Amazing Environmental Audio from Maha Kumbh Mela

I’ve been back from India just over a year now, back living in the US and in that time its been a real struggle, both on a personal level and financially.
Looking back on that time, a half-year spent in India, thinking about it and thinking about how much I miss it, and yearn for the Utopian chaos to run through my veins once more.
I have edited my photography over and over trying to extract the essence of the experience. However the personal journey that India was to me, has obscured my objectivity, something that only time can distill.
I have started once again on the editing process, going back over the audio recordings I made, and in doing so, had an epiphany about the work. I realize that I have no choice but to go back to India, and capture more audio, this time with an expanded kit. And to dedicate much more time and effort into making quality environmental recordings.
Audio recordings offer a taste of reality that video and photography simply cannot touch. Where video has to be constructed to make a compelling presentation, and photography provides specificity, and depth, that depth is within just that contextual intimacy.
Audio offers a living reality of time based exploration. Audio treats the consciousness to a wide layered mental vision, one that the mind is intrinsically connected to, there is no learning to listen, whereas there is learning to read photographs.

This Location Sound during the Anup Jalota concert at Pilot Baba’s Ashram camp 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela, Sangam Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh India. I had decided to walk around the sector 9 area where the ashram was located, about 7 miles from the actual main bathing area.
You can hear all of the local sounds, and the far distant sounds of the millions (130,000,000 to be more accurate) of pilgrims who existed at the ‘city’. Headphones highly recommended. Sit back and enjoy the Mela as I did for thirteen minutes.

Just a reminder..

To anyone who has in their possession any of my images, video or sound recordings, that I have not given anyone any permission or license to use any of my images, and no such permission or license shall be implied by their possession of digital or otherwise electronic analog or physical copies of any of my images, video, sound recordings, and that I trust none of my images will be incorporated into any work, and that my policy is to aggressively defend my copyrights to the full extent of the law.

If you do have copies of my images, video or sound recordings and want to use them for any reason, you must contact me before hand without exception.


The heat becomes you. Heat dictates everything. Your life revolves around it. In extreme temperatures, anything above 38c, the body reacts differently, even for those who are used to heat. It takes over your actions, what you do, how you do it, when you do things where you do things, what you eat, what you drink, and how much of both. Heat mandates that you segregate everything and do those tasks in small amounts. Currently its averaging between 38c and 44c surprisingly enough I have been fine in the extremes. I have to wear socks in my shoes because my shoes become too hot for my skin, and in places where you are not allowed to wear shoes it is essential that you have socks on because the temperature of the ground is enough to dry spit in 20 seconds. It will make an ice cold 1L bottle of water hot –30c– in 20 minutes. Inside a car that is reduced to about 10 minutes. Its easy to print figures and say oh look its 44c outside, but its a different thing entirely to know how those figures actually behave in terms of what those figures mean


The decision to leave Pushkar was made for me by the enticing idea of working again on a project Im not allowed to discuss. Needless to say its a sensitive topic in India and lives are at stake, as well as our own freedom if it were discovered what we were trying to achieve in terms of truth telling through documentary.

This is probably the biggest current affair topic Ive worked on in the last decade, and it feels good to be back in the loop -hows that for ego?


Pushkar was ultimately a fulcrum point for me in terms of learning how to deal with a few things by my self. I spent 11 days there two of them were completely buried in unemployment bullshit from the US, Im still fighting that decision now after a year because it wont leave me alone. Im so over it that Im over being over it. Do much so that when it came to paying the bill in the SunSet hotel I thought Id only been there five days instead of seven.
I also went through a period of self reflection and spent a few days meditating on matters. Something brought me clarity. After that I started meeting interesting people. There is nothing like silence for three days to really make you think. My sweet friend Isil from Istanbul who I met in Varanasi went on a retreat for that very same purpose but did it for ten days, and what she said she got from it was life changing. Im changing my opinions on meditation. Meditation is different from alone time. Alone time to me is something that I have to have, its time to do my shit anything I want for a period of time every day. I need it or I go nutso, but i know that a small doses are better then big doses, makes you appreciate that time more.

