It is a burden for many to raise a blind child in India. A blind man and his family occupied this small one-roomed dwelling. Over time this building became a home for the unwanted and disowned blind children of Mukandurpur in Orissa.
As strangers, they learnt to love and care for each other, those with partial eyesight looking after those with none, regardless of age.
Most importantly they all learnt how to live again.
Tell most of your friends and family that you’re heading for Iran and an awkward cringe will be drawn across their face. Tell most Iranian city dwellers that you’re destined for Kurdistan, and they’ll make neck-slitting actions accompanied by sound effects. I, on the other hand, had somewhere, somehow, once heard the contrary. That the Kurdish were incredibly friendly and hospitable people, which was enough of an incentive to add it to my itinerary.
After a long day’s travel to get to Kurdistan’s capital Sanandaj, I hired a taxi with a charismatic driver named Ali. I told him that I wanted to go to Howraman-at Takht. A small town wedged between the mountainous ranges separating Iran and Iraq. We set off along thin hairpin roads and chatted in a mix of both broken English and Farsi. Between offering me pumpkin seeds and apples to snack on, Ali continually questioning me about where I planned to stay, as to his best knowledge there were no hotels. Every time he asked I would reply ’family’. He understood this as ‘I have family in Howraman-at Takht,’ where as I was actually hoping he would help me find one to stay with.
After close to 4 hours on the road, Ali dropped his speed and pointed ahead saying ‘Howraman’. I in return pointed to him, and made the following hand gestures and actions ‘you…talk…Howraman…family,’ and finished with my head resting on my hands to signify ‘sleep.’ He said some Farsi words, kept smiling and nodding. We had in someway learnt to understand each other from our time spent together in the car.
Night was falling and people had retreated back to their homes. Ali had rolled down his car window and was doing his best to recruit me a home to sleep in. At one of the last houses before the village ended, Ali managed to get a woman’s attention and propositioned her with a foreigner and a backpack. She peered into the taxi and got a good look at my face, while I was doing the same, checking if this was the face of a woman I could trust. We both instantly came to a mutual unspoken agreement and before I knew it I was whisked inside her house to meet the rest of her family and acquaint myself with the Kurdish of Howraman-at Takht.
Found in the harsh terrain and inhospitable climate of northern Mongolia are the nomadic Tsaatan (Reindeer People). For generations, daily life has been centred around their herd of reindeer who in return sustain the livelihood of the Tsaatan.
The reindeer are a resourceful animal providing the Tsaatan with most, if not all the basic needs for continuing the same life which has been lived int eh Taiga for over 3000 years.
Reindeer antlers used for trade and medicinal purposes, the female reindeer are milked twice a day for milk which can also be made into cheese. Their dung is used to fuel stoves and the adult animals are also a vital system of transport.
A nomadic lifestyle has been ingrained in the unique culture of the Tsaatan, who move their orts (tepee) between 5 and 10 times per year to find special grass for their reindeer to feed
Today, the Tsaatan represent Mongolia’s smallest ethnic minority, with approximately only 45 nomadic households herding a diminishing 2200 reindeer in comparison to the 15000 reindeer that lived a mere 15 years ago.
“We catch the fish one by one with rod and line. If we used nets, tomorrow there may be no fish.”
- Kune Gunarthna Fisherman of Gurubebila
No meat here, only the piercing and slicing of human flesh.
Legend has it that over 150 years ago a travelling Chinese Opera company fell gravely ill whilst on tour in Phuket. In hopes of better health, members of the company turned to a vegetarian diet and miraculously recovered. They realised they had forgotten to pay their respects to the Gods, so continued this tradition annually there on.
This has evolved to an elaborate annual 10 day festival during the 9th Lunar month where strict vegetarian diets are observed.
'Mediums' undergo bodily sacrifice and feel no pain as they are possessed by the Gods. For 10 days it is a common encounter to see heavily pierced faces, syringe threaded skin and sword-cut flesh parading the streets of Phuket, all in the means for good-merit making.
The Moken were historically a seafaring nomadic tribe of hunter-gatherers who lived in the waters stretching from Burma to as far as Philippines.
