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Tag Archives: India
This Photo catalogue will come out in March 2011 with German and English texts.
After my last book still contained too much text and too few pictures I hereby take another step towards usability and towards the modern illiterate man/woman and am releasing my first photo book.
Ark examines humans, landscapes and creatures that should be considered to board ‘the ark’. The ark as a technical device is useless if not its passengers are carefully selected.
Apsara Publications, Graz
MP – you think of politicians? Think again!
Madhya Pradesh geographically is the heart of India, in the middle and slightly up. We primarily went there on the everlasting hunt for Sonya‘s totem-animal and destiny – the Giant Squirrel.
Bhopal & the Lakes
Bhopal, the capital of MP is mostly famous for the huge tragedy, an accident in a chemical factory, that happened in the late 1980s. Toxic gases were released in the middle of the night, causing an exodus of Bhopal‘s citizens, the instant death of about 2000 people and left many life-long handicapped. We stayed in a guest house directly on the upper lake, just behind a decent promenade at the posh Shamla Hill – also not far of the governor‘s residence. The lake-view was well worth it since we happened to arrive just when a major regatta was held and so the lake was crowded with two groups of Lasers and some Optimists on – as far as we were able to make out – two triangle-courses. Apart from a very scenic mosque behind another lake and with plain white cupolas, I remember most our host‘s fantastic cold coffee and the Mangos in cream. Homemade pickles, homemade yoghurt – this was definitely more than just Bed & Breakfast.
Bhopal allegedly has 2.5 Mio inhabitants, but it rather leaves the impression of a much smaller town, maybe due to its widespread outskirts and the half-moon position on the lake. Upper lake, by the way, is artificially made and is only 20 meters at its deepest point. However, it is one of the major reservoirs for fresh water in the area and a pipeline even provides Hoshangabad, 70 kms away.
Coming back to the Bhopal incident: One added value of staying with real humans – meaning not in a Hotel – is that you hear more authentic stories about local life which are not written in any guide-book. Like that our host was 12 years when a friend called them at two in the night and told about an accident and that they should immediately leave their home. He remembered seeing the other lake-side illuminated by an endless row of car-lights, like a garland, thinking that maybe a VIP was visiting. Strange things going through your head in such a situation. Or that a neighboring family was forgotten and stayed until next morning, windows shut, ACs on. They miraculously survived and only wondered why so many dead animals were lying on the streets. At the same time the station master of Bhopal‘s railway station was trying hard to get all trains out of the city in time and to wave through quickly those which were still arriving. By the end of the day he was dead too.
On the same day we went on to Sanchi, once a spiritual center for Buddhists. It is situated on a hill and close to the railroad tracks coming from north. This is also the place where India‘s lion-head emblem was taken from. There are some big stupas left, which had to be partly excavated in the late 19th century, as well as the fundaments of surrounding monasteries. Initially they had been almost destroyed by treasure-hunting Brits. Now the site‘s best pieces are partly in Delhi‘s National Museum, the friezes having been reconstructed perfectly on site. When we reached, we were the only visitors, maybe because of the 45° Celsius air temperature. So we took pictures – especially of the reliefs and many Brahmi-inscriptions that interested me most, had a coke at the local cafeteria, and left again for an evening walk at the lake-side promenade in Bhopal.
Bhimbetka is a typical non-place on the way to Hoshangabad, which stepwise gained fame after 1888, when it was discovered (as usual) by an Englishman walking around. He wondered what strange rock formations that may be on a ridge in his sight. So he undertook a short climb uphill and looked around, finding out about these ,Planet of the Apes‘-rock shelters and their ancient drawings.
The cave art sometimes resembles the style of Altamira and Lascaux. However, many paintings are much newer and others have their own style, like the patterned animals, which bear spiral and cross-patterns on their bodies.
The colors of the paintings are red, black and white – the classical alchemical trio, that is present on so many sites throughout the world, prehistoric and in countries of early civilization as Egypt or at American early historic places.
