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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

What would CatMan Do?

Ok, ok...its corny, I know. But I needed a title and it was the first thing that came to my head. Sorry.
Oh, and I warn you. If you are an animal lover (aren't we all?) or a bit squeamish, some of the images in this blog may offend.
And there are further apologies too. For instance, sorry about the delays in the blogs folks. Since returning from India I have hit the ground running and blogging has just not been possible. It is my firm desire to fill you all in on everything, especially the final part of my India tour.
With Kanha done and dusted, our tour ended with our return to Delhi on an overnight train. Our free time in Delhi meant a bit of rest, and the chance for all of us to say our farewells. They were all such great people to travel with, and we all got along so very well. Most of us had traveled together before so we knew each other quite well.
Nathan and I were booked to fly out the next morning to Kathmandu. We had decided months ago that Nepal was a lot closer to us from India than it would be from Australia and for the few extra dollars it takes to get there and stay, a few days in Kathmandu would be interesting. So, he and I had some Father and Son time there. It was wonderful. Arriving late in the afternoon, we were greeted by the amber glow of sunset in the nearby Himalayas as we watched them from the plane window. A taxi took us to our hotel while a guide tried to sell us tours from the front seat for the whole journey. I just wanted him to shutup and get out. I was trying to see the city I was driving through for the first time. In the end, I excused myself from the 'conversation' and just looked out the window.

The following morning found us walking through the local tourist market near the hotel where we were staying. Tamel Market, I think its called. As we turned a corner, Nathan and I were greeted by a lovely fellow who walked with us and talked to us. He was a local guide and, naturally, he was looking for work. His name was Bhimsen Nepali, and he was about to show us a wonderful time in his country.
He met us at our hotel the following morning at 7:30, complete with a taxi he had hired for the day. He had spent the evening thinking about us and the fact that we were a father and son photography team fascinated him. So, his suggestions for the day ahead were interesting.

It was a Tuesday, a day associated with the worship of the Hindu god, Kali. Outside of Kathmandu, about an hour's drive away, is a festival of sacrifice held in her honour each Tuesday. For those queasy of stomach, let me say that this may not be a festival you would enjoy. Goats, Cows, Bulls and Chickens are sacrificed here, their throats publicly cut and their blood spilled freely out to appease Kali and perhaps allow for a favour to be granted. Now, I have seen animals slaughtered before, but never religiously sacrificed. Nathan had seen neither. So, while it appeared somewhat macabre, the photojournalist in both of us compensated for the unsettling nature of what we were seeing and we photographed the event.
After that, we were driven to the Boudhanath Stupa and the Monkey Temple, each of which are standard tourist places. After that, we spent the final part of our afternoon at the public cremation site on the Bagmati River. I have only ever seen a dead body once before, and it wasn't placed upon a pile of wood and set on fire. Nathan has never seen a dead body. For both of us this was something so unusual, so compelling and so sad at the same time.

We watched an old man being carried in, his lifeless body wrapped in a bright orange tie-dyed cloth. His face was uncovered and his mouth was opened by his sons. Into it was placed a flammable substance and within moments flame emanated from his open mouth. This ceremony having been completed, his body could now be burnt.

You feel somewhat uncomfortable photographing such a grievous occasion. And yet, at the same time you are compelled to do so. No one concerns themselves with your presence as if it was an unwelcome intrusion. The public nature of these cremations seems to be more than accepted. Nonetheless, I was wondering how I would feel as a son if there were people photographing my final moments with my father. Having me beside him, Nathan said he felt the same way. Nonetheless, it was intriguing, compelling, fascinating and yet somewhat macabre to us. Our inner photojournalist took over while we endeavoured to be as respectful as possible.
That day done, we headed back to our motel, the smell of burning flesh still lingering in our clothes. Needless to say, a shower was in order, as well as fresh clothes - something we were running out of!

The following day found us in Baktapur, a centuries old town nestled about an hour's drive from Kathmandu. It is interesting place indeed and I would always suggest a visit there to see the pottery and other crafts that still thrive among its inhabitants. Or, if your imagination is failing you and you need a further lesson in sexual positions, the carvings in the temples here will assist. It seems the ancient Nepalese knew how to get it on. I must admit to feeling, however, that the previous day's events and images were going to be difficult to follow, despite the interesting aspects of Baktapur.

However, Bhimsen's hospitality would grant us one more wonderful experience. He informed us that his wife and children wanted to meet the two of us and that we were invited to dinner at his home that final night. Nathan and I jumped at the chance and we spent a wonderful evening with Bhim and his family in their humble home. Wanting to feel better about our appearance before we arrived, we went to a local barber where Nathan and I were not only given haircuts but also a gruelling 'massage' which involved all sorts of bone cracking and torso twisting. I must admit, we both felt better afterward though. It was fantastic, especially for the $2.25 it cost each of us.
All in all, Kathmandu was a wonderful experience. The few days we spent there with Bhim as our guide were unforgettable. But the plane home beckoned. Being on an adventure is one thing...home is another thing altogether. I love my international adventures but I love coming home too. Be it ever so humble...


Willie said...

You either get the shot or you don't.
Good on you for getting it.

Shelton Muller said...

Thanks Bill. I must admit to feeling that philosophy when I was there. You either get the shot or you don't. There were even more intrusive and perhaps disturbing images I could have posted. Yeah, I was proud of myself for not being afraid or shy in that moment, I have to admit!

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller