Varanasi an extended courtship..

We left Maha Kumbh Mela in a sea of slop and destruction. A sad ending to the biggest gathering of humanity in recent history. They are rebuilding the event now, but it wont be the same, as there was only to be another ten days or so for the final bathe. We left in a taxi the size of a butter box, taxies here mean a private car and usually in questionable condition. Ours was big enough to hold one suitcase only, the rest we had to live with on our laps. I was rotten with a cold, filthy and everything I owned was damp. The ride was relatively painless and the views were interesting. My mind was telling me we were going in the direct opposite direction then we were actually going. And the direction of the Ganga flow still confounds me today.
Getting in to Varanasi, or getting in to any city is always different to being there and the experiences of existing within that city. We drove off the highway and through a military base and then through a university into mass congestion where the taxi driver told us to get out and get a tuktuk literally-a motor rickshaw to carry thee men and 5 pieces of luggage. But it worked, and the rickshaw farted it was along crazed streets for a moment and then stopped and told us to get out and walk, and thats when the insanity really begins. The old part of Varanasi is ancient, a three dimensional latticework of passageways that weave around buildings constructed right beside each other with zero room between, and yet the cities ancient thoroughfares are its life. In amongst the buildings are tightly nestled Temples and in amongst those are the loving roots of the Banaras trees which provide an ever decreasing amount of greenery within the city limits, but are the homes to the millions of Monkeys which leap around from one impossible location to another. These passageways are wide enough for people to walk through and even enough for the occasional asshole on a motorbike to blast through. 4ft from the Shiva Guesthouse is the Varanasi Cautilya Community Intercultural society, which is a restored building and within its walls is one of the most attractive restored old buildings I have ever seen. Its modest dark green and maroon walls with a central opening on each floor all the way to the top floor of four, and on the top is a stunningly beautiful gothic library like something you would expect to see in turn of the century Europe, and the window butts right up against the balcony of the guesthouse, so you can see directly in the window and gaze upon the old books and Ivory lamps.

 

It wasn’t until nightfall that I realized the full extent of this geography, the guesthouse like all buildings here has a rooftop view and from there the sky is indigo and the city is charcoal grey with orange accents, and when you look down it looks like you are standing on a cool island of black rock in a random pattern of molten lava, as the orange street lamps cast a passing shadow on people as they catch a borrowed shadow and pass it on to the next.
I made some dimensional sound recordings from the roof and thats when the full extent of what you are seeing really actually comes to life. The layers of sound from close by, to far away are immense. Street sounds, including carts, shouts, conversation, children, dogs, squirrels and monkeys and the occasional low deep bellow of a cow, mixed with the myriad of different bird sounds, telephones, sewing machines, touts, a far away rave dominates the east and the white noise din of a busy city in the distance. Then there is the ritual sounds, bells for the hindu’s and the Call to Prayer for the Islamics. Quite an unbelievably rich an wondrous compliment to the visuals. And then of course there are the non-recordable’s like smells and flavours, which are reserved for the traveler and not the reader.

The best way I could begin to visually describe Varanasi would be to call it an ancient BladeRunner.

There is fire and there is water Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, Saraswati, Krishna, Parvati, Hanuman, Kali they all demand their fair share of attention in fire and water. Where ever you walk and wherever you look there is a shrine, there are shrines everywhere, some are so old that they do not bear any resemblance to the original god they were made to represent. There are more Ganesh (Elephant) then there are Hanuman (Monkey) shrines and they are typically 12” high relief granite or the like, tiles painted a garish orange and eyes painted on and thats usually it, but occasionally there will be some rotting marigolds and a handful of burned incense sticks.

 

Its quite something to be in a city with such massive levels of reverence and devotion to god(s). Even In Ireland I never came anywhere near this level of religious culture. Life and civility exists around the religion, everything takes a second place to devotion.

