I am happy to share my short film on my recent travel to Jejuri. In a moment of absolute vanity, I’d like to mention that this is shot entirely on the iPhone7Plus. I hope you like it; please do leave comments and thoughts that could help me make this (& the ones to come) better.
50 Kms away from Pune, tucked neatly on a hillock called Jejuri is the ancient temple of Khandoba. Khandoba per legend is a manifestation of Lord Shiva and this is his main shrine in India. Khandoba is worshipped by a majority of Maharashtrians and in the modern age spiritualism finds significance in Shirdi. Apparently the priest of his temple in Shirdi bestowed the name Sai to the Sai Baba of Shirdi when he arrived in Shirdi at an age of 23.
The legend of Khandoba tells the story of 2 asuras – Mani & Malla being defeated in war by Lord Shiva in his Khandoba avatar. Also known as the Martandya Bhairav, Khanodba is seen in pictures mount on a white horse, accompanied by his wife Mhalsa and a dog.
On auspicious days in Jejuri, devotees from all around gather to pay their respects to Lord Khandoba. A 500 step climb on hard rock needs to be taken from the main entrance at the foothills to the temple. Passing by are small shops selling flowers, coconuts, incense sticks and the usual religious stuff that you need along with one things that marks the whole of Jejuri as special – Turmeric or Bhandara as it is known in the local langauge.
A drive of about 90 minutes takes one from Pune to Jejuri. And this was in peak traffic times so if one leaves early morning, it could be quicker. The foothills of the hillock is inhabited with parkings, small hotels and a series of shops on either sides of the road that leads to the first steps of the climb.
Cries of Jai Malhar rang in the air as devotees began their climb. Through the way I encountered multiple small shrines and shops. All in yellow of the turmeric. Walking up the path, devotees chanted the name of Malhar and smeared the temple precincts with turmeric. Some splashed it in the air and the offering flowed down to rest on the heads of other devotees and the ground. Fervour gave way to celebration as some devotees played a yellow holi smearing the powder on each other, danced to the local dhol walas and pulled others also into the act. An hour’s walk led me to the main temple which is a magnificent structure. All around the temple are statues of Shiva, Vishnu and other deities – all bearing the colour yellow.
The faithful have a way with their faith. I saw devotees praying, some getting the local pujaris to conduct special poojas for them. This is a place where dogs are treated with respect. Some people offered food to the dogs but not before smearing them with turmeric. And the dogs promptly shimmy shake the turmeric off them. Maybe its time for us to think more rationally.
India has been known for its occult. I saw scenes of men whipping themselves and getting into a trance. Once in the trance they would be whipped by other men and after 5 to 6 painful whiplashes be embraced by the devotees.
The occasion was festive to say the least and local folks must have made a ball as they put up temporary stalls for refreshments, souvenirs and most interestingly photo booths replete with Puneri and Maratha head wear, soft toy tigers, horses and backgrounds depicting wars.
On this trip, while I took some pictures which are here , I also shot a lot of videos on my iPhone7Plus. I will put them into a small vlog in the days to come. Meanwhile, please enjoy the pictures if you like them and leave comments in critique of the writings. Would help me improve.
I’ve shot over 12 weddings in the last 30 days. And amidst all this shooting I have travelled within Pune and outside – to Ahmedabad twice, once to Bombay and to a small town in Gujarat called Gandhidham. Gandhidham was the most interesting since it was full of businesses being the closest town to the famed Kandla port.
Anyhow, this note is to apprise all that photography and film making is now my full time profession. God save them.
And that travel will be full steam ahead now.
During my term at Art school, our class had the chance to go to the awesome tourist city of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Shooting practice is what it was called. The month as I recall was March – just in time for the desert festival. Sunny days and pleasantly cold evenings.
In photographic terms, I was a freshman then. Much like the kid who tries to palm fill as many goodies as he can from the tray, I wanted to shoot pretty much everything that I saw. Fill the card!! was the cry. Loud and clear. The plan was to shoot the best pictures that Jaisalmer would have ever imagined – in 5 days, I would have the most amazing collection of travel pictures ever. Yep – all done and dusted. Hero status checked. Now just that shutter needed to be pressed.
But as I stepped out to make those amazing photographs, all was a maze. Places like Jaisalmer have the problem of plenty and I just could not fathom what and where to begin. A day and half went by as I walked by absolutely confused, shooting whatever I could lay my hands on. Hardly what an aspiring documentary photographer would do. I just didn’t fathom the enormity of the place.
Walking in the streets, making my way to the fort, fellow Fseven photographer Bhagyashree Patki and I crossed a residential space. The common folk place. Mix of houses and affluence; a big white 3 floor house just opposite a small one floor house with an open terrace. BP took some pictures of the locked house door, when we heard the voice “hello!! would you like to see my house?”
