Morning offerings in Varanasi

The day in Varanasi starts, as it ended the evening before, with rituals performed as the sun rises over the Ganges.

Evening offerings in Varanasi

Varanasi is the spiritual capital of Hinduism. On certain evenings, crowds gather as the sun sets to join priests in performing an offering ceremony.

Before the ceremony begins, the priests assist families in making offerings at the water’s edge.

Meanwhile, helpful touts guide visitors to the assembled flotilla of boats that expand the seating and give people a front-row seat.

The ceremony, or Aarti, involves the waving of lighted flames, incense, and flowers before the deities in a spirit of humility and gratitude. The steps leading to the Ganges River bring followers a step closer to the gods.

In a stark contrast to the spirit of peace, I enjoyed watching this woman play a first-person shooter on her mobile phone crouched on the steps as the ceremony was performed.

Getting the news

Men were standing around reading the newspapers laid out by the vendor on the side of a busy roundabout in Varanasi. I’m not sure what the rules for payment are if you only read but don’t take the paper.

Dhamekh Stupa in Sarnath

Dhamekh Stupa marks the place where Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. While nearby Varanasi is flooded with Hindu tourists, mostly from within India, Sarnath receives a smaller but steady flow of pilgrims from around the rest of Asia.

Some walk around the stupa, while other groups pray in the shadow of the large unfinished brick monolith.

Mumbai’s auto recyclers

The street behind Chor Bazaar is one of many locations in Mumbai where automobiles are stripped for recycling. The process is both labour intensive and fast at the same time.

Every component of the car is simply chiseled away. The cutting is done so that all the metal comes off flat instead of curved.

Different sections are dragged to different stores, each specializing in rebuilding and retailing different components.

The steel components that can’t be reused are then loaded onto a truck to be taken for recycling.

What I didn’t see being recycled were all the plastic components that make up more and more of automobiles. I have no idea whether they’re recycled, or how it’s done.

Portraits from Chor Bazaar

Chor Bazaar is an old market in Mumbai where you can go to buy any form of recycled item, from refurbished electric motors to antique furniture.

These two men were repairing and reselling clothing. I was intrigued by the process for bleaching or dying a pair of pants. The water was brought to a boil, some powder added that turned the liquid a bright turquoise, and then the pants swirled around until they arrived at a light tan colour. I couldn’t figure out if the plan was to dye them a new colour.

Given that there are a billion mobile phones in India, the communal phone is a rare sight in Mumbai.

The Tough Guy

I was hugging a traffic pole in the middle of an intersection trying not to get run over while taking photos of the passing motorcycles when this guy came up and asked me to take his photo. He smiled, then put up his fists. His job is to carry things, sometimes helping another man who owns a cart, sometimes just hauling goods in and out of Chor Bazaar.

The world’s best almond croissant and other forms of Japanese pefection

The best almond croissant I’ve ever tasted is from a bakery called Rituel in Tokyo. Perfection.

I love that construction sites have a decibel meter outside. To put it in perspective, the noise inside our apartment in Mumbai has reached over 100 dB.

I just liked this shot. I’m sure the food is delicious.

ANA has by far the best food I’ve ever encountered on any form of transportation. The economy class meal from Tokyo to Mumbai included crab, scallops, and tuna that was absolutely delicious!

Best of the absurd Japanese electronics, 2017 edition

I love electronics stores and markets, especially those in Asia. Bic Photo and Yodobashi Camera are awesome for the incredible selection of everything. It’s always worth perusing to see what awesomeness Japanese manufacturers have released that isn’t available elsewhere.

As usual, the most absurd music player award goes to Sony for the “Life Space UX” lamp speaker. The speaker sounded like any other small bluetooth speaker, except with a giant LED lightbulb attached. From the photos on the Sony website, it looks like you’re supposed to carry it around on pilgrimages like a sacred flame.

The Best Approximation of a Borg award goes to Panasonic for this 45 grams of camera weirdness. I’m pretty sure I’d be compelled to add a red laser pointer. Appropriate coordinated clothing options are either black and white camouflage jacket and mohawk, or black leather, green phaser blocking shields, and a bald head.

Resistance is futile when it comes to making purchases in these consumer wonderlands. I added the Nikkor 35mm f/2 lens to my kit. I’m really loving it for street photography, and for lightening my load.

As an aside, if you were interested in knowing what Tommy Lee Jones is up to, he’s looking like a Premium Boss for Suntory.

National Foundation Day at Meiji Jingu

We thought we were on our way to wander around beautiful Yoyogi park. We were surprised when we could hear intense drumming echoing through the halls of the subway station.

It was hard not to follow the crowd toward to the festivities which we learned later were for “Kigen-sai,” the National Foundation Festival.

A very informative sign informed us that:

February 11 is a day of special significance namely, it is the date that Emperor Jinmu, the legendary first emperor of Japan, acceded to the throne at Kashihara’no’miya in Yamato (the current Nara Prefecture). Before World War II, this day was named National Foundation Day, and was considered one of the four major celebrative days in Japan, along with New Year’s Day, the birthday of the reigning Emperor, and Emperor Meiji’s birthday. Today, it is called the Day Commemorating the National Foundation. A Shinto ritual ceremony is held at shrines all over Japan in reverence of the commencement of the imperial reign by Emperor Jinmu. On this 2,677th year of the imperial reign, let us proceed with courage to create a better society and nation, while appreciating the effort of our forefathers who have established prosperity in Japan.

Neighbourhoods gathered together to carry and dance shrines to the temple in a long joyous procession.

There was a solemn moment as the shrines passed through the giant wooden torii that marks the entry into the shrine area.

Below the noise of the crowd, the singing, and the drumming, you could feel a deep thundering bass through the entire area. The source was a giant drum. The video below captures the ceremony as men took turns striking it, but doesn’t capture the thundering that you could feel in your chest.

Lohagad Fort

I don’t understand the geology, but many hills outside of Mumbai are topped by tall vertical faces. These natural barriers made them ideal locations for forts and palaces for local rulers.

Lohagad Fort dates back centuries. It’s main gates are a twisting and turning layered fortress that must have been incredibly easy to defend. Legend has it that it served as a treasury in the 1600’s.

The gates now serve as a backdrop for photos.

The use of the fort must have extended into the not so distant past based on the British cannons that have been assembled together.

Kathak Meets Tap

One of the best dance performances I’ve seen in a long time was a show called “Rhythm Rewritten – Kathak Meets Tap.” Tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith collaborated with Seema Mehta, who performs a traditional Indian form of dance called Kathak. The two improvised with three very well known Indian musicians: Sabir Khan on tabla, Debashis Sarkar on vocals, and Jayanta Banerjee on sitar.

I snuck a photo during the opening moment.

Here’s a clip. I jumped to my feet cheering at the end, joining the crowd calling for an encore.

Haji Ali Mosque, Mumbai

We ventured out on a Saturday morning for a tour of the Haji Ali Mosque which sits out in the bay just off the coast of Mumbai. It’s a popular destination for sightseeing, and seemingly more popular for selfies on the rocks behind the mosque.

The buildings are under reconstruction. The manager was proud to point out that it’s being rebuilt with second grade marble, which is much better than the Taj Mahal, which was built with third grade marble.

It was a hot, hazy day looking back toward Mumbai. The guy standing on the rocks was hand-casting a fishing line into the bay. I’m not sure what he was using for bait, but he didn’t seem to be catching anything.