The Taj Majal, Agra, India 2017

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During a recent trip to India, I had the privilege to visit of the most famous and most often photographed sites in India, the Taj Majal.   I had seen many fantastic photographs of this place but was somewhat skeptical if it would be as impressive as others have stated.  However, I am happy to say that this place is truly one of the world's most amazing sites.  This massive marble structure was built between 1632-1643 as a mausoleum by the emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal who died in childbirth.  He poured massive resources in its construction and vowed that the world would never forget his loves name.  The Taj Mahal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.    The surrounding gardens are massive and were intended to symbolize the four flowing revivers of Paradise.  It is challenging to photograph one of the most photographed places on earth. Regardless, these images will always remind me of the awe I felt during my visit and I hope that a few others might appreciate the strong cultural beauty and impressiveness of this truly unique site.

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I arrived to enter the Taj Mahal at 5:30 AM with only a handful of tourists during the extremely hot low tourist season.  While the heat was almost unbearable by 7:00 AM, it allowed me to photograph undisturbed with only minimal number of tourists and I could include only the people I wanted in my images. 

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Unfortunately, this awesome tomb is now challenged from severe pollution that is discoloring and etching the marble, extreme climate conditions and dropping water levels in the nearby Yamuna river which are shifting the underlying soil.  These have led to dire predictions for a loss of structural integrity to the Taj.    Tourism and vandalism also pose serious threats.  

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This beautiful red sandstone mosque sits next to the Taj Mahal and was completed in 1643. 

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I hope you enjoy these images of this spectacular site and just might inspire you to someday witness the awe of this incredible place for yourselves.

The Suri of Ethiopia: Chapter 2, Rituals of the Cattle Camps

WARNING:  This post contains photos that are graphic and may be unsettling to some.  It depicts the tribal ritual of bleeding cattle for food.  However, the cattle are unharmed.  They undergo minimal discomfort and survive to roam and be bled another day.  This is normal life in the Suri cattle camps of southern Ethiopia.


The Suri tribe lives in small villages made up of a couple hundred people each which is mostly made up of women and children. Here they tend meager subsistence gardens comprised of basic foods such as corn, cabbage, cassava, squash, and beans. Men spend most of their time at cattle camps that are located some distance from the village. In fact, the location of the camps is moves frequently as these pastoralists move to find available forage for their cattle.    Life in the cattle camps is highly traditional and they still practice many rituals centered around the cattle and donga (which I will discuss in a separate blog).  The care of cattle is primarily the responsibility of men and young boys although sometimes young girls can also live and assist at the camps.  Men often come and go from the camps sharing responsibilities with their close male relatives so they can occasionally return to their wives and families in the villages.

 Young Suri man in cattle camp.

Young Suri man in cattle camp.

Cattle are the Suri’s most prized possessions and an important centerpiece of Suri culture.  Cattle ownership in fact equals wealth.  Suri do not typically eat cattle, although they can be sacrificed for specific ceremonial reasons such as a funeral.  On a more routine basis, they do drink milk and blood as important food sources.  While milk can be removed and/or drank by women, it is forbidden for them to drink cow blood.  Fresh blood is only removed in a specific corral constructed for this purpose and drinking involves a highly ritualized ceremony that involves chanting, dancing, and blowing a horn fashioned from cattle horn.  A fire is first fueled with green brush and dung to create plenty of smoke to discourage flies and mosquitos. 

 A young Suri man prepares a fire with green brush to generate smoke and control the flies and mosquios.

A young Suri man prepares a fire with green brush to generate smoke and control the flies and mosquios.

 A horn is often played as part of the blood letting and drinking ceremony.

A horn is often played as part of the blood letting and drinking ceremony.

While present day Suri cover their bodies with a woolen blanket which they wear over one shoulder, men generally do not wear any clothing while in these camps.  The cover their naked clean-shaven bodies with ash and often add striped marks of soil and/or cattle dung across their bodies. 

 Blood drinking is highly ritualized.  These Suri men cover their shave and naked bodies in ash prior to partaking.

Blood drinking is highly ritualized.  These Suri men cover their shave and naked bodies in ash prior to partaking.

 The Suri may also mark their bodies with clay or in this case fresh cow manure.  Note the body scars.

The Suri may also mark their bodies with clay or in this case fresh cow manure.  Note the body scars.