 

Its a city that in one week I have had many emotions about. Sometimes I love it sometimes I loath it. I love the architecture; the gothic Dickensian winding three dimensional latticework of thoroughfares, and I love the mix of black and colored accents like Bladerunner, I love the proximity of everything, nothing is more then a few minutes walk or further then arms reach. Cavernous, living~breathing, meditative, medieval city. I love the remnants of a certain style and the ultra slow pace of pop culture from one generation to the next. I love the sounds, and the layered levels of audio in any direction, conversation, street sellers, hawkers, bread men have horns, milkmen have bells, ice cream is a different bell, different sounds for different things. amazing!
Theres more I love but I forget about now, because they are weighted down with the loathings, I have a sadness in me about the filth. Its a completely filthy place. Black from the knees down exposed plumbing, shit; cow shit all over the streets everywhere, Dog shit in piles everywhere, human shit. Human piss and the frequency at which its delivered in public, I really love the idea of not having to wait around like in the US while waiting for the charity of some commercial establishment for you to have a pee, but theres a fine line between discreetly pissing behind a bush and stopping mid stride in an alley way full of 40 other people to block traffic while you squat and unload right where Im about to walk, and the fucking stench of waste, garbage, rotting flesh. I believe that it comes down to social responsibility and how Indians are in so many ways stuck in the stone age.

Ive had conversations with Store owners who understand you to a point but get completely lost when you attempt to get them to think in a different way. Like for instance the Curd seller, He sells his curd in these beautiful little clay pots, which he buys every day from the pot maker for a hefty price, and he put the curd in the pots and sell it for 15r a go. 10r of that is the pot. The pot is used once and thrown away. I talked to him about it and he said “once only, one time only then smash” So I said to him that it would save him a lot of money if he washed the pot and used it again, he was very excited about the idea of saving money, but couldn’t get his head around the fact that he would have to change his thinking to make that happen. Ive seen it countless times, that there is an apparent inability for indians to accept anything beyond their own sphere of influence, I can see it in about half the population. Perhaps it was like that in Ireland too, I dont remember, but I also dont remember ever having seen a people so obtuse with the potential of possibility.
The coughing, hacking and hocking and then the Spit the Indians do, its unreal, India is dripping with spit., their respiratory systems are fried from so much smoke. Fire is revered in india, as is smoke, as is Chilum (ganja), as is independence and commerciality so the city is fed with millions of two stroke engines, motorbikes, modern and old scooters, that just shit out the pollution far and wide..

Ok well its definitely time i posted this as ive been here now more then ten days maybe even two weeks I cant remember. Ive been sick I got a lung infection and went to a doctor for antibiotics now im recovering and its time to post this.

Maha Kumbh Mela 2

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Tribal woman at her tent the night before the big bathe on the 15th

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A tarp tent houses a camp of babas.

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Tibetan holyman poses for the camera with his Baba and Guru.

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Pilgrim with his Baba

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Mad Max Apocalypse Now

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A veritable army of civil workers cleaned up during the night at Kumbh Mela. This was a basket of Lye plonked on the ground at strategic points to be later swept.

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A pilgrim at Kumbh Mela

 

Maha Kumbh Mela

After coming to Varanasi and being here for a few days, looking back at Kumbh is like rubbing your tongue in the hole left by a pulled tooth. Kumbh is a distant memory, every white person in Varanasi has because we all bailed at the same time. The build up to, then the event and the aftermath we all seem to have similar sentiment towards it, ‘meh’ and apt American word for ‘yeah been there done that…Next!’. Im glad I went, Im glad I saw it, but Im left with a distinct sense of dissatisfaction.

The Kumbh authorities and organizers out-did themselves in terms of putting this unprecedented event together. 120,000,000 people in a 56 square mile area of Indian military engineering mastery; supplying fresh filtered water to everyone, workable roads paved in steel plate, and pontoon bridges, and the policing of such, and the refreshing level of sanitation, litter control and basic but fully functional hygiene and the army of workers who provided it was completely impressive.