Pushkar was also a challenge for me in that I had to stand up for the things I believe in and accept that those beliefs clashed with the beliefs of others, and with that discourse has to be opened to find common ground. I spent a day with a fantastically independent free thinking woman named Daisy who rambled with me for many hours on many topics and in that period opened my eyes to things I hadn’t even begun to think about. Her ideas rattled me and made me think hard about derivatives of those sentiments.

Pushkar is tiny, and you could see everything in a day and a half, but its so relaxing that I had to stay, sit and soak in the heat the light and the silence of the mid afternoon sun. I never did trek up any of those hills like I wanted to, but Im not really that bothered. The place gave me something else instead and I’m more then happy with that.


It was surprizingly easy to get a ticket out in the end. I had been trying to get a ticket for a few days and I kept going to these rat-hole travel “agents” that tell you that they cant get you anything for whatever reason. Finally I went to the highstreet guy and he instantly got me an express train directly from Ajmere to Bhopal, 5pm departure 6am arrival. Bingo. I got on the train, bedded in, played videogames for a few minutes fell asleep and woke up in Bhopal. How perfect is that?


Arriving back in Bhopal again, was a little strange but it gave me confidence, because the city the first time was a bit intimidating for me arriving in India, and this time around it was familiar and the people here are definitely more relaxed, have a great sense of humour and dont try and rip the tourists off because nobody comes to bhopal for tourism, so Im Mr Exotic Noveltypants again. Its dominated by Indian Muslims, and after being in Hindu dominated places for two months, I can honestly say that Islamics are definitely more grounded and have less conflict within the religion then Hindu seems to. Also the food is better.


ME MATE STeve said i would just for the crack.

an indian menue in restaraunts are notorious for the most imagintive phonetic spelling of english words. Ive seen Shup on the menu, and when I asked the witer, he said ‘Soup” through a bushy mustache and mouth full of mangled red teeth, and with an indian broken english. Magic.
The best one Ive never sen was told to me by a neighbour in pushkar, guy names Lance who was a 63yo guy who looked 52, his buddy steve and their wives. they were totally great, I loved the reconnect to old times through these guys.
Lance told me that in one restairant he was here the spelling for ice Cream was all perfect except the last one which was two seperate words “Black Krunt”.

I think that takes the cherry.

Pushkar to Bhopal

Pushkar is the Brahman Hindu ‘Capital’ photography there now is limited due to arbitrary rules.
beautiful hard contrasty light.
Tribal people are without a doubt the most attractive people I have ever seen.
Mining, by hammering holes into solid rock and jamming dodgy dynamite into the hole. three sets of three guys were ferrying trailer loads of this Marble to Ajmere to sell, this amateur effort will in time be picked up by the chinese who are ruthless business people and next thing you know this mountain wont exist anymore. 500rs ($10) for a 1×1 meter slab of marble.
around every corner.
Pigeons home to roost on the temple rooftops in Pushkar.
Chicken Express
A boy re-threads string from a bobbin onto his spool for kite flying. He used a bicycle wheel to make it happen. Innovate.

Welcome to wherever you are

I left Varanasi thinking that I needed to get out and get away from it because Id been there for long enough; being a social street ‘photodocographer’ means that you are always seen as that but in normal life you get up in the morning and go about your day and in there for segments you are thinking critically. But when you travel, you put yourself into a new frame of mind where you try and out perform a way of thinking and soon you realize that life itself has to take some control too, so you are never just doing photography. Its hard work thinking critically, its exhausting, especially if you are not inspired. I certainly cant do it, and when you are traveling the time spent not doing that starts to haunt you. You begin to believe that you are wasting precious time and that opportunities are being missed because you are having a moment with a beverage and a conversation. So I left after nearly a month thinking that I had a good run at it, I got to see it in the chaos of post Kumbh madness and then the chaos of Shivaratri and a different kind of tourist -Indian tourists- and then watch the city get quiet as the heat rolls in, and the mild panic that you need to leave because the only other tourists there around you are the ones who are also feeling the same way as you do or are the ones out for the long haul.

