The City. The Stars

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A Book of Human Alienation

Cover of The City & The Stars. Image from Amazon India

In recent times, I have read a bit of science fiction. While this was a genre I used to read often when I was a teenager, I ventured into different genres of literature as I grew older. I was about to write ‘as I aged’, but then I stopped myself from writing this phrase. My parents gave me many things, and one was the philosophy of never allowing yourself to age. I don’t remember which book drove me to this one by Arthur C. Clarke, but one theme that I took from the book was that of human alienation from the natural world.

The story itself is simple and Arthur C Clarke set the stage millions or billions of years into the future. However, sometimes it is good to go backward before we go forwards. So, I will travel back to the 19th century, come back to the times in which we live before I take you into Arthur C. Clarke’s future world.

Time Travel

So, let’s travel to the 19th century, and learn about the world Henry David Thoreau lived in, and wrote about when he lived next to the Walden Pond. I will admit I don’t possess the courage to do what he did because I am much too addicted to my material comfort. Yet, in my lifetime, I have seen many changes. When I lived in Bombay many years back, I’d go to the market, choose a chicken, and observe as the butcher cut it. During my college days, we were required to supervise the butcher, as he cut the goat for our evening dinner.

Today, we go to a supermarket, and buy a leg wrapped in polythene, or order it using an app on our smartphone. If you analyze this, you may realize that we have stepped a few levels away from nature and, in doing so, are causing Thoreau’s soul to squirm.

While driving, we use Google Maps and, in doing so, we allow ourselves to rely on artificial intelligence to guide us. I shudder to contemplate the day when driverless cars overtake our lives.

Human alienation from nature is not the preserve of some future race. It is happening now, and ever since the Industrial Revolution began, we want to conquer nature and not live with it. We aim to be God, and in doing so, distance ourselves from each other and from the natural world.

The Future World.

In this future world, people have gone even further away from nature. In fact, fear drove the people who designed the city–fear of nature, mortality and the unknown. People don’t die but go back to Memory Banks to be ‘reborn’ and allow the rules of the city to guide them. They don’t feel genuine emotion and avoid going to the edge of the city.

The Central Computer rules them and takes all final decisions for them, overriding the council when required. Now, pause. Then, ponder over this and consider the consequences. Human alienation is complete.

Next, ask yourself which direction the world is heading. Are we headed for a sterile future in which we live boring, clinical lives? This may not be as bizarre as you may like to believe.

Sterilized Photography

Now, you may ask me: what does this have to do with photography? We have moved from the world of chemical processing to the world of digital processing and are moving to an age in which artificial intelligence runs many editing software platforms. Yes, these programs eliminate much drudgery from our editing and help us become ever more productive. However, as the machines penetrate deeper into this world, we forget the basics of image-making.

When you look at many images on social media and compare them with images that people like Minor White or Kertesz made, then you realize that many of today’s images are sterile in their perfection. What they gain in technique, they lose in heart and soul.

Finally, I’d like to ask you to read a book called, “In Praise of Shadows”, and reflect upon it.

Will human alienation be the defining motto of humanity’s future?


Full Disclosure: I have added my Amazon India Affiliate Links in this post! That’s the commercial announcement!


Meat. Passion & Power

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The Day The Lightning Struck

Meat Loaf ©people.com

Meat Loaf died a few weeks ago, and so did Lata Mangeshkar. We, in India, refer to Lata Mangeshkar as “The Nightingale of India”, and she was a fabulous and accomplished singer. Yet, her death left me cold. Zero. She lived. She died. In contrast, when I read about Meat Loaf’s passing, sadness flowed through me, because his passion and power always moved me and he was gone. I remember the day when I first heard his song, “Bat Out of Hell”. That day the lightning struck, and music changed.