The first time I stepped out of the Kumbh grounds I was approached by two students from Allahabad University who were conducting a detailed survey for non Indian travelers and what we thought of the event. The questions themselves were somewhat revealing in that they were asking a lot about what we thought about the administration of the event and whether or not it had much of an impact on us (yes it did), and whether or not we felt more devout about the high levels of celebrity Baba’s and whether or not they needed the level of coverage and pomp they received (no they didnt).

I went to see what millions and millions of people would look like and to feel the presence of such levels of humanity in my face, and the the most part the benevolence of the Indians meant that it was a peaceful affair. Everyone was on vacation, or were there in devotion and to seek enlightenment from their Baba and to bathe in the sacred Ganga, and to take little bottles of it home for their shrines.

The people that impressed me the most were the blue-collar workers, not necessarily only the lower caste, but the people who had put their lives on hold to go.

The Baba’s were a mix of the high profile dicks with their giant self promoting posters plastered everywhere expressing hollow and borrowed promises to their followers, then there were the smaller Baba’s who had less money prowess and smaller numbers of devotees and offered rudimentary accommodations in the shape of thatched huts with straw beds or tents with straw floor coverings, and then the lowest levels of Baba’s who had nothing but their meagre paraphernalia, a tarp and some pillows to offer their flock to come pray in front of a cleansing fire. And maybe share some of their hashish.

Then there are the various levels of holy men, most of which blend into one another without much of a difference in their ways, some stand out;
The humbleness of the Brahmen monks and their generosity is breathtaking. They are the ones who shave their heads and mark their forheads with stripes and lines, wear orange and carry with them a sick which has a small roof attached so they always have a place to stay. They fed me good food and asked only to be photographed. I would later meet the same Brahman in the chaotic twisted streets of Varanasi where he recognized me and gave me blessing.
Ahgori’s who relish death and devote themselves to it, who eat the flesh of the dead to consume death, they (of course) wear black, and have some party piece like bones or a skull to embellish themselves with a talisman. Later I would find out that they usually have to get mangled on whiskey before they can perform their flesh eating rituals..
Then there were the Naga’s. They are the renounciates, the ones who are naked, and cover themselves in ash and wear marigolds around their necks, and paint their faces and look like something from a White Zombie album cover.. They are also the ones everyone wants to photograph because they are the most outgoing and flamboyant, they are also the most conceited and have been known to smash a camera if you make a picture and dont pay for it. Asshole celebrity photographers have ruined for everyone including non photographers who want to follow their beliefs because the Naga’s know that they are currency in of themselves. I still managed to get the best shots of them on their way to the bathing just because I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

The Maha Kumbh Mela is more about show and pomp now then it could have been back in 2001. I saw awesome arrays of film making equipment with cranes and dollies and entire film crews squabbling with each other over locations.

Then the rain came, a giant storm, so much rain, and wind that smashed and destroyed anything up to 60% of the grounds. Some say it was an act of god, and how it would wash away the pomp and leave the devout. Im not going to argue with that.

20130213-14 First Night and Full Day at Maha Kumbh Mela

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Pilgrims wait by the entrance to an Ashram looking for a place to settle for their time at the Kumbh

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Tribal Pilgrim women gather around a straw fire outside one of millions of Army tents pitched outside of ashrams at Maha Kumbh Mela.

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Keeping warm is key at night for me it was warm for them it was freezing.

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Basic water supply was available all over the Kumbh grounds for pilgrims to avail of for drinking, cooking and washing.

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A family had gathered under a wall-less army marquee in an un marked area of the Kumbh, they beckoned me to come in a make pictures of their children.

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A pilgrim wanted me to make a picture of him at Kumbh, he has no way of contacting me for his image. I dont believe the man could write or read, despite the language barrier we had a good conversation.

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A man rests under a tarpaulin, to escape the direct heat of the Maha Kumbh Mela Sun.