So I made the decision and tried not to think about where I was going, and to just go, because thinking about where I was going to go was actually part of the problem, well if I go here I could go there and if I could go there then I could be somewhere else, and my friends went here so I could try and follow them or I could just go back to the places that I didnt get to see earlier and so on and so forth. Either way, I made the decision to get the ticket and so I did. I booked the ticket and paid for it and then thought that I should get another ticket from there and on to the next place to get that momentum thing going like I mentioned previously. However, i should have thought about it a bit more and pre-booked a few destinations ahead, because I am here now in Pushkar, and I know this place is not going to suffice for very long. It will to an extent but Varanasi spoiled me in terms of it being so rich in visuals and all of them close at hand.
Im in Pushkar, one of those places people come to shortly after they get off the plane and start their travels. I made it a destination, and I assumed that it would be a similar vibe to Varanasi but its not, its so small that if I spent a week here it would feel like a month in Varanasi. Pushkar, despite its historical value, is now just another ugly scar in the overall rising vat of social change in India. Its a beautiful temple rich pond surrounded by cartoon crazy hills and mountains and is the home of the Brahman another sect of Hindu. However, its small streets are scorched with the entropy of social human growth and tourism. The hamlet is full of young indian guys with fake Ray-bans, bad haircuts, ill fitting stone washed jeans and motorbikes. There are no female equivalents because they live in the bigger cities and actually have something to do, but there are self proclaimed Gypsie women and girls who dress in rich colors and do nothing but push hard on the tourists for baksheesh which is the Indian word for gift. Some of them will offer to dance but most of them are nothing but irritating distractions like opening a jar of flies in your face. There are so many of them and all they do, all day is bother tourists for money. It really discourages me and makes the whole experience very unpleasant in the extreme. There are the guys who stare and just want to walk with you and know “what is your country?” followed by what is your name and then the sales pitch starts ‘I make this instrument I can play for you would you be interested in that?’ and if you say no thank you then the sagas start why are you being rude? what is the matter with you? why are you insulting me? and so on. So much so that it forces you to take refuge in a cafe, and even then they will follow you in and sit in front of you to try and intimidate you. my baby face doesn’t help matters either, about three times now I have been touched by younger guys on the street who want to know if Im actually a man, in one case I actually felt a hand between my legs. I cannot even begin to image what its like for single girls who travel alone. Ive done the intelligent conversation and reasoning so many times, and Ive done the fuck-off line a few times though I dont like that because its a last gasp measure. If guys see you with girls they will typically try and tag along, and if they see you later on on your own they always come up to me in a confrontational manner and ask if those girls want to fuck and if I could arrange it. “well you didnt fucker her so why cant you arrange it for me?”

So I rolled in on the train tonight after an express ride from Jaipur, a pretty uninspiring city which has one or two interesting things to see like the observatory, the fort and the pink city which was painted pink two million centuries ago by Maharaja Ram Singh who was having a meeting with the then prince of wales. Now the pink city is still pink by order of the city, but in all honesty its really not pink at all its more orange, though I dont know if that as a result of the indian take on pink or the pollution. After taking my daily my lonely Planet pill I decided that jaipur just didnt have enough for me to actually spend more then about seven or eight hours in, but what I didnt realize is that the train would be late so the seven or eight hours really got trash compacted down to just two and a half hours. Which i used the services of Rahm who bounded me around the city in 90 minutes in his auto rickshaw for an astonishingly high price which I could have spent on food but opted for the whirlwind tour instead. Thankfully I was briefed by a great Dutch guy back in Varanasi that he would try and bring me to every bazar in town and every market that his friend owned because he gets a kick-back for the trade, so I instructed Rahm accordingly. First place he brought me to was his brothers Saree shop, and then to the Bazaar and then to another one, and when I asked him to stop he got a bit upset with me but lightened up when I asked him to take me to the Islamic sector so I could have to real food and a cup of decent Islamic chai. We never made it to the food place because of traffic but we did have a regular cut of boring masala chai. Then Rahm brought me back the the station where the usual melee of trying to find out which platform your train will arrive on and when and how much its been delayed etc. I got to the right platform and waited a full three hours for the express train to arrive. i had ordered an AC2 Sleeper and really I didnt need it. Express train is exactly that; a normal 6 hour train ride was actually only two ours by express. I met a really fantastic Indian gent by the name of Rakish (rah-keesh) who was a university Chemistry lecturer and we had a very enlightening conversation about world economics but really the curiosity about America was the topic.

