One day at an archery match

Archer1

When I reach the archery stadium, the group of men in traditional ghos are peering across the range, looks of intense concentration on their faces. It is a sunny morning in Thimphu and the match has been on for a couple of hours already. Spectators are drifting in and out; ardent team supporters who hoot with languid Bhutanese grace, local youth who are also possibly champion archers, and the quintessential monks who cover their heads against the sun with their bright red robes.

Spectators1

Spectators2

Spectators3

Thwack! The arrow flies in from across the field – all of 140 metres (at 476 feet, twice the official Olympic length) – and hits the bullseye. And suddenly the men on the field whoop and whistle, and break into dance. It is a simple simple foot up and foot down shuffle but it is performed with the earnestness the ritual deserves. When a player misses his mark, taunts fly thick and fast across the field, like the arrows themselves. There is a lot of laughter, and a lot of hand wringing. And, I am told, a lot of money riding on the match.

Dance

Dance1

Dance2

Dance3

Archery is the national sport of Bhutan, and the Bhutanese take it very seriously indeed. Matches are held regularly in villages and towns across the country. On the eve of major competitions, players – 13 to a team – stay together in order to bond better for the big event.

Like everything else in Bhutan, modernity has nudged itself into archery. Compound fibre-glass bows imported from the US have taken over traditional bamboo ones. There are advertisements fluttering in the breeze and sponsorship signs everywhere. Alcohol flows freely on the sides, spirits are correspondingly high and it is a miracle there are no mishaps that morning.

Range

Archer2

Target

Archer

Comics city Brussels

Although Brussels is not the most charming city in Belgium – there are far prettier towns in the northern region of Flanders – it won me over with its stunning wall art scattered carelessly through its heart. Brussels takes it comics very seriously – comic book shops in plenty, a comics cafe (more on it soon), even a comics museum. Georges Prosper Remi, pen name Hergé, was born in Brussels and wrote /illustrated his 23 Tintin books there. Fittingly, there is also a museum dedicated to the life and works of Hergé.

In the short time I spent exploring the city on foot, I came across these comic wall murals of exceptional quality. Here, take a walk with me in the comics city…

1

2

3

4

5

6

I had a tough time choosing my favourite, but I think this one wins. Each time I look at it, I find something new and amusing…

7

A morning at Dhobi Ghat

“Dhobi Ghat is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mumbai,” say several websites I look into. Really? Ok, so I did land up there one morning, camera in hand, so I realize I have no right to be snarky but “tourist attraction?” There was even this major makeover proposed a couple of years ago but when I went last April, I saw no signs of anything having been made over, or even made cleaner. The dhobis are clearly tired of having camera thrust on their faces but a crisp 100 rupee note into the hands of the man who calls himself the supervisor gets me a hasty guided tour.

Anyway. Here are a few images from my morning at Dhobi Ghat.

Greens and whites

Morning sunlight

Rin ki safedi?

No doubt who this belongs to

You're taking my photo?

Press on

Don't argue with me

Clothes and chaos

More photographs from Dhobi Ghat on my flickr set here

Here is a short documentary on BBC – more than a 100,000 items of clothing are washed here every single day. And here is an interesting blog post by Meena Kadri on the almost error-free marking system used by the dhobis and the dabbawalas of Mumbai.

Also read: my story in the Singapore Airlines’ inflight magazine on Mumbai’s dabbawalas – I had great fun following them around South Mumbai for two days – Clockwork Couriers.

KR market: Bangalore markets series

Welcome to KR market, locally known also as city market… Named after the king Krishnarajendra Wodeyar, this is one of Bangalore’s oldest markets.

Going nuts

The highlight of the city market (for me, definitely) are the flower vendors – lording over the pinks and oranges and yellows, jasmine, marigold and kanakambaram, coils and coils of pure white. Activity in this part of the market starts well before dawn, and the area bustles with shoppers, both wholesale and retail. And by the time the sun rises and the day gets hot, these vendors are ready to wind up their day’s work.

Coils of pink

In the flower market, this lady is a rock star… everyone I know who visits city market with a camera comes away with her picture. Except that I am told I got lucky – she actually favoured me with a smile!

Amused

Just along the flower sellers are the vegetable vendors, usually with creative small piles of their specialty vegetables…

Who will bell these peppers?

tic tac toe

Walk inside the market to see another side of trading – more nut and dried fruit vendors, sellers of fresh peas and broad beans, vendors of lemons by the dozens – and a row of shops with wholesale pooja items – intricate flower umbrellas, framed pictures and mountains of kumkum in brilliant colours…

Kumkum colours

And just down the road, on the other side are the flower sellers from whom the city florists buy their stuff – the daisies and roses and all the other pretty flowers that sell at five times they cost here…

If life were a bed of roses...

Door delivery

Then there are the other professionals – like the parrot-card-fortune reader (kili josiyam in Tamil) and the knife sharpener. Not to mention the odd music band.

What's in the cards for you today?

Band Baaja

Head there early in the morning – read before 6 a.m to get the best experience of City Market.

