Since 2012 began, I’ve spent more weeks away from home than home, and I’ve had little time to post and share photos along the way. What better reason than this week’s #frifotos theme being “colorful” to share brand new images of one of the extremely colorful places I’ve had the pleasure to travel this year: India.
First, a big wag of the tail for this week’s team of #frifotos hosts who came up with the (travel-related) theme of DOGS, giving me a great excuse to finally post these dogs shots from all over the world in one place. Question is….where to begin on a Round-the-World photo journey of dogs? Since all journeys start at home, we’ll start here, then we’ll continue throughout the US and on to Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and back home again.
One man’s travel destination is another’s backyard – the same may be said for dogs, of course. So I will begin with one of my Surf Dawgs photo series taken at a favorite local beach right here in my (dog’s) own “backyard”, Del Mar Dog Beach, California:
Moving out geographically, and back in evolution, coyotes and wolves are great examples of canine wildlife. These beautiful “dogs” were photographed in Arizona:
|Coyotes of the American Southwest|
Mexican Gray Wolves
Still in the southwest, I will always love this moment when these pueblo dogs came to greet me in New Mexico, making for a truly iconic capture of Native American pueblo life:
|Dogs of San Ildefonso Pueblo|
Now I’m not going to drag you through every state via dog pictures, but there is one more state deserving mention, as it is well known for hosting the annual Iditarod sled-dog race. A few years back I had the pleasure of taking my daughter Dog-Sledding on a Glacier in Alaska, and gave her the video camera (listen to the interview/commentary!):
Getting to visit all the sled-dogs and puppies in training after the ride resulted in plenty of wonderful photos, this one being my favorite:
Blue-eyed girl and blue-eyed husky
And on the subject of girls and puppies, let’s travel to Guatemala, where this woman was selling a basket full at the Chichicastenango Market:
|Chichicastenango Market: Puppies for sale|
Next stop, Peru, where this dog and his buddies enjoy the scenery:
|Dog & Donkeys overlooking the Sacred Valley and Andes of Peru|
Some of the happiest dogs I’ve ever seen during my travels are found in Chile:
Pair of dogs and pair of lovers in Puerto Varas
….where they also have jobs that they love, such as this….
|Little guard dog with big attitude in Puerto Natales|
Rancher and his dog herding sheep in Patagonia
Ah yes, the sheep herders. What better segway to hop over to Europe? Landing first in Ireland:
Satisfied Border Collie watches his flock
Then on to London, UK, for this canine appearance in the Lord Mayor’s Parade:
Dogs on Parade
And to Spain, where these dogs enjoy shopping the avenues of Barcelona:
|Dogs and Shoppers in Barcelona|
Enough of the domesticated dogs for a bit, let’s head down to South Africa, and to my personal favorite wild animal to spot in the wild, the African Wild Dog:
|African Painted Wild Dog|
African Wild Dog of Madikwe
It is such a thrill to watch them in the wild, and to get them in good light, I even shot a video and blogged about the Wild Dogs here: Madikwe is for the Dogs. A must read for dog/wildlife lovers! Oh what the heck, here’s the video too:
Before we leave Africa, Here’s a shot from Namibia which illustrates the difference a dog makes – without the dog, this scene would be, well, depressing.
|Scene of daily life in Katatura Township|
Now, from a land where few children have shoes, to a land where few dogs don’t. I’m talking about Japan, where the dog is a fashion accessory and Tokyo department stores have entire floors dedicated to canine fashions. I’ve blogged about how these little dogs are Big in Japan, but here are a couple of the more blatant four-legged fashion victims:
|Proud owner poses her fashionable toy dogs|
The men in Japan are not immune to dogs as fashion accessories
Little Dog, Big Attitude. Kyoto, Japan.
Finally, Asia is home to what I consider to be the happiest dogs anywhere in the world, living an even better life than their human counterparts. They reside in the tranquil Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
|Dog enjoying best view in the world, Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan|
|Dog Amongst Prayer Flags, Punakha Bhutan|
Of course, this is a case where a picture speaks a thousand words. I’ve seen plenty of happy dogs, and plenty of sleeping dogs, but this blissful dog was truly in an elevated state of consciousness:
|The ultimate meditative state – doggie nirvana|
When it comes to travel, truly, the most important dogs anywhere are the ones who wait at the door and greet me with enthusiastic wags and slobbery kisses when I return home from my travels. It’s not so easy for my older dog, Jambo, to jump up and rush to the door anymore, but bless his heart, he always makes the effort when I come home, always. And there’s the younger dog, Java, who jumps like a circus act and whose tail never stops spinning. They bring so much joy and love and laughter, and home would never be home without them.
