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Varanasi deserves a visit from everyone.  you want to put your life in perspective?  what happens in Varanasi is life in it’s various forms being played out for you.  what would normally be personal and intimate becomes public.  it’s the full cycle of life and death performed by thousands of faces each day.

Ganges River at Dawn. Varanasi, India 2009

The sun has not yet risen but thousands of visitors are ready to greet her arrival.

Varanasi, India

i would love to know the story about this structure.  what seems like part of a temple is now half sunk in the river bed.

Prayers to the rising sun. Varanasi, India

everyone has their own way, but showing deep appreciation for that which gives us life is essential to the compassionate heart.

Morning bathing in the Ganges River. Varanasi, India 2009

just one touch will absolve you of a lifetime of sins.

morning worship of the sun. Varanasi, India

this morning ritual is part of a larger, more grandiose display held every night in front of this ghat.  it is a huge tourist draw (both domestic and foreign) as well as a huge money maker for the ghat.  Other ghats have seen it’s success and try to emulate it.  Oddly enough most of the performers are from Nepal (cheaper labor).  This ritual in the morning has no audience and therefore feels like it retains authenticity…

fishing gear. Varanasi, India

these fishing baskets were scattered along the ghats but i didn’t see them put to use.  the ganges is so polluted it can hardly sustain life.

bathing in the ganges from the opposite bank of the river. Varanasi, India

large groups of people gather on the opposite banks of the river to bath.  they set up little camps where they can worship or change or even sell food and drink to other visitors.

guided prayer. Varanasi, India

once this man finishes his prayer, a tilaka will be placed on his forehead symbolizing the third eye or minds eye.

sadhu earlier morning prayer. Varanasi, India

one of the few things i did not capture extensively was the burning ghat.  i sat there for an hour pondering it.  photography was frowned upon at the burning ghats but when the locals weren’t constantly reminding me of that, the foremen in charge of the daily cremations would promise me up-close access for a bribe.  I thought it best just to move on.

Varanasi is compelling and is saved from being labeled a tourist trap thanks to the legitimacy of it’s religious value and stature.  I’m glad we went and I’m glad we’ll never need to return.

candle offerings down the Ganges River. Varanasi, India

floating candles down the Ganges River is a beautiful site to behold.  these offerings can be done for countless reasons, but for us we had our intentions set.

Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in the Hindu faith.  the Mother Ganges river snakes through it and the temples line the banks for miles with stairs that decent into it’s depths.

boats travel up and down with visitors.  occasionally a boat will go out with the body of a child,  a Sadhu or pregnant woman to be submerged in the river.  they are not allowed to be burned at the burning ghats.  people line the stairs day and night doing ritualistic bathing, praying, exercises and socialization.  it is a true cultural hub.

we rented a boat at dawn the day after I learned of my grandfather’s passing away.  i wanted to honor him in the only way i new how considering we were a world away and months from returning.  we lit candles and set them afloat down the river.  i said a prayer.  we then lit a few more candles for our first cat, Harper and poured the remainder of his ashes into the river.  it was a very powerful moment of completion in a very powerful place.

this photograph is from the bow of the boat that took us out that evening.

the Taj Mahal at sunrise. Agra, India

this is one of many photographs i’d like to publish of the Taj Mahal.  it’s the second one on this blog.  we spent a morning there after taking an overnight train from Varanasi.  had to haggle quite a bit for a rickshaw that wouldn’t rip us off too bad.

we spend the evening before looking at the Taj at sunset from across the dry river bed.  it wasn’t until we were inside the compound the next day that we were able to fully appreciate the detail and beauty of this monument to love.

© 2010 John David Becker

the taj mahal.  a testament to love…

Sadhu: Varanasi, India ~ 2009 John David Becker

If at first you don’t succeed…  The Sadhu’s set themselves apart from other holy men in the Hindu faith.  Living lives of poverty and wandering, they do not collect earthly possessions and do not care about money.  Their bodies are not cremated at a burning ghat on the Ganges; rather they are sunk into the river.

In Nepal, there were supposedly real Sadhu’s and fake Sadhu’s.  The business of being a holy man was too good.  We found Sadhu’s to be hawkish and even more relentless about asking for money than the hawkers selling goods.  They would walk up to you and place flowers on your head and mark you with a bindi: promptly asking you for rupees after.  Not just a token amount either.  If you had a camera, Sadhu’s were more aggressive.  Photo?  200 rupees.  Oh, and you can bargain for less.

