A Man and his Goods
There are so many nuts and spices for sale in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk that they extend beyond the shops and into the streets.
India is a sensory feast: a multilayered tapestry of sights and sounds in colours that pulsate, wrapped in a rich weave of smells, where the aromas of flowers and cardamon battle with the stink of dust and refuse and the unwashed. Even the air has tangible depth.
Nowhere is this better epitomised than in Chandni Chowk, one of the oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi.
Designed by the favourite daughter of the ruling Emperor Shah Jahan in 1650, the bazaar originally featured a central pool – long since gone – which shimmered in the moonlight, leading to the name: Chandni Chowk or “Moonlight Square”. The area is still home to historic mansions and the ageing homes of tradesmen and craftsmen; old mosques, churches, temples and shrines; and shops and restaurants selling all manners of goods and foods. Said to be the largest wholesale market in Asia, the goods and services spill out of the myriad of shops and into the rabbit warren of streets already packed with boxes, people, stray dogs, and the odd car. Some of the winding laneways are positively claustrophobic, with unbroken rows of four-story shophouses closing out the sunlight, and a hot, muggy sky, tangled with electrical wires and the odd bits of tinsel overhead.
And, like everywhere else in India, it is almost as if the colour and the chaos is putting on a cultural show especially for the passing tourists. I’ve spent time in Chandni Chowk on a few occasions over the years: twice with organised photography groups, and once on my own. On each visit, I’ve discovered something different. And, each time, people have either posed for portraits, or actively invited me and my camera to play “voyeur” as they go about their daily lives.
Truly a photographer’s paradise!
Street in Chandni Chowk
The streets that make up Chandni Chowk are always crowded: full of pedestrians and people on cycle-rickshaws clutching their purchases.
From turbaned Sikhs …
Chandni Chowk Shoppers
… to beaded and pony-tailed Hindu priests – …
… there is something for everyone.
Old Woman Selling Flowers
Not everyone has their own shop. A simple burlap tent is one way of demarcating territory. Marigolds are always in demand as temple offerings.
My favourite part of any market is the fresh produce…
… and the characters who sell it.
Man Selling Vegetables
I’ll settle for a smile!
You can buy freshly squeezed juice on the street.
There is a new sight around every corner. These children were piled into their pedicab to go to school. It always amazes me how crisp and clean they always look!
Men on a Stoop
There are temples and shrines throughout the market, so flower sellers do a good business.
Chandni Chowk Gateway
There are the odd quiet corners, …
A Heavy Load
… but most laneways are a hive of activity.
Khari Baoli Street in Chandni Chowk is the spice market …
… where all kinds of spices, nuts, herbs and other dried food products are available.
Dried Foods in Khari Baoli
Dried fruits, nuts, spices and pulses are priced and on display.
Men Playing Cards
All kinds of activities are conducted in the streets; …
… the local barbers have customers lined up …
…for shaves and haircuts.
The shops are crammed full …
… with their colourful goods.
Khari Baoli Road
Shophouses and their billboards, wooden carts, pedicabs, piles of rubbish, and traffic: the wholesale spice market is a busy place.
Dog in Chandni Chowk
Street dogs just watch the scene.
Young Man at a Shopfront
I love Chandni Chowk – but I have to limit my time there. In this network of crowded streets full of shops and people, “sensory feast” can easily tip into “sensory overload”.
Like an overly-rich meal, a little can go a long way!
Until next time,
Pictures: 12April2008, 08April2010, and 04November 2013
Nomad on the Horseback
The lifestyle of Mongolian nomads is firmly rooted in the past – but they in no way eschew modern comforts. Herding sheep and cattle may be easier on horseback, but a shiny new bike is handy for the trips to the nearest (distant) town.
Think of Mongolia, and you think of nomads.
Nomads on horseback, driving their herds of goats, sheep, cattle and horses across the vast, rugged expanses of Central Asia, are still an important feature of the Mongolian landscape. In spite of a 2.78% annual rate of urbanisation (according to the CIA World Factbook), Mongolia still has one of the smallest urban populations in the region, and the nomadic idea is an integral part of the national psyche.
About 30% of Mongolians are nomadic or semi-nomadic, spending at least their summers in their portable ger housing close to their animals’ grazing lands, and living much as they have for hundreds of years. The herds live off the land, and the nomads live off the milk, meat and skins of their livestock. Fermented mare’s milk – airag – is popular, and milking the horses is one of the many daily activities (see: From Kharkhorin To Tariat).