And thus ends my Round the World adventure by dog photos. Hope you have enjoyed, and if you are on twitter, be sure to share your own dog pics and follow the hashtag #frifotos!
So it’s “BIG CAT” week at National Geographic. As much as I’d love to say “big deal’, I do hold a certain fascination for these creatures, and I respect those photographers and filmmakers who spend weeks and months with the big cats to fill a good hour episode. I watch with awe and envy. I know what goes into every frame, and what it takes to get the shot that tells the story.
My own experience with cats and cameras, however, is not so glamorous. I’ve spent some time on safari and have learned a great deal about these cats, and I can tell you this much –
Cats couldn’t care less about cameras. They couldn’t care less about people with cameras, too. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cat person with the camera, or a filmmaker, or an idiot. The cat couldn’t care less.
I have many friends who are cat people. They post silly pictures on facebook of their cat asleep in the sun or looking pissed off about something. When I go to their homes, I am overwhelmed with smell of cats. The cats, however, are nowhere to be seen, they couldn’t care less that I’ve arrived after a long absence. They couldn’t care less about a lot of things, and well, cats are just like that.
I’m not really a cat person in my every day life. When I come home from my travels, I actually like to know I’ve been missed. The pets I own physically rush to the door, wag their tails like helicopters, and smother me with affection. They’re called dogs. There is no doubt in my mind how they feel about me. They care.
I can appreciate cats, however, especially if they are really big and live in the wild. When I observe cats in the wild through the lens of my camera, even the smell doesn’t bother me. I watch long enough, and soon find myself reading their every thought (click). I get into their minds (click), and really connect in ways that I never experience with other people’s kitty cats (click, click, click). And you know what I’ve learned? Cats couldn’t care less. (delete, delete, delete).
Cats love to torment (click). Cats love to play games (click, click). Exactly what they gain from these games is nothing more than the satisfaction of having proven that they care not about anyone or anything other than themselves (delete). They certainly don’t care if I’ve got the right lens on (delete), or need to change the battery (delete), or only have 3 frames left on the memory card (delete all? press OK to confirm).
Hang on, cats. I’m not going to let you off that easy. I can still get in your mind through my lens, remember? My camera is able to freeze a split second of your life, and even though in every frame your “I couldn’t care less” subtext remains clear and consistent, there can be more to the story, and more to reading your thoughts, too. Well, at least this much more: “it’s all about me.”
Case and point: During a recent safari in the Maasai Mara, we happened upon a pair of lions laying in the grass. While the male was lost in his “all about me” thoughts, the female quite clearly “couldn’t care less” about the male; she had something else on her mind.
With absolutely no concern for the fact that I still had a telephoto lens stuck to my camera, the lioness came right to the tree which stood literally within arm’s reach of our vehicle. She could care less about the vehicle being there, and she could care even less that I was fumbling for a different lens in anticipation of what she might do next. Nope, she showed no consideration whatsoever, it was “all about her”, and up the tree she leapt.
Turns out this was more than just a display to express how much she didn’t care about my getting the shot with the right lens. At least, up in the tree, she was again distant enough that I could fit the cat entirely in the frame. She made quite a show of finding just the right spot to settle.
Remember what I mentioned earlier? That bit about cats loving to torment and play games? Turns out that is exactly what she was up to. I mean, why else would she bother fighting gravity to get herself up in that tree?
|“oh good, this’ll show him….”|
|“I don’t care that it’s extremely uncomfortable…I look good”|
Well yes, lioness, of course you look good…you’re in a tree and surrounded by wildlife paparazzi! But I have news for you, dear cat. As far as my camera is concerned….it’s not “all about you”.
Cue the male.
|“Are you looking at moi??”|
More about cats:
Dedicated to the memory of Sacha, a cat who exemplified the essence of caring less.
Could the skies possibly get any more blue? I’m wondering about this as I have just returned from another part of the world where the skies took my breath away, and where I was awed and mesmerized by looking up.