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Commerce on the grounds of the Kumbh for pilgrims. This fruit and vegetable seller on the corner of the ‘block’ had better ssaled then those in the middle of the block.

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Boy Scouts of india, filled in for the Police to aide and give directions. This is a map of the grounds, from what I gathered later on, the grounds were approximately 56 sq miles.

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Clothing Logos in India are just that Logos, they mean nothing and mostly say nothing intelligible and all are in embroidered in English. I found this one on a chai seller, particularly hilarious..

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A bicycle would have been great at the Kumbh before the storm.

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Brahman Pilgrims circle and pray around a giant charnel temple, built by hand on the grounds. This was one of three that I could see, a fire is lit inside and the smoke is teh cleansing. Behind this was about 100 single person wooden pyramids where the monks chanted Om and the harmonics amplify the flames.

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Millions of army tents covered the Kumbh grounds outside of the Ashrams.

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Pilgrims walk around the fire temple with offerings.

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Reflections in a sewer pond opposite the Fire temple. You are never far away from food and sewage in India.

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A single monk sits by the corner of a field of “personal” chanting pyramids.

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Yours truly. Photo by Tim Durkan.

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A mystical figure in a back alley near my Ashram at Maha Kumbh Mela.

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A family gathers around a straw fire to chat and socialize, outside of their tent.

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An entire village of people who came from the south built their own village complete with village square, where the met fed along the tents and the women fed by the fire. They graciously let me in to make images of their life at Maha Kumbh Mela

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Matriarchs of the village, ushered us in and offered us food at Maha Kumbh Mela.

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Another tall mystical figure floated by me without a sound in the darkness at Maha Kumbh Mela.

 

20130203 Interdependence.

Goa. My memories of Goa were from a track that the Prodigy put out as a B side in 1994. I never even heard of the place until then. Blur and Oasis were kicking the shit out of each other in the pop charts and on the ‘techno’ side of things there were a handful of artists which spanned anything electronic as a term which included the Orb, Orbital and Future Sound of London, and more, which were anything but techno in the real sense of what Techno actually is today. Anyway Im sure theres someone out there to disagree with me, and thats alright discourse ist gut? Music always has contentious aggravators.
But back to Goa, I knew there was a contingent who were going there to party soak up the sun and as much “e” as possible and a few big DJs would go there and make a presence and then go back to Ibiza which was the party capital of Europe. It was two hundred and twenty five quid to jump on a plane to Ibiza for a week of sunburn, drinking and getting lucky with someone after the bar closed at never o’clock. A right of passage for a great many twenty somethings, getting away from the parents for the potential of a hot fuck and lots of partying.
Goa on the other hand was a more exotic location farther away and cost more to go to. it seems now that the place has a well established and well beaten track though its not as burned out as many other right of passage places primarily because Indians themselves are slow to move into the 21st century and that is a blessing and in return; the interest in coming here is less and so it remains a beaten path and not a highway. Despite it being a destination since the beatniks in the 1960s.

Sadly I have to say that my ten days here have been pretty uninspiring. It seems that the beaten path comes with some baggage in the form of a strong sense of peter pan syndrome (I’m coining that phrase if it hasn’t already been coined). Peter Pan Syndrome: in the sense that, may white people come to Goa to avoid growing up. Every day is a recovery from the night before, and every night is seeking out the next party and who’s going. Subsequently you get 45+ year old post burnouts who are so far from reality in any sense of the word, burned out over drugged, over boozed and over smoked people Its like the Break glass for Emergency Exit was broken but the Exit was never made. A lot of Yoga folks come to south Goa to get some peace from their ‘peace’ going specifically south for short terms but never leave, or go to expensive exclusive reports to avail of a genuine blast from the 1960s. I met some German people who all had children and had accrued them whilst on the road. People that who have been here for more than a year, here come here to get away from something and end up becoming assistants to yoga teachers in leu of enlightenment.