I also remember one evening when a bunch of us gathered around to listen to “Bat Out of Hell”. Those days, we didn’t have YouTube or huge, fancy music systems, so we plugged our rusty music system into the electrical mains and let it rip. One of my friends, a crass fool, made a nasty crack about Meat Loaf’s girth, and compared him to most rock musicians who are skinny. He almost died night, when we all pounced on him with a yell, saying, “Who cares? It’s the voice. It’s the music.”

A Magnificent Legacy

Meat Loaf – a brilliant singer, magnificent singer and great human. After he died, I listened to an interview in which he confessed to being asthmatic and often requiring oxygen after a show. This man gave his heart and soul when singing, and while performing in front of a crowd. Have a look at this performance of “Bat Out of Hell” with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and you will know what I mean. For the audience that was the day the lightning struck, and I doubt anyone walked away unmoved by the man.

I have seen Lata Mangeshkar sing, and she always stood still and sang. Nothing in her face or body language conveyed emotion, and this stands in contrast to Meat Loaf.

Bat Out Of Hell. Live with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

A Glimpse of The Man

Tribute to Meat Loaf

The other video I want you to pay attention to is this interview with a young James Corden. Not only did he speak to him and give him his full attention, but he was also human and gave him some of the best advice a young boy could get. You rarely see people who have reached a certain level of power, fame, wealth, etc., talking to a young person and treating them with respect. I am serious when I suggest you watch this interview. It is short and gives you an excellent idea of the man behind the singing voice and the legend.

I am convinced lightning struck James Corden that day, and I say this because I detected deep emotion on his face.   

Meat Loaf – a brilliant singer, magnificent singer, and great human. Rest in Peace.

Partinng Thoughts

I’d like to leave you with some last thoughts.

Tough ones!

It took me a long time to accept that my corporate days are over.  I spent many years looking over my shoulder back to the days of my imagined glory. It took me a long while to realize I must look ahead and embrace my future in the worlds of photography and writing. So, I will put my heart and soul into these areas, and I won’t quit.

Inshah’Allah.



Kankhal. Shiva’s Townlet

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The Shiva Temple in the Townlet

The famous Shiva Temple in Kankhal

And so, the time has come to talk about the last place we visited. After Rishikesh, Kunjapuri, Neelkanth, and Haridwar, we went to Kankhal. I don’t know how to describe Kankhal, because it is not a town, neither is it a village or hamlet. Nor is Kankhal a colony of Haridwar, though some may call it that. After much cogitation, I used an unfamiliar word–‘townlet’. People visit Kankhal for the Shiva Temple, and they also consider it as the summer capital of Shiva. Hindu mythology is complex and many-layered.

We traveled to Kankhal by auto-rickshaw and, if I remember the morning well, we hired the driver for the morning. On this occasion, I did not indulge in my usual pastime of chatting with people like him, because we were bumping all the way to the townlet. Our first stop was at the temple, which is quite a good-looking temple. As usual, I didn’t enter the temple, because my principles prohibited me from doing so. After wandering for a short time, I walked down to the banks of the canal, where the Ganges flowed past the town.

The Waters

The polluted waters of the Ganges. The clean sky

By the time the waters reached Kankhal, they lost some of their steam, and the flow was gentle. When, and if, you get into the waters in Haridwar without holding onto the chains, the water will wash you away. However, you can play in the gentler flow in Kankhal, and I watched some kids doing just that. Contrasted with Haridwar, the water here is considerably dirtier, but not as filthy as the water you find in Benares.

Peace on Earth

The polluted waters of the Ganges. The clean skyPolluted Waters. Clean Sky

Again, I don’t remember the entire morning well, and I think we visited a few more temples in the townlet. One has a Shiva Temple has a Lingam, which people claim to be constructed of mercury. I doubt they constructed the lingam of pure mercury because the metal is liquid at room temperature.

But overall, I liked the peaceful atmosphere in the town. No one bothered us as we walked in the temple compounds: no hysterical screams at our cameras, or grubby fingers grasping for money.

Peace on earth, my brothers, and sisters is what the townlet seemed to say. Peace on earth, between people of all races, castes, and religions. However, this may just be my fantasy. I will never know.