Moken handcrafted wooden boats called ‘kabangs’, this was their home, their workplace and their life, they were born out at sea, lived out at sea and they died out at sea.
This traditional life is no longer possible for many Moken, after countless generations at sea, many are now settling on land.
30 minutes from the Thai mainland, a small community of ethnic Moken inhabit a section of the southern Thai island of Koh Lao. Adapting to life on land, this is how they live.
Historically the Mlabri were nomadic hunters and gathers. They lived in makeshift banana leaf thatched shelters deep in the jungle, and when the leaves turned yellow, they moved on. They kept their distance from any outsider and as they only ever left traces of their existence, local Thai’s named them ‘Phi thong leung’ which translates to ‘sprit of the yellow leaves’.
No hellos, no goodbyes, no thank yous. These are words that do not exist in the Mlabri language. It is a face-to-face community where there is no need or reason for routine pleasantries.
As former hunter-gatherers, the Mlabri lived to adapt rather than plan. These fundamental Mlabri principles are still consistent with their lives today, living day-by-day based on the conditions as they present. The Mlabri are no longer nomadic due to the logging of their forests and are living in small villages across Northern Thailand.
Now, Mlabri occasionally work as cheap labour in the neighbouring Hmong fields. Many think the Mlabri should be given land to start farming within their own community. However the cultivation of land is against the Mlabri Animistic belief. In this belief, it is said that the gods would send a tiger to kill the Mlabri if they ever attempted to do so.
Jealousy is also a word that never existed in the Mlabri language. There are words for similar emotions, but none that described the same feeling as jealousy.
With influences of modern Thailand, all this is changing. The Mlabri youth have desires to own possessions and live like the soap stars they see on television. This will shape the future of Mlabri culture.
Whilst researching travel in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts, I came across beautiful pictures of the Mro tribes taken over 10 years ago. The imagery resonated with me, and I felt an impulse to find the Mro people.
Days earlier, in a blind scramble to fill out official forms at the district commissioner’s office, I flicked between my handwritten notes and guidebook and itemised half a dozen names of places for my intended visit on the travel permission forms.
By chance, I had listed on the form the town of ‘Alikadam’, a small, local town near where villages of Mro were settled. My travel destination was becoming clear.
The Army were especially strict with foreigners and their movements throughout the Hill Tracts region; therefore, official permission papers were needed, and travelling beyond listed destinations was prohibited.
I was unsure if I would be let through the Army checkpoints. My destination village was an hour away from Alikadam, and I worried it would not be classed as the same region.
Approaching the checkpoint, I realised the Army only required the driver to sign in and out, but I doubted foreigners would pass through this easily, so I cloaked myself so only my face, hands and feet could be seen. From the back of the motorcycle, nervously, I made no eye contact with any Army personnel, and as a result, not one eyelid was batted in my direction either.
On the other side of the checkpoint, a huge sense of freedom and relief was felt. I could see the greens of the hills, the blues of the skies; everything was bright, clear, and vibrant. Close to 30 kms away from Alikadam, the bikes stopped. Yung, a local from the village who greeted us, said we were a 20-minute walk to his home. Wrong. In the 2 pm heat, walking up and down steep paths while carrying my bags, it became more like 2 hours.
The village was spilt across 3 small settlements, and the part I called home was a cluster of 8 houses snuggled into the hillside. The family had three generations living under one roof, and was also home to extended family members who had lost their parents at a young age to illnesses such as diarrhoea or fever. It was common across all families in the village to have lost at least 1 or 2 family members this way.
The men and women of the village were beautiful. The women all had stretched piercings in their earlobes that were braced with metal, double-sided, conical tubes. After a day out at work, they would fill this tube with wild flowers from the field. When the weather was warm, the women would face the world bare-chested, leaving only layers of hand-beaded necklaces and waistbands on their torsos.
The men had lush, waist-length hair and wore it perched high in a bun on the tops of their heads. Some of the men were still dressed traditionally, clothed in a dong (a small loincloth) covering their groin area.
Village life sounded a little like this: women worked in the jum (field). They chopped the firewood, they cooked the meals and they pounded and sifted the rice. The men, well, sometimes they worked in the field, and sometimes they undertook construction work on the village., the rest of the time, they drank tea and smoked cigarettes.