The cattle are then corralled and the ones to be bled are marked on their horns and/or hides with ash, dung or pigments from stones and minerals.  The selected cattle are restrained, and a tourniquet is applied around the neck before a bow and arrow is the used to puncture the jugular vessel.  The blood spews forth quickly and forcefully into a receptacle such as a gourd or cup, from which the blood is immediately drank. These men have a close emotional bond with their cattle.  The wound is superficial and the cattle are unharmed.

 The carotid is pictured using a bow an arrow.  The wound is superficial and the cattle are unharmed.  

The carotid is pictured using a bow an arrow.  The wound is superficial and the cattle are unharmed.  

 The blood is usually collected in a vessel made from a gourd.

The blood is usually collected in a vessel made from a gourd.

Drinking of blood can also be followed with drinking of fresh milk, either from a vessel or directly from the cows udder.  The heartiest of warriors may also attempt to drink the blood directly from the spewing artery itself.   

 This man drank directly from the bleeding vessel to demonstrate his virility.

This man drank directly from the bleeding vessel to demonstrate his virility.

 This warrior appears almost drunk after drinking a large amount of cow blood

This warrior appears almost drunk after drinking a large amount of cow blood

This highly ritualized ceremony of drinking blood is for men only and it is forbidden for women to partake in its consumption.  The blood is shared amongst the group and even with the dogs who assist in herding and defending the cattle.

 The dogs also enjoy a nice taste of cow's blood

The dogs also enjoy a nice taste of cow's blood

After all the preparation, cattle marking, body painting, blood letting and drinking, the men celebrate by dancing and singing.

 Suri men dancing after the blood drinking ceremony

Suri men dancing after the blood drinking ceremony

Nuerland in Ethiopia

Nuerland lies within the swamps along the Nile of South Sudan and extends into bordering Ethiopia near the town of Gambella.   It is remote, hot, humid, insect-filled and experiences frequent conflict between tribal groups. Because of this range of factors, this culture is rarely visited or photographed by foreigners.  These villages are small, remote and lack standard accommodations so along with my six hearty travel companions, we arranged for mobile tents to be pitched immediately next to one of the larger Neuer villages.  After first flying to the Gambella airport from Addis Ababa, we drove more than 2 hours on marginal dirt roads to our camp near a sizable Neur village.  As these people rarely see outsiders, they greeted us warmly with tribal singing and dancing and was widely attended by the villagers. They rarely see photographic images of themselves and exhibited child-like delight for the opportunity to see their image on the back of the camera for a couple of brief seconds.

The villages are constructed as a series of traditional stick and straw huts arranged in a circular manner to surround the cattle.  Cattle are staked at night within the village so they can be protected from wildllfe and marauding tribes.  Dried cow manure is burned in smelting fires and cattle are further rubbed in the resulting manure ash to ward off mosquitos and other insects.  During the day, cattle are grazed on available grasses alongside nearby swamps.   

 

The Nuer are culturally related to the Dinka tribe and while both are primarily pastoralists they both also rely on limited subsistence farming.  Conflict between these tribes was a major element in Sudan leading to civil war.  Occasionally these conflicts spill across the border into Ethiopia.  While not as heavily armed as some other tribes in southern Ethiopia, AK-47s were ever present in each camp.   While the situation has apparently calmed in recent months, Aljazeera reported in April 2016 that Dinka from South Sudan moved into Ethiopia to attack Nuer villages in the Gambella region and killed 208 people, abducted 108 children and stole more than 2000 cattle.  Sadly, such violence, famine and poor nutrition are frequent.

 Nuer children were fascinated and excited to see their images on the back of the camera.

Nuer children were fascinated and excited to see their images on the back of the camera.

The Nuer are extremely poor and live in marginal conditions with little outside support to clean water, proper hygiene, or effective healthcare.  They seldom eat their cattle, although they do utilize milk as food.  Their diets consist mostly of millet, sorghum and the abundant catfish found throughout the swamp land.  Through the presence of missionaries, large numbers of Nuer converted to Christianity at the end of the twentieth century, but the majority remain followers of traditional religions worshipping ancestral spirits, and various deities.  The social structure is patriarchal and polygyny is common.  Women provide the majority of labor in the village, cleaning, caring for children and the elderly, milking cows, grinding grain to make a bread-like mash. Men fish, tend the cattle and protect the village.

 Elderly Nuer couple outside their hut at dawn.

Elderly Nuer couple outside their hut at dawn.