I’d like to leave you with a few images


This is the end of that old, old trip I made in March-April 2014!


I’ll end with a commercial break! I edited the images with Luminar AI


Haridwar. City of God

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Religious Fervor

Haridwar. Setting Sun. The Hill

After we visited Rishikesh, Neelkanth and Kunjapuri, we went back to Haridwar. Haridwar, or the “Doorway to God”, if you take a literal translation of the name of the town. Some towns are built around religion and God, and Haridwar is one of these towns. Every aspect of the town focuses on sustaining religious fervor, and is home to pilgrims to come, visit, stay and move on to other destinations.

In the North Indian state of Uttaranchal, people undertake religious trip, or Yatra, known as the ‘Char Dham Yatra’, and the places covered in this are the towns of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. In the major Char Dham, tradition asks you to visit Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Rameswaram. They say that once you visit these four places, said to be places of the God Vishnu, you will attain ‘moksha’ or salvation.

Before I continue, allow me to translate. “Char” means Four; “Dham” means “Abode”, and “Yatra” means “Journey”. So, it is the journey (in this case, devotional) to the Four Abodes (of Vishnu).

Rajiv, The Cynic

I am more of a cynical person and don’t agree that you attain salvation by making religious trips, ringing bells, and feeling happy about this. But I if this comforts you and a sense of salvation, then I am at peace with your belief system. I have never been comfortable praying before proceeding to ruin the environment, or harm people.

Before I continue, I must pause and take a deep breath. If I don’t, I will only direct venom and spit towards the rising trend of religious intolerance in India. It’s unfortunate this is happening because all we are doing is to weaken society and wreak havoc on the young and future generations.

I’ve traveled to Haridwar many times on business, and a few times for the pleasure of making photographs. Over the years, the town has changed and yet nothing has changed. If you find my statement confusing, I don’t blame you.

The Central Core of The Town

Building by the River bathed by the rising sun in Haridwar.

The central core of the town has not changed over the years. On one side of the canal (the waters of the Ganges flow fast along this canal), you find the market and most religious institutions. This is also where hotels dot the town, as well as dharmsalas for poor pilgrims. Almost all the pilgrims who travel through and to the town are poor. They are damned in this life, so seek salvation in the next in their religious fervor. And why shouldn’t they? Life in India is difficult for most people and can be almost torture for the poor and downtrodden. In contrast, the rich enjoy a very comfortable life in India, with the poor as their minions.

There is a walking path on the other side of the river, and I prefer this part of the town. Priests hold a prayer ceremony every evening, in an area called “Har Ki Pauri”. People crowd the area, especially in the evening, and you may find someone picking your wallet with joy in their hearts!

There is a hill on either side of the town–the closer one being on the side where you have the market and the temples. And a temple sits on the top of each hill. I went up to one hilltop, but not into the temple. I avoid entering Hindu Temples because I find the priests to be avaricious and grasping. They don’t leave you alone and will rip the clothes off your back without hesitation.

We walked down, and this was splendid. I watched the sunset over the town, lighting it up, and casting a beautiful orange glow on the river. It is unfortunate but, few people pause and lose themselves in the sunset, or sit by the river and allow the power of the water to enter their souls.

The Outer Part of The Town

Then, there is a new outer area that has developed around the town. Here, you will find industries, industrial parks, and upscale hotels. Those who wander the modern parts of Haridwar avoid the core, ancient part of the town. They come in, do their business, pay a perfunctory visit to the Ganges, and dip their toes into the water to purify their souls. Then, they carry some water from the river back home for the religious ceremonies they conduct at home.

Haridwar is a cacophonous town, with religious music blaring through the calm of the morning and splitting the setting sun into a million pieces. The way pilgrims, priests and visitors muddy the waters with their offerings and soap suds does not match the religious fervor with which they pray. Since the Ganges purifies itself, as per belief, there is nothing for anyone to do to keep the water clean.