As we rolled in to Ajmere Rakish told me to get a place to stay in ajmere because Pushkar was ultimately expensive and a tourist trap he’s not the first person Ive heard say that. However as soon as I stepped off the train and out of the station I had a handful of boys ask me where in Pushkar I needed to go. Pushkar is only about 10-12km and its a 30 minute ride in an Auto Rickshaw from Ajmere, but its trough the Snake mountain pass and if it was daylight it would have been a good view. I didnt have a place to stay and the rickshaw drivers arranged it by phone before we arrived, but in all honesty I knew they were just going to drop me at the first place that had a room. And literally it was the first place that they drove to right on the road heading in. The Mahavani Haveli or something like that was an impressive white marble place with a nice foyer and when I was asked how you stay I said 3-4 nights, I asked the room prices and ultimately I bargained for a 500rs room and was put in a yellow room just behind the front desk. I threw my bags on the bed and turned to Carbonite after a heavy 24+ hour transit.
I woke up the next morning at 6am to the banging on my door from the front desk person who ushered me out of the room stating “room change-room change, you must go” uh eh where? “this room” and they put me in a Blue room further from the front desk and almost instantly there was squabbling between some Dutch travelers who had been looking for the room I was put into. The Yellow room I was in, was magically transformed into a classroom replete with my dirty sheets! I stayed in the Blue room for an additional two nights and on the morning of the second night I was rudely awoken by the front desk guy again stating “you finish, now you go”, when I asked him what that was all about he said that Id said 3 days and the rooms had been pre-booked by a group and that I had to leave. So I pretty much lost it with this guy, after he had twice stormed into my room and with all manner of demands, I lost it so much so that Ive never seen an Indian back down with a white person, unless you are smarter then they are and can run rings around their techniques, which Im not very good at but Im getting better. He eventually said I could go to another room for 800rs a night and I argued that I should get one of those rooms for 500rs because he was kicking me out. He came back a minute later and said I could keep my room for 500rs but that Id have to pay a special fee of an additional 100rs to stay there. So I got up packed my shit and went looking for another place. In 30 minutes Id wadered around to seven places and was offered rooms from four of them, and they all asked where I was saying and I said I didnt want to say that they ALL replied ah must be Mahavaneli Haveli found another spot that was a decent price and in a really nice place called the Sun-Sat, which is “ind-glish” for Sun Set, Hotel with a nice big garden and a handful of Israelies and other tourist scavengers. I booked a room for three nights and went back to the white marble hovel and checked out. The desk guy was beside himself because he had made me this special deal and blah blah and eventually I told him about the rat -yes rat-not mouse- that had run across my lags one morning as I lay in bed, and he said “oh did it bite you?” and I said no and he said “oh thats ok then.” So I kicked up a shit storm and as I was leaving another couple came down and started giving him a headful of Israeli shit -oh fuck those guys know how to lay it on thick, even in Hebrew that shit was rich and thick. Would make the Irish look like fairies. Desk boy offered me a 250 discount and made it back up with the super high priced bottles of water Id ordered in the menue for a touch over teh actual street price. I laid as much money was as was fair and as I was willing to pay, on the table and said that was fucking it shit-head, and I left.
I walked my gear about twenty paces and a man with one leg came over and said he would take my bags to my hotel for 20rs and I looked at him quizzically and he started laughing hard and disappeared, and as I was walking away he came out with a cart and a stick which he used to propel himself along with like a boat in Gondolier. I got to my new abode and settled my self in for a few days or R&R. Yesterday was my first day here, and I plonked around with my friend Eyal who Id met in Varanasi, then went home and I slept like a baby.
I got up and spent two full days trying to formulate the very last ditch attempt to get the unemployment people off my back in the US because they want full pay back after I lost the appeal from the employer. Its been nine months since that whole shitfight went down and so much has happened in that time, and throughout, that shit has pursued me. I think that says something about the pursuant.


