Time to spring into action!

 

In the UK, spring has arrived. Suddenly, everywhere I look there are vibrant yellow daffodils. Not only outside, but also indoors in vases, bringing a splash of seasonal colour to our work and living spaces. Three days ago, the clocks went forward, heralding the start of British Summer Time (BST). Our evenings gained an extra hour of sunlight. The air is now noticeably warmer, just enough for people, who’ve felt sun-deprived all winter, to break out their shorts and little dresses. In the daytime, I see bare-legged students with their laptops in their front gardens. And I see young professionals congregating outside their front doors in the evenings, chatting over glasses of wine. It’s like Britain has awoken.

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Resplendent daffodils herald the arrival of spring.

With such a noticeable shift in the mood all around me, it’s with a slightly heavy heart that I say it’s time for me to get going again. I’m flying to Egypt next week, which I’m thoroughly looking forward to. However, I feel I’ve got things somewhat the wrong way round. It’s funny how life can often turn out so differently to what one plans or envisages. As recently as a year ago, my firm intention was to split my existence 50-50 between England and India: England for these spring and summer months, India for the ‘cooler’ part of the year from the end of the monsoon season until the festival of Holi.

As I shared in an earlier journal entry on my journey into photography, this last year has brought its fair share of surprises, together with a rather large portion of change. While life continues to be unpredictable, I can say for certain that it’s exciting! I’m not yet at that stable place where I’m basing myself out of a home in London and travelling regularly on assignments overseas, but I’m working towards it. The four months that I’ve spent in the UK have given me a chance to recharge my batteries and refocus after a long period of living out of a rucksack, and now I’m ready to launch into that existence again. But before I do that, I think it’s worth pausing for a moment and looking back at my time here.

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My first glimpse of London: Canary Wharf, one of the city’s two main financial centres, all lit up at night.

It all seemed pretty clear the night I flew into London on 3rd December 2010. I should point out that I’m referring to the visibility. As you can see from the image to the left, the clarity in the night sky was astonishing. Our flight path took us down the River Thames, and I could make out many of London’s iconic landmarks perfectly. Here, for instance, is Canary Wharf , with its bright white hat on. The big loop of the river around the Isle of Dogs, and the O2 (formerly the Millenium Dome), are also clear as day. This was my first glimpse of London after nine months away, and I liked what I saw. (You can see more aerial images from my journey from India to England in this gallery.)

On the ground, it was another matter. I had landed back in the middle of 2010′s ‘Big Freeze’. As soon as I had turned on my mobile phone, while still seated in the plane, I learned that there would be no way I could reach my aunt Claire’s home in East Sussex that evening. Trains and buses weren’t running, and many roads were closed. Claire spoke of lorries jack knifed in the road near her house. I quickly arranged a Plan B: to go to my friend Toral’s home in East Croydon. But as I bombed along the Tube in her direction, I heard that her house had been cut off too! Luckily, I sorted out a Plan C: my aunt had friends near Finsbury Park, so I stayed on the Tube till there. As I waited at the station, I soon began shivering. I was wearing everything warm that I had in my possession. Imagine the shock, after hardly needing a second layer once in nine months in sweaty India! I didn’t even have a coat, and soon I resorted to pacing up and down the underground tunnels until my aunt’s friends arrived, just to stop the shivering from becoming violent.

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My aunt Claire, walking along a disused railway line near Forest Row, East Sussex.

I never used to have a problem with the cold when I was a kid and as a teenager. But I’ve been out of England for so much of my adult life, almost all of which has been in hot climes (particularly India), that I’ve begun to really feel it. So the shock intensified at my aunt’s house in Forest Row. I gather that central heating is expensive in England these days, so she kept it off at night, even during mid-winter. I therefore wore a full set of clothes in bed, and slept with a hot water bottle and about three blankets and two duvets! Getting out from all that to go to the toilet was a tough one, and owing to some plumbing problems at the time it also meant tackling a flight of stairs to get to the downstairs loo. By the time I was back, the cold had ensured I was well and truly awake.