This is not to say that nothing has changed.
Thanks to the advent of solar panels, between 60 and 70 percent of the nomadic population now has access to electricity for their mobile phones, radios, televisions, and electric lights. Children generally study in the cities, many at boarding schools, returning to their families’ ger camps during the summer. While horse culture is still central to nomadic life (Mongolia is home to more horses than people), reliance on horseback is reduced by motorcycles and trucks.
I was crossing the Mongolian steppes with a small group of photographic enthusiasts, under the leadership of local guides G and Segi, and photographers Jeffrey Chapman and Winslow Lockhart from Within the Frame. We had spent most of the long day before bumping along in our Russian UAZ (Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod) four-wheel-drive vehicles (see: Tosontsengel to Har Termes Uul), so it was a great relief when on this – our fifth day on the steppes – we pulled in to visit a family of nomads.
Do come along!
Hut on the Lakefront
We started our day across the road from the popular summer destination, Khyargas Lake – deserted in the late-September low-season.
To call our hotel rustic is to give it too much credit! I’m not sure what the outdoor ‘pool’ is about; there are no toilets or running water inside. (iNstagram)
Cabins on Khyargas Lake
The cabins across the road – presumably also without plumbing – have far more charm. (iNstagram)
Mountains in the Distance
Snow-capped mountains float in the distance as we continue our drive west, …
… stopping at the boom gate …
.. before driving into Ulaangom (Улаангом: Red Valley), the local provincial capital, just 120 kilometres (70 m) south of the Russian border. We stopped for supplies – including sweets for the family of nomads we were about to visit. (iPhone6)
A traditional ger (Mongolian; yurt in Turkic languages) is a round tent covered with skins and felt used as a portable home by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia. Today their construction might include plastic tarps, and their transport from one place to another is more likely to be by truck rather than by ox cart.
Children of the Ger
It was unclear to me how many families were gathered in the ger, …
Child of the Ger
… but there were three or four young children in the group.
Inside the Ger
Inside the home is remarkably spacious. The central stove for heating and cooking has warm fermented mare’s milk, or airag, on it. This is served with yak butter in it. Not my favourite drink – it tastes a bit like warm yogurt.
A group of women has gathered in the ger to sew pelts together.
Hands at Work
With their leather thimbles, the women work quickly …
… putting together a patchwork of beautifully soft cashmere (otherwise called pashmina) goat pelts.
Mother and Son
Mum, in traditional clothing, sits in front of a very-modern power-storage system.
Mum and Toddler
This little urchin already has a mouthful of the candies we have brought with us on our guide’s advice.
Nomadic Man and Child
Back outside, a man in his traditional deel overcoat and heavy boots …
… poses for pictures.
“A Mongol without a horse is like a bird without the wings.”
The rugged local horses are central to Mongolian nomadic culture.
A Man and his Horse
Every member of the family is likely to have their own favourite animal.
We said our farewells, returned to our trucks and continued across the open plains westward …
… day-dreaming about almost-wild Mongolian ponies.
Wet Mountain Road
The paved roads slip away quickly in the Thai hills of Mae Hong Son Province.
I love driving into Thailand’s green, jungle-draped mountains, where the clouds hang so low they look like snow patches, and the sun traces the outlines of dark post-afternoon rainclouds and glints off the golden Buddhas and bejewelled temple rooftops.
If you turn off the highways, however, it is not long before the ornate temples – and even the paved roads themselves – disappear.
This is the territory of the Thai “Hill Tribes”; ethnic minority groups who are often Animist, sometimes Christian or Buddhist, but seldom rich enough to guild their places of worship. Some of the remote villages in these hills host trekking ethnographic-tourism, but mostly the people farm hill-rice for themselves on the steep mountain slopes, and eke a meagre living out of the market produce they grow. When I first visited the region, it was all cabbages; today they have branched out into corn, tomatoes, and soybean. But, what they get payed for the product of their labour, compared to what the consumers in the valleys pays for the produce, is a pittance.
It’s a hard life in this land beyond the reach of electrical poles and telephone service! But, the people are invariably welcoming – as I have discovered on all my previous trips into the region.
This last May (see: The Faces of THEP), I was travelling with a small group of educators who manage the Thailand Hilltribe Education Projects (THEP), which I’ve written about several times before (see: Ursula’s Weekly Wanders: THEP). It was day three of our travel with the indefatigable Susan Race, the driving force behind THEP, and we set off early in the hopes of getting up the steep roads before rains washed them away. Unlike the locals who navigate the treacherously slippery and rutted muddy tracks on motorcycles, we had the luxury of travelling in four-wheel drive utility trucks. Even so, there were some hair-raising moments!
