Postcard from … a boat on the Ganges, Varanasi


Before I stepped aboard I took this photograph of boatmen, having a moment of quiet contemplation at daybreak.  In a country of over 1 billion, it is still possible to find peace.

We drifted past pilgrims lining the ghats, reciting mantras and offering prayers to the rising sun, now casting a rosy glow over the previously misty steps. Ladies, eyes closed, bent to scoop up holy water, raise it heavenward then let it trickle back to the river. Others immerse themselves, emerging with a splutter and a splash.  Little paper dishes, filled with orange and yellow marigolds and a flickering candle are gently launched and float off into the current. Life unfolds in front of my eyes.

Sadhus wearing saffron robes sit cross legged under umbrellas, eyes fixed on the horizon. The sunlight illuminates their wrinkled faces. Some covered with ash, others with the Pundra on their forehead. Some shaven headed, some with matted dreadlocks, some with a twisted topknot encircled in plastic flowers. All completely fascinating. What stories they could tell!

The sound of dhobi wallahs rhythmically slapping wet clothes on rocks, splits the silence.  A loudspeaker crackles into life as a guru starts instructing his yoga class assembled below.

The spell of silence is broken, the city is awake and will be full throttle until sunset. Then climb aboard the boat for sunset on the Ganges…

Postcard … a Theyyam performance in Kannur

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I jumped at the chance to see a Theyyam performance. It is a uniquely north Keralan cultural experience, a dance ritual traditionally created to appease the gods. Theyyams usually take place in small shrines called Kavu and after all the rituals and hymns are performed it is believed the performer takes on the form of the particular temple deity, almost as if he is possessed. We piled into an auto rickshaw at dusk and headed for a nearby temple where cymbals clanged and drummers were in full flow. Villagers gathered around and local dignitaries received blessings. The priest started to perform his rituals and the Theyyam performer stood in front of him. This particular performance was a Muthappan Theyyam where the performer’s face is heavily painted in yellow, with black eyes and red cheeks and a quite disturbingly prominent white mouth. His chest is mustard yellow with symbolic tattoos, red bracelets adorn his arms with a thick red collar around his neck. He wears an elaborate red headdress covered in orange marigolds with a long white tail piece which swished as he galloped around the priest. The drummers began some frenzied drumming, sweaty pouring down their foreheads as the tempo increased and the performer became more animated. A coconut was ceremonially smashed and offered by the priest whilst candles lit the shrine in the gathering evening. It was completely mesmerising. I didn’t fully understand what was going on but the whole spectacle captivated me. At one point I made direct eye contact with the performer which sent a shiver through me! This was a short theyyam, some go on all night. A performance at midnight at a fire Theyyam, now that would be something to write home about!

Postcard from…the back of a camel in the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer


I looked from the grumpy camel to his driver who looked as if he was 10 years old and thought this could be an interesting adventure! Clambering aboard I held on tightly, juggling camera and video cam, as the camel hoisted himself to his feet. Camel riding is a strange sensation, especially when you are trying to photograph. No worries, Grumpy Gumba never got out of first gear as we past children playing cricket and ladies in vibrant saris preparing dinner. His friends trotted off into the (almost) sunset, without Gumba batting a long, seductive eyelash, nor changing pace! Clearly we were working to camel time. Go with the flow! Once into the rhythm, and the noise from the village melted away, it was surprisingly pleasant to look around and hear the sound of silence. I dismounted and headed for the nearest dune, away from some French tourists and entrepreneurial locals selling textiles, to sit and watch, in contented solitude, a salmon pink sun slip beyond the horizon. A chilled beer would have rounded off the day nicely, but Gumba and I had some more bonding to do on the return journey before the stars came out…