The visit was worth it. Few other visitors again – due to 40+° and the fact that ,tribal‘ art is not seen as noteworthy by Indian tourists and Madhya Pradesh not as a tourist destination for Lonely Planet authors and most backpackers. There are many other such cave-art shelters around Bhimbetka that are catalogued and were visited by archeologists but are not described in common literature. You can find some of them on your own but it takes quite some walking and you‘d better take a guide. The surrounding is commonly called „jungle“ but when we were there all the leaves were gone and the sun merciless and strong. It is more shrubbery than forest, so take a cap instead of the Mexican hat and a long sleeved shirt.
Reni Pani – A Healthy Body lives in a Healthy Spirit
After having used the hottest time of the day for walking from shelter to shelter, having climbed on solid and perfect rock up to the overhanging art-galleries of Bhimbetka, until the usual lathi-armed forest-guard caught sight of our disorderly leaving the beaten tracks - we crossed the triple-holy Narmada and proceeded towards the place where we would spend most of our time left: A newly built semi-five star lodge run by a professional tourism-expert who had studied hotel-management in Montreux, Switzerland. He (Faiz) had also overviewed the construction of the lodge and now his smaller brother Ali is joining him and guides people on safaris. They are both from Bhopal‘s Nawab family. Together with Elgar, a professional wildlife guide and zoologist from Goa, they teach their guests passion for wildlife in a way that can only be done by those rare breed who were out there from childhood onwards and really enjoy what they are doing.
Initially expecting little, we were soon surprised with their approach. The lodge lies on the edge of the Satpura National Park, famous for tigers, mouse-deers, the even smaller leave-deers, and maybe even the still undiscovered micro-milli-deers. Tigers and Leopards are also common – but who cares for these ordinary fellows. We discussed our safari-arrangements for the coming days and went for a healthy mix of driving, walking and maybe elephant rides – to cover the local big five: Tiger, Giant-Squirrel, Giant Teakwood Tree, Boa Constrictor Maximus Indica and the also still undiscovered forest monsters, which have only rarely been seen by locals alone but never appeared in front of a white man and/or his entourage.
Furthermore we explored the oval pool which turned out to be bigger than expected and is definitely more than just a plunge pool. We inquired about the details of the re-settlement of local villagers which is still an ongoing process to transform the area into the young National Park. According to one of the jungle guides each family gets 10 lakhs for moving away from the forest, plus one lakh per family member, plus the same amount of land that they had possessed before. Still, many seem not to be happy, money is spent quickly and the new land of course is worth little, since not in the forest and usually goes hand in hand with water-shortage.
Nevertheless, we can‘t change that now and enjoy the outdoor showers, our traditional mud-wood built bungalow and tie down one of the safari experts (Elgar) with endless talks about the seven sisters – the Eastern States (Assam, Arunachal, Megalaya, etc.). He has studied and lived there and eventually even married a Naga-girl. We observe colorful lizards and chameleons from the pool and hope to not see big cats on the way back from late dinner to our hut.
Evening: A heavy dinner under thousandandone stars. Radiation was up from 0,09 ?Sv/h to 0,14 ?Sv/h. Maybe part of the geological natural radiation, that is quite common in parts of central India. Sonya is hearing steps while sitting on the veranda. Again, big cat or just the ordinary camping-psycho?
The Hunt is on
We got up 15 minutes after 3 a.m. The first of the big five, we see, is a spider on the way to our bathroom. After a short meditation a flute played by the multi-talented chef announces the arrival of early morning tea (EMT). We drive down to the Tewar-Reservoire, cross it by boat and start our jungle walk: The sun is rising over the rich waters, full of fish and hand-bag raw materials. Walking on sand-roads, we soon make out the first tracks of porcupines, sloth-bears (melursus ursinus), various deers – and suddenly also from a small female leopard. The latter is quite fresh. A herd of gaurs appear on our right, one being slightly injured (mating season). Langures are roaming the trees and suddenly we hear the alarm sound of a samba, which is repeated from time to time.