I’m certain that the high altitude has something to do with the deep clear blues of Andean skies, but a blue sky on it’s own is just that, a gorgeous blue sky. What makes the blue skies of the Andes all the more interesting to photograph are the clouds that float through, changing shapes and transforming the scenery as they pass. Sometimes the clouds form dark ominous storm fronts, other times they dance through as puffy white “happy” clouds. Both are stunning against the backdrop of the Andes mountains and plateaus.
Africa is a land where the skies stretch out endlessly in all directions, and the weather systems are as interesting to photograph as the landscape.
|Puffy white clouds dot the endless skies of the Maasai Mara, Kenya|
|A break in the clouds light the golden landscape of the Maasai Mara, Kenya|
|Wispy clouds reach toward the Atlas Mountains, Morocco|
|Clear blue sky compliments red sand dune of Sussusvlei, Namibia|
|Stormy skies loom over windswept coast of Die Plaat, South Africa|
|African rains approaching Lake Manyara Serena Lodge, Tanzania|
|Setting sun slices through dark clouds to light Lake Manyara, Tanzania|
|Infinite blue sky reflects in infinity pool overlooking Lake Manyara, Tanzania|
|Rains sweeping across the parched dry Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania|
|Storm clouds gather as the sun sets over the Serengeti, Tanzania|
There are several reasons for this post today.
1) Weather is the theme for #frifotos (founded by Epstein Travels) on twitter today, so I thought I’d share some of my contributions here on my blog for everyone else to enjoy.
2) This post is linked to two of my favorite travel photo blog-sharing groups – where you’ll find more links to travel photography themed blog posts.
1) I’m getting in the spirit for my next travels, to Africa, this month! I’m so excited to be returning to my beloved Kenya and Tanzania, leading a photographic safari, and I wanted to re-visit these images before I return home with loads of new ones. Please stay tuned, as I’ll be sharing my adventures right here on the Mira Terra Travel Blog!
What is My 7 Links all about, anyway?
The goal of the project, as outlined by Tripbase, is:
To unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.
Thanks to photographer Kirsten Alana, I have been nominated to participate by sharing my own 7 links. My blog has been around since March, 2006, but my readership hasn’t. So I’m pleased to present to you now…
My 7 Links
Most Beautiful Post. Namibia – by Dune, Full Moon, and Hot Air Balloon
Most Popular Post. Landslides & Leeches: a Trekking Journal, Nepal
Transcribed from hand-written journal pages, this is my personal experience of a trek where the forces of nature took over and lives were lost. Additionally, this post is popular with Google and any search term involving leeches.
Most Controversial Post. Probably this one. Published in the Rough Guide to India!
None of my posts thus far have resulted in any sort of commentary debate or backlash. I’ve regretted the instances where I’ve participated in some controversial comment strings on other blogs. I really don’t feel good about insulting or offending anyone; when I have, it sits on my conscience like a thorn. Sometimes I’ve hit “send” in the heat of the moment, and have thrown words like daggers. I’m truly sorry to those who were ever at the receiving end of some of my sharper words.
That said, the choice for my most controversial post is purely subjective. It was an issue which wreaked havoc in my mind; so I felt I should try to make right of it in a blog post. Here are the facts:
a) I photographed someone, without their knowledge, in a very personal moment of practicing their faith.
b) 10 years later, I scanned and uploaded the image into an online portfolio at the now defunct Digital Railroad (DRR), ticking the licensing box making it available strictly for editorial use, which means, among other things, that I had no model release (permission).
c) Digital Railroad quite suddenly fell apart and left thousands of photographers high and dry without receiving commissions earned from images licensed through their website, or even knowing which images of theirs had been purchased or downloaded.
d) a former DRR employee and mentor/friend with a good heart helped me out by providing a list of what he knew of my DRR downloads and sales, finalized or not, paid for or not.
e) a record showed this particular image had been licensed, and the payment status was “pending”.
f) I contacted the publisher who eventually replied that they had already paid DRR for the image license, but failed to send me any record for proof. Because they were a big name and reputable, I took them on their word, thanked them, and asked if they would send me a tear sheet or copy of the book. They did neither.
