A lazy afternoon in India

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After a bit of a hiatus I’m back! I’ve had a few distractions since being back in London, but here’s hoping that I’ll get into the rhythm of posting again, as I have a vast archive of pictures still to get through that should really see the light of day, otherwise what’s the point of taking them?

I’m honoured that people have still been visiting my blog over the past few months, in spite of the absence of new posts. According to my stats I had nearly 500 viewings yesterday alone. So I figured that if people could be bothered to visit the site even when there wasn’t anything new to see, well then I should really start re-earning this attention by posting some fresh material!

So, I’m starting with an Indian picture. There is a nice serenity to this scene, shot in Madhya Pradesh I think. I feel at peace whenever I look at it. I remember it was late-afternoon at the time and still very hot. So everyone’s pace, including the dog’s, was very relaxed. I’m not sure why it seems to work in black and white – maybe because the cow was white, but it just does, for me anyhow.

My deer

One of the many things, in my totally biased opinion, that makes London special is its wonderful parks. And some of these are wilder than you can imagine – such as Richmond and Bushey Park, both of which have some rather special Royal residents – the Queen’s deer.

This autumn I boarded a ridiculously early train from Waterloo and braved the first of the chilly mornings in order to venture into Richmond park. I was there during the rutting season when the deer are more visible and, dare I add without upset my readers too much, it also helped that it was just before culling season, so they were at their most plentiful!)

It was a fascinating experience being so close to these wild and yet seemingly tame animals. Having joined another photographer and driven into the park as soon as the gates opened pre-dawn, within minutes we saw a huge stag staring into the car headlights seemingly unfazed by our vehicle – as if to remind us that we were merely tolerated visitors in his territory.  As dawn lifted we saw more and more of his clan and were able to get very close without them being the slightest bit fazed by us. It made me laugh to see how some tourists went stupidly close, as if they hadn’t noticed those huge antlers and stopped to pontificate on what damage they could do if their owner got slightly fed up by their intrusion; while at the same time regular visitors to the park cycled, ran or rode past chattering away to each other seemingly oblivious to these magnificent animals inches away from them.

I don’t know which response perplexed me the most, because I felt like I was on a safari and my heart beat that little bit faster every time I saw a deer peering through the grass . Maybe if I had this park on my doorstep I too would take them for granted and the camouflage would work on me as well.

But I like to think that I won’t, because I still catch my breath whenever I see St. Paul’s cathedral illuminated at night, or London’s new corporate cathedral – the Shard – shimmering under the sun’s rays, even though I see them practically every day. And I still marvel at what a wonderful place London is – to have white Portland stone and glistening steel on my doorstep, and majestic wild animals just a short train ride away.

A picture tells a thousand words

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I’m not a big fan of busy pictures. I think my images are generally hallmarked by their simplicity and order. But sometimes even a complicated picture can have great composition – like this one. Every person or animal just seems to fit into its own space; nothing seems to be competing with each other. And so I like it. Maybe it also comforts me because it reminds me of a biblical scene – of the animals sitting around the baby in the manger. Except in this case, instead of something being conjured up for an audience, it is real – the animals and humans actually are together in total harmony.

The whole scene looks so perfect that it is like I have played director and staged the shot, but of course I didn’t. I did hang out at this little chai shop for many a morning, so maybe that’s why everything came together. In fact it was one of my favourite places in which to sit, because there was always so much going on. It was located on a kind of crossroads (like the Times Square or Piccadilly Circus of Varanasi) right next to a temple. Which is why the cows seemed so at home there I guess, because they would be given offerings and always treated with kindness.

I remember when the biggest bull I have ever seen came by and the local people gathered around to care for its feet. He just patiently stood there, picking up his huge hooves and soaking up their attention as gentle as a lamb. It was one of those sights that stay with you forever and makes me realise that you needn’t be scared of anything, big or small, so long as you meet it with love and compassion.

I love the scene so much because it contains so much that I remember about India: the chai stalls; the people reading newspapers; the spiritual men; the animals all around you; and that sense of peaceful harmony in spite of the cacophony all around you. It’s an essence of India that I hope I never forget.

Bangles and horns

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There is something quite endearing for me about the random pair of horns sneaking into this photograph. As if the sari and bangles and lady carrying things on her head isn’t enough to tell you this is a photo of India, I’ve included a glimpse of a cow – just to make the message loud and clear!

Blessed dog

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I was quite surprised during one of my Varanasi ambles to come across this snoozing dog adorned with flowers. Garlands of flowers are a common sight in India (especially Varanasi) as part of the Hindi religious ritual of puja – the daily giving of offerings.  You see them in all sorts of places – in nooks and crannies of walls; wrapped around bicycles; on weighing scales in shops or dangling from the necks of goats and cows.

But stray dogs tend to fall at the bottom of the heap in India and don’t generally seem to be respected in this way. I can’t help but wonder who put the flowers around this dog’s neck and why? She was sleeping amongst strays but looked rather content and, dare I say, well-fed and healthy. I like to think this is because she is one of the lucky mutts, and that she has achieved what all dogs seem to have as their ultimate goal in life – to love and be loved.