So began what has become something of an annual pilgrimage during the last few years: my month-long tour of my friends and families’ homes around Christmas and New Year season. Only this time, I thought I was back in England to set up a base for myself, not just to drop by, share seasonal cheer, and jet off again. Over the course of December, I visited my aunt and cousin Laura (with her new baby) in East Sussex, my newly-married friend Jennie-Ann and her husband Russell in Liverpool, my brother in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, family friends in Bath, my father and step-mother in Calne in Wiltshire and my mother – back in the UK after a decade of living in France – at her new home in Whitstable in Kent.

As you can see from some of the photos here, my family – like many Brits – likes to go walking. When the days are short in the winter, we often feel determined to make the most of them. Snow and cold are not obstacles (though rain can be!). The cool, crisp air was just what my mind and body needed, as it made me feel invigorated. Of course, it also afforded excellent opportunities for photography. Indeed, you can see plenty more of my images from East Sussex and Calderdale in West Yorkshire under snow in this gallery.

UPDATE: Following changes made to this site in July 2013, the plugin used to embed images in this position could no longer be used. However, you can click here to view the corresponding page on Robin Wyatt Vision’s legacy site.

I spent Christmas with my father and step-mother in the town I grew up in, Calne in Wiltshire. I say “grew up in”, though I was actually away for most of the time at boarding school in Bristol and then Cheltenham. In spite of my prolonged absence, it’s the closest I’ve had to a ‘home’. Other than the last couple of years or so when I was based in Bangalore, I’ve never lived anywhere longer than a year. I’ve been pretty itinerant ever since age 18. When my Indian friends ask me about ‘home’, I suppose they must be referring to where my parents are. Yet until quite recently, I regarded India as my home as I stayed on there so long and made so many close friends. Having said that, after six years of living in India I was certainly pining for a bit more Britain in my life. As I said, I was aiming for the ideal: a happily split existence between ‘here’ and ‘there’.

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Welcome ‘home’ to Wiltshire!

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Dad and Akasha share a joke over coffee, Devizes.

Coming back to Wiltshire is always pleasant, and I enjoy catching up with my folks. It’s not really ‘home’ anymore, though. They don’t live in the same beautiful house they built up from a state of neglect after buying it in 1991. They’ve downsized to a cozy place on a site where the school I went to briefly in the early-’90s used to stand. It doesn’t quite fit my brother and I for more than a few days. So I come, we share good food and good cheer, and I move on again.

I was due to fly back to India on 3rd January, after spending New Year with my mother. However, a painful breakup with my Indian partner of three years convinced me that it would be wise to stay on ‘back home’ for some time longer. Family friends Ann and Gordon Glass told me I was welcome to stay with them while I got back on top of things, so off I trotted to the UNESCO-listed city of Bath.

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St John’s Church (nearest) and Bath Abbey (behind) can clearly be seen amidst the rooftops of the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath.

I have known this couple ever since I was born. In fact, my father went to school with Gordon. The last time I spent a serious chunk of time with them was ten years ago, when I was last at crossroads my in life. At that time, I was 21 and just about graduating from my Bachelor’s degree. Like many thousands of young men and women my age, the burning question then (as it was again recently) was, “what shall I do with my life?”. Gordon is great at helping people to introspect and draw out the answers to questions like this, as I found then and have recently rediscovered. Of course, I came with quite a lot of awareness of what I now want to do with my life, and what I needed most this time was some security: a roof over my head, the space to think and, perhaps most importantly, a place where the pressure is off. Ann’s delicious and wholesome cooking, long late-night conversations with Gordon, meditation (sometimes) and sessions in the swimming pool were just what the doctor ordered. Oh, and regular nightly games of Scrabble!

It was here that winter turned to spring for me. That seems like an appropriate metaphor. Just as butterflies hatch from their chrysalis cocoons in the spring, so too am I emerging from my winter cocoon after a transformative period, during which I’ve evolved from caterpillar status, developing beautiful wings with which I’m set to fly once more.

UPDATE: Following changes made to this site in July 2013, the plugin used to embed images in this position could no longer be used. However, you can click here to view the corresponding page on Robin Wyatt Vision’s legacy site.