The second night I was in the Mahaneli hovel was a Saturday night, I dont think that matters to Indians at all, but they know its a party night for the tourists so the discos go off, with really unbelievably horrible music, I’d never heard before. The kind of shit that is pre-programmed into keyboards sequencers that you can follow along to in the music shop when trying out that new model Roland XZ1234mkII, but with added religious lyrics and a vocoder.. I stayed in bed, until 11 listening to music, doing a loop in the music I have with me with is extremely limited, but I needed to do a loop from the calculated awareness of The Golden Palominos to the accessibility and touching base of Meatbeat Manifesto back to my youth in London and Dublin, to Lana Del Rae to reconnect with where Jenny is, and then to the tactile sensual texture of the Helio Sequence ‘Shed your love’ and ‘keep your eyes ahead’, a love connection and a message to me where I’m at.


Its easy getting TO places in India, being on the train or bus and arriving in to a new place etc, except for the part about looking for a mediocre room.
Getting FROM places in India however, requires time, an ‘over payment’ and a travel agent. If your are 30 you can stay up all night at the station to get the handful of “Tourist Quota” tickets they have on offer only to tourists, to buy in any of the ‘humane’ classes, otherwise you can buy at the station the bottom of the barrel tickets where they estimate the number of people who paid to go on the train (there are no tickets for them in that class which is, I dont know), and assume that there is roughly enough room for three hundred people per carriage. Those trains have roughly twenty-five carriages, eight are for ACIIs, ACII, IIIACs and IIIAC, which carry 60 and 90 berths respectively. The other seventeen or more carriages are holding roughly three hundred people, you can do the mathematics, this a shit ton of people moving around India at any one time. India is famous for its extensive rail network, and on every one of those trains they are always running. For example train No.151234 from Calcutta to Jaisalmer has two actual trains one going in one direction the other in the opposite. That happens on every route, on the long ones they add two more additional trains.
If you are coming here on a trip, plan your time ahead, research what you want to see, and in any place dont spend anything less than four or five days there, because its easy to see everything in three days, but you need a day of chill after arriving and theres always that extra thing you want to see and its extra padding for mishaps. I see so many travel junkies that come to places and stay for two or three days, and really dont go do anything like the exploration they should, and then get back on the bus or train to the next place. If you can afford it, typically its about thirty-five dollars more which seems little but when you are here and are used to spending fifty to eighty percent less for everything, thirty-five dollars is a lot. If you can afford it, take first class, sometimes its faster because they are separate trains. Otherwise its the same train but not all routes have it.


My plan for after Pushkar was to head on up north for a bit and follow the cooler air but my colleague called and said theres some documentary work to be done, so Im going to connect with him back in Bhopal and take it from there. Hopefully somewhere along the way there will be a trip into Myanmar (Burma) for a few weeks and maybe into Thailand also. If I hadn’t have brought so much stuff with me Id get on a plane to Thailand and go from there to Vietnam and travel around South East Asia until my time in India is up.


Taking everything into consideration, the variations in temperature in the earlier part of the trip and having options, I probably could have come here with 50% of what I brought in clothing, and though Id love to say Id prefer a smaller gear bag, I have to say the pelican case is just fantastic. It is a dry dust free hermetically sealed box which is bash proof, and water proof and doubles up as a seat at train stations. So ultimately I could have taken half the amount of stuff I have in my backpack, and thats another thing, Im over backpacks. Rarely does anyone trek anymore and for the most part you are lobbing bags from one vehicle to another, backpacks are just too solid unlike a floppy duffel which you dont even have to worry about shoulder straps.