These are convenient beliefs because they absolve you of the responsibility of keeping the river clean. After all, if the river can do it, why should they?

For all my disdain about the religious practices in the town, the river, and the air, are beautiful. It won’t surprise me if this is the reason the first seekers stopped here, and said, ‘this place is good, and the spirit is strong.’


I edited the images using Luminar AI from Skylum. Luminar Neo is to be launched on the 17th of February. If you do use the link to explore it and buy it, then bully for you!


Kunjapuri. Blue & Gold

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The Golden Hour

Blue Hour in Kunjpuri

People make a lot of the blue and golden hour in the world of nature and landscape photography and, with good reason. When I wrote my last post about the small group of people sitting and Kunjapuri, immersed in the magic of the rising sun, I felt some of that magic. The power of dawn never leaves you, and something of it stays within you.

It is the mystical power of nature that you experience.

Years Back

Blue & Gold

Years back, when I as a child, I was religious. Back in those innocent days, I became friendly with a lady down the road. This lady had an enormous statue of the God, Krishna, in her living room and I often helped her dress the statue.

Later, when I entered my teens and discovered the world of Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan, I changed. When I changed, my views on religion changed and I explored some arcane aspects of the occult world.

Then I entered my twenties and discovered Shiva, who is the most fascinating of all the Indian Gods. My journey has been tortuous – from Shiva, to atheism, to animism with a hint of Shiva. Somewhere in this journey, I discovered the joys of the golden hour–and the blue.

I will not explain all the gory details, but I hope you get a slight hint of what I am talking about.

Blue & Gold

Gold

We arrived at Kunjapuri and climbed the infinite number of steps to the temple courtyard. The sky was dark, and the sky had a hint of blue. This is the blue hour before dawn, and life stirs. It is the turning of the earth, and mystical energy seems to fill the earth and the sky. At this moment, life seems to stand still in silence and everything appears to stand in homage to the turning of the day.

Then, the sun rose, and slowly we moved from the blue hour to the golden hour. The colors of the sky and the mountain transformed and changed; a new day began.

Magic and power exist, and if we are lucky, there are moments when we will experience this power.

If we allow ourselves to respect and love nature, then maybe we will stop destroying what we have. But we can only hope.


In Kunjapuri

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Beautiful Morning Light

The Kunjapuri Temple

The next place I want to write about is Kunjapuri, which is close to Rishikesh. My buddy and I drove up one morning to photograph the beautiful morning light. If memory serves, we left our hotel at 4 am, hired a taxi, and drove up the hill. Once we reached our destination, I discovered we had to climb almost one hundred steps to reach the temple courtyard to witness the sun’s first rays. 

I dislike waking up at 4 am, preferring to sleep in: a powerful force must motivate me to get out of bed. Therefore, when people told me that the sunrise at Neelkanth is worth the drive, I convinced my traveling friend to come along for the ride. 

We hired a taxi and drove up the winding path. When I think back, I don’t remember if we drove for 30 minutes or an hour. What I remember is that it seemed a long drive!

The Final Climb

Our friendly chaiwallah!

I was a corpulent person during my time in China. Compared to how I am today, I was fat in 2014 – even though I lost weight since I left China. So, when we reached Kunjapuri, I looked with considerable dismay up at the 100-odd steps we were to climb to reach the temple on the hill. 

Do you recall I wrote about my weight? I regret writing that, but I am committed to the truth or my version of it, anyway! My companion was overweight and unfit, and remains unchanged. Compared with him, I possessed the physique of an Olympian, but I am being unfair! After pausing and considering the task before us, we climbed. While I huffed and puffed, it seemed his heart was about to explode with the effort. 

The sound alarmed me, and I urged him to pause and have some chai at the little shop we passed on the way. We paused but kept the chai for later. Why, you may ask, since we both love chai: too much chai in the early hours of the morning can prompt a desire to pee, and we weren’t sure if the temple had any public toilets. 