During this winter, I’ve faced some challenges and come out the other side with enhanced clarity. This is not the place to muse on my post-breakup personal development, so I’ll leave that to one side. Suffice it to say that it’s happened! On the professional front, I’ve used this clarity to build on and strengthen what I already had.

This started with the consolidation of my thoughts on the concept of vision in both photography and in bringing about positive change. As I explain elsewhere on this site, I feel passionately about the role I can play in merging photographic and philanthropic vision. I recognise that one of my greatest strengths is my ability to tease out pathways along which visions can be turned into reality. My work with Gordon was reciprocal, as we served as case studies for one another. His single greatest vision is of the birth of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA), and he is keen to take the campaign for its establishment to the next level. Our discussions on how this could happen went so well that it could have led to a full-time job for me, working with him on organisational development! Perhaps this was my first test of resolve for a career in photography.

My work with Gordon on the UNPA signalled my re-engagement with international affairs. Though I studied International Politics at First Degree level, I have felt somewhat removed from events and debates in this area while in India, whose media focus tends to be far more inward-looking than the UK’s. And then, of course, came the momentous happenings that spread like wildfire across the Middle East and North Africa this winter. I watched them, mesmerised. For days, I followed Al Jazeera English, Channel 4 News and Newsnight religiously. My first instinct was to get myself off to the Arab World at once. But I had to restrain myself, because I’d already made the decision that my role as a photographer is not to capture breaking news.

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We shoot for peace! The IGVP.

Instead, I decided to reach out to my network and see if I could build some contacts in the region and start scoping out possibilities for a visual peacemaking project in the near future. I am a proud member of the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP), as their commitment to “displaying common humanity and images that build bridges of peace” is absolutely in step with my own values and emerging mission. I am clear that I don’t just want to document: I want to make a difference. Happily, I have succeeded in making several great contacts in what was until recently a region in which I had little experience. This coming Tuesday, I’ll be heading to Egypt to meet some of them and to scope out what might be possible later this year as that country heads towards its first elections of the post-Mubarak era.

In the midst of all this cerebral activity, I’ve also spent the winter developing my photography skills and honing my offering. I have been shooting the changing seasons (see my galleries of Wintry England, covered in snow, and of the March into Spring), constructing this website with the help of Neha Loonawat (if anyone knows php coding and can help us with developing my image archive search facility, please let me know!), reading a lot that’s been written by photographers I admire (the likes of David duChemin, Steve McCurry, Matt Brandon and Michael Freeman), networking with other photographers with whom I hope to collaborate one day soon (such as Cathy Topping in Australia, Hend Ismail in Egypt and Andrew Rappé in Bahrain), making steps to get my name out there under the eyes of people I’d like to hire me in the future (I even did something I thought I’d never do: I joined Twitter, which I’ve discovered is an incredibly powerful publicity tool) and investing in new equipment for my next endeavours (such as a professional audio recorder, as I hope to start making audio slideshows soon).

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My friend Katie Glass spots her mum, dad and official photographer (me!), cheering from the sidelines.

‘Having a life’ has also had something of a look in. While previously I knew only the Glass family, I made some new friends in Bath thanks to CouchSurfing (which is about far more than just surfing couches!), and this got me out and about, exploring the area. The Glasses proved a pretty sociable bunch too, and in addition to marathon sessions of Scrabble, Sarah’s Thursday visits tended to be as regular as clockwork. She and I bonded over our shared love of photography, and we had fun snapping away together along the Kennet and Avon Canal as well as during her shared birthday party with Gordon. And then there was the Bath Half Marathon, which Katie (the third Glass sister) ran to raise money for the Prince’s Trust and I turned out to cheer (but mostly photograph – see this gallery).

As I type this, India have just beaten Pakistan in the mother of all cricket matches, reaching the final of the 2011 Cricket World Cup. I feel a little sorry not to have been there in person. Given the collective passion of almost everybody in the subcontinent for this game, I can imagine how electrifying the atmosphere must be now, all the way from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. My friend Abhishek Kumar told me this morning, “we gave a holiday to our staff today. Everyone went home. The accountant refused to meet us. Our client cancelled our appointment. And a scheduled training was also cancelled, primarily because no-one turned up. I am in my office, working. Probably the only person at work in Bangalore!” I won’t make it there in time for the final either, but I’m sure I’ll be back in my former adopted ‘home’ before long.