In Varanasi, we found the Sadhu’s to be less in-your-face.  I don’t know if they all requested money, but they didn’t actively look for it.  I did get some pictures of a less intimate nature, but I finally found the one Sadhu that I wanted a photograph of.  10 rupees.  Ok.  Get some shots.  Walk away.  Within 20 seconds, I realize I didn’t get the exact shot I wanted.  Went back for round two.  Did you forget me?  10 more rupees.  So I get the shot.  Cost me $0.50USD total.  Such an insignificant amount, but where’s the holy?  Tit-for-tat I guess.

travel hiatus.  my favorite kind.

we’re in nepal and india for the next four months, volunteering for VCD Nepal, Pencils of Promise, shooting a lot, playing a lot, and testing out olfactory fatigue.

india has gotten more expensive, but really, the dollar is just not what it used to be.  not even since last spring.  good thing we’re in nepal now, where spending twelve dollars tonight seemed like an extravaganza.  great meals for a dollar or two.  hotels for less than ten a night.  had some delicious masala tea at the kathmandu guest house.  saw a breathtaking view of the himalayas on the flight in (travel tip#1: sit on the left side of the plane flying eastward, right westward).

i’m looking forward to hanging out in the mountains, rolling around a bit in greens and blues, shooting what makes me happiest, being encompassed by a new culture, and potentially learning to not gag while eating lentils every meal.

more to come!

The cosmos has been providing.  Momentum is building for our grassroots project on Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal.  By remaining unaffiliated and traveling on tourist visas, we are finding that it may increase our success in getting intimate portraits of people caught in the diaspora.  Alison Wright published a beautiful book in 1999 on refugees in India, but I know our vision for the project will yield very different results.

Rick Ray (Soul of India, 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama) has been instrumental in giving us advice and connecting us with the right people.  I am very excited about connecting with Sidney Burris at the U of Arkansas.  His TEXT project (Tibetans in Exhile Today) sets out to record the oral history and traditions of Tibetans.  It would be a great project to weave into our plans and may connect us to the refugee communities intimately.

I walked into the Tibet House US in NYC yesterday to check their library.  I was hoping they might have some resources for my research.  The library was inaccessible so I was introduced to Ganden Thurman, the Executive Director and Sonam Choezom, the Membership Coordinator.  They gave me some great leads and solidified a need to continue the project upon returning to NY.

I hope to continue a relationship with the people I meet along this path and feel that everyone has earnestly contributed their time and knowledge for this cause.

Yes, with the summer hiatus over we quickly made our return to blogging and planning. Thoughts of Japan are in the past. Maybe it’s a blessing it didn’t work out. As Sue said in the previous post, we cleared our life for such opportunities and therefore time should not be taken for granted. Read the rest of this entry »

six years ago, john and i had our first date in the small town of ooty, india.

this october, we are planning an extended trip to asia, flying in to delhi. india will always be our first love. the smells, colors, tastes – every sense is overwhelmed. we look forward to seeing northern india, feeling the energy of the ganges, the trains, the crowds.

with japan on the back burner, we’ve decided to move on and do some volunteer work in nepal and hopefully spend some time in bhutan. we spent a long time freeing ourselves of responsibilities, our kitties, jobs, nyc. there’s no saying we won’t return to any or all of those things, but life is here. we may as well live it.

it’s never easy to let go, but i let simplicity, inspiration, my husband, goals of a boat and a dog, a hut and some chickens, and an inherent need to do better and be better guide life, one we share so seamlessly. it’s so important we take time in our lives to breathe deeply, swim, share, learn, create, stretch, purge, and see the world. we all need a little more humility, a little more reality, to live out more dreams, to feel grass between our toes and dirt between our fingers. humans need challenges, sacrifice, adventure, and freedom.

travel lets me hear beauty, taste joy, see grace, and feel everything.

we can’t wait.

Sue Fan in Pondicherry, India

Sue Fan, Sri Aurobindo Ashram

They say, one of the oldest methods of healing
Is by breathing deeply.

They say, while walking over grass,
To breathe in the colour green;
Which gives you a deep feeling of
Harmony with the environment.

They say, while walking alongside the sea
To Breathe in the colour blue;
Not only will the water energise you
But when combined with the colour blue,
It quietens your mind.

They say, green is one of the positive colours,
Suggesting an abundance of what we need
And generosity with what we have.
Green is associated with giving and receiving freely,
So that all may be in balance.

Green also relates to qualities of the heart,
Like sympathy, kindness, and compassion.
They say, it is good for the eyes
To walk bare feet on the grass.