Observations from Varanasi pt.1

Cows and Sponges
Bathing in sacred Ganga.
Varanasi is as much about the rooftops as the Tola’s (streets).
As children we learn to share..
Monkey King on the rooftops Varanasi (at night, during a black-out).
A Sadhu came and joined us on he Ghats for a smoke of Chilum. Chilum has made me sick in the three times Ive tried it. I hate the taste and the effects are crap.
A Swede and a Norwegian two very nice travellers I met on my first week in Varanasi, took a bathe in the Ganga, not me however. I just take the pictures.
First light on the Ghats.
Theres a street photography gem around every nook here..


Thoughts In Place 201307-14

And now its time to go. After 24 nights in Varanasi I am leaving tomorrow to go to a city named Jaipur, a place I have no idea about. I dont know whats there or anything about it. All I know is that Im going to pick up a ticket at 2pm for a train that leaves at 6.15 tomorrow either from here in Varanasi or from another station called Mughalsarai which is 17km from here and an additional 500rupee taxi ride. Preferably I get the train from Varanasi because its a slightly higher class carriage 2ACs which means Class 2 Air Conditioning Sleeper, which equates to double layer bunks. If I get the other train its a 3ACs which means its 500rupees less and there are triple layer bunks or not very comfortable and more people to potentially steal you shit. I know that 2AC has food onboard and its less likely that the train will have as much human traffic on the ‘relatively’ short trip Im taking. The ride will be approximately 17 hours heading West, most of it at night and so I can in theory lay back and struggle with a book.
The concept was that I leave here to go to ultimately Pushkar which is a beside Ajmer a small city. Pushkar is very attractive, built on a sacred Hindu lake with lots of hills surrounding it, and it’ll be like a tiny Varanasi with ghat’s encompassing the lake edge. My plan was to be there for about four days and then move on up north past Delhi and into the foothills of the Himalaya to a place called Rishikesh which is the spiritual home of Yoga, but Im not a Yogi so Id be going there for a few days and then on to Dharmsala where Dalai Lama lives, and again not to visit him but to just experience the place. Typically its cold, but its mid spring here and everything is getting hotter. India gets hot in the summer then then breaks into Monsoon . Hot means 40c. Delhi get to be 50c in the summer before Monsoon.
originally the plan was to go to Udaipur a gorgeous city In Rajasthan, which is supposedly one of the most attractive states in northern India, its 5 seconds of fame was that James Bond Octopussy was partially filmed there. Its also famous for many lakes and temples built on islands in the middle of the lakes.
However.. Im not going to Udaipur because I couldn’t get a ticket there. So instead I go 2/3 the distance and get off at Jaipur and have to find another way to get to Ajmer and then on to Pushkar. But theres one caveat now, and that is I am being asked to go to Delhi to record sound for some project my colleague has up his sleeve and to be honest I don’t really want to go to Delhi unless I have to be there, because its massive and congested and polluted. However there are opportunities and I get to meet a world famous Seattleite Tabla player and sound recordist. And Ill at least have someone there to hold my hand a bit. I just suspect that its going to a very expensive endeavor to be there.

This has been a test, for me to learn the definitive answer about decision making. The last three years have been a steady challenge of overcoming my fear about trusting yourself and trusting that I have the capability to make a decision knowing that its the right one. I haven’t been very good at it all my life, and I definitely have not been good about it here in Varanasi. I was sick for a period and then sick again, and they were my excuses for not getting out sooner, but now after being here for so long, Im actually glad I stayed because I got to see Varanasi as the Maha Kumbh Mela after-party city, and then the tourists left and it got quiet for a moment and then Shivaratri happened which brought in devout Indian pilgrims from the south by the train and truckload, party like only Indians can and then get right back on their transports for the 49 hour train ride south to the hellishly hot temperatures. And then Varanasi becomes quiet again and the long term tourists peek out from the doors of their guesthouses and a few familiar faces reappear. Its great to experience a city so surreal and unbelievable for an extended period because you get to build up relationships with locals and ultimately get a much better feel for how the place works. No doubt about it when I leave it will seem like a truly surreal experience having existed there within those ancient caverns and deep rich spiritual traditions.