A girl, maybe 12 – 13 years, standing across the ledge of the house, adjacent to the door. We hadn’t noticed her; she saw us. “My name is Deepa”, she answered when BP asked her. Deepa invited us inside the house, encouraged us to shoot pictures. She sat on the steps in front of the door and smiled wide. “I can take you around”, she said.
Then Deepa walked us around. She took us to all the places that are worth an eye in Jaisalmer and took us to people who we would have missed. Like this person who has a long moustache. I mean you have to see it to believe it. She made me meet the wife of a local musician who plays the Ravanhattha; this lady does not know how to speak hindi properly; cannot read or write but can converse fluently in French and German as she needs to engage with the tourists. I could not converse with her as I do not speak either of the two.
Deepa walked us to certain rampants of the fort which we would have skipped in the usual course of events. And we saw Jaisalmer from the top. The day came to an end; she went home; we came to the hotel.
The next day we met again. While my memory fails me in the exact sequence of events but this was when we went to the Havelis – Patwon and Nathmal. Both havelis are significant and are a must do as they unfold the architecture and history of Jaisalmer. The evening brought a visit to the Gadisar Lake, calm and serene.
My fondness for Deepa grew. As did my curiosity about her. She was wonderful company, much like a pot of gold that you find in a desert. We visited places; she would talk endlessly;I answered selectively. Her comfort and confidence was amazing; I was more concerned about her staying out alone than she was.
One evening as we returned from another sojourn, we happened to fleetingly meet Deepa’s father and grandmother. A longer meeting with her father took place the next day when Sachindra, BP and I visited her house. Her father shared stories about the place, himself and his wife who was out visiting some relatives. He told us about his passion for being photographed and that he had acted as an extra in a couple of Bollywood movies and managed get himself clicked with Salman and Aamir Khan. Fancy that!! He opened up to us warmly. Not able to stop myself, I asked him if Deepa’s free spirit troubled him? “Not at all”, he said, “she is smart enough to sell a man on the street!!!”
Deepa’s company had given me the direction of what to see in Jaisalmer. I went to the fort area and walked the small streets inside. As I walked by a thin street, someone welcomed me. An elderly gentleman seated on a chair on the front porch of his house. His house was blue in color. All the walls. He stayed there with his family. I shot some pictures and left. Later I got them printed at a local printing shop and gifted the same to the gentleman the next day.
We were in time for the desert festival. A short drive out into the wilderness brought us to the desert, full of sand that changes colours with the sun. The camel races were the first events of the evening and a sight to see. Do you know the feeling of exciting anticipation? I felt it the crowd that day. The group’s racing their camels lined them up on the far end of the horizon and as soon as the shot went out, the camels galloped to the finishing line towards our side. Travellers delight!!!
I spent the next day in the fort. The Golden Fort as it is known, is a huge property now divided between the Govt and the Maharaja of Jaisalmer. Some of it is available for tourists to see. They have a handy feature to explore these places – a guide microphone – an instrument with preset recordings and headphones. Put them on, walk around the place and press the number that is displayed nearby. The entire story around that part of the monument plays out in the phone. And with music!! Within the fort, amongst many things to see and stories to hear, the one I remember most vividly was the act of Jauhar. Jauhar is a mass suicide committed by the women of the royal clan and families affiliated with the clan just before enemy forces enter their areas. Jaisalmer has been unfortunate to witness two such Jauhars. In the last Jauhar, as the men did not have the time to build the pyre in which the women would jump; so they decided to slit the throats. In the audio this was described as a sad but brave act. I still think about the same.
Another highlight in the fort was this a three dimensional map of the Jaisalmer fort which explained the architecture, design and logic of the construction. The fort was built at a height for protection. Within the high walls is a well designed waterways to ensure smooth flow and conservation. But as I saw it, the locals are now conserving water like this. Many places within the fort city have now been converted into homestays and restaurants. We had lunch in one such restaurant where the owner was one – in – all. He took the order, served us the drinks and food and then settled the bills. This was a lovely roof top restaurant; unfortunately I don’t have the name and pictures.
I was reunited with Deepa in the evening and we went to a local fair. Lots of rides and candy later, I convinced her to let me gift her a dress from the fair.
Parting day arrived. All of us went to met Deepa one last time to say our goodbyes. Deepa gifted us handmade cards with poetry in it. I requested her for a passport size photograph. I keep it in my wallet.
How much of conditioning can withstand the warmth of a heart. Not much, at least in my case. Three years and many incidents since I last met Deepa, but the time spent with her is well etched in my memory. And so shall it remain.
