Sunday, December 7, 2014

Joshimath – exploring without a plan

I stumbled upon this write up I had written around six years back when I'd taken a solo trip to the Valley of Flowers. This is about Joshimath, a place I stayed enroute, before proceeding to the Valley of Flowers. 

“Sahab, yaha pe kuch dekhne ko nahi hai. Aap Auli jaao,” these were the words I was greeted with as I was settling down in my hotel room in Joshimath, which was the last thing I wanted to hear after a back-breaking eight hour car journey.  

Located on NH58 at a height of 1875m and about 9 hours from Rishikesh, give or take a few hours depending on the efficiency of your Sumo driver. I had left Rishikesh around 9 in the morning and reached Joshimath around 4pm. Did not bother hunting for the right deals at hotels, as the first one I went to gave me a two-bedroom room with attached bathroom at an affordable rate.

Vinod, the hotel guy, I realised, wasn’t lying. For a tourist there is nothing in Joshimath, he should proceed to Auli. Joshimath is basically used as a stopover point, by travellers going to and returning from Govindghat, a base for trekkers to proceed to the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand. It's also a point from where people can proceed to the charming Auli - a ski destination during the winters. There’s a ropeway which transports you from Joshimath to Auli in around 45 mins.

Having already missed the last to and fro ropeway to Auli, I had no option but to explore Joshimath. It was still 5pm and I had around two more hours of light. So I set out to explore.

Joshimath is a sleepy town, with tonnes of hotels strewn around the main market area. I did the regular touristy thing by visiting the Adi Sankaracharya Math, which according to the Vinod, was the only place to see in all of Joshimath. It is located at a height from the marketplace, from where one gets a great vantage point. The hills on the opposite side of the valley were majestic. Clouds were shrouding the peaks every fifteen minutes or so, making photographing them tricky.

Sankaracharya Math was constructed in 8th century AD. It has a Laxmi Narayan Mandir at the entrance. The bright yellow color of the temple really looks out of place in the surrounding greens. To the left, one comes across a huge meditation hall. Proceeding ahead took me to the cave where Sankaracharya used to meditate called Shree Totkacharya Gunfa. The floor of the cave was comparitively cooler. The view from the cave was stunted by the staircase leading upto the Shiva temple.

I came back on the main road. I remembered seeing a milestone talking of some Narsimha Temple. Now Narsimha, as we all know is the half-human, half-lion Avatar of Vishnu, who killed King Hiranyakashyap. The story goes something like this: King Hiranyakashyapa was blessed with the boon that no human, no animal could kill him either on earth or above it. Neither would he be killed during the day nor during the night, by no weapon known to mankind. He is drunk on power and is hellbent on killing his son, the Vishnu devotee Bhakt Pralhad. So the Narsimha avataar (half-man, Half Lion) gets Hiranyakashyap on his lap (thereby him not being on earth or up above) and kills him by piercing his nailed paws in Hiranyakashyap’s stomach (thereby satisfying the condition that no weapon can kill Hiranyakashyap). Hindu Mythology sometimes really does fascinate me to a great extent.

Having known the legend behind the story beforehand, a first for me, I decided to look out for this temple. The path leading up to the temple took me through the quaint alleys of Joshimath. This gave me an opportunity to pass by local houses and witness the villagers going about their lives first hand. The pathways sloping all throughout, kind of reminded me of Gangtok. I guess this characteristic is common with all the high altitude towns. One house in particular with is white columns, wooden balconies and windows, reminded me of a scene from an Indipop song called ‘Piya Basanti Re,’ by Ustad Sultan Khan which has been shot in Himachal Pradesh. There were many such houses I came across while taking this out of the way route towards the temple.

The temple was located in a corner. One really has to search for it. It is a temple complex, not really huge in size. But still it has many a confusing pathways. There is a Hanuman Temple, a Narsimha Temple and other temples. It also has a Math or a religious place, which is conspicuous due to the bright yellow paint spread over its exterior. The place was really quiet, I mean I could hear a pin drop. It is rare in temples in India to be so quiet. Another thing worth noticing was the cleanliness around the temples. Maybe the fact that some part of the complex housed the Pandit’s family was a reason. But it was pleasant to come to a quiet and clean temple. The one thing that fascinated me here was the roofing system. The roofs were made out of flat stones, again something I assume is a characteristic of high altitudes.  