We were off to visit a school high in the hills at Ban Huay Mae Gok – a village so small that it is invisible to my Google Maps. As remote as this village school might be, the children who attend it live in even more inaccessible locations: hence the new dormitory project that THEP was supervising. For without somewhere on-site to live, hill tribe children from these far-flung mountain hamlets cannot attend school at all.
Join me on a school visit beyond the guide-books.
Rudraksha (ไคร้ย้อย) Tree
The dainty flowers on a rudraksha (Elaeocarpus grandiflorus) tree are known as fairy petticoats.
An hour or so out of Mae Sariang, we pulled in at a rest stop for a break, before turning our trucks off the main road for a second hour of driving. Everything is a long way away in “The Hills”.
Champak (จำปา) Tree
The morning rain had washed everything clean, and the flowers on the champak (Magnolia champaca) tree smelled gorgeous.
Wet Muddy Road
The quality of the roads drops off pretty quickly as you leave the highway, and drive onto the dirt and into the rainclouds. (iPhone6)
When we reached Ban Huay Mae Gok School, we found the children gathered in dark classrooms. I looked at the solar panels around the grounds, and asked the principal why they had no power. He shook his head and shrugged: the school is beyond the reach of centralised electricity, and their storage batteries have expired and died. While their solar panels work in good weather, rainy season lasts a long time… When we visited, the school had been without power for about five weeks.
Karen Kids in the Classroom
The young Karen Hill Tribe children, many in their traditional shirts woven from purple cotton, …
Girls Learning their Letters
… practice their Thai writing on the floor of a dim classroom.
Thai is their second language: these children speak Karen with each other and at home with their families.
TV Receiver out the Window
We walked up a slippery hill to the newly-built and as-yet empty dormitory. Looking out the window, I could only reflect on the irony of having phones, television, and internet; all pretty useless when you have no power supply!
Workers out the Window
A couple of local men watch …
Checking the Toilet Block
… as Susan documents the progress of the building. She keeps meticulous records for reports to project funders.
THEP won’t pay for labour on building projects: schools need to find the money themselves, or persuade people to donate their time and skills.
Measuring for Bunkbeds
Susan and Khru Apichart – another driver behind THEP – measure the new dormitory for bunkbeds.
Giving Thanks before Lunch
Back at the canteen, the children are waiting for permission to start their lunch.
Focussed on Lunch
It is simple fare: white rice, fresh tomato, a cabbage and pork mixture, and a biscuit for desert.
An Imp and her Lunch
Some of the children are enjoying our company as much as their meals, …
Smiling Girls at Lunch
… while others are busy socialising with friends.
Little Girl – Big Plate
The tiniest girl in the room was also the slowest eater.
We were not sure if she was full, or had just run out of time, when she returned her dish to the washing-up area.
Karen Girls on the Steps
A couple of girls wave us off, as we head back to the school’s offices for our own lunch.
Food and Laughter
A trip into the hills with Susan Race to check on THEP projects is never short on good, fresh, local food – or on laughter.
At the Shelter
Just outside in a sheltered rest area, a Karen grandmother and girl, both in traditional, age-appropriate dress, wait for their transport home. The principal of this school is enthusiastic about promoting English – even though that is the third language for Karen-speaking communities who have to learn Thai to get by. All around the school grounds, there are signs in English, with the corresponding pronunciation and meaning in Thai.
Karen Grandmother and Girl
Grandma, who is wearing a beautiful mountain-coral necklace and a traditional head-wrap, has a mouth full of chewing tobacco. Betel nut has fallen out of favour.
Karen Kids in the Rain
It may be Saturday, and they may have had their lunch, but the children have not yet been released to go home; …
… Khru Usa and the school principal have some donated toothbrushes to distribute.
Outside the Classrooms
The Work Party
Meanwhile, representatives from the the school, the village, THEP, and the Department of Education finish up their discussions outside the office.
Susan and the Village Headman
Working with community leaders helps ensure more successful projects.
Rutted Mountain Roads
What drives up must go down again: soon it is time to get back into the trucks and navigate the mountain roads down the hill, …
… and onto the next project.
Chris Eaton and Chris Brooker
Billed as “5 Musicians + lots of different instruments = Great music!”, the Round Mountain Girls are local crowd-pleasers.