Things that I missed doing –
- Seeing the windmills. Thought these are restricted areas but they areon the side of the roads and one can always have a closer look.
- Visiting the haunted village – Kuldhara
My tips for a tour.
- We travelled by train from New Delhi to Jaisalmer and back. And in sleeper class. Now unless you are adventurous and gregarious; if the idea of people grabbing your berth for a few hours while you are pushed to a tiny corner of it is ok with you, go sleeper. Else book a berth in an AC coach. Once the train enters Rajasthan, it gets fairly dusty as well.
- Try and stay in a Haveli. There are plenty of them, now converted into hotels and homestays. The ones within the fort are smaller, but economical. If you have money to splurge go for the ones outside.
- Do eat the Mirchi Pakoda. This is a fritter with a huge green chilly as filling. Its spicy, oily and yummy. And the locals say it kills the heat.
- Aficionados can visit the bhaang shop, if it still exists. It’s near the fort and obviously popular. This guys makes bhaang of different types.
- Listen to all the local folk music played live that you can. Carry some cash to give to these guys and they belt out amazing songs. Especially the one on Gadisar Lake. If you can manage to find him.
- Last but not the least – meet Deepa. Circumstances permitting.
P.S. – Its been up my mind to go back and give Deepa her pictures. May we travel to Jaisalmer soon.
50 kilometres from Pune, lies the small district of Mulshi, a popular ecotourism zone, especially in monsoons. Punekars (and other tourists) flock to Mushi and its popular road waterfalls and resorts for a quick get-away.
On a day devoid of the sun and replete from the rain, Mulshi is heaven. The roads are washed black, the trees painted green. Winds rustle the leaves to make music. One can drive down the long winding roads for hours admiring the landscape of cut hills and small peaks. A general tendency of the traveller here is to stop the vehicle on the side of the road to either enjoy the waterfall or a snack or a beer to keep the spirit high.
But for the lucky, Kaa is always in the Jungle!!!
A friend told me about a jungle – untouched and uncut. “It has its own legend”, is what she said, as we drove into Mulshi.
The Devarai Forest is near a village in Mulshi, just off the main highway before the turn to Pimpri. To reach the forest, one needs to walk through the fields of the common folk, cross a couple of small rivers on foot, both of which were in full flow during the monsoon. Not sure of the way, we sought help from a lad from the village. He dropped us near the second river, but would go no further.
We saw a house, abandoned and moss laden – thick and green in colour. We walked by the house and voila!!! We entered a most dense settlement of trees. A completely new world was in front – leaving behind the vast fields and the flowing Mutha river. Just a few steps and I was inside!! Not sure about Meri and Pippin; but I had the same look on my face as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli when they entered the Fangorn Forest.
I never really had many opportunities to go into a forest. As a kid journeys to National Parks and Forests were limited. My parents preferred visiting cities and beaches. When I grew up I inhabited the same likings. Consequently, standing in a dense forest surrounded by trees was a unique feeling. I was out of my comfort zone.
The trees were old. In their grown up years some of them must have fought with each other…their branches tangled in a permanent arm twist. Some must have been friends…lovers maybe too…they bent and stood the same way. They were tall – even lifting my head I could not fathom the top of the tree. I needed a Bilbo moment when he climbs the tree to find the direction to the Lonely Mountain.
Legend goes that the forest was protected by a Goddess who pronounced that if anyone cut so as much a leaf in the same, he or she would face her wrath. And hence the Devarai has seen many seasons of staying the way it was.
After sufficient exploration of the forest, we walked back, to have our lunch near the river Mutha. In a distance, a family splashed water on each other – drunk on Whisky and Coke, unaware of the tree treasure just a few steps away.
May you get lost in a forest real soon!!!
Photos from this trip are here
To me, Nepal was a place that I could go anytime. As and when I heard about family and friends going to Nepal; “I can go anytime…Its just here!!!” is what I always thought. I was told that its fairly easy for Indians to go to Nepal – didn’t need Visa; sometime back even a passport was not required (this information may need validation). You could just show any Govt of India authorised identification card and get into Nepal. Some people get into Nepal without it as well. Nepal is easily accessible – by air and by road through the North Eastern part of UP and Bihar.
In 2015, a devastating earthquake rocked Nepal. Close to 10000 people perished and countless went missing. Sitting in my house in Pune, I could only imagine the horror of the earthquake as news channels streamed in information and visuals which brought the tragedy to my living room.
Perhaps the trigger for the trip was a late evening phone conversation with my friend and fellow Nepalese photographer, Sachindra Rajbansi, who was in Kathmandu at the time of the quake. He and his family had rushed down from their apartment when the building started swaying. He told me that after 50 days or so, things were coming back to normal and they were not as bad as they seemed.
