Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Goan Goan to Goa - the early mornings.....

and no family! The mornings on the beach were the most beautiful, but could I persuade any of my family to join me on my early morning run?, no way!! So one morning I switched my running shoes for my camera and snapped away.....

Sunrise of many hues

The long long beaches bathed in the soft light of the early morning sun

The cattle.water buffalo already having bathed

The many life guards yet to climb to their perches dotted along the sands.

Some sat and meditated as the sun rose......

while I dodged the many jellies sadly deposited onto the sands to meet their doom, by the fisherman's nets

The main activity was the fisherman, finishing their day as we started ours! 

I know soccer is a world wide phenomena and close to a religion in some countries but risen to Sainthood to be remembered in perpetuity.........

Monday, October 29, 2012

Goan, Goan to Goa...the family

A week of R & R! Lazy, lazy, lazy in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Varca beach is miles and miles of golden sands.... so clean and so empty. It was the very beginning of the season so everywhere was just waking up, the package tourists (mainly Russian this year) just beginning to bare maximum amounts of white flesh quickly roasting to a ferocious shade of red, the beach shacks springing up faster than you'd have thought possible in slow, laid back beach country, and all the hotels and rental villas getting a quick makeover.

The villa we stayed was about 200 meters from the beach in a complex of holiday rental villas with a pool. Our Villa was perfect, sea views, a private little tikki for shade from the mid afternoon sun and a better kitchen than mine in Vista!! We had breakfast and lunch at home and went out for dinner. How best to get provisions and visit the local villages but by scooter! This was such fun and for me real independence! The one morning I went out by myself on my scooter, I could stop at the German Bakery (run by Nepalese) for a cappuccino, stop for fruit and veg. at the local seller's stalls, pop into a few clothes shops...........whenever I wanted, accountable to no-one!! As one who is usually driver dependent this was a real sense of freedom!

There's an interesting deomographic in Goa. A fair few retired Brits., including the ones we rented the Villa from, who head in after the last of the monsoon and completely by-pass the British winters. I could over hear a couple of them chatting in the coffee stops and they have a real second life in Goa, the same little community back year after year, and believe me gossip is rife!!

 We were usually paired up, me driving with Wills on the back and Simon with Ads, tho' we did let Ads have a go round the complex. We had to brave a ride into the local town to get gas one day, which was a tad more exciting (read hairy) than cruising the local streets but we did safely negotiate our way into and out of town, bought gas and visited the local market. This really highlighted the difference between mine and Simon's Indian experience. I'm thinking yeah another market, interesting and fun but it's hot, lets get our food and hit the road. Simon is thinking "wow, wow, wow". I forget how much more of 'India" I see and how much more of "office" Simon sees.  For some reason Sade "Smooth Operator" is blaring out of the speakers in the market place......seems an incongruous choice here - a contradiction in terms!!

Weaving thro' the cars, ricks and other bikes was a new experience.  But like so much in India, what looks like chaos from the outside does seem to have a rhythm to it. Being on a small scooter in amongst all different types of traffic was like being in the middle of some sort of strange dance and if you stuck with the beat you could find your way through without incident.

 After a hard day of beach and pool..... Actually I did manage a run up the beach in the early morning sun most days...we would walk to our favorite restaurant, Toncia.  We have eaten our fair share of butter chicken and butter naan (firm favorites) since we have been in India but this was second to none! We'd sit and play cards, build card houses with beer and coke until we got peckish, eat our fill and and wonder home.
 So back in Bangers renewed and refreshed, Halloween around the corner and the OWC India Night Gala next weekend - time to sari  -up!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dandiya the night away!

Big problem here - trying to better my last year title for Dandiya Night - "Chicks with Sticks". Best offer probably  was "Chicks with Sticks - the Stickuel" (play on Sequel...) but I thought a bit obscure and I wasn't sure how best to spell "stickuel". Adam suggested "En guarde" but as I thought that was maybe a thinly veiled insult on my prowess with my sticks I gave that one a miss.

Dandyia night second time around! I am beginning to think second time around is maybe optimal. When I was one of the worlds workers and spent some time involved in training I used to think the second time I gave any presentation was the best. The first time is virgin territory and after seeing the audience react bits can be chopped and changed. The second time is still new enough to get the adrenaline going and is of course now modified to perfection, or as near as it's going to be!! The third time it all feels a bit old hat and its hard to be so enthusiastic.

Anyway my second Dandiya night a la Vista. Last years blog covers the history and story behind these dancing women with weapons. This year I was (thanks to Shubha) dressed the part, however with all the fun and action, never got a full length picture. Infact due to a small accident (british understatement) with my camera lens (which has now been at the Cannon service center for 12 days without even an estimate, just a series of "tomorrow ma'am" phone calls and we leave for Goa in 4 days....) none of my pics are very good.  But I have tried to capture the color and movement as the women of vista danced the night away. Dancing dandiya style was definitely easier than last year as I knew the parameters....when to fit in to click with some one else's sticks (the tricky bit) and when to be freestyle (much easier!!)