Support your local musicians!
In Australia, this is easy, for in the world of music – as with just about every other creative endeavour – the country is extraordinarily well represented, per capita, with talented individuals who work hard at their craft.
Although I love getting to see the international “big names” whenever I attend the annual Easter-weekend Byron Bay Bluesfest, I also enjoy indulging in the wealth of local talent – whether that be from old favourites, or from performers who are new to me. One of the many beauties of Bluesfest is the consistent quality of the music – wherever it hails from and whatever the style.
And so it was at this year’s festival last April. We studied our schedules with highlighters in hand, marking the people we had to see and groups we wanted to catch, and then filled in any gaps with whomever else was playing.
Not once were we disappointed!
Whether they were performers I’d listened to many times before, or new (to me) discoveries, the local musicians that I managed to hear were in fine form. This year, it just happened that every local performance I attended was centred on guitars and strings.
For me, it is almost as much fun trying to capture some kind of “essence” of the performers in digital portraits taken from the crowded audience spaces in dark tents – usually with the ISO turned up high on my “noisy” old Canon 5D Mark II to cope with the lack of light, and my second-hand 2.8 70-200mm lens (without image stabilisation) to deal with the distance.
Enjoy some of our local talent!
Australian singer/songwriter Jeff Lang is known for his guitar skills. He has played at Bluesfest before, and we’ve seen him there – and at the Thredbo Blues Festival (see: Summer Blues and The Blues in Colour) – and enjoyed him every time.
Jeff started out playing clarinet at a young age, and now plays slide and standard guitars, banjo, mandolin, Chumbush and drums.
On this occasion, however, Jeff left the drumming to one of Australia’s finest percussionists: Greg Sheehan.
Award-winning Australian blues guitarist Ray Beadle was in fine, toe-tapping form.
He’s played at Bluesfest before – he’s also spent time playing at B.B King’s Club in Memphis and Buddy Guy’s Club in Chicago. Impressive!
Emily Wurramara, the infectiously cheerful singer, songwriter and musician from Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, was one of the local performers at the Boomerang Indigenous Arts Festival, which ran concurrently for three of the five festival days. Her sweet voice and sunny disposition was an absolute treat (see: Blues Women Rock).
There is always plenty of entertainment and activity outside the tents.
Mother and Daughter Dancing
The gypsy dancers start young!
Young Girl Dancing
With her feet moving and her skirts swirling, …
… it is clear that this youngster was born to perform!
Chris Eaton – Round Mountain Girls
The band is known for their wonderfully frenetic live performances, but their recorded music is also a joy.
Chris Brooker – Round Mountain Girls
Chris Willoughby – Round Mountain Girls
Rabbit Robinson – Round Mountain Girls
Leaping around the stage like a leprechaun, award-winning fiddle player Rabbit Robinson is a joy to watch and listen to.
Lucas Proudfoot – Didgeridoo
Lucas Proudfoot, a member of the Tweed Coast Aboriginal and Islander Community, brought his extraordinary talents on the didgeridoo to part of the Round Mountain Girls’ set.
The sounds of a classic bluesy guitar enticed me into the Jambalaya tent on the second-last day of the festival when I was on my way to hear someone else. I stayed to listen to a couple of original songs and some story-telling before vowing to check Lloyd Spiegel out further the next day.
I absolutely loved him! And not just his guitar style: his stories about working in Japan demonstrating guitars, about his personal life, and about life as a musician, were all self-depreciating and very funny. “The only thing worse [for a guitarist] than playing after Ray Beadle,” Lloyd told us, “is playing before Jeff Lang!” There he was on the program, wedged between two of Australia’s great guitarists. “Jeff’s never heard another guitarist play at their best,” he continued. “As soon as they find out that Jeff is in the building, they sh#t themselves!”
Jeff Lang Back Stage
And sure enough, there was Jeff, checking his equipment before his set. As far as I could tell, however, Lloyd didn’t miss a finger-picking beat.
Mojo Tent at Sundown
As the sun lowered over the tents on the last day, we became aware that another festival was soon coming to a close.
We still had the last of the international big names to take in, but we were already dancing and singing, well “warmed up” by our excellent local performers.
Until next time,
One of the most photographed sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the charming Mabry Mill dates back to the early 1900s.
Steering the car off the turnpikes and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway is like stepping back in time.