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A close-up of zinnia petals: I like to think of them as Mother Nature’s parting gift to me as I get ready to leave England.

One thing I do know is that it’s time to move on from here. I took Gordon and Ann out to dinner last night to thank them for being such wonderful long-term hosts. My bags are packed (a bit early, just to check that everything fits!) and I’m doing last minute errands and saying my goodbyes. On Tuesday morning, I’ll board my BMI flight to Cairo.

And then… well, I’ll let you know how things pan out! Just be sure to keep checking back here.

A taste of Maharashtra I: Travelling off the ‘Lonely Planet Trail’

My first ever journal entry on this site was on my journey to becoming a photographer. At the point in time that I made my ‘big decision’, I did not even own a DSLR camera. During all my years spent developing a passion for photography while travelling around the world, I used point-and-shoot type cameras. I’m not embarrassed about this. I learned the arts of composition and capturing moments with those babies, and I owe much to them. Indeed, my friend Kainaz Amaria, a photographer who is currently on a Fulbright Scholarship in Mumbai, has put together an exhibition of work accomplished using only her iPhone! Nevertheless, once I’d made that ‘big decision’, I decided it was time for me to take a step up.

My first move after making my DSLR and lens investments was to set off on another journey. This time, it was not so much a journey of personal development (although that certainly happened too along the way!). It was more about me and my camera, getting to know one another. The plan was to do a sort of circle around the Western Indian state of Maharashtra, though it did involve dipping into Madhya Pradesh very slightly at one point. This is the first part of a small series of journal postings that shares some of what we experienced along the way.

Where you see slides like the ones below, you can click on one of them (best to start with the first one) to view it full size with captions. You can then scroll forward and back by clicking on the ‘next’ and ‘previous’ tabs on the right- and left-hand sides. Click outside the image or press Esc to return here. This first series comes from our train journey from Mumbai to Satara, a 250 km journey over seven hours, and my commentary continues in the text under each photo.

UPDATE: Following changes made to this site in July 2013, the plugin used to embed images in this position could no longer be used. However, you can click here to view the corresponding page on Robin Wyatt Vision’s legacy site.

The reason for heading first to Satara was the thought that we might just about be in time to catch the end of the blooming season for the millions of wild flowers that have made their home nearby on Kaas Plateau. Another thing that appealed to me about Kaas was the fact that it did not feature in either of my brick-like guidebooks, the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet (though I should clarify that it was actually Lonely Planet’s new India-oriented magazine that alerted me to its existence). It gave me the impression that it would be somewhat off-the-beaten track. Many Indians know about the place thanks to the riot of colours that spring up for a few months each year, but there were hardly any tourists around when we reached, and certainly not a single white face, most probably thanks to the absence of a mention in ‘The Bible’ of foreign tourists. The only drag about places like these is that tendencies towards being conservative often haven’t been diluted much, and sure enough my Indian partner and I found it quite hard to find an hotel willing to let us share a room (though hoteliers seemed less than bothered by the fact that prostitutes were openly plying their trade in the main hotel area!).

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Bhelpuri, a favourite snack in Western India, made from puffed rice and featuring a tangy tamarind sauce.

The next morning, after a tasty breakfast of bhelpuri (left) and sabudana khichadi, we set off for the plateau in an auto-rickshaw that we’d hired for the day. The transition from the hubbub of the town to the tranquility of the surrounding countryside was surprisingly quick, and certainly welcome after several weeks in frenetic Mumbai. Soon, we were putting our rickshaw to the test as the tree-lined road climbed up a steep escarpment, revealing expansive views over reservoirs on either side. The sky was blue, apparently untainted by pollution (unlike the grey fug of Mumbai), and discounting the purr of the auto-rickshaw, it felt peaceful here.

I had my eyes pealed, and small yellow flowers on the sides of the road seemed to bode well. Looking down to the plains below, we could see occasional fields of orange flowers: marigold cultivation. Floriculture has become big business in India, and marigolds are used in plenty by temples and in Hindu ceremonies up and down the country. On the horizon, I could see Sajjangad Fort, and behind that a wind farm.

