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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.

I’m starting a new series called “pictures i like” for the sole purpose of motivating me to share.  Sometimes as a photographer, sheer volume can be a difficult mountain to climb.  By sharing photos as they inspire me, I’ll be more apt to work through them.  When I look for stories and portfolio pieces of work, the pressure of maintaining a level of artistic merit can overshadow the enjoyment of a picture for pictures sake.  Sue and I always remind each other to take “we were there” photographs.  Enjoy…

Sue Fan on a bamboo swing in the Garden of Dreams - Kathmandu Nepal 2009

Never has the focus of energy been more present in my life. A walking meditation; calm, assertiveness, patience, forgiveness, aloofness are so important in training a riley dog. For someone who generally lives in the now, I am no dog. I have to learn to be in the exact second I’m in, otherwise, it’s all lost on him. Tacoma is a hard dog (corrections don’t affect him much, if at all), but also one who is insecure and anxious, has been abandoned, flinches like he may have been hit, has been dropped off in the middle of NYC where there is no quiet place to train or play – he must walk among a dog on every block, children running at him from every other corner – with so much love in his strong heart and excitement in his tiny brain, he is a little unsocialized, incredibly fast at learning, but surprisingly unaware.

As he stares out the window and then back at me and then lies back down for his 16th nap of the day at 8:43 am, I wonder what is running through his mind. If he simply waits for our next adventure, is waiting for me to leave him, or doesn’t think that way at all. If I could anthropomorphize my animal for just one minute, I think of all I could learn. Instead, I rely on my energy for us to relate and understand each other. I wish we could get there faster. I suppose we all walk at our own pace and while we both tend to be fast, perhaps only literally.

I’m exhausted. Summiting is certainly not what we had in mind in naming him after a mountain. Thank goodness for trainers (from our obedience class to YouTube), dog whisperers, and good friends. Puppy updates to come.

Grampa Franz with my mom Carol in Belgium, 1999

I cannot remember exactly when we heard the news but I know I was sitting in the lobby of the Sita Guest House in Varanasi, India when I read the email.  My Grandfather had passed away on November 5th, 2009.  We were fortunate to have seen him a couple weeks before we left for our travels and were certain he would pass while we were away.  Nothing really prepares you, but I knew at the time I was saying goodbye.  Despite his severe dementia, I knew in some strange way that he accepted this as our final parting as well.

It was humbling to be in the presence of someone who – in no small way – has left his mark upon hundreds and maybe thousands of souls.  Someone who has influenced his children and on down the generational line.  As a professor, he had shown people another world in his yearly pilgrimages to Europe and beyond.  I guess it is this legacy that I have chased, all the while forgetting that his legacy came at certain costs, too.  Even still, his task was accomplished quietly – with humility and grace.

It is impossible to quantify the gifts David Lincoln Franz bestowed upon the world.  I’m certain that if I tried I would soon realize that to any magnitude, I was measuring greatness…

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October 22, 2009. 1415 hrs.  Cafe Zorba.  2nd floor.  Central Lakeside, Pokhara.  Protected from the hot sun.  We entered and Nora Jones was playing.  Not expected but instantly comforting.  We linger for a couple hours and the music has long since ended.  I say to Sue, “what happened to the music?” and suddenly Ben Harper’s “Walk Away” comes on.  We instantly stop our reading and enter our separate worlds of reflection.  Sue sings the words.  I stare out over the street scene and the mountains beyond.  A small tear wells in my eye.  At that single moment I felt at home.  I felt the pressure of travel and chaos lift.  I felt the burden of the unknown dissipate.  I felt whole.

Music can calm and transform but most importantly, music can heal.  It was during those three minutes of music that I realized we have entered a time where we truly live in the moment.  Travel can take you to that place.  There is no minute quite like the previous or the next.  Having been on the road and relatively homeless for five months already, we come to think of the place we inhabit at that moment as “home”.  Nomadic life.  We decided that in the past two years we have slept in more unfamiliar places and unfamiliar beds than most people will in their entire lives.  Each one was home that day.  Each place birthed the next moment for us to live in.  Without the pressures of home, the thoughts of bills to pay or the ordinary chores to tackle, all we have to do is survive.  Not a huge epiphany, but sometimes we fail to recognize and acknowledge “the moment” and Ben Harper brought me there.

The other significant and no less important thought at that time was also a slogan.  “Home is where the heart is.”  Sue sitting across from me but in her own space.  Lyrics flowing through her and bringing her to a special place.  I may ebb and flow with our travel adventures.  Anyone should.  But having your travel partner and lover by your side makes everything ok.   Struggles and triumphs all even out when you share true happiness regardless of the external world.  Sue is my home.

laughing little monks

laughing little monks

Joy is infectious.  I mentioned this monastery in an earlier post.  We had a great time.  You quickly realize that the monks are just kids like any other.  Filled with pranks and jokes.  Teasing and bullying each other.  I know there is time when their learning must be disciplined, but it’s also important to just let kids be kids…

Had a great day visiting the monastery where we will do our service work.  Promise to post pictures as soon as we can get online with our computer.  The kids were anywhere from 5 to 16 maybe.  We’re calling it a twofer because we get to spend our time living at the monastery teaching the monks English AND the majority are orphans.  Double the impact!  Not sure what the percentage of Tibetans vs Nepali’s yet.  We’ll learn as soon as we start the placement. I can sum it up in three words, a door able!

Swung by the international clinic on the way back so we could get the immunization for Japanese Encephalitis.  $500 beans and difficult to get in the states.  $30 bucks and walked right into the clinic in Nepal.  Got an extra ‘stick’ after the nurse threw in her two cents about rabies.  So many rabid monkeys and street dogs.  We figured we had no interest in getting near one, but the nurse said they go nuts and attack at random.  Dose 1 today and two more to go over the next month.  Much better than the alternative which is apparently a $1000 IV bag plus 5 injections if you get bit without it!  Also $30.  Next week when we go back for injection #2, we’ll be getting stuck again for Typhoid.  Didn’t know mine expired.  Supposedly it’s a bit of an epidemic right now so stick me baby one more time!

I think we have an open schedule for the next few days.  That will be nice.  Not sure what to do!?  Haven’t thought about anything for a week.  Any suggestions appreciated!

Day 3 and jetlag is subsiding.  We are very comfortable at the volunteer house for VCD Nepal.  It is truly a home away from home.  We are learning small bits of Nepali every day and I still lack a command for language learning.  Last night we visited the Swoyambu Temple which is perched high on the hill over Kathmandu Valley.  It was overrun with tourists but we plan to go back early some morning for photography.  Hoping to have a more organic experience.  It is a beautiful stupa and has lots of nooks to explore around the monastery.  Lots of rabid monkeys to avoid as well.  Very holy site for both Hindus and Buddhists alike.  Must have been thousands of prayer flags to take your breath away. Pictures to follow whenever we crack open our computer near an internet connection.

The Daal Bhat (lentils and rice)  is definitely a repetitive meal but it certainly keeps your options to a minimum.  It would certainly end the “I dunno, what do you want for dinner?” problem.  Our hosts at VCD have been incredible and try hard to bring us into the culture.  It is really a fantastic way to really begin to understand a place.  Otherwise we’d be another couple of tourists in the Thamel district!  Anyway, not a great post, but this keyboard is driving me nuts so I’ve got to move on!

Just turned around and my friend from NYC, Chris Villano was in the same internet cafe!  We’ve been waiting to run into someone we knew and it happened on day 3!   Namaste!