g) So, when the Rough Guide to India was published, I rushed to the bookstore and thumbed through it. I quickly found my image occupying a full color page. My first sigh of relief came upon seeing that the image use was not in any way derogatory; in fact, I couldn’t have asked for more appropriate context for putting this image in a guidebook. I bought the book, brought it home and confirmed that I was properly credited for the image. Indeed I was, a second sigh of relief.
h) Because the image and context touched on the delicate subject of religion and faith, and the person in my image was expressing his own, I felt it only right for me to expose something of my own faith. I did just that in my post (don’t be fooled by the SEO-driven title): Published in the Rough Guide to India! The photo:
Most Helpful Post. Samantha Brown and Rick Steves – the Best in the Field
This post provides helpful insight for anyone in the business, or desiring to be in the business, of travel writing, publishing, and presenting (that includes you, my fellow travel bloggers!). It is especially helpful to anyone aspiring to host their own travel show someday. Apparently, I’m not alone in having that ambition.
A Post Whose Success Surprised Me. Stand Up Paddle Surf Safari…in China?
I penned this humorous little piece because I was fed up with the Hawaiians getting credit for anything and everything to do with surfing. The ocean spans the entire globe, you know, not just the Hawaiian islands! Many forms of surfing have taken place in many different parts of the world throughout history. I really didn’t think people would take this too seriously, but based on traffic and search terms, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find SUP board rentals set up along the banks of the Li River some day.
A Post I Feel Didn’t Get the Attention it Deserved. Chile: Spirit Dreams
If you read only one link from this post, please make it this one. This was my debut blog post back in March, 2006. I didn’t know where to start, but I knew that every picture has a story, right? So I picked a random photo taken on my travels and then opened up my journal from that trip. Turns out I have some pretty cool travel stories tucked away in these journals, and it was time to bring them out. This is one of my favorites, which I think only my web-designer-mentor/friend has ever read.
The Post I am Most Proud of. Listening With the Lens – Filming a Documentary
It’s not so much the post itself, it’s finally being able see my work come to fruition (thanks to incredible editors) in my first foray into documentary film-making, so that I could share this inspiring story with others. For me, this was a profound experience, a chance to use my talent to give something back. It is a beautiful story of inspiration, which I am both proud and humbled to share with you.
Thank you for visiting, and if you were even moved to follow some of the links, I am especially grateful. Please comment so I know you’ve visited!
Now here’s the tricky part – nominating 5 more bloggers. My first choices had been previously nominated, so I had to reach beyond the obvious….in fact, why not reach for the stars!
Here are my 5 nominations for the next participants in the My 7 Links project. They are all great sources of inspiration, and whether or not they have or take the time to participate, they are definitely worth your time to check out:
Enjoy the journey!
Flight over the Andes of Ecuador
“A or F, please, preferably not over the wing.”
This is my standard request when flying most commercial flights with a seating configuration of 3 and 3. I just don’t get why people (without extraordinarily long legs) would choose to be bumped and climbed over in the aisle seats rather than enjoy the amazing perspective of our planet from above in a window seat. Perhaps they need easy access to the toilets? Fine, I’ll grant them that, and I’ll count my blessings that I can, for the most part, wait. I’ll cross laps when I absolutely have to, but I’d sooner just cross my legs…especially while crossing over the Andes, the Rockies, or the Himalayas.
I love the window seat. And here are just a few reasons why:
#1A. It’s my happy place, my comfort zone, and my zen place – where I can feel completely insignificant and gain a new perspective – a wider lens, if you will – on whatever trivialities seems important in my life at the time. Did I pack the right shoes? Did I remember to pay that last phone bill? From the window seat I can simply look down and think “oh yeah, there’s our planet, isn’t it amazing and awesome and…does anything else really matter?” Sigh.
#2F. I’m a geographoholic (dibs on wiki credit for coining that one)
– Throughout my childhood, I collected the map inserts from National Geographic, and my first dorm room in college was decorated in nothing but maps. And postcards.