This together with the fresh leopard track alarms us too. But instead of yesterday‘s fear and modesty regarding the big ones, our instincts unexpectedly switch into hunting-fever. The local lathi-wallah does rather not share our passion, but Elgar goes straight after the sounds and so do we, cautiously trying to avoid stepping on dry twigs and once in a while slightly correcting our direction after the ongoing alarm sounds, that, now together with those of a group of monkeys, clearly indicate a predator. We are sweating heavily under the quickly rising sun and after a while reach another sandy road. We see the herd of samba crossing at a distance, awake but not scared anymore. The imminent danger seems to have vanished, and so has the leopard;-/
We find its fresh track again and keep following it for a wile until we loose it. Slowly walking back to a hill by the reservoir, we look back from time to time. Elgar says that he has the feeling that the cat is just lingering somewhere very close and probably watching us. By this time we definitely had shed our fear turning into respect and a little bit more understanding about the sociopolitics that govern the jungle.
Post-Processing & the Library
The Reni Pani Lodge not only has educated guides but also a well stocked library. So we use the hot time of the day to get into the specialties of the region, like Sonya‘s new love, the tiny mouse-deer. We also study the Gond tribes a bit, who semi-nomadically live here and are the reason the Satpura range is also called “Gondwana”. What Forsyth has to say about their early architectural remains, that are still found scattered, mostly as temples: „… it has often been wondered how a tribe of such rude savages as the Gónds could have reached a stage of civilization at that early period [before the arrival of the Aryans] so greatly above anything they have since shown themselves to be capable of“ . He then goes on with the same sermon as every modern European who in his over-evolutionist drive is unable to understand the real cause of savagery – namely often being a state of decline, and not a state of early humanity: So Forsyth routinely whisks away the interesting topic by stating that obviously not the Gonds could have been the creators of this civilization, but the later arriving Hindus had to be the ones. That is sad, since the topic just started to get interesting. However, I intend to follow it up and maybe will even launch an expedition and go after some of the allegedly remaining Gond-temples and forts.
Speaking of evolution, we saw many spotted deer and black deer peacefully grazing near the government lodge at the reservoir. You could even touch them. Since they are holy, nobody will harm them and so they peacefully live among the locals. Churchward frequently speaks of these deers as a symbol for the „first man“ which can be frequently observed still today at Buddhist sites, where two of those very same deers kneel on each side of the Dharma-Chakra. Here you could observe on the spot how coherent this symbol actually is, when the small deers humbly approach the people – their elder brothers – for salt. This is a hint on a line of evolution that is based on a spiritual understanding though.
Sonya‘s New Love for Pottery
There is a rush in newly acquired friendship flowing through my wifey‘s heart. After the mouse-deer, it‘s now also pottery. Accidentally another family member of the hotel-owners, the aunt of the princes – also with the name Sonya – just set up a pottery workshop two weeks ago. The workshop is slightly outside the lodge and will in future feature local clay-artists who teach guests the techniques of forming clay into something usable.
Sonya made a small tea-mug and we got a short introduction on the site how to dig out the raw earth, then soak it for days in water to eventually sieve it twice and then again leave the black basic material overnight in cloth to drain out the remaining water. In addition, and before you use it, you then add ashes or horse-dung to enhance its cohesive abilities. Another method is to use really rotten paper-mache – soaked newspapers.
We spent the afternoon on our first real birding trip walking along a small creek that in the end disappeared in an underground lake. Following a small thorny path we could make out different kinds of kingfishers and bee-eaters; but what made the day perfect were the many owls which we came accross – always spotting for the small cracks and cavities in the rocks that engulfed the creek. These soft-feathered birds were just waking up for their nocturnal business. The best shot we got at an incredible distance of about two meters by lying flat on a small ledge and peering into a washed out cavity where a big owl was staring out of the dark with its full yellow eyes. After the first shots it was slowly more awake, started clicking with its beak and clearly communicating that she soon would get upset if we continued staring into her bedchamber.
We arrived, went for a swim and were led for another – though short – walk to our dinner site, which was picturesquely situated in a small clearing in the middle of the forest, lit by dozens of candles and petroleum lanterns under a sky full of gravy buttermilk-stars that in this brightness we had not come across for a long time. Flabbergasted and awfully tired we soon stumbled back to our cottage to get another four hours rest until tomorrow‘s jeep-safari.