There are also Indian people who come here to work- migrant workers, a lot of them from up north Kashmir, Himalaya, Delhi, Punjab, Calcutta, Bangladesh etc to work as cook’s in teh scattered bamboo bars and leaf huts with mosquito repellent candles and broken plastic chairs.

Then there are the old guys Who left when the going was good as Hippies or renegades and they never left like they transcended from one level to another and never left. There are plenty of those in America also, but they arent like these guys who are typically intellectuals with self educated professorships in everything. They are in some cases stoners but not all, because there are people who left America to contentiously object to some policy, or had minor felonies, for crimes now deemed legal like possession of Marajuana.

i love the tropics, its a fascination I got from my time in Australia.. Living and working in cities forces you to look closely at the things in your immediacy because cities are fast moving and theres a lot going on. Existing in the jungle forces you to expand and see the world around you at a distance but with intimacy. Theres less to catch the eye with specificity but more to capture the spirit and magic. I think this is why I like to make field recordings because its photography for the ear, capturing a more esoteric and expansive reality with the intimacy that playback is.

I have more to say about Goa but for now lets move on.

In my 20s I decided that I was going to try my level best not to own a car before I was 40. and so I never owned a car before I was 40. And so learned to ride a scooter in Goa and for the liberation of the natives to my righteous new message which my people are working on as we speak. Perhaps Ill have to get into the rat-race of car ownership if I ever get back to city life. I hate the reality of it but love the concept and the independence. One thing I realize having come away from America is that I actually really love it there, and that I want to soak up as much of at as I possibly can. Its a fascinating country with a lot going on under the covers.

From Lucknow to Maha Kumbh Mela 2013

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I think this is the only shot I took in Lucknow. It was straight off the plane and into the hands of a bunch of 20 something white people who navigated the financials with a taxi driver to take us on the “2.5” hour drive to Allahabad which ended up being 5.5 hours. There were 5 of us in the car, 2 russians 2 yanks and an Austrian. The russians were a Teacher~Learner Combo the austrian was an intellectual student and then there was me and Charlie.

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The landscape up here is quite different to Goa, but not insanely different, the views from the car window were very serene the kind of image of India Id expected to see when I first got here. Unfortunately I had no time to get out and shoot any images. However every 30 minutes there was a small town and though similar they were all different. I wont know what the names of them ar until I have a better connection and the time to go through my GPS and google earth..

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This town apparently doesnt like cars..

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20 minute cram job traffic jam where EVERYone sits on the car horn whilst waiting for something they have zero control over -the train- passes through. –note the guy in the middle of the pic taking a piss! This is something I will miss back in the US, just being able to whip it out like we were kids in Ireland and take a whizz behind a bush or do it india Style and just letter rip in full view..

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The first view I had of the Ganga river (Ganges) was through the linearity of the passing two dimensional stage sets that are life as you you drive by in a car..

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Mother Ganga, this is one of 20 or so pontoon bridges built by the Army Core of Engineers a long time ago, they are still as functional as they were back whenever they were built, and they provide a striking visual narrative to traversing this giant river.

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My first visual exploration of my Ashram or Camp was to not shoot it but to shoot out the back and see whats over the wall.. MILLIONS of heavy canvas army tents provided for free to anyone who wants to use them. Straw floors, a trench for shit and piss, and a faucet for every 50 tents. Functional and luxury for some. I saw some families inside these tents with their own lamps and fired going inside the tents, the tent material is a very heavy oiled canvas with moisture inside. theres a small flap for a vent which is completely ineffectual, but to locals that level of smoke is acceptable.

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In stark contrast, my room, has power, two lights, three mattresses and a flushing non indian style toilet and hot and cold water… I feel a bit of a fraud having this luxury but since the storms hit I feel ok about being a fraud.

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The fisrt thing I see the morning of the 13th. The color is so intense that even in shade the camera cant even begin to describe the colors accurately.

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The crowd at this years Mela is varied..