– In jr. high I excelled at geography, a dreaded subject amongst my peers but not for me. There was a time when I could draw Europe freehand with all the borders in all the right places, including a two-part Berlin. Funny, I had no interest in doing the same with my own country’s states – it all became a blur east of the rockies, kind of like those early cartography renderings of anything that wasn’t Britain or India. There’d be California drawn with complete precision, then a few straight-lined geometric shapes to the right, then, oh who cares, just doodle some scary sea serpents instead. But, given the right circumstance I will still occasionally draw a map on cocktail napkin (and pen an entire article on a cocktail napkin too), particularly when the napkins are accompanied by caipirinhas…
– Perhaps being a native Californian and living just west of the San Andreas fault line accounts for my abnormal fascination with plate tectonics; and islands, which my part of the state may become if the rumored predictions are accurate. When I was young I actually got pretty excited over the thought of breaking off from the rest of the state to become an island nation. I’ve got a drawing of that somewhere too, I think it’s in a box of my treasured 4th grade art projects. A waterproof firebox no doubt.
Flying over the Great Rift Valley in Africa – plate tectonics nirvana!
– Coastlines intrigue me. I’d often sit on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific with my best friend and we’d contemplate life while perched on “the edge of a continent.”
Then, a year and some rains later, that perch is gone, washed away or tumbled into a rockpile on the beach below. The coastline has forever changed; and it continues to change, every year, all over the planet. Never take a coastline for granted.
#3A. It’s really all just one big ocean. Kinda mind-blowing to think about when you’re on a trans-Atlantic flight…or a trans-Pacific…or crossing any oceanic body of water. They all look the same from 35,000 feet. Mind blowing how that makes perfect sense.
|Reefs of Bora Bora in the South Pacific|
#4F. Let’s be practical for just a moment. Sleep. You might actually want to sleep. Just because you’re in sardine class doesn’t mean you enjoy having to remain upright while your jaw drops open and drool trickles down your chin. Well, when you start to doze off and your head flops over onto the shoulder of that poor soul in the middle seat – if you’re in the aisle seat, you’re out of options. The best chance you’ve got is to take advantage of the fact that they are probably too unassertive to say anything (after all, they did end up in a middle seat). But if you have the window seat, you also have a wall, an alternative place to prop that ridiculous excuse for a pillow. And there’s a bonus! The wall serves as support reinforcement should that middle seat occupant flop their head, along with their entire upper body, your way. Don’t panic. You’ve got that wall – use it to leverage against as you flick your elbow with a whallop and send the startled soul flying toward, you guessed it, the now-regretful drooling dozer in the aisle seat.
#5A. Back to me. I do a great deal of writing while I’m in flight, and when I look up to compose my thoughts, I find it difficult to source my inspiration from tray tables or tv screens. I need open space – emptiness – to watch my ideas swirl around, bounce off puffy clouds, and settle…gently…like snowflakes….somewhere on the crust of that great planet below.
|Roof of the World – The Himalayas|
Some of my “thoughtflakes” will top majestic mountains…others will melt away into the deep blue sea. Some will run the meandering course of a river…others will stumble over skyscrapers and land with a “flakeplant” on the pavement. No matter where my thoughts settle, they start in the nothingness of space. And that’s often the only thing I see when I look out the window – a perfect blank canvas on which to paint a picture with thoughts and words.
Picture? Did I just say picture? What a convenient segway into sharing more photos! Okay, so that’s really a rather abrupt transition – more like turbulence. Please remain seated with your eyes on the screen until it is safe to move about the internet again. And here, I’ll even let you have the window seat.
More reasons why I love the window seat (in pictures):
|How close the pilots navigate downtown on approach to SAN|
|The harrowing sharp bank upon take off from Paro Airport, Bhutan|
Gaining a better perspective of what the shipboard naturalist gets excited about:
|Amazon River “Meeting of the Waters” from above|
Including parts of plane for context of place:
|Nature Air flying over Costa Rica|
|Southwest Air flying over Arizona|
Observing Patterns of Man:
|Rice Terraces near Chongqing in China|
Observing Patterns of Nature:
Fairy Circles of the Namibian Landscape
Which brings me to another segway. The above photo was actually shot from a Hot-Air Balloon.
Sometimes you get a nice aerial view from a balcony:
Balcony View from the Kahala Resort in Hawaii
Or from a gondola!