When I look back at that climb, I remain convinced that only the prospect of the beautiful morning flight could have motivated me to climb up one hundred steep steps in the blue hour before dawn. 

Story of The Temple

I am a strange person because I had not explored the fame of the temple then and did not do so in the ensuing years. This is a beautiful and peaceful spot, despite its religious importance. Peace drives the energy you experience while at the temple area. Kunjapuri Temple is one of the 52 ‘shaktipeeth’ in India. Uttaranchal has 13 of them, and people have dedicated this temple to the Goddess Durga, even though they should have dedicated the spot to Sati. 

Now is the correct moment to enquire: what is a ‘Shaktipeeth’? A shaktipeeth is a mystical power center, and the origins may seem quite gory. You can read the entire article here, but this summary should suffice. 

The God Brahma’s son was called Daksha. He performed ceremonies aimed at getting Shakti as his daughter, Sati. Sati/ Shakti was Shiva’s wife, and when he performed the ceremony, he invited everyone except the divine couple, Sati and Shiva. Despite his protestations, Sati attended the ceremony and her father insulted her and Shiva. This then prompted her protest, and she immolated herself. 

Disconsolate, Shiva changed into his destructive aspect and chopped off Dakhsha’s head. Next, he danced the Tandava Nritya (Dance), the dance of death, rebirth, the cycle of time. This alarmed the Gods because they could not tame Shiva. To distract him, Vishnu (the second God of the Hindu Trinity) used one of his celestial weapons (the Sudarshan Chakra) and cut Sati’s body into 52 pieces, which fell at different spots in India.

Each spot is a ShaktiPeeth, or Place of Energy.

 The Calm of The Beautiful Morning Light.

I didn’t know the story, and it did not matter, as I stood in the temple courtyard and gazed at the sun’s journey over the mountain horizon. The temple is about 1,650 meters above sea level, and the blue hour turned into the golden hour.

Very few people visited the temple that morning, and the small group stood – or sat – and allowed the sun’s energy to flow through us. That is the best thing to do: enjoy nature without disturbing it with our cacophony. 

My Editing Tools

I edited these images using Lightroom Classic and then in Photoshop. I edited one or two images in Luminar. When I edited the images of the two ladies (in Photoshop), I reduced the saturation in their faces. Not doing so would have made the images incredibly garish, and I wished to avoid this. 


I Have a Question

Even though I often sound like a frog, shall I record a video in which I edit an image? Let me know in the comments below!


In Rishikesh. 2

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Peace on Earth

Sunset from the Lakshman Jhula. Rishikesh

The Ganges River flowing between the hills, and the sunset, has always created magic in Rishikesh. I have always experienced calm when I have sat by the water at dusk. I’ve spent evenings sitting by the riverside, as the sun goes down, creating magic in the sky. This is when I experience the peace on earth, and all is well with the world. Sometimes, I sit by the water, ignoring the camera, enjoying the play of nature. 

But we live in the real world, and peace does not always spread its wings and wave its magic wand to make all our problems disappear. As I write this, I also realize we must take these moments of calm whenever we can. Sometimes, it feels as though we are stealing these moments of peace, and I ask myself the question, ‘Why not?’

Thich Nhat Hanh died on the 22nd of January, and he is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who popularized the concept of mindfulness. Even though some Western practitioners believe mindfulness originated with the Buddhists, mindfulness is not an exclusive Buddhist preserve. We can argue and quibble, but every religion, region, and philosophy recommend mindful behavior. 

So, when I sit by the banks of the Ganges, I realize there is peace on earth, and I am tapping into some ancient mystical spirit. 

This Man

One with Nature

I remember this man. I remember him standing by the side of the River Ganges with the sun dipping over the horizon. He stood and swung his rope rhythmically, lost in the moment. I follow an animist belief system and was immersed in his activities. I was only conscious of the peace on earth. 

At that moment, as other people sat watching him, or the river, or the sun, I knew everything under the sky was in tune. Yes, I understand this line is from Pink Floyd, but it fits here. 

