Category Archives: India

Death by Coconut water

Sitting here drinking a packet of coconut water in a hot summer day reminded me of Strange Tales of Tamil Nadu. It is a cautionary tale of excessively drinking this innocent fruit, it might turn out deadly.

Tamil Nadu – South Indian state secretly practices the ancient custom of thalaikoothal , an involuntary euthanasia of elderly dependents, sick children or the incapacitated who are deemed too troublesome to be taken care of by their family members.  This is common in impoverished villages where families can’t afford the cost of caring for their old or the sick. Sometimes as with human greed, thalaikoothal is practised when property or money is coverted.

Thalaikoothal means head pouring, involving slow oil bath.

The old man is presented with a soothing oil bath in the wee hours of the morning, and fed with large amount of young green coconut water. The high potassium content in the coconut causes renal failure in the poor victim and the victim dies slowly while his relatives will decorate his deteriorating body with flowers and dresses him. Sometimes the whole family or the whole village would gather to celebrate his slow death, to mark the occasion to his eternal peace.  Death, it seems is a blessing to his sufferings of old age.

So concludes my strange recollection. An cautionary tale of drinking too much of a good thing. Don’t drink copious amount of young coconut water. It is bad for you. But not when you practice Thalaikoothal.

 

 

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Happy Sadhus of India

Naga Sadhus of Varanasi

These are my naga sadhu friends I met in the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, and we met again in Varanasi when they moved there for the next celebrations.

We were lucky to have survived the big crazy storm that lasted for 2 days after the bathing day in the Kumbh Mela. Many tents had collasped and many sections were flooded in. It was sorta a mini Kumbh Mela gathering once again.

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Varanasi at Night 2

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The nightly puja prayer ceremony, now mainly for Tourists coming to Varanasi, India. It was  particularly crowded week in Varanasi, where visitors came from all over India and the world for the Kumbh Mela Festival in Allahabad, a few hours away from Varanasi

Scenes of the Kumbh Mela Festival

More images of the largest festival in the world, the Kumbh Mela Festival of India where 40 million people visited this month long event.

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Enjoying the smokes of marijuana weed, the Sadhu Holy man decidedly sat right in front of me and performed the smoking rituals of getting high. – in Allahabad, India.  No, he did not offer any smokes to me. Oh well.

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The couple walked all the way from Bihar, India. They came with others fromtheir village and camped along the banks for a month. Most pilgrims visited the Kumbh Mela for  the first time as it was expensive to travel and most of the villages are extremely poor.  Official holy bathing days were the best time to visit the Kumbh Mela, these village folks were so happy being here and I could feel their excitement. The whole river bank were filled with joyful people laughing after taking their holy bath to wash away their karma.

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This pilgrim just taken the holy bath in the icy cold waters of the holy river and was looking for his group. Often with such large crowds and queuing for their chance of bathing taking to wash away their karma, people get lost.  Often the speakers installed around the river banks would having announcements of people looking for their lost relative among the millions

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Varanasi At Night

varanasi at night-1Nightly puja at a small shrine along the Ghat in Varanasi, India

Playing around the burning bodies of Varanasi

Kids playing around a burning body in Varanasi, India : no qualms that they were around dead bodies or ashes, nor was it taboo for them to go bathe right next to the cremating bodies. Ahead of them were a group of Dobis, washing clothes right beside the flowing ashes, another man was brushing his teeth from the ganges river waters while others were dumping the ashes and looking for dead person’s gold jewellery next to him.

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To Spit or Not to Spit?

Spit in Meghalaya

Spitting is such a frequent thing in India, everyone spits everywhere and anywhere, even in nice government hotels. From the Rich to the Poor, everyone here spits pretty much openly on the streets and anywhere public except their homes. You can see those horrid red betal nut stains on walls all over, even on hotel walls.

In Meghalaya where English is pretty much the main language, this is one of the walls that often gets that horrid red stains of dried saliva.  Urgh

 

Living tree bridges of Cherrapunjee – slice of heaven

Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya, one of the rainest places in the world also inhabits one of secret locations of the tree bridges. If you watched Lord of the Rings, imagine this is what Tolkien’s land of the Ents would be like. Those tree giant creatures definately be walking among us.

Back in the days before climate change, this area experienced a lot of rain almost on a daily basis. Recent years, the cutting down of jungle forests and coal mining has changed the area. This year 2013 saw a series of droughts and water shortages, an unknown phenomena to Megahalaya.
Megahalaya is also famous for its matrilineal culture, call the Khasis, indigenous people. In this state of NorthEast India, women-power rule here, unlike much of the rest of India, known for their recent treatment of women. The Khasis tradition states that all wealth and property goes to the last daughter of the family. The children takes after the woman’s name and belongs to the family. The Khasis women are allowed many husbands and lovers, and there is even a special all female queue in all government offices. You can see why I would want to come visit.