And no aerial blog post would be complete without mention of helicopters. So, before landing, here’s a small selection of aerial images from helicopters to enjoy:
|Helicopter Flight-seeing in Alaska allows for landing on glaciers!|
|Canyonlands National Park, Utah|
St. James, U.S. Virgin Islands
The ultimate perspective of Iguacu Falls, by helicopter:
What’s next? Some day I hope to add to my aerial image collection from this perspective:
Be sure to check out the full gallery of aerial images to see more of Namibia, Costa Rica, South America, and more from above!
|Buddhists in Bhutan believe that when a circle appears around the sun, an incarnation of Buddha is born.|
Nirvana is a destination for some, but not a specific place. It is loosely defined as a state of being free from pain, worry, and the external world. I have never reached nirvana, and frankly, I’m quite happy not to. I LOVE the external world – the “sensual world” that I can smell, touch, taste, hear….. and see through the lens of my camera.
Colorful prayer wheels line the public square of Thimpu.
So why do I use the word nirvana? Because in all my travels, there are these moments…moments that simply take my breath away. Moments when nothing else matters – when worries and pains all disappear – and all that matters is being present in that moment. Sometimes I don’t have a camera…or I forget I have a camera…and those moments are etched in my soul and preserved in the rich vivid kodachrome of my mind’s eye. But sometimes I do have my camera…and I remember to use it. When I can capture that moment, and immortalize it to share it with others, well, that is something I like to call travel photography nirvana.
Young boy monk runs amongst the prayer flags at Chimi Lhakhang.
For a travel photographer to find these moments, there isn’t a map, a compass, or a GPS. There isn’t a schedule to keep. There isn’t really anything concrete and obvious about exactly when and where these “moments’ will pass through one’s consciousness and in front of one’s lens. The point is to be ready. Be aware of all of the senses. Be completely in the moment. And boom, next thing you know, time has stood still long enough to push a button and capture a slice of it. That’s what I’m talking about.
|Traditional Bhutanese dancers leap effortlessly high off the floor.|
I suppose traveling in Bhutan is perhaps more conducive to such experiences for a few reasons:
* the geography of the country – it lies in the Himalayas, averaging in elevation around 8,000 feet above sea level.
* the religion – Bhutan is a primarily Buddhist society, and it is filled with monasteries and monks on a spiritual path to enlightenment.
|Nun at Sangchen Lhuendrup Cholin|
|Buddha Dordenma Statue|
Monks going to puja at Punakha Dzong.
* the politics. Politics? Yes. The government of Bhutan, which is headed by a King, has specific branches whose job it is to develop and monitor the Gross National Happiness of the Bhutanese citizens.
I met a Planning Officer of the GNH Commission, and that was literally his job, to monitor Gross National Happiness. Can you imagine having that for your job title? Wow. I wonder if they have an official photographer whose job it is to document the Gross National Happiness with a camera…carrying a GNHC Press Pass….that would sure be enlightening.
Furthermore, there are four pillars against which Gross National Happiness is measured:
1) promotion of sustainable development
|Farm Fields of Paro|
Bhutanese Farm Owner
|Locally grown produce at market in Wangdue|
2) preservation of cultural values
Bhutanese Traditional Arts and Culture – Tangka Art, Weaving, and Archery
3) conservation of natural environment
4) establishment of good governance
|Bhutanese men pay respect to Royal Kings of Bhutan|
Given all these parameters, unless you are a photographer immune to spirituality, culture, and happiness, then you are bound to experience some sense of travel photography nirvana in Bhutan. It can happen anywhere – I’ve experienced these moments in other iconic settings such as Machu Picchu in Peru, Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, and at a calving glacier in Alaska. But I chose Bhutan because that’s where I experienced the moment when those three words just escaped from my mouth, one after the other. Travel..Photography..Nirvana. That moment was upon reaching the final leg on the hike to Taktsang Monastery.
The picture of the Monastery is nothing special – it’s the same picture everyone takes who makes this journey. But it’s that moment of arrival, that moment when nothing else matters and you say to yourself, I made it it. I’m here. I’m in heaven on earth. And I remembered to take the picture.
That is simply…travel photography nirvana.
For more from Bhutan, please visit the Bhutan Image Gallery.
When you think Calcutta, do you think slums, poverty and filth? Or do you imagine art, joy and beauty? A visitor to Calcutta will see what they want to see, but the camera never lies. It’s all there. Open your eyes.
Children of Calcutta
Upon landing by air in Calcutta, I couldn’t help but notice the lush green surroundings – a rather surprising twist on my preconceived image of a sprawling, polluted, crowded city in West Bengal. I was whisked away by a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle to the luxuriously comfortable and air-conditioned Taj Bengal, where I looked out over a green landscape dotted with purple bougainvillea and bright red flame trees. I was further enchanted by lovely tweeting birds nesting in the plants of the window box. I grabbed a few quick shots with my iphone….