The DJ also played Bollywood muzak and of course the biggest current hit, thanks to Chris Gayle and the rest of the Windies celebrating their world cup T20 win, we got to dance Gangnam style! I'm a real fan of Mr Gayle so had to include a pic of him doing his stuff!
Maybe we weren't as proficient as The Man and his team but we tried our best! 
The kids, well Wills and his buds had a blast running around the 'hood but hide and seek in the dark was more attractive than dancing - even tho' Wills is pretty good Gangum style!

Ads and the teenagers: apparently they did hit the dance floor once the grown-ups had if I had been lurking behind a door/pillar with my camera then..... Ads got back home when the rest of us were safe in bed.......that was a first!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Varanasi - the last post....(so it'll probably be a long one!!).

I can't leave Varanasi behind without a blog devoted to the labyrinth of little alleyways in the old town.

So narrow but so full of people - the locals, the pilgrims, a few tourists, the beggars, the holy men, the kids.............
The kids are so incredibly beautiful and there are oh so many smiles. This girl was positively jaunty as she went about her chores! She obviously comes from "the have very little" side of town but that doesn't seem to  dull the spring in her step! So unaware of the commercialism that haunts our 'have and want yet more" kids. Living in India has been such a huge experience for my kids in so many different directions. I really hope they maintain the social awareness/conscience they have developed over here for a long, long time and the images of the poverty they see around them on a daily basis stays with them for ever. That they will not only be grateful for what they have but also aware that personal wealth does not guarantee happiness. Global wealth and prosperity is what is important.

These kids, if born into another town, another country, who knows what their futures would hold.....a lot easier  to pursue their dreams in the West maybe but at some price no doubt.

Although the streets are so narrow - it is a hive of activity, each and everyone going about their business....well not quite everyone:
Along the side of the alleyways are shops and shops. There's never far between each chai stop:

Even the walls and doorways have stories to tell (tho I am told that in the photography world "doors" are passé  - everyone has been there and shot that - but I've always been a bit backward fashion wise..)
Or maybe I am just nosy and like to try and see life inside.....
Also time to experiment with a little cool, blue 'tungstun' light balance...I"m getting to know some of the tricks of the trade now!!
The pilgrims coming from far and wide, the streets looked an endless tide, one we always seemed to be fighting against!
But everyone always had time to smile...
We obviously stood out but didn't seem a disruption to those intent on their business, whether it be reading the buzz......

or 'meditating' with that far off look in one's eyes......
So life moves on and more adventures to blog, so time to bid farewell to both Varanasi and the Ganga. A huge thanks again to Photography on the Move, to Supriya and Gobi for showing us a Varanasi we never would have seen and not been able to digitalize so convincingly without. And also thanks to my gal friends from Bangers with whom I shared an experience never to be forgotten!!  And finally, last but not least, thanks to my boys back home, who seemed to have had a blast without me, for the 5 day pass!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Varanasi, the Aarti and frustrating night time photography.

Not only are the ghats alive during the day but they are also rocking at night! Clutching camera's and tripods we boated up and arrived alongside the ghat where the nightly aarti rituals are performed. The aim being to watch and capture the wonders of the night time ceremony.

While the ceremony was wonderful, camera wise I had issues! To start with I had a private battle with my tripod. Never having used it before, a gently rocking and swaying boat in the dark was not with hindsight the best launch pad! First to get my camera attached to said tripod, then to get the tripod legs out all at the same height, then to adjust the camera to right height and angle..........sense of humor failure perilously close!!

So why a tripod? When you shoot in the dark, you need as much light as possible so you slow down the speed the shutter opens and shuts, to let more light in. However while the shutter is open and photo is being taken any 'shake' equals a blurred pic. So slower shutter speed, more blur, hence camera on tripod not in shaking hands. However, on rocking boat - everything is a shaking and a shivering! Photography is definitely a totally different technical ball game once the sun has gone down and there is a play between electric/artificial lighting from a variety of sources and no lighting at all.

Then all my pics look very orange -not just warmly lit but bright orange! I do get some help and think there has been a marginal improvement in my produce but I'm still not feeling on the top of the photography mountain.

However the ceremony is still incredibly moving but I imagine is best appreciated without camera stress!!

There was a mix of individual pooja and offerings, flowers and lit candles floated down stream

 And the main ceremony of rituals involving fire and smoke performed by five priests. Once I had retired from dealing with my camera, and not quite jettisoned it into the Ganges, sitting in the dark, the water lapping against the side of the boat, watching the priests in their red and gold robes with the lights and smoke was incredibly beautiful.

We returned by boat and sat on the roof top of the guest house, had a few beers and let the frustrations of the evening wash away. A night or so later we had a night photography workshop and did learn some tricks of the trade. We go to Goa in a few weeks time and if my camera lens gets back from the Cannon service center (with whom I am now having daily unsatisfactory communication -a long sad story) watch out for the sunsets!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Varanasi - partying with the locals.