When you are sitting without making a sound, in moments like this, everything fits together. And he stood, waving that rope in the air, swirling it round and round and round. When I look back at that evening, I remember hearing nothing but the sound of the river and the evening breeze.

I Was Not Always This Way

Now the time has come to make a confession. Much though I’d like to say that I’ve always been like this, I know it would be a lie. There was a time when I was a hard-charging executive, with no time for anything but business. 

I had listened to Donovan’s song, “Slow Down World”, but it didn’t make sense to me, except for a theoretical pleasure in the lyrics. Then, I discovered Thich Nhat Hanh, and his books, “The Miracle of Mindfulness” and “Peace is Every Step”. 

These days, this makes increasing sense to me. 

A Note on The Edits.

I edited these images first in Lightroom Classic. I am not given to using templates and presets and avoid them unless the image demands it. These days, I apply a linear profile to the images in Lightroom, and then work from this point. When I do this, the image looks lifeless and at first, something appears to be wrong. However, when you edit the images, then you realize that the linear profiles give you tremendous flexibility and power. 

After this, I took the images into Photoshop, and applied the final edits and finishing touches. If you are interested in linear profiles, go to Tony Kuyper’s website, and check them out. You will find him at https://goodlight.us

My Camera & My Chai

My Camera & My Chai

It is on this trip that I conceived of the “My Camera & My Chai” series of blog posts.


In Rishikesh. 1

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The City Of Yoga

I used to travel to Rishikesh many years back when I was in consumer sales, and we always regarded Rishikesh as a backwater town. We never stayed in Rishikesh but used to stay in a hotel in Haridwar and travel to Rishikesh, and back to Haridwar. Apart from this, we did not hold Rishikesh in good esteem for the food. In the years that have passed since then, it has transformed itself into being, a city of yoga. When in Rishikesh, I spend considerable time by the banks of the Ganges, not always on my belly!

When I first traveled to Rishikesh, I didn’t notice any foreigners – if they were wandering in Rishikesh; the numbers were too low for them to be visible. Now, they are all over the place and, I’d say that many of them are more local than the locals. You will find them practicing yoga; doing strange exercises at various parts of the town; sitting in the German Bakery holding forth on Hindu philosophy with a serious mien; squatting next to cows, or in some awful restaurants, and even getting their ears cleaned.

What Else Will You Find?

You will also find them sitting at the banks of the Ganges, at the various Ashrams, like the famous Parmarth Ashram, listening to the grand evening prayer. The Parmarth Ashram has an annual yoga festival, which I have never attended. Neither do I intend to do so, because hotel prices skyrocket during this time. 

Yoga centers dot this city of yoga and posters of yoga practitioners in various contorted poses provide a passerby enough opportunity to wonder if they ever undo the knots!

Most of these foreigners live in Rishikesh for several months in the year, and they are often more welcome at restaurants than we Indian citizens are. This is reverse discrimination, and we Indians are good at this. 

The Beatles & Donovan

A temple and the bridge. The Ganges

The Beatles and Donovan visited this city of yoga many years ago, and some believe that it is here, under the starry skies and in a psychedelic mood, Donovan composed his song, “The Hurdy Gurdy Man”

What You Won’t Find

Wonderful restaurants. Restaurants are awful, but then you don’t visit for the food. You visit for the river, the evening breeze, and the chance to walk along the two suspension bridges – one known as Lakshman Jhula, and the other known as Ram Jhula. Ram and Lakshman are the two brothers in the Ramayana. These days, hardcore right-wing Hindus chant “Jai Shri Ram” and call for Muslim genocide. I doubt Ram approves of genocide being carried out in his name, or even people calling for genocide. 

The word “Jhula” means “swing”, no doubt inspired because the bridges sway when people walk on them. The Ram Jhula, the bigger one, is downstream. Chief Engineer P.H. Tillard supervised the construction of the bridge, which was built between 1927 and 1929. Since those days, we have added one billion people to our country’s population, and Mr Tillard’s ghost will be proud to know his bridge has survived all these years. 