The women were strong. On their backs, they collected and carried heavy bowls of water from the river and somehow also managed to hold their crying babies. They were responsible for the village’s firewood, and it was a frequent sight to see a pregnant woman of six months or more hacking at large fallen trees, breaking them down to small pieces of firewood. The women were incredibly hard working. After a day in the fields, they would come home and pound rice well into the dark of the night – they were really something.
Rice is the lifeblood of the Mro people. It is eaten alongside vegetables from the jum with all three meals of the day, each member consuming over half a kilo of cooked rice per sitting. Each house stores a surplus of one year’s supply of rice grain. Not only do women work the rice each day, but it is also a young girl’s playtime, practicing the rhythmical moves of pounding rice for fun.
At the time of my visit, the village’s school (a single room bamboo hut) was closed for renovations. Even if it had been open, there was no teacher available to teach. So the children just played, girls pretending to pound rice and boys running through the jungle with their slingshots.
I followed the men fishing one day. They moved through the jungle at a pace I could barely keep. When they arrived at certain points along the low- flowing river, they would work together cutting foliage to create river walls, then dig and re-route the flow of the river in order to drain the water and catch all fish and river creatures that were left behind.
The Mro live a very peaceful life, farming organically, using only what is necessary, and living well within their means. However, their future is unclear. Although the Mro culture and tradition is still strong within the community, the Mro teenagers know of modern technology and want to be part of its world. The Mro boys are following Bangladeshi fashion, trading the dong for the lunghi (male sarong), and chopping their locks to conventional Bangladeshi lengths. Only time will tell how much the Mro world will change and adapt, but for now it remains almost as it did 50 years ago.
A cheeky step into the backstage world of colour, splendour and all that sparkles at the travelling Chinese Opera.
Less than 10 kilometres from central Kandy in Sri Lanka grow lush hilly tea fields. Some of the biggest producers in the world manufacture the leaves plucked from Kandy. The predominantly female workers meet in the morning, say a prayer to the shrubs, and move through the closely planted bushes at lightening speed. They measure the shrubs with a marked stick and anything higher than the mark is plucked. While they are moving through the plantations, leeches attach on to the moving workers, branches scratch and even tear their skin.
Wherever the fish are, that's where we'll be.
Roaring like lions, squawking like birds and slithering motions that could only mimic snakes. All can be witnessed at the Wat Bang Phra tattoo festival.
Thousand of devotees travel far and wide to partake in this yearly gathering held on the temple grounds. It is here where infamous monks are known to give greater than holy-water inkings that provide spiritual and protective powers to the bearer.
Inked members of the crowd fall into trance during the gathering and become possessed by the animals tattooed on their bodies. The animal spirit takes over, the devotee screams and acts as the animal and tramples through the crowd making a beeline for the central stage, in the process rugby tackling any being in the way.
Standing on the central stage is a religious statue. It calms the possessed and after a wai to the stage, normal life resumes.
Celebrating the 2,600th anniversary of the Lord Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, mass alms giving ceremonies took place across Bangkok. Some of which involved up to 30,000 monks gathering before dawn.
For over 100 years organised buffalo racing has been taking place in Chonburi, Thailand. In local tradition at the end of the Buddhist Lent, famers from all over Choburi province would travel into town by buffalo and cart to trade their goods.
During these yearly meets, each farmer would prize their own buffalo, creating a competitive atmosphere which lead to the first Chonburi Buffalo race to determine the better animal.
From the days of being a simple border crossing to a now flourishing boom town; journeys through Thailand's border town Mae Sot.
Sun-clad pristine beaches are what most think of when the country Maldives is mentioned. However little know about the local population.
Each inhabited island is the equivalent to a small village. Each island will usually have a school, a mosque, a police station, one or two milk bars, and if you’re lucky a café serving tea and short eats where only men venture in.
Children are never taught to swim, only a few of the rebellious ones learn on their own. During the days the woman gather outside of their houses and can spend hours chatting or just sitting and watching life go by. Oh, and there is a great love for football across the islands.