Leaving a place in India requires forethought and planning, because nothing happens when you want it to. Five minutes is not five minutes, its Indian five minutes. This is how India works. If you want to go somewhere then you have to think ahead and book now, because you wont get a ticket (even if you pay ever increasing bribe prices), so thinking ahead is quite the psychological quagmire. I have to figure out where Im going, and its never that easy, because you have to think about the place, and then the next place after that and the place after that, so that you can leave go there and then move on and then on and use the momentum to keep you motivated alert and inspired. Otherwise you get stuck in a place and its hard to move on because its cheap, comfortable and easy. Traveling is hard, its hard on the body and on the mind. An Oasis in travel is a base or a stop. Varanasi just has possibly the worst case scenario for access in and out of the city as Indian cities go. Its ancient and designed for human access only, despite the livestock which meander through the Tola’s and the fat Indian ladies that squabble and gossip and stop every three seconds to argue a price on a bag or a design on a Saree, and then usually not buy anything at all, did I mention the millions of stray dogs, the cow shit, dog shit, man shit and rivulets piss, at least the Red Faced monkeys are smart enough to stay on the rooftops. And then theres the shrines everywhere, every corner ledge, doorway and stair harbors a shrine to any number of gods, Varanasi is the Hindu city and its the fulcrum for an incredible amount of worship activity. Personal space is diminished by about 90% for the most part.


Thats haircut number five now, for me, in India. I can count them because they are all unforgettable experiences. You get a haircut and then you get a shave and then you get a face massage and then you get a head massage and then you get a spinal adjustment and then you get arm alignment and muscle relaxing hand massages. These barbers work very hard, and spend time with you, they know your body and your head and how they relate. They take care of you sometimes you get a mid break chai. And then he meditates on your head and you can fucking feel energy between you and him. Electrical harmonic energy on some very distinct level.

Like a tailor he wields a scissors with accuracy and precision, imagining my hair was a piece of finely woven linen and his scissors a piece of cheese chalk gliding and stroking like Morse code on my head. The sound of scissors (not shears) these are well polished and honed pig iron twisted to form the blades of a sheers the blades never snag or rip, they are razor sharp and the boy fidgets with his scissor hand to keep the momentum going. Fast like a motor the hand shimmers over the grey and clips the cuts like a line of formation, and the forest falls away.

Then theres the shave, the shave is in three parts; the application of the foam. Some places make it from a shaving soap bar, some places use it in a tube. Either way its brushed up into a lather and slapped like whitewash over your face, the brush glides and glitches as it mops your face like pouring melted ice cream on your skin and then its done. You have a moment while the barber opens his blade box pulls out a brand new razor peels the individual white paper envelope from the flat and pierced piece of metal and drops it in to his blade vice and drops the cinching lever down on it. He pushes your head back into the head rest you forgot was there and stretches your skin with the side of his thumb and runs a fine edge over your face you can hear the crackle of roots as they snap with the blade. The picture he paints with his razor brush is one of experience and knowing how hair grows and the best way to make it disappear. Drawing short sweeps away from your ears, down along your jawline and up from your neck to your chin, he completes the edge with a bevel run along the ridge of your jawline to your chin and back toe our other ear. From the edge of your lips to the center, lifting your nose to get the Maharaja of all shaves. He runs the blade straight on not as at angle, to clear the woods before he can actually get on to the second round.
The second round is faster but its all business. The whitewash is reapplied and the blade sits at 90 degrees and is drawn like a portcullis over the skin while stretching your face to accommodate the blade. The sensation is different, there is less resistance and there is a mild burning sensation trailing the blade but is gone in the same instant. The towel comes and gently maps your face with two strong hands inside it, opening your face from the center along the line of your nose. Your eyes are rubbed, your ears are cleaned and your nose is squeezed and there is no hiding the contents of your nose from these guys; they clean your face.
The face massage starts instantly with a cool barrage of viscus gel rubbed into every area of your face, ears, eyes and around all corners and is applied with the symmetry of two fast hands, your skin soaks it up and he wipes it off and then applies aftershave, the ultra cleansing pore cleaner and nervous system wakeup call. He rubs it in with rough hands, his skin is professional grade labor quality texture, and the warmth of his hands belies the capability of the tools.