…before pulling out my camera gear to charge batteries, change memory cards, wipe lenses, and do all that not-so-glamorous maintenance work of a travel photographer.
So this is Calcutta. Through the window….it looks like a beautiful dream.
While it’s certainly more comfortable to sit in an air-conditioned room or vehicle watching everything from behind the glass, you’ll barely scratch the surface. And it’s easy to be bothered by the heat, groaning every time you step out into it and focusing only on how uncomfortable you are. I’ve seen it happen, I’ve watched, and listened to, others do this. Three words: Get over it. The people of Calcutta live in this heat every day, with no A/C in their homes, cars or rickshaws. Your body will acclimate, you’ll adjust, and you’ll be glad you made the effort to accept it and immerse yourself into everything that is Calcutta.
Once you’ve successfully crossed over into the realm of being completely at one with the hot sticky humid environment of Calcutta, you’re home free. You’re no longer just a visitor…. you’re a part of life….
The afternoon was dedicated to visiting the “must-see” of this off-the-beaten-tourist-track city, Mother Teresa’s Ashram. No words can describe the overwhelming emotion of visiting not only the Ashram itself, but the nearby orphanage established by Mother Teresa. In her words, it is a refuge for…
“The hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” — Mother Teresa
To step into a room where knee-high children with big brown eyes hold their arms up to you, longing desperately to be held and carried, and to be told “please don’t pick them up” was a real test of my maternal heartstrings. But I found an agreeable compromise by sitting on the floor to read a book while the kids climbed onto my lap and leaned over my shoulders and watched my face as I was able to engage and love them without too much emotional bonding. This was an undertaking not for the weak of heart, and all I could think about was finding my strength in compassion and focusing on the power of love. Pure love. The Mother Teresa kind of love – love for all, and attachment to none. I somehow made it out without adopting a dozen children – although not without shedding a dozen tears. Photography was not permitted in the orphanage and I would have left the camera anyway. Some things are to be experienced with only the widest aperture of heart, not lens.
The next day, Calcutta revealed even more beauty than I could ever have imagined, with a visit to the Calcutta Flower Market on the banks of the Hooghly River. I always make a point of visiting local markets wherever I travel, for purposes of both cultural immersion and photographic opportunities. To simply walk through snapping pictures does not the experience make – the photographer must engage all the senses, listening and smelling and touching, in order to capture the image that tells the story.
I’m not so sure I succeeded in just one shot, and I really wish cameras were equipped with a scent-mic, in order to record smell. Sound, however, can be shared in a video clip, which also gives a good sense of the pace of activity in the flower market.
Now, what the video doesn’t show, and the camera can’t really capture, is the temperature. It’s hot. The outdoor temperature is in the upper 90’s (and it’s early). As if the heat in itself weren’t enough, it’s humid too. Like, candle-wax-dripping-wet humid. Now imagine that heat and humidity while under tarps in a crowded space, where you can’t walk more than a few steps without brushing, or being brushed by, a hot sticky body of someone else. And there’s your sense of touch put into words.
Still with me? Good. I spent way more time exploring this market than I had anticipated, and I savor every moment of that experience. The hustle, the bustle, the voices, the sounds, the scents, the odors, the feel, the life…..oh, the life. At times it was like walking through someone’s hot tired breath, but with wafts of freesia and roses. I was fascinated by vendors who spent hours of their market day just sorting and picking through flowers – imagine, doing that for your living. Working with flowers, nature’s beauty, and never taking a single one for granted.
As it turns out, there are flowers and art everywhere in Calcutta, sometimes obvious, other times, not so obvious. Here, a streetside tattoo artist creates flower tattoos on the arms of a young man, which are then dusted in bee pollen to prevent infection.
A trip to the northern quarter of the city called Kumartuli, also known as the potter’s village, revealed more arts and more body parts. Here sculptors and artisans work to create clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses, for use in shrines and festivals all over India…and the world.
So now, if the thought of Calcutta conjures up images of joy, beauty, and art, then I have succeeded in shedding light on this amazing and wondrous city of India… with my images, with my words, and with my heart and lens wide open. Namaste.