 Grinding grain for simple bread-like mash.

Grinding grain for simple bread-like mash.

 Nuer village woman cooking mash of sorghum and millet

Nuer village woman cooking mash of sorghum and millet

Within the past decade, Chinese developers have invested significant sums for the purchase of surrounding lands on which to create large commercial farms for cotton and other water thirsty crops.  Many of these ventures were ill-planned and proved unsuccessful.  As a result, a large amount of farm equipment and many shipping containers have been abandoned across the country side.  Many miles of electrical poles have been erected but the wires never arrived. Electrical power is not present in these villages.  Some farms and processing facilities have provided economic opportunity for some of the villagers, but with grazing land disappearing, it is likely a matter of time before the traditional pastoral way of life will be abandoned for modern farm and factory jobs.  Already they have largely replaced their traditional clothing that consisted of nominal coverings of animal skin in favor of a western style of dress manufactured and imported from China and elsewhere.  The Nuer are famous for the scarring men and women perform on their faces and foreheads.  This too is rapidly disappearing while young people opt to forego these adornments for more modern ways.

 Nuer women with traditional facial scars

Nuer women with traditional facial scars

 Nuer warrior with deep facial scarring

Nuer warrior with deep facial scarring

 Neur warrior

Neur warrior

Improved roads and greater access to the outside world is rapidly changing the traditional way of life, although unfortunately, there is little evidence the Nuer will obtain many tangible benefits of a modern society in exchange for their pastoralist lifestyle. The environmental damage created by large scale farming operations and the current political situation in Ethiopia is unlikely to provide a good deal of improvement for the Nuer. Lacking adequate hygiene, clean water or access to health care, the Nuer face a meager and rather desperate future, where the health of young children and animals continues to be marginal at best.  It was a personal privilege to interact with these proud people for a few short days.  I was enriched by the opportunity to witness their pride for their waning pastoral traditions and the strong will of their spirit to endure and find happy moments even in the harshest of conditions.

 A proud traditional Nuer woman.  Her eyes give away the challenges of her life.

A proud traditional Nuer woman.  Her eyes give away the challenges of her life.

REFERENCES

http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/anthropology-and-archaeology/people/nuer

Encyclopedia of World Cultures Supplement, The Gale Group, Inc. 2002

https://www.tesfanews.net/ethiopia-south-sudan-gambela-murle/   Aljazeera, April 17, 2016

Banana Market, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)

 Bananas are sorted by quality and origin before being transferred to local markets for immediate consumption.

Bananas are sorted by quality and origin before being transferred to local markets for immediate consumption.

Banana is an important crop throughout Asia and plays an important role in Myanmar cuisine as well as religious ceremonies.  This plant (actually an herb) grows extremely rapidly (up to 20 feet in a year) in the rich, damp Irrawaddy river delta.  Burma produces as many as 25 varieties of banana in a range of textures, flavors, shapes and various shades of red, green and yellow. Burmese bananas often assume the exotic sounding names of the places they are produced such as Tangwoo, Twante or Pechan.  

 Bananas are sorted by origin and quality before being sold and transported to local markets.

Bananas are sorted by origin and quality before being sold and transported to local markets.

 Burma produces a wide range of bananas in various textures, flavors, shapes and many shades of red, green and yellow

Burma produces a wide range of bananas in various textures, flavors, shapes and many shades of red, green and yellow

Because of the lack of technology development and modern methodologies, most bananas produced in Burma are transported as quickly as possible for domestic consumption.  China does invest in Myanmar banana production, purchasing fruit well in advance as well as providing oversight to production and harvest to ensure the fruit is suitable to survive the longer journey abroad. 

   
  
 
  
    
  
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   Banana stalks make ready handles for transportation.

Banana stalks make ready handles for transportation.

 Young men take a break after unloading bananas to play chinlone, a popular Myanmar game similar to hackysac.

Young men take a break after unloading bananas to play chinlone, a popular Myanmar game similar to hackysac.

Bananas are manually harvested and transported while still on the stalks by truck or small boats to the major markets and distribution centers in Yangon and Mandalay.  As bananas are unloaded, they are sorted and stacked by origin, variety and quality. You can see the mark of a particular farm carved directly onto the stalks.