My sense that I must have been the only foreigner who had felt Kaas Plateau’s embrace in years seemed confirmed when a motorcycle bearing three men passed, and one of the guys yelled out, “foreigner!” in excitement. As they disappeared into the distance, I became aware of cows grazing in the lush grassland with long, pointed and colourful horns. A few old women passed us by, wearing vibrant saris and carrying wood. Then came a shepherd with his dog, a little while later. The fact that I was aware of every last individual we saw shows how few people there actually were up there. Most of the time, the dirt road stretched empty ahead of us, bright orange against the green that surrounded it.

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A solitary motorcycle traverses Kaas Plateau.

As it turned out, there were very few flowers up here now that the bulk of the monsoon had passed. We should have come a month ago, our driver Vishal told us! I’d not even heard of Kaas a month before. But it didn’t matter. There was plenty to appreciate here. When we looked carefully, we found small clumps of tiny, finely-packed flowers. Mostly they grew in single colours: in some places purple, others white and others yellow. The purple areas reminded me of fond childhood memories of playing on the heather-covered hills of Devon in England. As Vishal lured us into the undergrowth, we found large webs covered in dew, each one with a spider sitting proudly in the middle.

UPDATE: Following changes made to this site in July 2013, the plugin used to embed images in this position could no longer be used. However, you can click here to view the corresponding page on Robin Wyatt Vision’s legacy site.

After our time with the flowers was up, we drove down to the reservoir below. The water level was quite low compared to how it had been not long before, during the monsoon. Lots of black rocks were now exposed that would have been completely covered. Couples were taking advantage of some of these to enjoy a modicum of privacy, so rare for most Indians. There were, however, considerably more people down here than up on the plateau. Young men, out on day trips, whooped with joy at at the freedom they had here. When they were out of earshot, all we could hear was the gently lapping water.

As our afternoon began drawing to a close, we asked Vishal if he’d mind if we left his rickshaw for a while and went for walk. To our surprise, he said there wasn’t anywhere for this. Just then, we passed an appealing stump of plateau and, too far down the road to stop without having to turn back, we noticed a zigzagging path to the top. He must be keen to get home to his wife and kids! Nevertheless, we persuaded him to let us take a short stroll to the edge of the plateau, which commanded a fabulous view over the reservoir on the other side. The whole area seemed to be ours, such a rare feeling. All we could hear was the wind in the trees. Below us, the reservoir looked like it had probably swallowed up the surrounding farmland entirely during the monsoon. Nearby, a man in traditional Maharashtran clothing sat upright by the roadside, feet outstretched, enjoying the peace.

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A young buffalo, surrounded by plentiful grass, seems to be smiling contentedly at us.

Back in Satara that evening, the streets were buzzing with throngs of people. We were visiting during the Hindu festival of Navratri, held in honour of of Goddess Durga.  Navratri actually falls several times a year, and this was Maha Navratri (the Great Navratri), the most important of these, celebrated at the beginning of winter.

Going about their festival shopping and socialising, people seemed surprisingly unsurprised to see me in this tourist backwater. Most of them appeared quite sturdy and upstanding – even the women were unusually tall for India. The scourge of obesity that has affected much of urban India seemed absent on the streets of Satara. The buildings in the heart of this town are a mixture of structures that are old and decaying (yet in a charming way) with aging wood panelled doors and windows, juxtaposed with an architecture that fits well with the young, up-and-coming vibe given off by many among the population. There is clearly affluence here.

UPDATE: Following changes made to this site in July 2013, the plugin used to embed images in this position could no longer be used. However, you can click here to view the corresponding page on Robin Wyatt Vision’s legacy site.

The next day, Vishal came to our hotel to pick us up and take us to Sajjangad Fort, followed by Thoseghar Waterfalls. After a similar drive through the countryside to the day before, he deposited us in a small car park, from where we had to make the rest of our way by foot. We set off up some stone steps, and were soon passed by a cow coming in the opposite direction. The poor creature was getting tormented by hundreds of flies, and in her anguish managed to butt me. She didn’t do me any harm, though her horn narrowly missed impact with the dial of my watch.

