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Sharing my experiences of this beautiful world that we live in through photography. And some geeky tech photo stuff.

Kumbh Mela, crossing bridges

February 11, 2013  -  Festivals

Temporary pontoon bridges were built especially for the Kumbh Mela to help pilgrims get across the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. Most pilgrims stayed on the side of the Yamuna river and had to cross the pontoon bridge or the main road bridge to get across the Yamuna river to where the sadhus resided and where the main bathing would take place.

Millions cross pontoon bridges to get to the other side of the river.

Millions cross pontoon bridges to get to the other side of the river.

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Hard to imagine but it was this crowded from wee hours of the morning till late night.

Hard to imagine but it was this crowded from wee hours of the morning till late night.

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Kumbh Mela, scenes from pre-dawn

February 10, 2013  -  Festivals

For sure one of the most amazing experiences in my life was to attend the Kumbh Mela festival on the main bathing day on February 10th. To be amongst 30 million pilgrims was humbling and the lessons learned invaluable.

Here are some images from pre-dawn. I was up at about 3:30am and headed out to the main bathing area. It was tough shooting in the conditions present….crowds, low light (no light), and organized chaos. But here’s what I got. Some of the photos were taken at the Sangam, the meeting point, a sandy bank, where the Yamuna and Ganges river meet. Here’s where millions have come to bathe on the most auspicious day of the festival.

Boatmen making their way through early morning mist to the banks of the Yamuna river to ferry passengers to the sangam.

Boatmen making their way through early morning mist to the banks of the Yamuna river to ferry passengers to the sangam.

Thousands of people are continuously ferried by hundreds of boats to the sangam.

Thousands of people are continuously ferried by hundreds of boats to the sangam.

Pilgrims arrive at the sangam. The water is shallow here and you are able to stand safely. Most pilgrims bathe here.

Pilgrims arrive at the sangam. The water is shallow here and you are able to stand safely. Most pilgrims bathe here.

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At another sandy bank nearby thousands or millions I should say dip in the cold waters. It's crowded even at 4am.

At another sandy bank nearby thousands or millions I should say dip in the cold waters. It’s crowded even at 4am.

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Portraits of Sadhus, holy men of the Kumbh Mela

February 2, 2013  -  Festivals, Monks & Priests

As I get ready to leave for the Kumbh Mela festival later tonight I felt inspired to share portraits of some sadhus I had photographed over the years. Sadhus, Hindu holy men, are a big part of the Kumbh Mela festival. Thousands come out of seclusion to bathe in the confluence of the holy Ganges and Yamuna rivers in the town of Allahabad in northern India. I’m eager to photograph as much as I am to pilgrimage to this sacred event.

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A sadhu smears ash all over his body and face under the evening sun.

A sadhu smears ash all over his body and face under the evening sun.

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Thaipusam Festival images from Batu Caves, Malaysia

February 1, 2013  -  Festivals

Here are more images from the Thaipusam Festival at Batu Caves in Malaysia.

 A devotee carries a clay pot of fire and makes his way to the caves.

A devotee carries a clay pot of fire and makes his way to the caves.

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Tens of thousands of pilgrims of all ages make their way up the 272 steps leading into the cave.

Tens of thousands of pilgrims of all ages make their way up the 272 steps leading into the cave.

A young boy carries a pot of milk as part of his offering at this festival.

A young boy carries a pot of milk as part of his offering at this festival.

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Thaipusam Festival at Batu Caves, Malaysia

January 31, 2013  -  Festivals

On January 27th the annual Thaipusam festival took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Each year over a million Hindus gather at Batu Caves on the outskirts of the country’s capital city. It’s a Hindu festival dedicated to the deity Muruga and is held once a year during the Tamil month of Thai. Hindus of all ages pilgrimage here from around the country and overseas to offer their love to Muruga. Some perform tapas (penance). The performance of tapas helps to develop willpower and remold the subconscious allowing for the superconscious to flow through. Some of the form of penance involves various forms of piercing the body.

Here are some images from the Thaipusam festival I attended last year at Batu Caves, Malaysia.

A devotees takes a shower before beginning his journey up the stairs at  Batu Caves.

A devotees takes a shower before beginning his journey up the stairs at Batu Caves.

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Men and women of all ages come to offer their love to the Hindu deity Muruga.

Men and women of all ages come to offer their love to the Hindu deity Muruga.

Some devotees perform penance by piercing themselves. Miraculously there is no sign of blood or marks of the piercing.

Some devotees perform penance by piercing themselves. Miraculously there is no sign of blood or marks of the piercing.

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Feeding the Masses at the Kumbh Mela (Part 2)

January 24, 2013  -  Festivals

A lepper is given food by a pilgrim. Many use the Mela as an opportunity to feed the needy.

A lepper is given food by a pilgrim. Many use the Mela as an opportunity to feed the needy.

Continued from “Feeding the Masses at the Kumbh Mela (Part 1)” posted on Jan 23, 2013.

The poorer pilgrims slept on the ghats and on the vast, flat and empty surrounding areas. Many slept just on a tarp, with bundles of clothes as pillows. Often you’d see a family of five or six occupying a tarp, huddled together to stay warm in the cold nights covered from head to toe in a blanket. Food that they had brought can be seen being cooked over small fires, camp fire style minus the camp. Simple meals but enough to keep them going. Their journey here and their stay is not an easy one. Trains and buses packed to the edge of the door have been ferrying pilgrims to Haridwar over the last few days. Some have travelled days with children and elders in conditions even the experienced backpacker would fine tough to endure. These are the people that are almost always unnoticed at such events. These are the ones that you never read about. These are the ardent pilgrims.

Their will to be at the Kumbha Mela and be part of this amazing spiritual experience despite the conditions they endure is a true sign of their devotion. They truly have captured the spirit of pilgrimage. Each had come to take a dip in the holy Ganges river during these sacred days, making financial sacrifices among others to be here. Despite what seems to me to be a whole lot of challenges, they neither showed it on their faces or expressed it in their behaviour. Most can be seen excitedly building kavadis.

Kavadi is a structure, often constructed out of wood or bamboo, that’s shaped like an arched bridge and carried over the shoulder. On either end of the kavadi, these pilgrims have secured a vessel to carry some of the sacred Ganges water back to their homes and loved ones who may not have had the same opportunity to attend the Kumbha Mela.

For the homeless beggars these are better times. With so many devout pilgrims here, offerings are plentiful and food is in abundance. It is so nice to see people being generous and often throughout the day I’d see beggars being given food, money, clothing or other offerings.

For the rest of the pilgrims the hundreds of street stalls and restaurants across towns are the safe haven for their hunger pangs. Chef and cooks can be seen spending hours in front of giant woks and pots, Chapatti (Indian bread) makers are rhythmically patting out perfectly shaped chapattis all day and chaiwallas are brewing the finest chais. These are long hard days in front of the hot stove but financially very rewarding. Food can be seen pilled high at the entrance of restaurants tempting every pilgrim passing by to venture in for a meal.

Leaves are used as plates to feed the masses.

Leaves are used as plates to feed the masses.

At such events India leads the way in keeping a greener planet. Banana and other large unidentified leaves are used as plates in which to serve the pilgrims. After which all the “plates” are thrown out in a heap by the side of the road for the meandering cows to then consume. These well fed cows now leave in return a heap of manure which is taken, dried into patties and used by the sadhus and pilgrims as fuel in their fires for cooking or keeping warm. The perfect environmentally friendly cycle of use and reuse.

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