Mrauk U, Myanamar (Burma)

Following a 6+hour boat ride up the Kaladan river in a loud but relatively comfortable diesel-powered boat, we arrived late to the ancient city of Mrauk U.  This area is home to some of the most significant archeological sites in (Burma) Myanmar.   It is smaller, more ancient, and significantly more remote and less visited by tourists than the larger and more famous city of Bagan.   Mrauk U’s hilly topography and misty fog from the nearby rivers gives this area its own unique and exotic beauty.   The ancient capital of the Dannavati Kingdom was believed to have been established here more than three thousand years ago, with the more recent city of Mrauk U beginning about 1430 as the capital of the Arakan Kingdom.  It remained a very important trading port in Southeast Asia until the 18th century, serving as an important transit point for rice, ivory, elephants, slaves, cotton, spice and textiles.   It is popularly believed that a powerful Arakan kingdom once stretched from the Ganges to the Ayerwaddy River in central Burma and included more than half of what is now present-day Bangledesh. 

 Pre-dawn in Mrauk U

Pre-dawn in Mrauk U

 Elderly Monk, Mrauk U, Myanmar

Elderly Monk, Mrauk U, Myanmar

 Nuns at Temple of 90,000 Buddhas, Mrauk U

Nuns at Temple of 90,000 Buddhas, Mrauk U

 Young monk in Mrauk U

Young monk in Mrauk U

Buddism is intricately woven into the fabric of everyday life across Burma but the Rakhine claim a special place among the first followers.  The  ancient city is believed to have been visited by Gautama Buddha himself more than two millennium ago.  It is said that Buddha agreed to allow them to create an image of him for them to remember, which was treasured by the local people for centuries.

What is remarkable both to myself and others that have witnessed it, is the indefatigable spirit of the Myanmar people.  This place is very poor and life is hard.  Despite the many challenges they exude optimism and hope balanced with the realism that societal change is a slow process. 

 Rakhine woman watering cabbage, Mrauk U

Rakhine woman watering cabbage, Mrauk U

 Rakhine girl on Laymo River

Rakhine girl on Laymo River

Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar

On January 2, 2016, I flew from Yangon to Sittwe, the largest town in Rakhine State.  This place provides a unique window to the many challenges facing a Myanmar that is not fully prepared to deal with its turblent history and rapidly changing present.  Sittwe lies at the confluence of 3 rivers on the Bay of Bengal. Originally a fishing village, it has played an important role in maritime activities and commerce for centuries.  Things are changing quickly as a deepwater port is being constructed here by India to facilitate shipping to international markets.  The smaller vessels (which are so interesting to photograph) will soon be largely replaced by larger and more profitable ships and docks.  

 Loading the boats at Sittwe docks

Loading the boats at Sittwe docks

Street markets in Burma traditionally open very early in the morning, long before the sun rises.  We found a long line of these markets on our way to shoot sunrise at the docks.  They start long before sunrise and they were completely packed up and gone by the time we headed back for breakfast.  These locals have traditionally displayed their wares in the pre-dawn illuminated only by candlelight.  Despite attempts to stop the practice because of the fire risk, it has continued long after the arrival of electric light to deal with the (still) inconsistent and unpredictable power supplies.  More recently however, the vendors have adopted the use of small hand-held LEDs, so seeing candlelit pre-dawn markets is now practically a thing of the past.  

 Nght market in Sittwe

Nght market in Sittwe

This city is most famous internationally because of serious riots in 2012 between the Rohingya muslims and Rakhine buddhists which resulted is significant destruction of property and claimed many lives.  It is a difficult social problem and chronic humanitarian crisis.  The city’s mosques remain boarded up with the Rohingya confined to a refugee camp while they await a political resolution to their fate.   Like the rest of the world, I too could not bear the thought to look upon these desperate people that are now largely forgotten.  I did not visit this camp. Myanmar shows positive signs of progress in many areas, but sadly there are no signs of this particular situation being resolved anytime soon. 

 A deserted mosque in Sittwe

A deserted mosque in Sittwe

Sittwe was the stepping off point for a 6+ hour boat ride to Mrauk U. It is a very long, slow journey, albeit significantly shorter than the 24 hours to get there by road (even longer in the rainy season).  More about the trip to Mrauk U in my next post.