This time we started even earlier and the ferry-operator was also a bit more ready. To cut things short: We covered a lot of area, but driving through the jungle is much too fast for me. We saw two sloth-bears, one even with a cub, that it attached to its back – but the driver often stopped when the animal had already vanished. So, for me, nothing compared with the short-distance walks. Nevertheless, one drive should be made and the rare barking deer, the bears, the giant squirrels and last not least the romantic temple ruin deep in the jungle was well worth the rattling.
 Forsyth p. 7
Last weekend, we visited the Khumb Mela in Haridwar. The Khumb is a spiritual gathering – the biggest in the world – where (predominantly Hindu) ascetics come together like in a spiritual fair. They exchange ideas and connect with each other according to the idea of Adi Shankara who, through this event, wanted to unite the different Akharas (orders) and thus unite the various traditions of hinduistic India. Shankaracharya’s wisdom led to the Khumb being organized at four different locations in India rotating every three years, completig a full cycle every 12 years. The Khumb thus rotates through Haridwar, Allahabad (Prayag), Ujjain and Nashik. Based on astrological calculations that involve the Moon, Sun and Jupiter, these gatherings are held over 2-3 month from winter until spring. There is also a Maha (Great) Khumb every 144 years, the last having taken place in 2001 at Allahabad. I attended the impressively large Maha Khumb at Allahabad, but did not take photographs at that time. In 2001, the Mela was allegedly visited by about 60 million people. The second most auspicious bathing day this year in Haridware was comparatively less crowded and Indian papers reported ‘only’ 6 million participants on the respective day, 15th of March 2010.
The Naga Babas
In 2001 I visited some Naga Baba’s tents with a group of Dutch friends and even got to sit near the newly elected “King” of this particular Akhara. The recent Khumb was even more an occasion for me to get in touch with this group of Sadhus that are regarded as being very special by Hindu believers. If it was not for Kausthubh Joshi from Rishikesh, who guided us around on the Khumb and also did some translations, we would not have seen half of all this.
Back to the Nagas: While other monks usually stand in front of house-doors to get attention and be fed by people, the Nagas only have to walk through the streets. If anybody sees them he or she will immediately run after the Naga Baba to feed him. The Nagas are regarded as ‘aggressive’ and usually bear weapons as trisuls (tridents) or swords. I do not consider them dangerous as such. However, they walk around naked and they trace their tradition back to a time that was not benevolent to them and had seen a lot of curfews and violence against them. So I think their ‘aggression’ rather comes as a way to protect their freedom. They are not controlled by any government or other religious sect and they obey no orders from whom ever. Counting about half a million adherents in India, according to their own estimate, the Naga Babas are still a viable force within the Indian population.
At the Khumb, the Naga Baba-Akhara delegation has about 15 minutes time to take a bath – as the first of all Akharas. More than other groups, they fiercely rush in impressive speed and strength towards the water. Apart from their ‘first’ place in the bath-ranking there are other revealing attributes that can indirectly tell about their origin:
They cover their bodies with nothing more than ashes, supposedly as a mark that they consider their body as dead. For this they use the ashes of open fires, where they burn tree-trunks only, the roots facing the sky. They smoke heavily (chillums) as do the shamans of America’s native populations. (To my knowledge there is no other major religious group in India who smoke for ritual purposes.) The Naga’s main insignum is the trisul or trident – the only real physical thing they possess. It is the same trident that had also been the insignum of Poseidon – according to Plato the original ruler of the lost Atlantis.
The Naga Roots
Officially the Naga Babas trace back their movement to Adi Shankara and his division of Hindu orders. In a second layer of tradition their order originates from Karttikeya (aka Skanda, Muruga, Subrahmanya, Senthil, Saravana, Guhan, Skanda, etc.), the son of Shiva, who is worshipped predominantly in the south of India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Mauritius as stated in wikipedia and who is closely linked to various snake gods and godesses like Adishesa or Vasuki. Karthikeya is not only the son of Shiva but also denominates an origin from Kartika or Krittika, a Sanskrit term for the star cluster of the Pleiades – the “cutters” – also known as the six sisters (with a seventh being lost).
