve developed a deep love for this region, its people and the handicrafts produced  there.

Wandering around town, armed with my camera, there is never a shortage of subjects. I smile at everyone and they smile back as not many foreigners make it this far west. It is a dry and barren landscape, plagued by earthquakes with only a few famous tourist attractions. This is reason enough for me to return year after year. Kutch’s warmth and hospitality is legendary, matched only by the yumminess of the local cuisine. No region in all of India has been more hospitable to me than Kutch.  If you ever have the chance to visit this distant corner of India, do not hesitate!

In the photograph above, the grandmother is from the Rabari community, once nomadic shepherds who have now settled permanently in Kutch. Notice her white hand embroidered market bag with the red ruffle border. All Rabari have one similar to this. Her grandson, in contrast, is in western clothing. Unfortunately, the men make the change long before the women give up their traditional garb.

Woman in Red

Many different indigenous groups live in this region and for the most part, the women still proudly wear the traditional attire of their ancestors. This is fading all over India as it modernizes. As someone who loves the textile arts, this is a side of Kutch that pleases me enormously.

Woman with a Heavy Load

This woman in a hand embroidered tunic, arms encircled in graduated bracelets right up to her arm pits, balances a huge sack on her head. My admiration and love for these people increases with every visit.

In the Market

Kutch, known for its tie dye work as seen on the head scarves (odhnis) of the older woman and child, is famous all over India. It is also celebrated for its embroidered mirror work that adorns the woman’s blouse. Her golden nose plug is unique and beautifully rendered as well.

A mere stroll down any street in Kutch is a photographer’s dream.  And so I keep dreaming of Kutch.

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I am just about out of free space on this blog. I think that by mistake, many of my photo files posted large and have used up too much space. As I have emphasized all along, I am not very tech savy and don’t know how to resize these photos. Once I reach my limit, I don’t know what I’ll do. Start another blog? Would you, dear readers come along? Do you have any suggestions or tips? Has anyone else had this issue and what did you do?

Thanks for reading.

 

 B

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The Essence of North India Tour

The Taj Mahal, Agra

This October 10 – 31, 2017, I will be leading a special trip to north India that will cover some of the most important places and sites in north India and some places that few visitors ever have a chance to see. If you drop by this blog regularly, then you know that India is my passion. My small tours are a reflection of that love and my enthusiasm is contagious.

We will start in Delhi, the nation’s capital where the ancient and the modern coexist in a mind-boggling state of juxtaposition and contradiction. With its numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites, visiting Delhi is like walking back in time yet nearby are state of the art malls that easily match anything that the west has to offer.

Rajasthan’s Warmth

No trip to north India is complete without exploring the state of Rajasthan which means, Land of Kings. With its monumental forts, romantic palaces and divine heritage hotels, fit for royalty, Rajasthan is the stuff of fairy tales come to life. We will visit some of the popular cities like Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur but shall also go into the countryside for exposure to yet another way of life where time has nearly stopped and your own internal clock will have a chance to slow down too.

On the border of Rajasthan, we will cross over into the state of Uttar Pradesh to visit the world’s greatest monument to love in Agra, the Taj Mahal. Nothing can prepare you for its dramatic beauty and exquisite craftsmanship.,

The pleasure continues as we journey into the state of Madhya Pradesh to the small village of Khajuraho, home to the resplendent erotic carved temples that are another UNESCO World Heritage site, celebrated for their unabashed eroticism and delicate sensuality, dating back to the 10th – 11th centuries BC.  This remote village also offers a glimpse into a rural way of life that is fast disappearing.

Our penultimate stop will be Varanasi, situated on the banks of the sacred Ganges River, one of the oldest living cities in the world. Varanasi stands at the center of the Hindu universe and has maintained its religious life since the 6th century BC. Anyone who dies in Varanasi attains instant liberation or moksha.  For centuries Varanasi has beguiled  foreign travelers with its alien and strangeness, leaving a lasting and haunting memory for years to come.

We end the tour in Delhi for some fine dining, shopping  along with some special activities before your return flight unless you opt to go on the post tour extension

This brief outline only hints at the depth in which we will unravel the many layers that is India!

For more information: travelwithnina@gmail.com

 

 

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The Mighty Coconut

Coconuts Drying in the Sun

The ubiquitous coconut holds an important place in the hearts, minds and daily life of all  Indians, eclipsed only by the king of fruits, the mango.

It is an essential ingredient in South Indian cuisine, featured prominently in the curries and chutneys of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Goa. Popular dishes like the masala dosa, wada and idli are always accompanied by a luscious, creamy, grated coconut chutney.

Idlis with Sambar and Coconut Chutney

The name of the state, Kerala, means land of coconut trees and is the largest producer of coconut related products. Cookbook author, Nimi Sunil Kumar, told me that by definition, all recipes that require oil in Kerala must use coconut oil.

Coconut water is a refreshing and cooling beverage that many believe helps to keep the body free from parasites.

Don’t You Dare

So elevated in importance that the coconut is firmly associated with nearly all Hindu religious rituals. The coconut is symbolic of prosperity, signifying the blessings of nature. Its white color represents purity and its hard kernel inspires people to do hard work. Devotees offer coconuts to deities in temples and celebrations like weddings often begin with the breaking of a coconut, symbolizing the removing of the ego. Fishermen offer coconuts to the sea in the hope of an abundant catch. Devotees break 108 coconuts at a time in temples that honor Lord Ganesh and Lord Hanuman. When broken and placed before the lord in such a way, it symbolizes the removal of negativity and brings out goodness.

Hindu Priests Paraphernalia with Coconuts

After this new understanding of the significance of the coconut in India, my enjoyment of a delicious slice of coconut cream pie is only enhanced and my admiration for this complex country and culture expands!

 

 

 

 

 

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A Lasting Memory

Curious Companion

Curious Companion

It was a beautiful, clear morning in South India. I boarded a local bus to the next town where I could easily tick off my long shopping list. I was grateful to get a seat as this route gets packed, mostly with students on their way to school.

The view out the window is familiar but stunning with its fields, bright red earth, occasional lagoons and scenic temple spires looming skyward. Women tend to sit together on buses and some buses even have a ladies section.  I sensed that the local woman seated next to me was studying me in great detail. I smiled at her. With extreme shyness and hesitation, she smiled back.

She touched my bracelets, admired my embroidered salwar/kameez outfit and admired my matching tie dye dupatta/traditional chest scarf. She pointed to my long hair and light-colored eyes too. Her friends across the aisle watched this interaction with near envy. For a moment, I was a celebrity.

When we finally got to our destination, I pulled out my camera and with sign language asked if I could take her picture. This is the result and remains a wonderful lasting memory.

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