The towel is removed and replaced with something smoother, like the curtains of intermission, a chai comes you open your eyes and the mirrors of the room show more boys in the room now because theres a white guy getting the works so theres curiosity. Someone puts their phone on the table and puts on a pop song with religious lyrics, they can all sing the lyrics and jesus can they sing and know how to make their voices change pitch mid refrain. The heat of the masala chai wafts up your nose and you can smell the ginger accents. The sweet milk offsets the ginger and tea to make a quick charge down your throat and into the realm of satisfaction.

The face massage begins, by mapping the shape of your head with his thumb and forefinger on each hand and acts out an Art Nouveau ribbon line in gold and green on your skull mapping the pulse points, the shape, the symmetry, and the metaphysical currents of electrical elements and their points of congestion. More pressure is applied at certain meridian points and intersecting crossroads, like thumbs in latex, re-routing and redirecting the bioelectrical traffic. Clearing your mind, and vacuuming out the static.
You are put in a trance and the hands go to work: fingernails rattle across the cobblestones on top of your head, the roots of your hair are manipulated and woven back to life, Oils are applied, poured into the hand and rubbed together until heated to the right temperature to affect the most amount of effectiveness. There is a heavy clapping on the crown of your head like the sound of shoed hooves on stone, a clopping sound is made and the hollow drop of the heal of the hand is applied heaviest at the back of the crown and the break of air inside the hand make for an wide echo in your entranced brain. It also serves to release something in your brain, like a spell and suddenly you are aware of your other senses. Sound becomes clear as crystal and the clanging of the Shiva bells for temple arrest you with gentle awareness because you’ve been hearing them the whole way through but didnt fully realize it. And so begins a slow but serious breakdown of your sinuses, through pinching up of the eyebrows and gentle eyelid rotations followed by pinching the soft skin of the lid and lifting it off your eyeballs and dropping it back a few times, and instantly your eyesight is improved. The smells of the shop and of your own clothes come back to you like a snap. A single hum of an electrical box finds you and takes to you an extended state, your neck and shoulder are braces and gripped by strong clamping hands biting your sinews and awakening muscle, the mass is manipulated and your head is separated from your shoulder in a powerful fanning of ligament.
The shoulder is clopped softly and your arm is taken by the barber and put on his shoulder and from the arm pit the muscle is tenderized and the arm is twisted all the way along its trajectory and up in to the hand until your palm faces the wrong way and your fingers are gripped like a bundle of twigs and rotated, your wrist pops first, then your lower thumb joint then your knuckles, the hand is rotated the other way, and the shoulder pops. your hands are placed by your sides and there is a water spritz on your face, the towel comes back and your are truly worshipped.

It is also amazing to see the face to the barber when he is working on you. There is nothing but dedication and a most amazing sense of ultimate concentration. There is much physical effort put in to a ‘haircut’ here; the barber will cut your hair with scissors not an electric clipper and the momentum kept in the hand that operates the scissor is non stop. I know from my stylist friends how hard that is on your hands, and then there is the massage element on top of that also. The experience is nothing but stellar.

End of Maha Kumbh Mela & Beginning of Varanasi

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Second Half of Maha Kumbh Mela 2013 -No Captions

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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.