Chin Villages, Rakhine State, Myanmar

My favorite experience during my most recent visit to Burma this January was the day we spent at two small Chin villages in the far northern part of Rakkine State.  It was a 2 hour boat ride up the river from Mrauk U (after the 6 hour ride from Sittwe to Mrauk U).   This is the most southern range of the Chin people.  Chin State itself is sparsely populated and remains one of the least developed areas of Myanmar.  Several of these women we met were not healthy and suffer chronic and likely terminal disease.  Sadly, like their entire villages, there is minimal chance of them accessing health care of any kind.  

The most exciting reasons to visit these villages is to witness their very simple way of life, to interact with and photograph the elderly women with their extensive facial tattooing.  The Chin traditionally practiced tattooing of girls faces around the age of 15.  While the origin of the practice is not actually known, common lore is that these marks were used to discourage them from being stolen by other tribes.  The practice was banned in the 1960s following assumption of power of the military regime, and has also been discouraged by the Christian missionaries.  I have heard that the practice does continue sometimes in the most remote Chin villages, but nonetheless the practice is rapidly disappearing.   I used an infrared camera for most of my portraits as it enhances the vibrancy of the tattoos that you cannot capture with a regular camera.  I have attached a couple of color photos below so you can compare.  I am so very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet these kind and beautiful women and to share their portraits, their stories and their disappearing culture.  I will never forget them.  






Lujiazui, Shanghai, China

Shanghai (上海) is the largest city in China and the largest population center in the world, now exceeding 24 million people.  These 24 million inhabitants are comprised of 14 million permanent residents and almost 10 million migrant residents who provide much of the cities manual labor and services.    Shanghai has been a major hub for shipping and trading for centuries but grew substantially in importance in the 19th century when Europeans recognized its potential for economic development.   Following the First Opium War and the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the Shanghai International Settlement was established and the city began to flourish to become the preeminent financial hub of the Asia Pacific by the 1930s.  While development slowed significantly through the period following World War II, the economic reforms in the 1990s led to intensive redevelopment as evidenced by the emergence of Lujiazui. 

 

Lujiazui District, Pudong Shanghai,  October 2015

Lujiazui is the new financial district located in Pudong on the eastern (“Dong”) bank of Huangpu (“Pu”) River and sits directly across from the old financial district of the Bund in Puxi.  The rapid and aggressive growth of Lujiazui is nothing short of amazing.  See the photo below for what you would have seen at the same location across the Huangpu River in 1987.  This area was comprised only of farmland, residential houses, warehouses and factories.  The first major landmark to be built was the Oriental Pearl Tower which was completed in 1994 (just over 20 years ago!).  The skyline today bears absolutey no resemblance whatsoever as evidenced by photos taken here during the 1980s.  Unbelievable.

 Lujiazui 1987, Photographer Unknown

Lujiazui 1987, Photographer Unknown

Lujiazui today is filled with many tall and impressive monuments to modern architecture.  The tallest 3 mega-buildings are the Shanghai Tower, the Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center.  The Shanghai Tower was completed in mid-2015, but as of the time of my visit in October 2015 was not yet open to the public.  Construction on the Shanghai Tower started in 2008, is 632 metres (2,073 ft) high and has 128 stories with a total floor area of more that 4 million square feet.   It is the tallest building in China and the second tallest in the world after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. 

 The Big 3 - Shanghai World Financial Center, Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai Tower

The Big 3 - Shanghai World Financial Center, Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai Tower

Shanghai Tower has many interesting and modern features essential for such a massive building in these conditions.  The curved shape and rounded edges are designed to minimize the impact of typhoons common to Shanghai.  The massive concrete core and steel super columns were designed to speed construction and provide stability in an active seismic zone on clay soil.  There is also a 1000 metric ton tuned damper in the top of the building to minimize sway for the comfort of the occupants.  For many more interesting facts and design features of Shanghai Tower, check out the link du.gensler.com.

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Temple of the Tooth - Sri Lanka

The Temple of the Tooth is located in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy and is famous of the relic of the tooth of Buddha.   The relic has played an important role in local politics because it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country.  Kandy was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings and is a UNESCO world heritage site mainly because of the temple.  Flowers are the main offering at the temple and the street outside the temple if lined with flower vendors.  

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Sri Lanka Elephants

While in Sri Lanka in early March, I visited the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala.  It was established in 1975 as an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding faclity. They are supposed to have the largest herd of captive elephants in the world.  While there has been some controversy regarding this facility,  the elephants are taken daily from the facility to the nearby river for bathing and environmental enrichment.  They did seem to enjoy their time being washed and wandering about in the water with their friends.    