One has to slow down instantly: the posted speed limit is never higher than 45 mph (72 kph), and the winding mountain curves ensure slower speeds in many sections. For the 469 miles (755 km) that snake through the valleys and passes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, there are trees and mountain-tops stretching into the horizon. The few homesteads or townships that can be seen in the valleys below are rendered idyllic by their very distance.
Appalachian frontiersmen – like Daniel Boone – were glamorised for their ruggedness and self-sufficiency. However, life of old in these mountains was far from romantic. The beauty of the environment has to be balanced against the relentless physicality of the lifestyle. Early farmers struggled not only against the harsh terrain and environment, but also against unfair taxation and lack of state funding for infrastructure development. Even in recent years, poverty indicators have remained high, and isolated pockets still exist without electricity or running water.
The Appalachian Scenic Highway, as the Blue Ridge Parkway was originally called under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, sought to preserve some of the history and culture of the hard-working mountain people who carved a life there, and to protect the flora and the fauna indigenous to the region. This is the land of bluegrass music, cornhusk dolls, intricate woodwork, and stunning patchwork quilts.
The first stop for my husband and myself after entering this “National Scenic Byway” at its northernmost point at Rockfish Gap, Virginia (Mile 0) late last spring, was at the Humpback Rocks Farm Visitor Center,;where we were able to appreciate how how hard these pioneers had to work (see: Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway Part 1).
Outbuilding – Humpback Rocks Farm (Mile 6.1)
Early settlers used ingenuity and the materials around them, building over creeks and using stone foundations for cold-storage areas. The cabin homestead and outbuildings at Humpback Rocks Farm all date to the 1800s, and were collected from the surrounding area as representatives of the self-sufficient 19th century farms in the region. (iPhone6)
White Tailed Deer (Odocoileus Virginianus)
As well as readily available building materials, enterprising settlers had plenty of game in the woods, …
… and wild fruits, nuts, and vegetables all around them.
Native American wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) still roam here. I just caught this one from the car window before s/he moved off into the woods.
View from the Window
Unlike the roughly-hewn farms of old, the modern farming operations we pass are tracts of very tidy flat ground. (iPhone6)
Tulip Tree Flowers
The open farmlands are interspersed with expansive National Forests. One of my favourite trees was the exotic Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), a native in these eastern North American Appalachian cove forests.
Mabry Mill in Spring
It’s a picture postcard: an old wooden mill, backed by stone bridges and wet spring Virginia woods.
Mabry Mill (Mile 176.1)
Some time before 1905, Ed and his wife Lizzie Mabry, together with their neighbour, Newton Hylton, started building a wooden gristmill, waterwheel, …
… and lengthy water supply system – all with local woods and hand tools.
Ed Mabry understood using water for power. In the late 1800s, he had a water-turned lathe, which he used to make chairs.
Bridge in the Green
The National Park Service purchased the mill and property from Lizzie Mabry in 1938, and finished the restoration in 1942. Today, visitors can wander around the gristmill, sawmill, and blacksmith shop.
Duck on the Lawn
The mill’s surrounds are beautiful; but one can only imagine the daily unremitting physical hard work …
Mabry Mill Tapestry
Today, the area is popular with tourists all year round, but especially during peak seasons, when old-time craft demonstrations take place. This tapestry is a eye-catching example of the artistic quilting that is a highlight of the region.
Puckett Cabin (Mile 189.9)
Puckett Cabin on Groundhog Mountain is a visual reminder of another great Appalachian
character: Orlean Hawks Puckett. Alternately called Orleana, Orlena, Aulina, or even Pauline, Orlean was born in 1837 and married at 16. The story is that she gave birth to 24 children between 1862 and 1881 – many were stillborn and none survived more than a day or two. It is not clear why all her children died; while it has been suggested that she or her husband murdered them, it is more likely that she had some disease that infected the baby, like Rh hemolytic disease. Without any formal education, and starting when she was almost 50, she reputedly went on to help deliver more than 1,000 babies without losing a single mother or child. She continued to work as a volunteer midwife almost until her death in 1939 at the age of 102.
Rain on the Parkway
Every mile …
View from my Window
… and every hour … (iPhone6)
… as we wound our way from Virginia into North Carolina …
… we could look out over the forests and the mountains and imagine them going on forever as they did in the past.
Back in the Modern World
Then, unlike the hardy pioneers, we pulled off the Parkway every evening, and re-entered the modern world for the night.
I guess highways and roadworks are part of the price we pay for our modern creature comforts.
It was a very different world for those early Appalachian mountain people – and still is for the communities even now living deep in the woods and mountains …
Until next time,
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