Two Years Through a Lens

Today (Tuesday, 9th April 2013) is a bit of a milestone for this blog. It’s exactly two years to the day that I published my first post on this site.

Well, here we go again

It has certainly been two years packed full of discovery and adventure, and I hope my posts have given you a decent insight into some of this.

However, rather than sum up the past two years in words, I decided to choose my ten favorite photographs captured during this period, as images often have the ability to say a great deal more than words. So here goes, organized loosely in date order;

1. BaBe District, Vietnam

I chose this photo as it sums up the joy of traveling in so many ways. The new experiences, the unfamiliarity, the necessity of embracing a culture, the laughs, the friendships (old and new), the wonderful food, and often most important of all, the warmth and hospitality of the the people you encounter.

2. Hanoi, Vietnam

I love this place. I met some great people, ate some delicious food, and weaved my way precariously through the intense army of bikes and scooters that fill the roads. This photo was taken whilst I sat at a coffee shop one day. The city just felt so vibrant and full of energy.

3. Xayabouri, Laos

Taken during a homestay in Laos, many of the kids in the village had peeped timidly through the window to catch a glimpse of the strange foreigners inside the house. Fortunately this boy was braver than the rest and hung about long enough for me to capture this image.

Xayabouri, Laos

4. Chittagong, Bangladesh

One of my favorite photos from the city that became my home in Bangladesh. There is so much joy and expression in these faces, and what I appreciate most about the photo is the fact that each person is looking in a different direction, with the boy in the middle looking straight at the camera.

Chittagong, Bangladesh

5. Kolkata, India

One of the first photos I took on a lone trip to India. It’s a favorite of mine due to the contrasts. Kolkata is a city full of history and tradition, yet that little ‘m’ to the bottom right speaks volumes.

6. Darjeeling, India

Taken high up in the hills of Darjeeling, northern India, I remember being captivated by the peace and serenity of this place. Having hiked with my guide for most of the day we came across a small Hindu temple. The mist engulfed us and the area seemed deserted. It gave the impression of being so very far away from everything else in the world.

7. Banskhali, Chittagong District, Bangladesh

This was quite a day out, and I was lucky enough to capture this photo towards the end of the day which made the whole trip even more worth it. This man was the Hindu devotee at a local Charak Puja religious festival.

8. Rajshahi, Bangladesh

The waterways of Bangladesh provide a great deal to so many Bangladeshis. They are often a hive of activity, but one early evening here in Rajshahi I was taken by the tranquility of the riverside.

9. Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sunset on the beachfront in Colombo was pretty spectacular. I spent a long time watching the sun descend over the ocean and also this group of men fishing and chatting vociferously.

10. Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

One of my favorite locations in Bangladesh, Cox’s Bazar has provided many great moments and images. However, the afternoon spent watching the fishermen was a highlight, and this particular photo a favoorite of mine. A father and his young son working as a team to provide for the family, dipping in and out of the waves, they seemed happy to let me follow them for 10-15 minutes.

So there you have it. Ten images that stood out for me and sum up two years of travel and new experience. I have no idea what the next two will bring, but I know I will be armed with my camera at all times!

Okay, I’m going to cheat a little here, but I couldn’t end this blog without choosing a favorite photo from Guyana. It was hard to choose, but I think this one edges it. Taken from the window of a small plane on the way to visit some of my volunteers in Port Kaituma (a small town in the north of the country), it really did provide me with a first view of just how uninhabited and wild parts of this country are!


Beautiful Bangladesh – Swinging Devotees and Sunsets

As I haven’t written a new blog for a while I thought I’d add a more succinct photo blog instead. I’m working on a written one at the moment, but it’s not quite ready yet. So, here are some notable images from Bangladesh taken during the past three weeks. I’ve been lucky enough to experience some of Bangladesh’s finest natural beauty during that time.

The first few were taken in the village of Koknandi, in Banshkhali district. I attended the Hindu ceremony of Charak Puja. I have no idea how to provide a clear explanation of what happened or why exactly it happened, so I’ll just describe what I saw and noted through my own eyes.

The reason I ended up in this village to experience the festival was due to the fact our Fulbright Fellow and artist in residence, Claudio Cambon,  needed volunteers to accompany some of his photography students. In his recruitment email he provided this blurb:

“Charak Puja, Banshkali, south of Anowara. This is a village fair which culminates in a Hindu devotee getting hooks pierced into his back, hoisted by rope up into the air, and swung around a tall pole 7 times. They may also throw pigeons up at him, which he will try to catch and eat live. Yup, you heard me right the first time.”

So, just to repeat, the general purpose of the trip was to watch a man have hooks placed in his back in order to be swung around a large pole, whilst attempting to catch pigeons and eat them alive. Naturally I was instantly intrigued by the prospects of this day out.

I was also slightly alarmed, but not wanting to pass up this unique cultural experience I replied to his email within about 23 seconds. A few days later we arrived in Kokdandi, and after a timid, but warm welcome from the local people we were passed by these characters…

The excitement grew, yet anxiety levels also rose. The festival would take place in a few hours, and I was looking forward to events with a certain degree of trepidation. In the meantime though we were treated to some fine hospitality by our hosts and were free to wander about capturing images of the stunning natural beauty of rural Bangladesh and its people.

Eventually the moment came to swing the devotee around the pole. Raising the pole was not a straightforward task however, and it took the strength of around fifty men. Their job was made no easier by the thick mud that had engulfed the whole area after the recent reappearance of the trademark monsoon rains that hit Bangladesh each year. Once the pole was erected and secured in the sludge, the devotee reappeared to a rapturous reception. By this stage the crowd had swelled, and it seemed the whole village had come to witness the annual event.

The actual climax of the whole day happened very quickly. All of a sudden the devotee was airborne and there was quite a commotion as the crowd whooped, chanted, let out mild screams, and clapped sporadically. Carefully placed men launched pigeons high into the air, which added to the mystical spectacle before us. Fortunately our devotee was spinning too rapidly to have any chance of grasping any of the birds, so none were harmed.

It also became apparent afterwards that the man had not in fact been hooked during the process. We later found out that it’s an old tradition, and in recent years has been replaced by more conventional methods…in this village at least.

As I said before, I don’t possess the knowledge to explain why exactly any of this happened. However, it was a sight to behold and an authentically fascinating experience characterized by genuine warmth from our gracious hosts, who demonstrated a strong desire to ensure we were made to feel part of the experience.  I took these final two photos in the aftermath of the spectacle, once some of the crowd had dispersed, and in my opinion this second image alone made the whole day worth it.

The next weekend was spent in Cox’s Bazar, a coastal town in the south of Bangladesh. It boasts the longest natural sea beach in the world and hopefully as the following photos will demonstrate, it’s a perfect location to catch a stunning South Asian sunset.

Finally, after a host of images away from the urban bustle of Chittagong, here’s a view over the city by night.

All photos © John Stanlake