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Tuscany – home of pecorino

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These sheep grazing on the rich, verdant Tuscan grass are most likely producers of the ubiquitous Tuscan Pecorino cheese. It’s a subtle variety – a world away from the robust Gorgonzola or Parmiggiano-Regiano cheeses that are more commonly associated with Italy.  But its delicate flavour grows on you and it keeps well. It also looks great with its lovely earthy external texture.

Happy woman in Madhya Pradesh

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This lady was busy making upala – cow dung patties – when I asked if could take her photo. As you can see from her face, she didn’t mind at all!

Incidentally, upala are are used in abundance as cooking fuel in India, and also to cover the walls of adobe houses. (The more I learn about the many uses of the produce of cow in this country the more I realise why these animals are considered so sacred – after all even their poo is a very useful product!)

 

Weekly photo challenge (theme of the week): Nostalgic

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This scene is one of my favourite pictures that I have taken on my regular treks while working as a photographer and trek leader at Banjara Camp in Himachal Pradessh, India, for the past month. Tomorrow I move on to pastures new, so naturally I am feeling nostalgic about the wonderful time that I have spent living and working here.

I think the solitary cow also represents how I feel right now too: I’m having a moment’s pause for reflection on what a wonderful few weeks it has been here, but also feeling a little bit alone in that gap before I make new friends at my next destination.

(Posted for the weekly photo challenge on wordpress)

Weekly photo challenge Companionable 4

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Continuing my love affair with buffaloes, here is another picture taken in Varanasi that I think shows their nice personality – the way they happily let birds perch on them. I was talking to an Indian friend yesterday about my fondness for these animals and he confirmed to me what I already suspected – that they can be very affectionate. Apparently his father’s parents used to own a buffalo but when they moved house there wasn’t space for her so they had to give her away. But she wasn’t happy with the new arrangement and pined for her ‘family’ so much that she broke loose of her new home and set out to find them. So one day they got up to find their faithful old buffalo standing in the yard, having somehow tracked them down!

They may not be the prettiest of animals but they’ve got hearts of gold!

Holding on

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I couldn’t decide between this horse picture or the one I have just posted under ‘protection’, so I have posted both. I like the way the boy is just holding the horse by its stirrup. There is a slight cockiness about him as if the horse decided to bolt he wouldn’t have a chance of stopping it and would probably be dragged along with him unless he chose to let go! The woman in the sari in the distance completes the scene I feel.

Protection

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This was taken on the other side of the Ganges in Varanasi. Boys come here to exercise the horses that are used for the wedding carriages. I’m not quite sure how they get the horses across the river – presumably not in one of the rowing boats!

In the garden

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I passed this gentleman on a walk yesterday that I took my guests on just outside of Thanedhar. I would have liked to have waited until the cow was facing me, but he couldn’t be persuaded and, as I was supposed to be leading the trek, I had to be happy with this and move on. The hat that the gentleman is wearing is very commonly worn by men in this area. I think it looks rather striking!

The Pujari, Hatu Temple

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Last night as I was sitting around the bonfire at Banjara Lodge, some lovely guests from Mumbai invited me to tag along with them on a mini excursion this morning, to see Hatu Peak, around 5kms from the town of Narkandar. It is the highest point in the Shimla region, standing at some 11000 ft,  so I jumped at the chance to go there and take in the panoramic views.

It was a 45 minute drive  through pretty windy roads, dodging cows and buffalo along the way, so we set off at 7am in order to be back at the lodge for breakfast. We were not lucky with the views as it was quite hazy and overcast, but I didn’t mind as my attention was drawn to a beautiful temple that looked to be Tibetan in style with its dragons and intricate wooden carvings. It was actually a Hindu temple that had apparently been deliberately designed to incorporate different religious styles.

Just as I was having my photograph taken in front of the temple, the Pujari climbed the steps towards us and proceeded to open the beautiful wooden door to enter the little interior and do his morning Puja duties. Being in the right place at the right time, this meant that I was then blessed by him and given a red dot on my forehead, plus a generous handful of little white Puja sweets to take away with me.

It was difficult to photograph him because I was supposed to be posing for a photograph myself. But I did get this lovely picture of him, showing his gentle face and noble features, while he paused for a moment in the doorway before disappearing into the dark interior of the temple . (In fact he looked slightly more appropriate than his Pujari colleague who also made an appearance. He was sporting a trendy skull-cap and huge sunglasses and was talking on his mobile the entire time – I’m wondering if he should find himself a new vocation!)

On the way back I spotted a perfect pastoral scene of a lady milking a cow, surrounded by other cows and buffaloes. I jumped out and took some photos of the scene (another day’s post perhaps) and returned to the Lodge very happy. With such an auspicious and beautiful start I have a feeling that my Summer solstice is going to be a very special one!