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This is a typical Ashram entrance, the workmanship is impressive, some of these things are 40 stories hight and are made from relief painted canvas stretched over intricate bamboo infrastructure. The work is really amazing. This particular one is all of the above plus sculpted polystyrene.

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Lunch was very kindly provede by the Brahman monks who sit on mats in rows and are given plates made from banana leaves which are stitched together with twigs, and then steam pressed to look like prison plates!!! and these are amazing, completely biodegradable and for all you wankers out there organic too. This chap definitely wanted to have his picture taken and after I did he arranged for us to get dinner. After the meal the monks are handed 10 Rupee notes as a blessing, and I expected that Id have to pay so I offered and I got laughed it by 200 monks!

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This is the brahman guru and his sadhu who fed us. He recently had a haircut and he showed me his picture in the paper pre-cut and I recon he lost about 20 years after the cut. What a sweet guy, I took a bunch of pictures for him and he was just non stop friendly.

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This is one hell of a bridge.. and I have quite a few pictures of it. Taj Expressway Ring Road Bridge.

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Charlie sitting in the Naga Ashram (the name fails me now), and one of the Babas sat beside us and called him “Motorcycle Baba”

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Pop Corn! I swear I only saw this once in the whole time Ive been here!

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Ganga

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Ganga

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Theres a lot of these guy about, I dont think they are Babas and they are not Hari Krishna

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The end of the road I am on in Sector 9 on the way down to the Sangam where the bathe will occur.

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The white spots are Lye placed in a wicker bascket and plonked onto the ground to deposit just enough Lye to later be swept over the ground by someone else. The sanitation and littler control at the Kumbh is extremely impressive. Everything is done by hand, and every road is taken care of at night.

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Taj Expressway Ring Road Bridge.

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A fortune teller. The bird comes out of the cage and picks a card, and that card has your fortune on it. He gets the bird back in the cage by reaching around the back of the cage and pretending to feed it. Its impressive.

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The other famous bridge here is the railway bridge.. ohh if I could only get on top of that thing the image possibility would be incredible.. Its clearly a lot older then the other bridge as its redbrick. I dont know what its called but a name I found is Jhusi Railway..

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Nice handwriting

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Baba 1008 and the rest I cant even begin to spell or pronounce. His thing is peace and divinity through self awareness and his party trick is to drink out of a Human skull. These guys are all show men no doubt about it even though they say they are not.. He was a very nice guy a friend of Charlies, and he introduced me to two college professors who would like to work with me in the future.. !

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And then there are the complete show queens..

 

Last days in Goa

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Eagles..

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Almost prehistoric looking place, this is a peninsula with igneous rock and giant man swallowing fissures. The foliage is bizare and alien to the rest of the landscape, there are Leemurs in the trees and Giant Eagles by the truckload..

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Pen? You have Pen? The local Hells Fairies gang came out to meet me and ask me if I had any pens for them..

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Fisherman repair their nets. Amazing to watch the unity at with they work and the speed.

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Goa recieved its independence from Portugal later then India did from the Commonwealth. There are still strong vestiges of their past around north goa. Architecture, churches, and Nuns!

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Blessed wax body parts outside the church od St Francis of Xaviour.

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St Francis of Xaviour. was not recognized as a saint by the rest of the Catholic church.

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Consumerism is coming to India whether you like it or not, and its swallowing up the hearts and minds of everyone.

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I wonder what Bryon Gysin would have thought of this.

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Here he ism entombed, and his body hasnt decayed one iota since his death..

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I dont know whose ones these are but they have writin’ on them!

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Lets put this int perspective here, Islam, Hindu Sikh’s and al the rest no one knows how to do children scaring grotesque quite like catholics..

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yes, its a wall of death..

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Original hippy town..

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Cool kids checking the white guys out at the barber..

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Some Germans on the beach had a hot air balloon. Ive never seen one of these actually ever take off..

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Fisherman in Galjibag Confluence.

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