View more photographs from City Market here

Earlier in the market series: Gandhi Bazaar

A Lalbagh evening

Bangalore does not fascinate me the way Bombay does – in my first few months here, I rarely took my camera out. I am fast remedying that by visiting the local markets – Gandhi Bazaar and City Market (watch this space) ticked off so far. And last week, I headed to Lalbagh one evening lured by the promise of a windy evening in the park. Plus I wanted to take my new Canon 50 mm lens (ahem!) out for a walk. Lalbagh bore the unmistakable signs of summer – brown leaves, dry grounds and raw mango sellers.

Summer's here

It is times like these – blue skies, cool breeze, blooming gulmohar trees – that makes living in Bangalore worth it.

Chase those blues away

I love it about parks that people find them great places for that undisturbed afternoon siesta. I am told I caused a lot of merriment by clicking away at this sleeping figure – I do not like to think of the possibility that this man could have suddenly woken up and asked what I thought I was doing…

A clear conscience

I saw these boards everywhere that irked me no end – what do you mean no playing in the park? Reminded me of this definition of puritanism by Henry Mencken – the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy. I was happy to see kids flouting this senseless rule and having a great time just running around making a lot of noise in the open – football or no football.

A Lalbagh evening

And finally this – from another time, another season in the park…

Under a sky of flowers...

Gandhi Bazaar: Bangalore markets series

There is no way to describe the colours and chaos of this market (yes, I know, how can anyone describe any Indian market?)

Here is the first part of (what I hope will be) a series on the markets of Bangalore on this blog – a walk through Gandhi Bazaar. In the heart of Basavangudi, Gandhi Bazaar stretches for a short kilometer or so, bordered on both sides by shops selling everything from saris and clothes to plastics and kitchen utensils, fronted by vegetable and fruit stalls.

First things first – and when in Gandhi Bazaar, that means breakfast at Vidyarthi Bhavan – khara bhath, crispy, dripping with oil (or is that ghee? oh, never mind) masala dosa followed by filter coffee and you will be tempted to agree that aal izz well with the world. I know many who call this the best dosa in Bangalore – I don’t know about that, but I can say that it is worth the wait and the agony of sharing the table with strangers (who are usually locals and look at you with disdain).

Friendly folk, ever ready to pose and smile (and what can a camera not do?), I had fun chatting with the vegetable and fruit vendors in Tamil.

The flower sellers are grouped together at one end of the market – doing brisk business of both loose flowers and garlands…

Then there is the occasional mobile pickle-seller… (door delivery of pickles – the thought of it makes my hyper-acidity act up!)

And finally, to keep the evil eye away…

Also read: this lovely post by Iyer Matter on Basavangudi and the charm of old Bangalore – another Bangalorophile pointed it out to me, thanks G!

Saturday at Chatuchak

I am not very fond of shopping, even in a place like Bangkok. Or perhaps, particularly in a place like Bangkok – all the malls seem the same after a while – all glass and steel and selling characterless branded (whether genuine or spurious) clothes and electronics.

It was on my second trip to Bangkok that I discovered the Chatuchak weekend market, thanks to a friend who lives there. Chatuchak is popular among both tourists and locals and prices are very reasonable, with bargaining not just acceptable but actually expected from buyers.

Chatuchak (pronounced Jatujak) is the largest market in Thailand, and for a nation known for it shopping, that is saying a lot. I am told that the market has over 15000 stalls – divided into sections – and if you are the ‘shopping types’ that means you could spend the entire day there and not have covered all of it. I spent a few hours on a Saturday morning and was exhausted at the end of the first thirty minutes.

Saying cheeeeeese

Like all self-respecting markets, there are street performers all along the lanes of Chatuchak – from a group of children in school uniform playing classical Western music to lone musicians on traditional instruments, this market has it all…

Not to mention the other kinds of street artists – jugglers, magicians, painters…

Tricks of the trade

Bored of posing

The fine art of shoe painting

Chatuchak is a great place to buy local, Thai handicraft and souvenirs. Tourists are however advised to be cautious before buying expensive antiques; some of them are brand-new antiques, made specially for this market!

The Buddha of suburbia

This is one of my favourite cluster of shops – selling wooden toys and musical instruments – I picked up a lampshade shaped like a small elephant and several pretty candle holders in dark wood.

If music be the food of love...

Thankfully, there is plenty to eat and drink in the market – again, try the local fare – I was there in summer and had sticky rice with mango every chance I got, washing it down with coconut water or these cooling agents…

Cool off!

This is what these little dots of colour are… and this is how I want to be when I grow old (not all grey and wrinkled but young-at-heart and enjoying the simple pleasures of life)…

Never too old

Tip : Take a sky-train or metro to the nearest station, grab a couple of bottles of water and a map of the market and find the zone that has the stalls that are of interest to you – that way, you get to spend time and energy where you really want to, avoiding the other zones (says, pets and live animals, for instance!).

Beyond Angkor, what?

Beyond Angkor, What?