I met a local lad who gave me his version of the Narsimha story which was obviously made up. It was fun talking to him though and he told me about my next pit stop. I proceeded ahead off the main road. Came across another road which had jeeps parked. I would be on one of these the next morning heading towards Govind Ghat. I feasted on the local chaat and sat on a park bench with the wall of mountain in front of me with a valley leading up to it. Around me were people discussing local affairs in their mother tongue, which was slightly different from Hindi, but I was able to follow. This is one of the things I like, about visiting small towns. The chatter is so hyper-local, so completely cut off from the mainstream, that it’s refreshing. Being connected to the Matrix (global media) our conversations inevitably centre around pretty mainstream things, if the topic of discussion isn’t personal.

It was quite peaceful just sitting there observing people, admiring the tiny waterfall trying to make its way out of the wall of mountain. The zig-zag roadways on the mountain in the distance brought home the reality of the troubles people living at a height have to face. No wonder a lot of the residents have brilliants stamina. I could sit hours staring at the mountains. There's something about mountains, that makes me feel irrelevant in the larger scheme of things.

I had not kept any track of where I was headed, so was but natural for me to forget my way back. But it was not very difficult finding my hotel. There was a ‘bandar-ka-khel’ sort of a thing happening under my hotel. There was quite an audience to watch the shenanigans of the two kids who were doing stunts which were impressive. Last time I had seen that in the city was when I was as old as the kids. It seemed cruel to me, but that was what gave that family its dinner. I gave 50 bucks to the father and headed to my hotel room.

Take Care,

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The B-boys of Versova beach

It was turning out to be a boring Wednesday afternoon, as I was walking around the Versova beach trying to find something that would prod me to get the camera hanging by my shoulder to my eye level to make an image. It's not really my day today, I thought and was just heading towards the shore to let the mild waves brush my feet, a tradition I follow every time I go to a beach, unless I am wearing shoes that is. There were hardly any people on that stretch of the beach, except for some kids from nearby settlements playing cricket.

Nothing is more annoying than going all the way to a place and not finding anything to shoot. Rather, your mind drawing a blank, creatively speaking. Shooting the Versova Koliwada was on my agenda, but it being afternoon, nothing much was happening. My plan of shooting a buzzing fish market died a premature death.

At the shore, the sea water was warm and relatively clean. After about 10 minutes I decided to head home and started walking towards the road.

Just as I was about to keep my camera in my bag, I noticed these four youngsters some distance before the road, stretching their arms, legs and doing the things that one is expected to do when warming up. Maybe they were headed for a swim or a jog, I assumed and carried on walking towards the road. The heat from the sun behind my back was starting to get annoyingly hot. I quickened my pace.

The long shadows around me, of the three youngsters, suddenly had weird shapes. One shadow had the feet on top, the other had no connection with the ground. I found that a bit strange and turned around to check out what the three amigos were upto.

The warm up was for their B-boying dance practice. I smiled to myself, the camera came out of the back, and now my back was facing the road.

I started shooting and made many images. The setting sun, the B-boying, the enthusiastic dancers were just what I needed on that boring Wednesday afternoon.

I don't recall all of their names, but I did talk to them after while they were taking a breather. Turned out, they stayed nearby and come to the beach to practice their B-boying skills. They are part of a dance troupe that performs at college festivals and other functions.

Take Care,

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ganesh Chaturthi, Instagrammed

I have been using Instagram a lot lately and decided to document Ganesh Charurthi using the mobile app. Although I haven't really uploaded many photographs on my Instagram account, I think I can use the app for some mini projects in the future. The possibilities are there, I just need to doggedly pursue them. Here are some images from clicked from the cellphone only. I had clicked more images yesterday around Chowpatty, but will upload them on some other day. So here goes...