We were in Varanasi during their Ram Lila, which is the re-enactment of Lord Ram's life over several weeks.  This seems to involve a real party/fiesta element.

We got a boat over to the far side of the Ganges where the enactment took place. Our fellow passengers included a hoard of local 'characters'.....some holy men and a collection of 'others' plus us, whom I'm sure looked as unusual to them as they did to us!! Anyway, the locals used the voyage to get into the 'party spirit' by partaking of bhang aka "the local herb",which apparently adds to the depth of one's meditation and associated spiritual experience......I had no comment at this point!!

Preparations also involved heavy application of kohl..that's for the guys!

And did I say there were some real characters on board ship????

This was a people watchers paradise! Once we docked at the other side of the river the party preparations continued.....bathing, more kohl, time to get that hair in order and more local herb.... etc. etc.

Then it was time to see the action, no cameras allowed. Even the walk to the huge field where the drama took place was one long photo opp. We entered into a very large enclosed area full of families, families and more families, all in their best clothes - a color extravaganza. Excitement was high. The story of Lord Ram was acted by 40 foot high paper mache puppets. The death of the demon involved loud gun shot sounds which made me jump, to the amusement of some of the veterans in the audience who expected the big bang. As we were leaving the King and Queen, for the thirty days of Ram Lila were carried past aloft. They are a girl and a boy from the local village who are essentially crowned for the month and really are treated like royalty.

The trip wasn't all about the camera, we did experience Varanasi! That night we stopped at a famous lassi stop and sampled the creamy speciality and also made a paan stop. On the way back to base camp we caught a bicycle rickshaw. Made for 2 people, a tight squeeze on a not very flat seat, propelled by a wiry looking guy, who did have to hop off at one point and run and push, we raced through the semi-dark streets of town hurtling and ricocheting through traffic of all descriptions - motorized, pedestrian, and animal. It was actually quite exciting!

And the street food - I am a self-confessed Indian street food junkie!!! I've drunk retsina and ouzo in Greece, eaten snails in France, sheep brains in Tunisia, where it all tastes quite delicious but when you get way. But not so with the Indian chaat - I'm sure it is equally yummy where-ever, when-ever you eat it. I have said this before but there is nothing quite like eating with your bare hands in the open air, the bigger, the juicier the tastier the better!!

The puri, the kachori, the pani poori, the choley, ...  I'm drooling, I'm salivating..............
Wash it down with a sweet, hot, clay cup of chai....and wow it's so gooooood!
We also had time for a spot of shopping - well..... we are girls....we need a little retail activity, some more than others.......One evening we attended a private musical concert in a tiny little musical ashram. Listening to the haunting melodies of flute, sita and tubla blended so well with the mood of Varanasi - tho' I did see a few eyelids drooping and one of our party was disturbed by a large-sized mouse - again in fitting with the Varanasi experience!!!

Varanasi - the Ghats

I could have spent hours just sitting on the steps of the ghats.  The ghats are essentially the steps down to the waters of the Ghanga. They are very wide steps and life happens upon them, round them and below them! At first glance there appears to be a random diorama  of people milling about in a chaotic colorful manner. But like most things in India if you sit and watch there is a definite rhythm and a sort of logic to the comings and goings. One thing we learnt from a photography angle was to watch and pick up on the patterns in order to try and get the best pics.

Early morning at the Ghats as well as being busy, is a great time for taking pics - the light being softer. That meant early mornings - 6.00am starts. Though some of the more enthusiastic of our party were up by 5.30am to see the sun rise  - I didn't quite make this but seeing their pics wish I had.

Morning is not only prayer/pooja time but also fun time for the kids. Their sheer joie de vivre as they jumped and dove contrasted so brilliantly with the solemnity of their praying parents.

The rituals of the pooja and pray seemed to differ from person to person but our presence and non-stop clicking didn't cause any falter in their worship. Some just sat on the side reading and chanting:
 Others worshiped the Ganga herself by lifting and releasing the waters.....
 and then submerged themselves several times.......
 Others came in groups/pilgrimages and prayed row upon row
 Some rituals seemed more complex involving urns, pouring vessels and various offerings......

Talking of offerings, a huge one is your hair and on the steps of the ghats some were shaven and shorn:
And then of course it was wash time...the ladies in all their wonderful colors washing fabrics of even more brightly and richly colored fabrics.....

And as this is India, someone is always selling!!
Varanasi is, of course, always famous for the burning ghats, the pyres of burning wood on which bodies are cremated, close to the Ganga so their ashes can be sprinkled therein. Was it disturbing to be so close to death and dying. Not so...there is no drama and hysteria, just a matter of factness and a acceptance of this part of cycle of existence. For me, taking pics of this intimate moment was a little too intrusive so this is my photographic representation......
We visited the Ghats by boat and by foot, each visit a wonderful insight into these people's lives and it was such a blessing to able to sit among them.....