This would be my final spot after a long exhaustive tour around North East of India. Since then has become one of my top favorite places to spend time in the world.

Cherrapunjee, or to be exact, Nongkriat village is what heaven feels like, clean, pristine, quiet and magical, very tolkienesque. For those into the spiritual side of things, you could almost feel that fairies and elves roam this magical place.

A fairly strenuous climb down along with a series of bridge crossings and more climbing up and down stone paved stairs, I finally reached this magical village of Nongkriat surrounded by gorgeous tree bridges that take at least 50 years to grow. Generations are needed to grow these bridges, some tree bridges have claimed to be 500 years old.

I loved staying here at the community village guesthouse, it was a quiet season and practically had the whole area to myself, along with the series of water pools that I was in every day that are just a few minutes away from my guesthouse.

The Khasis people of this area lived closely with nature, their intricate beliefs and their communal with nature can be a great anthropical study. They had the great foresight and patience to grow bridges with trees which are self renewing, as the tree grows and ages, the bridges strengthen and grows along with it.

The locals saw trees are spirit beings and cutting them down for resources were forbidden, rituals and prayers were needed in order to even cut down a tree. Their relationship with the trees were deep and often incorporated into their spiritual beliefs and practise. Prayers were chanted should they need to harvest from certain trees,  should a plant or a tree be harmed, their future generations might be harmed.  Over time, gradually the Khasis had lost the art of bridge growing when the government built steel bridges across the many rivers and streams surrounding this area. With the introduction of Christianity, many of their relationships with nature were lost, deemed too paganistic for the modern world.  Many old living bridges were abandoned and were in disrepair.

Most tourists would spend only a day walking around the village, but I would recommend spending a few days here, doing little treks around the many sub-villages to discover many other root bridges. The local Khasis are great gentle spirits who would be glad share their stories on their ancestors and talk about their knowledge on the root bridges. Come during the harvest season of April and you will be celebrating the Thanksgiving festival with them.

A few years back, a Japanese documentary crew visited the area and along with some tourist interest few years back, the locals became interested in their old traditions and have relearnt the ways of the ancients on growing bridges and have started passing down their traditions to the younger generation.

My images cannot do justice to this magical area, maybe this video would.

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

The famous double decker bridge in Cherrapunjee. This is the only one that still exists in working condition. The popular place to visit for many curious tourists.

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

The newer bridges in process of being grown. It would take at least 50 – 100 years before a bridge is full developed. It takes 2 to 3 generations to tend to these bridges, frequently needing to shape and develop the vines and branches. Bridges do not grow on their own, careful tending needed on a regular basis!

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

That’s me on the first day after a long hike down to this magical realm, could not wait dashing into the rock pools after a sweaty climb down.

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

Stepping onto the bridges require some careful concentration, especially on a rainy day, mossed covered stones can be quite slippery.

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

View from the top bridge! Can be scary for those with height phobias, including me!

Cherrapunjee living tree bridges

The famous double decker bridge in Cherrapunjee. This is the only one that still exists. Great rockpools to just relax from all that heat!

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Scenes of Kumbh Mela, the largest festival in the world

Kumbh Mela 2013 – the greatest bathing festival in Allahabad, India where 40 million pilgrims visit the holy rivers to wash away their karma

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A naked holy naga sadhu performs tricks with his genitals, it was become a performance to entertain passerbys. To become a naked naga sadhu, this was part of the initiation as a way to test the body, representing full detachment even to one’s body and sexual desires. It is said that to become a full naga, one has to go thru a series of rigid test, including breaking their own penis and dipping themselves in the freezing waters of the Ganges 108 times.

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The Naga Sadhus, famous for their nakedness running to take their holy bath in the ganges river.

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Kumbh Mela 2013 – the largest festival in the world

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Once every 12 years, the largest bathing festival happens in Allabahad, Central India. This 2013, more than 40 million pilgrimages visited this temporary mega city, aptly named Mega Tent city. Makeshift tents, ashrams, temples are built, organised in mini towns with its own hospital clinic and police stations. For the 1.5 months, pilgrimages and religious Holy people, the famous naked sadhus come and gather and await to take their holy bath in the rivers to wash away their karma.

It was one of my greatest experience, especially during special bathing days where millions would gather to take a short dip in the freezing waters to wash their sins away.

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