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Porte del Paradiso

Florence is synonymous with Art, thanks to the numerous talented artists coming out of this small Italian city. The famed Renaissance period has given us countless examples of art across media. So when I came across the words "The Florentine Renaissance: The City as a Crucible of Culture" on one bus shelter at CST station, it was really a no-brainer that this was one exhibition I wasn't going to miss.

While I am aware of masters such as Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Boticelli, Bellini and Raphael, the name Lorenzo Ghiberti did not really ring a bell when I was reading about the exhibition at Bhau Daji Lad museum. Call it my ignorance, but I haven't really explored the Renaissance art period as much as I would love to. But after today's visit to the Bhau Daji Lad museum wherein I got a guided tour of the installation titled Gates of Paradise, I know that I have a lot of reading ahead of me about this master Lorenzo Ghiberti.

The installation at the museum is a replica of the original Gates of Paradise, but it has been made from the original mould with guilded patina. It has been cast by Frilli Gallery in Florence, and is loaned from the Guild of the Dome association in Florence. The original Gates of Paradise had to undergo 27 years of restoration and are now securely lodged at Museo dell' Opera in Florence. 

I will not go into the history of Ghiberti's life as there is enough data on that available online. But the Gates of Paradise - a name given by Michelangelo to the 10-panelled doors sculpted by Ghiberti - was commissioned as a result of a previous work, another masterpiece known as North Doors which had 28 panels depicting Biblical themes. How he got that is an interesting story.

In 1401, the cloth merchants in Florence held a competition whereby they wanted artists to design the north doors of the Florence Baptistry. Artists were asked to make submissions in the form of gilded bronze panels. The then 20-year old Ghiberti, the son of a goldsmith, submitted his work. His peer, another artist named Fillipo Brunelleschi also submitted his work which was equally appreciated. This is where things get interesting. According to Ghiberti's autobiography, he had won that competition fair and square, but other sources claim that works of both Ghiberti and Brunelleschi were equally appreciated. The guild decided to let both the artists work on the North Door together.

As is human nature, ego got in the way. Brunelleschi left off for Rome leaving Ghiberti to work on the doors himself. That took 21 years. The next commission was the East doors - now known as Gates of Paradise. This took another 27 years.

Just get your head around those numbers - one artist (with his team) spent 48 years on these making these doors.

Forty-eight years is a long time, almost a life-time for most of us. Forget 20 years, it is difficult for most of us to last even 5 years working on just one single project. And here you have an artist who did that twice over. One look at the Gates of Paradise will tell you that this enterprise should have taken years to complete. But it is equally mind boggling to see the consistency maintained over this long duration.

The first thing that hit me was the sheer detailing on these doors. You have two doors divided into 10 square panels each depicting a different story from the Old Testament such as the story of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah's Ark, David and Goliath, and so on. The doors are surrounded by human figures on the edges interrupted with floral designs. The dark brown wood on the doors is wonderfully complemented by the golden finish on the sculpted panels. Ghiberti used the lost wax casting process for the sculpting.

Closer inspection of at least the lower four or six panels (based on your height as the entire structure is 16 ft in height) gives you an insight on how Ghiberti wasn't just a master sculptor, but also paid attention to perspective. Till this point I was under the impression that perspective was a headache of only the painters (again, maybe this is just my limited knowledge), but I was so wrong. Many of the sculptures come out of the plane of the door, giving it a three-dimensional outlook. One would believe that the non-visible side of a subject's profile wouldn't have the same level of detail as the visible side, but again I'm proven wrong.

Even though it is one installation, each panel is an art work in itself, and could have very well stood out on its own. Instead of leaving the edges unattended, you are treated to sculptures of people standing in different costumes, which is demarcated by just faces of others. One of these faces is a self-sculpture of Lorenzo Ghiberti himself. That may very well be the only sculpted selfie from the Renaissance period I must have heard of (but then again, I maybe wrong).

Spending around two hours admiring a work which took 27 years to complete, certainly seems unjust. Last time I was this beguiled was when I visited Dilwara Temples in Mount Abu. I know two completely separate periods, completely separate artistic styles, completely different artists. But both of them have a universal artistic language - one that immediately speaks to you. 

Take Care,