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Photography in a salt desert

02 March 2024

The Great Rann of Kutch is a salt marsh in the Thar Desert in the Kutch District of Gujarat, India. It is about 7500 km2 in area and is reputed to be one of the largest salt deserts in the world. It is an otherworldly landscape with white salt plains stretching as far as the eye can see. It is a monotonous landscape being totally flat and without any visible features. An occasional set of tyre tracks provide some visual relief but there is no vegetation able to grow in this salty desert.

So this makes for a challenging environment to photograph in. Not only do you not want any salt anywhere near your camera, but finding a suitable subject to break up the whiteness is a difficult proposition. The natural choice is to use one of the camels brought out to the desert to provide rides for the tourists. It was my job to find not only a well-dressed camel but also an interesting looking camel driver. I chose an elderly man with a blue turban, grey hair and beard and a walking stick, along with his gaily dressed camel. I loved the contrast of the camel drivers’ blue outfit against the stark whiteness of the salty plains.

But was this enough? No, we wanted more. And so we hired some traditional local dress and co-opted each of our group to dress up and perform for photographs. We even managed to convince our driver to don the turban and flared pants available to us. Was it worthwhile? Well you’ll have to be the judge of that by checking out the photos. Unfortunately, I spent a lot of time dressed up so I wasn’t taking photos and will have to wait for my friends to share some with me. Check back later and you might see me dressed in colourful costume on the salt plains of Gujurat.

The freshest strawberries you’ve ever tasted

07 February 2024

Yesterday we visited Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary. Unlike National Parks or sanctuaries in Australia, in India these areas often contain villages. These are mostly in the buffer zone on the edge of the sanctuary or, as in this case, deep within.

At this particular village we found two strawberry farms. These have been started as a self help local enterprise with government funding to assist women. Each of the small areas was tended by the women in the photographs, with neat rows of strawberry plants accompanied by a few flowers. At one, the side area also contained paw paw, eggplant, sweet potato, radish, turnip and many other vegetables in a productive garden.

And yes we did buy some strawberries. We waited while the women walked along the rows finding the ripe fruit. One punnet cost 20 rupees- about 10 cents although we gave her 100 rupees (about $2). After much vigorous washing with bottled water, we tried the fruit. So very delicious.

See the scarecrow in one photo? They are common in the fields to deter the birds.

Photos taken near Netravali, February 2024

Getting the blue man to smile

19 January 2024

Wandering the lanes and alleyways of Old Delhi, one can stumble into many stories. Here is one.

Peering in through the entrance to the narrow laneway, it immediately enticed me in. Colonial style buildings opened onto the cobbled street, plants in large pots reflected life and elaborate gateways hinted at hidden secrets.

Pushing past the malodorous public urinal right on the corner, a man sitting alone on a raised dais drew me towards him. He emanated sadness both in his posture and facial expression. A walking stick stood propped nearby.

The elaborate carvings in both wood and stone told of other tales but my story was completed by eliciting a smile from the sad man, sitting alone on his plastic chair.

Photos taken in Old Delhi, January 2020

Pompeii uncovered

20 April 2023

20 April 2023

Pompeii is the best known southern Italian city buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Herculaneum is another nearby city being excavated from beneath the lava. See my blog about the differences between the two.

Visiting Pompeii is sure to be on the itinerary of anyone interested in history and early Roman culture when visiting Italy. It certainly seemed like most of the tourists in the area were trooping around the site on the day we visited. Like many such attractions, Pompeii is being visited to death. Those responsible have, however, made admirable efforts to control the numbers, cater for the hordes and provide adequate facilities. But there is no escaping them in the narrow streets and passageways into the prime villas. Apparently mid-late April is also school holidays and the season for school groups to visit.

Despite all this, one cannot fail to be impressed by the scale of the city, the extent that it has been uncovered and partially restored. Those Romans knew a thing or two about how to live well. Our guide described their food and much of it would be featured on modern menus. Then there is the famous street of taverns and brothels. Admittedly, Pompeii was a port and entertained many a sailor returning from distant shores seeking ways to spend their wages. But the Roman townsfolk apparently enjoyed their orgies and celebrated life and their gods through frequent indulgences of all sorts.

Pompeii – don’t miss it.

The Colisseum in black and white

12 April 2023

Visiting the Colosseum is a step back in time. It is both awe-inspiring and horrifying in equal measure. The largest amphitheatre in the Roman world, it took only 10 years to build due to the use of mostly Jewish slaves (estimated 60-100,000 of them) and the large blocks of travertine stone held together with iron clamps. The building is almost 2000 years old and has a bloody history.

Able to seat 50-80,000 people, spectators were arranged in order of their social standing with the lowest status people right at the top. Each of the 80 arches were numbered so people were able to be guided to their seats.

Some estimates suggest that up to 400,000 gladiators, slaves, convicts, prisoners, and entertainers died in the Colosseum over the 350 or so years during which it was used for human bloodsports and spectacles. Many animals also perished and it is believed that the Colosseum was responsible for the eradication of some species from nearby regions.

The Colosseum hosted the well known gladiator battles. There were also hunts, executions (some by wild beasts, the famous damnatio ad bestias) and even staged naval battles for which the Colosseum was flooded.

Since its use for blood sports, the Colosseum has also been used as a cemetery, a place of worship, for housing, workshops for artisans and merchants, the home of a religious order, a fortified castle, and most recently as a tourist attraction. More than 4 million tourists visit the site each year. What a way to be transported back to Roman times.

Trastevere & Along the Tiber River, Rome

13 April 2023

The Tiber River separates the gritty, hip neighbourhood of Trastevere from the central sights of the Forum and Colosseum in Rome. Full of narrow streets, crowded with apartment blocks painted in terracotta colours and dripping with vines, there is plenty of appeal. Now it is also full of graffiti. It is everywhere and provides a constant reminder of the changing uses of these spaces.

Restaurants abound and along with Churches are probably the dominant non-residential use. The Tiber River is fast flowing here, providing a space for promenading beneath the many substantial trees that line the streets along the river. Then there is the incessant traffic complete with its usual chaos, horns, police directing cars, scooters and everyone jumping into any small space that appears. Pedestrians too.

So much life is on display in Rome’s neighbourhoods. However, I’ve heard that many Roman locals have moved out because there are just too many tourists!