If you sit at one of the German bakeries, you can gaze down at the Lakshman Jhula while sipping their lemon-ginger tea and eating some of their baked product. It’s good to sit there by the open windows, look down at the bridge and river, and listen to people pontificate on the eternal soul of India. 

This city of yoga is calm and peaceful, and I get most of my peace from the beautiful river that flows through the town.

The Edits

I used Luminar AI

to edit these images. I started with the templates suggested by the software and refined the edits thereafter. After I had finished editing a particular image, I copied the edits to other images that had a similar style or atmosphere. The reason I did this was to achieve a consistent style collection of images. Try it one day!  


At Neelkanth

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Picture-Postcard Images

Rishikesh

The last post I wrote had an unforgivable error. I mentioned I went to the banks of the Ganges, or Ganga, after going to Kankhal when, in fact, drove there after visiting the Neelkanth Temple. Yes, I was at this temple on the hill and made some picture-postcard images while I was visiting the place. 

There is nothing wrong with picture-postcard images, and I’d like to say that this is fine if it is not your main style of photography. But this is a snobbish statement, and unacceptable. It’s critical to acknowledge that not everyone takes the time to edit images till they resemble nothing on Earth. 

Neelkanth

Neelkanth Temple

If you gaze down at Rishikesh from above, you notice that the Ganges River bisects the town. When you look towards the hills, you notice one road on the left side of the river, which I have nicknamed “The Left Road”. The other side has “The Right Road”. Not that the Left Road is the wrong road, but I assume you get what I mean. 

Most hotels are on The Left Road, but to reach Neelkanth, you must cross a bridge beyond, or at the border of the town. 

Once you cross this road, you turn left and climb up the hill.

About The Temple

The Neelkanth Temple has is dedicated to Shiva, also known as The Destroyer. This appellation does not do Shiva justice, as he is the most multi-faceted and fascinating God in the Hindu pantheon of gods. 

The meaning of Neelkanth is The Blue Throated One. This place, legends say, is where Shiva drank the poison that floated up when the Gods and Demons churned the ‘oceans’ to get – or find – ‘amrit’ or the nectar of immortality. A poisonous froth rose to the top (akin to slag, in steelmaking!), which Shiva drank. When he had consumed the poison, his throat turned blue. 

It’s a different matter that, after co-operating with the Demons to get the nectar, the Gods then ticked the Demons and kept the drink for themselves! Gods were not perfect. Neither were they immortal and had to drink the nectar to attain immortality. 

Our Trip

We drove up the 32 km to the temple and then walked around.  

I found the temple exterior to be a bit too colorful for my preference, but everyone has their own taste. The interior was dirty, and I ended up walking around almost on my toes. I remember the walking path being wet, and I hate the idea of wearing wet socks that encase dirty, mucky feet. 

We walked around with our cameras slung around our necks. Priests don’t allow you to photograph anything inside a temple because you are not allowed – in their words – to photograph God. I’ve always wondered at this because you are gaping at a statue, and this is a man-made thing. Still, I have found it advisable not to argue with them, because they can be rather abusive. In fact, they are creative and filled with passion when they abuse. 

Apart from this, you will find cops hanging around the most famous temples, and they are zealous guardians of the Gods. Since those days, we Indians have become increasingly intolerant, and we have many right-wing groups who are always ready to defend the honor of Hindu Gods. 

I was more interested in the ‘bhajia and chai’ at the local restaurant. The closest description I can give of a ‘bhajjia’ is that it is a sort of fritter. A bhajji is potato, onion, or green chili coated with gram flour and deep-fried. We have many kinds of bhajjia and pakora, and regional spices determine the flavor of the bhajjia. You find egg or chicken in pakoras, but not in bhajjia!