The name Guhan (for Karttikeya) means “cave dweller” and sustains this claim; Skanda means “that which is spilled or oozed, namely seed” – referring again to the Naga’s root-origin.
Murungam, the ‘red god on the blue peacock’ – as described in the most ancient Tamil grammar Tolkappiyam – stands for fire on top of the water. The Nagas of old are commonly associated with the water element and as beings often represented as water-dwelling snakes. On the other end as dragons they represent ‘fire’ in various cultures of East-Asia – transcended to ‘intellect’. The Sangam literature also described Muruga as presiding deity of the “hilly area” (Kurinci region).
There is much more to this and the mythology goes very deep. I will explore further aspects of the Naga Babas, like their connection to the Nagaland hill tribes, in another article or paper.
We took a bath around 8:30 on Monday, just before the ghats where closed for the representative groups of the Akharas. The current of the still young Ganges is strong at some places in Haridwar and though chains and fences were constructed to prevent people from getting too far into the water and providing something to hold on, around 300 people are drowning each year between Rishikesh and Haridware – so basically one per day.
Besides the Nagas, we visited some other Babas, like the now famous Pilot-Baba, who had been a pilot in the Indian Airforce before. Another one was Soham Baba, who certainly is a oddity. he surfs well on diverse environmental issues and could easily be funded by IPCC. We called him Green-Baba internally. However, he was clothed in a blue shawl and took quite some time for an interview; his devotees served us a delicious lunch. Thanks for that!
Sant Balak Yogeshwan Maharaj is the long name of an apparently very humble little person whose response to our question regarding ‘his message for the world’ simply was: “I have nothing to say. Nobody is listening today”. We roughly agreed on this and proceeded to a group who was taking care of Indian war-widows and – as Pilot Baba – was promoting Indian Nationhood, etc. They appeared dedicated but not detached…
Police & Conclusio
I have to end this protocol-like blog (too much diplomatic tension here for jokes) with a laudatio for the Indian police forces. They really did a marvelous job in planning and staying cool and human in the heat of the already hot spring-days. It was really amazing to witness their effective fencing and guiding systems to keep people moving. Behind the several fences that were set up between the crowd and the procession, they pre-arranged enclosures to separate potentially clashing groups easily into smaller handy packages.
What puzzled me though was the fact that not only local police was employed – which is usually provided by the various states – but a new group of police force was also present. They wore blue uniforms, like the equally new police forces in Nepal and allegedly had been formed as a ‘federal’ force. In a certain global context I find this worrisome and it reminds me of rumours about un-elected UN-take overs, especially since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can’t stop wearing this equally UN-blue turban…
–> Also have a look at my picture gallery of the Khumb 2010!
The following is a video interview with Jane Bürgermeister, who is a journalist specialized on science and medical issues, and currently lives in Austria. The fabulous swine-flu vaccination program is still on the agenda and already legally mandatory in many countries worldwide, thanks to the great governance of organizations like the WHO. So, rogue elements like Libya’s Gadaffi might seem right when he criticizes the UN and affiliated global governance organization at a speech in New York of active mass-murder.
The system for tackling the ‘virtual’ and unescapeable (why do they know that??) swine-flu pandemic is in place at the most remote regions already. I just travelled through Ladakh and you have swine flu infos at every military (!) checkpoint. Arriving at the regional airport in Srinagar/Kashmir we were even forced to fill out a swine flu form, that had been handed over to every single passenger. This time, I smuggled mine out of this pathetic ‘medical corridor’ without delivering my data to the chaotic staff. Soldiers and officials are increasingly wearing face-masks here in India. The paranoia is growing and (deliberately) well fed by the media. I counted 2-5 swine flu articles in Asian Age on a dailybasis, before I cancelled this propaganda paper four weeks ago.
You can also call it eugenics; sounds nicer and might be more appropriate for the standard soft-critic. However, the time for soft critics is running out.
Watch this video and inform yourself a little bit more before you go ahead and get the shot! Better though – don’t get it! Read the constitution of your home-country and know your rights and refuse this deadly joke!