I was puzzled. How can things be not so bad after a tragedy as horrifying as this?
I fixed a trip to Nepal with another photographer colleague Shiv Kiran. We were disaster tourists; we wanted to see the extent of the damage; the rubble on the street; people sleeping on the pavements et al. While traveling to Nepal, I wondered if there were any happy picture stories that I could bring out.
Air travel from New Delhi to Nepal is pretty smooth. There are multiple air carriers that operate flights to and fro. We booked ourselves on an Indigo Airlines flight that landed us at the Kathmandu Airport promptly in four hours post take off. For a tourist destination, Kathmandu Airport was a bit of a disappointment. Some satellite town airports in India have better airport facilities.
In the first two days of the trip we had the chance to visit the ancient city of Bhaktapur and the settlements besides the river Bungmati. I saw first-hand the destruction wrought upon the land by nature. Heaps of rubble everywhere, making small dunes that one can walk over, without even thinking that a human body could be buried inside. Beautiful ancient structures – reduced to mud and in some places standing partially on their own and partially on wooden supports, made me wonder – what did this place look like when I was a kid. I was beginning to rue my decision of not coming to Nepal earlier.
Sachindra took us to Pokhara for a couple of days. A long dusty road trip in heat gave way to an accommodation in his restaurant, Samay Restaurant, by the Phewa Lake. For a two good days we ate, slept and drank beer with the awesome staff of this lovely place that nests on the banks of the lake and has open air seating and awesome food. Samay (hindi for time) literally stands still here as the sound of the gentle water getting rocked by the oar of a boat brings tranquil to the heart. The trip had now started.
The beauty of Pokhara is in the landscape. Pokhara serves as the foot hills for the Annapurna treks and is haven for those who like a calm and rested life, whose days are accompanied by waits for evenings and evenings await the next day’s sun. I found Pokhara seeping in my senses and as time went by my desire to walk about the land, meet the locals and record these transactions became stronger.
The most memorable part of the trip was the walk to a nearby village, to reach which we rode on two wheelers towards the mountains, then crossed a small river by a wire boat and then walked through the fields. The first settlements of the village greeted us with a site that for me was a never before – settlements on a mountain in front of us. The remaining of the day was spent riding across Pokhara’s small roads, visiting the Shankar temple and the Stupa. We didn’t really get to Stupa – came back as rain started to pelt down and we were in a hurry to reach back to Samay.
At the mid-way between Kathmandu and Pokhara comes a spot where the Nepali version of the thali is served. Its called the Thakali. People who love rice and meat, must stop here to relish this sumptious ensemble of unlimited rice, chicken or mutton curry, spinach vegetable and yellow dal. Down it with some coca cola and move out. All for 100 Nepali Rupees.
Back in Kathmandu, we made a trip to Patan, the second settlement in the capital city. Patan was also badly hit by the earthquake and Sachindra informed us that the place was sealed immediately after the quake and returned to operational efficiency within 48 hours. One reason of the same was the fact that Patan has a lot of precious idols and they had to be safeguarded.
One of the key highlights of the trip were the Virgin Goddesses – Kumaris of Bhakatpur and Patan. While at Bhaktapur, the Living Goddess gave us her glimpse from the window, in Patan we got audience with her in her chambers. Her father carried her to the throne and seated there she saw us for a minute or two before we moved out.
I couldn’t have completed a trip to Nepal without visiting PashupatiNath, one of the most revered shrines of Lord Shiva. Other than the architecture, I was struck by the evening aarti which is a spectacle in itself. The aarti starts softly and grows in crescendo and beats; the crowd joins in with claps and shouts and suddenly someone loses their head and starts dancing in ecstasy. For the faithful this is a blessing; for the observer, a celebration of being human.
It was time to go back home. Leaving Nepal, I felt like a kid going back to school after a vacation full of vocations and happiness. Sadness filled me and I tried my best to delay every minute that took me to the airport. The land takes you in, the stories cradle you to sleep, food is benign and people are warm. The bustle of daily life in Kathmandu mixed with pollution amidst the history of the city makes for an eclectic mix of emotions. In Pokhara, the mountains and Phewa Lake come together to seduce the traveller’s senses. Happiness seeps in the heart with the blues and greens of the land and it becomes just so important to walk to the nearest village to strike a conversation with the locals.
Growing up, I knew umpteen numbers of people who would go to Nepal – either for the casinos or shopping or prayers in Kathmandu. I had not heard of Pokhara, nor of the architecture and neither of the beauty that lies hidden in the nooks and corners of this wonderful mountain laden land. Nobody told me about the beautiful early sun rise and the golden sunsets and I was yet to see the content in the smile of the passerby who uses a rope – dinghy daily to cross the river to get to work.
I guess better late than never.