I gaped at people ringing the temple bell, and then we left on our return journey to Rishikesh. Ringing the temple bell is almost mandatory because the sound marks your attendance at the temple and sends your prayer and attendance report up to God.

Editing

Ring out, temple bell!

I edited these images using Luminar AI. It is an excellent tool for consumers, prosumers of people who have many images to edit. The software suggests templates, or presets, as a starting point, and you are free to ignore these suggestions if you like! Skylum is launching Luminar Neo, and the final ( I think it is final) presale sale is live!

I got the smiley from https://icons8.com


By The Ganges

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It’s Good to Reminisce

The Ganges River

Over the next weeks, I am going to reminisce, like an old fuddy-duddy chap, about a trip I made to Haridwar and Rishikesh in March-April 2014. Damn, my hair was blacker in those days! But some people tell me that the ‘salt & pepper’ hair I sport nowadays is sexy. I don’t know, because I don’t see any young, nubile girl falling head over heels in love with me!

Anyway, that’s the way life goes sometimes.

This was one of the last trips I made with my good buddy, and I won’t reveal his name. Let’s just use his initials–AK.

We took a train to Haridwar, in the hill state of Uttarakhand. From there, we hired a taxi to Rishikesh. Even though I don’t remember the name of the hotel we stayed at, a few things that stand out in my memory. One, they served excellent food. In fact, they served the best food in the town. Second, we got eggs for breakfast, unusual in this vegetarian town. Last a, a gorgeous woman also stayed at the hotel. It was sad we didn’t get to say hello to her.

It’s fun to reminisce once in a while.

Walking Down to The River

On this occasion, we drove up to a temple village called Kankhal to visit the Shiva temple. I will write about this later. On the way back, we stopped at the bridge to head back to our side of Rishikesh. Then, since both AK and I love our chai at roadside restaurants, we stopped at the corner of the road.

Since I am more curious than AK, I walked down the rough patch of land alongside the restaurant, down some slippery slopes to the banks of the Ganges.

This is the point, or zone, where the Ganges River meets the plains, and it flows fast. The water is beautiful, as Mother Nature intended. The water flows fast, and the riverbed is rocky, so it is not a good idea to slide into the water like some sort of modern-day Superman!

There is no beach, so I lay down on the rocks, and hooked the toes of my shoes into the nooks in some rocks. Then, I decided (despite my extreme atheism) that God must exist and that He/She/It will not let me slide headfirst into the water.

It’s good to reminisce about the past, but every time I do, the nature of my thoughts change. These days, for instance, I often think about climate change, the environment, global warming, learning and social justice.

While we all change and hopefully mature, sometimes, I am not sure.

I can’t in all honesty claim to have matured. But I have changed and seem to come to peace with my future direction. However, the past and memories of our earlier ‘status’ haunts us more than we like to admit.

When I photographed this image, it was close to mid-day, not considered the best time of the day to create photographs. Still, I liked the light: I felt both the light and the water to be pristine. From this point, people pollute the river with increasing enthusiasm and, by the time the water reaches the water, it does not keep much of the original energy and purity.

Old Images

The Ganges River

Age brings some additional benefits, and as I look back on my old images, I edit them differently compared to the past. I use dodge and burn tools often, and I find these easier to use than some of the more esoteric tricks in Photoshop.

When I edited these images, I wanted to create a more vibrant image than I had created in the past.

Since I was lying face down, and hoping I don’t slide in, I finished the image by sharpening it in Topaz Sharpen AI. This is a fabulous tool. Even though it does not come cheap, Sharpen AI is good. For those interested, click my affiliate link, and use my coupon code–RAJIVENHANCE–for an additional discount.

The sharpening model I used here was the ‘out of focus’ model, to ensure that I sharpened the rocks and water close to me.

Yes, it is good to reminisce, but it’s better if you can improve your work continually.


The Map.

Some of you may desire to see a map of the place. Here goes!

I want to go up to Paonta Sahib Gurudwara in 2023. I don’t think the virus will give me permission this year.


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