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Kwe Son Village, Mandalay

The Ayeyarwaddy river that flows from north to south through Myanmar is the country's largest river and has been the most important commercial waterway since the 6th century. Rudyard Kipling referred to the Ayeyarwaddy as “The Road to Mandalay”.  It was to have been dammed through an agreement with a Chinese power company in 2007.  Fortunately, this controversial move was subsequently reversed in 2011 when construction was halted, preventing significant ecological and environmental damage.

Kipling loved this land and its people.  He wrote “I love the Burman with the blind favouritism born of first impression. When I die I will be a Burman … and I will always walk about with a pretty almond-coloured girl who shall laugh and jest too, as a young maiden ought. She shall not pull a sari over her head when a man looks at her and glare suggestively from behind it, nor shall she tramp behind me when I walk…She shall look all the world between the eyes, in honesty and good fellowship….”

Bagan

One of the most famous sites in Myanmar is the ancient city of Bagan.  Bagan is generally believed to have been built largely between the 9th and 13th centuries but went into decline following its defeat at the hands of the Mongols.  At the height of the city, it is believed that there existed more than 10,000 temples and pagodas, of which more than 2,000 remain today.  They spread for miles and are truly amazing from either the ground or from the viewpoint at the top of the temples themsleves.

Hpa An

Padogas and temples are everywhere in Myanmar.  This striking setting in southern Myanmar near the Thai border features a mushroom shaped rock with a pagoda at the very top.  The trip is for the very adventurous across dilapidated and ill-maintained bamboo bridges.  No, I did not attempt it.  I am confident the view from below was superior.  We next visited several of the areas very religious temples built inside caves many centuries ago.   It was refreshing to see such amazing things without hawkers of tourist kitsch.  These caves are clearly not for tourists (lack of cleanliness and no facilitiesbut represent very holy sites that very important to the people of Myanmar.  

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En route to Hpa An

Hpa An is an area famous for its limestone deposits and cave temples.  On the way, we spotted these young monks hard at work along the highway.  They were very excited to get their pictures taken and they took the chance to enjoy a break with us and eat some watermelon which is now in season in Myanmar.

Inle Lake

Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar with a surface area of almost 45 square miles.  The native people of the region live in several small villages around the lake in houses raised on stilts.  Almost all transportation on the lake is done using boats.    Unfortunately, because of population growth, global climate change and environmental destruction, this way of life will soon disappear as the lake is anticipated to be completed dried up within the next 100 years.  Here are a couple of images I captured over the past few days of the fisherman rowing their traditional boats on the lake.

The Paduang tribe is also found near Inle Lake.  These “long-neck” women practive the unusual custom of applying neck rings beginning at about eight years of age.  They are subsequently lengthened as the female ages and are applied for beauty and a symbol of status.  As you can see in these images, they are still applied to your girls and are commonly worn in the villages even today.    It is curious that this is largely an optical illusion as the necks are actually in fact no longer, although it is difficult to believe especially when you see the large rings worn by the older women.

 

Monastary near Yangon

Today we did some street shooting and visited 2 monasteries near Yangon where we photographed the monks eating lunch and studying.  We head to Bagan tomorrow where internet service could be a bit sketchy.  Might be a few days before I can next share photos.  Hope you enjoy.

 

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Yongon Schwegadon Golden Pagoda

I have finally arrived in Yangon after an incredibly long journey.  Most of the group arrives today, but the first three of us that arrived yesterday took the opportunity to get warmed up and visit the most sacred of temples in Burma, the Shwegadon Pagoda in downtown Yangon. This gilded pagoda was built between the 6th and 10th centuries and is 99 meters high.  The size and amount of gold is awe inspiring as is the multitude of devout Buddists who revere this holy place.  We will go back a couple more times but here are a few shots from last night and this morning of the pagoda and some of the devoted.  

So how long is the flight?

Its pretty long.  Totals almost 24 hours in the air.   I leave San Diego Monday evening and after a couple of stops finally arrive in Yangon Wednesday afternoon February 25.  Traveling west across the date line does mean I lose even more time on the way.  Little doubt that I will be tired on arrival, but there will be so many incredible things to photograph, I plan to get out right away and catch the last light of the day.  I will post something here each day the internet gods are willing - although I do not expect it will happen with precise regularity.  Myanmar still has some catching up to do in that department.  Maybe Sri Lanka will be better. Maybe. Catch you soon.