So you have risen at the crack of dawn, or even earlier, and made your sleepy way to the Angkor Wat to see the famed sunrise. You have followed in the glamorous footsteps of Anjelina Jolie to the ruins of the Ta Prohm temple (where parts of the film ‘Tomb Raider’ was shot), held captive for centuries by the ancient trees. And at the Angkor Thom complex, you have been awed by the sight of the smiling Buddha faces on the walls of the Bayon temple. So, now what?

Good morning Angkor!

In the grip of nature

Discover Angkor, Wats and all: If you have missed the sunrise at Angkor Wat (though it is entirely worth the effort, despite the pushy crowds), head to Phnom Bakheng for the sunset. Get there early before the hordes and find a vantage position from which to watch the sun go down the Angkor archaeological park. Take some time to enjoy the smaller temples; in particular the exquisite Bantaey Srei (translated as the ‘citadel of women’). Diminutive in size, the pinkish sandstone temple is a welcome relief from the imposing size and dull grey-brown tones of most of the other temples here.

Art at Angkor: It is impossible to visit Siem Reap and not get tempted into watching an apsara dance performance. The apsara is a symbol of ancient Khmer culture and the performing tradition of Cambodia has seen a revival in recent years. Most restaurants offer them as part of the evening meal, though if you have the money and interest, it is advisable to watch it at one of the more up-market hotels, such as the Angkor Village Apsara Theatre or the Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor. And if you have the time, make a trip to the Artisans d’ Angkor workshop (near the old market) for Khmer handicraft including stone and wood carving, silk painting and lacquer work – or head outside town to the silk farm, also managed by the same trust.

Apsaras - in stone and in flesh...

Walkabouts: Walk along the river when the weather is cool, towards the Psar Chaa old market to shop for souvenirs and local food. Also drop in at the Angkor night market – open till midnight – just at the end of Pub Street (off Sivatha Road) for unusual Khmer artefact, and the experience. A good place to visit even before you get on the temple circuit is the Angkor National Museum (even if you are not the “museum types”) – at $12 for an entry ticket, it is an expensive but excellent way to get an orientation of Khmer history, both ancient and recent. Several hundred statues, hidden for the last century and therefore preserved, have found their way here and the stories on the well-made audio-video guides are interesting, if only for the striking similarities with Indian mythology. If you ever make your weary way to FCC Angkor hotel, a visit to McDermott gallery nearby is a must, for sepia-tinted glimpses of Cambodia and the Angkor temples.

Travel in style: And I do not mean the tuk-tuks here, even those unique Cambodian ones, pulled by motorbikes. Go up on a helium balloon or a helicopter for a comprehensive aerial view of the Angkor temples. At sunset, take a cruise on the Tonle Sap lake to see the floating village; Chong Kneas is the closest and has a floating school and church among other things. The boats usually dock at the crocodile farm (which doubles up as a small coffee and souvenir shop) and the view from the rooftop is stunning. The lake sprawls all round you like a minor placid ocean, and the Vietnamese refugees who have made it their home go about their routine evening activities, as the sun sets in the horizon. If you are fit and adventurous, hire a bicycle or motorbike to travel around the Angkor archaeological sites; the terrain is flat and most of the major temples are located close to each other.

Entering Angkor Thom

Eat, drink and be merry: Siem Reap has some excellent café and restaurants, including several authentic – I am told – Indian restaurants (KamaSutra, Maharajah). Most of them are clustered around the main market area and the accurately if unimaginatively named Pub Street. Eateries here compete for business, not just with great food, live music and cheap booze, but also with clever names; I was lured by Kampuchino, Angkor what?, Blue Pumpkin and Laundry Bar. A drink at the FCC Angkor, overlooking the river is highly recommended, as is a (vegetarian) meal at the Singing Tree Garden Café.

***
This piece was published in the Sunday Mid-day dated January 17th.
More photographs from the Angkor complex here

Mumbai Diary 2010

From Jerry Pinto’s lovely introduction to Mumbai Diary 2010, based on the theme of Mumbai at work – Fourteen million people on the tiny finger of land pushing its way cockily into the sea? It’s room enough to get lost in but Mumbaikers refused to get swamped. We know that the only chance is to be seen and to be heard and to work that tiny patch of pavement into a mansion. The man unloading the truck then takes on the air of a sultan, surveying his domain. The man selling snake oil looks you in the eye and promises you a new life where you want a new life. They know they have a place in the world.

There are some stunning images of people at work – knife grinders, ear wax cleaners, tattoo artists, street performers, fisherfolk, window cleaners, chaiwalas – all of them make an appearance in this diary. A couple of my photographs are part of this superb diary.

And here are some more of my ‘Mumbai at work’ images…

At Sardar Pav Bhaji near Bombay Central

Work in progress

This could be anywhere in India, the street acrobats – this family lives and performs near the Kala Ghoda area.

Rings of fire

Rings of fire

A fine balance

great weight on her shoulders...

This one is from Crawford market – the coconut vendor moonlighting as mobile phone card salesman…

Coconuts and connections

Coconuts and connections

And finally one of my favourites – from Juhu beach one rainy evening last August…

Blowing in the wind

Colored water, colorless bubbles

Also read this piece on CNNGo’s Mumbai edition on the Mumbai Diary.