At the end of our climb, we reached a grand gateway, under which there’s apparently a tunnel leading down to the car park where we started our ascent. Though he knew of its existence, Vishal was unfortunately unable to elaborate on its purpose (perhaps that would be too much to hope for from the guy – after, all he’s a rickshaw driver and not a tour guide!). Passing through the gateway and beyond some stalls, we found ourselves inside the fort.

This was the final resting place of 17th Century saint and social reformer Swami Ramdas, and it seemed to me like a living museum for him. Esteemed Maratha Emperor Chhatrapati Shivaji, whose name one hears everywhere in Maharashtra, considered the swami his spiritual guru and went to him for advice on many occasions. I wondered if it was this connection with Maharashtra’s most celebrated individual that had ensured that this place would be so well-preserved and kept fastidiously clean.

UPDATE: Following changes made to this site in July 2013, the plugin used to embed images in this position could no longer be used. However, you caclick here to view the corresponding page on Robin Wyatt Vision’s legacy site.

Vishal continued to tell us what little he knows, until a smiling priest approached us and asked whether we’d like to join him for chai. Over tea, he provided us with a few more insights about the swami, notably that he had been due to get married, but ran away from this when he felt his spiritual calling. Indian friends of mine have told me that this phenomenon accounts for many young men becoming sadhus. Apparently, they’d prefer an ascetic’s life over marriage to a woman of their parents’ choosing!

Wandering around a little more, we came across the shoes of Shivaji, lovingly preserved in a glass box. As we rounded the next corner, passing a dharamshala for devotees, an old, bearded priest – a little less friendly than the first one – came up to me to ask whether I’d taken permission to use my camera inside the fort. It had not even occurred to me. Rather than court controversy, we took this as our cue that our visit was over.

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Delicate petals on the hillside under Sajjangad Fort.

On our way out, it was impossible to miss the screams of a feuding husband and wife. Apparently, this couple are a well-known landmark in the area and never disappoint visitors to the fort! I’ve certainly never heard a man so hoarse from shouting -  and yet paradoxically so audible – in all my life.

12 km more in the auto-rickshaw along an excellent road brought us to Thoseghar Waterfalls. Along the way, we passed the majestic windmills of Chalkewadi Wind Farm, which we had seen on the horizon the day before. As we approached, the sun was commencing its descent. After leaving the rickshaw, we followed a well maintained path to a viewpoint overlooking a massive rock face. Water clearly thunders down over this during the monsoon. To the far right we could see a thin trickle of a waterfall, beautiful regardless of its diminutive size. A big sign announced the names, ages and hometowns of people who’ve lost their lives here. Unperturbed, Vishal beckoned us down the slope. Those were people who committed suicide, he reasoned. Surely we didn’t have that on our minds today?

As we made our descent, three men charged past us on their way up, whooping with joy. They were the only people we saw the whole time we were there. At the bottom, we found a large waterfall and plunge pool of dark blue water that had been out of sight when we were up above. We climbed up to the point from where the water fell over the lip, and I then naughtily climbed through the safety railings and crept down to the water’s edge, where I watched it dancing over the rocks. This was all the invitation I needed to play with it using different shutter speeds on my camera. I froze the water droplets, captured a silky flow and snapped most states in between as well.

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Rapids on their way to Thoseghar Waterfalls

As we headed back to Satara, the sun crossed the horizon and it became quite cold. We reached the town in the dark. After dinner, we wandered around, passing time before our train at close to midnight. It was hardly a matter of ‘killing time’ though, as there was plenty to see, even late at night. First, we checked out the pandals the townspeople had prepared to house Goddess Durga for Navratri. I also took a lot of photos of shutters and doors along the way; the old shops reminded me very much of Calcutta. Some of the older houses bore small niches in their walls, and my partner explained to me that diyas would have been placed in these at night in the time when there were no electric street lights. Then, to our surprise, we spotted a shiny new coffee shop up above with the promise of Lavazza coffee from an espresso machine! Though the coffee shop craze has swept the bigger cities, there’s no Café Coffee Day or Barista here (at least, not yet), so someone has clearly decided to get ahead of the game.

By this time, there was a clear sense that most people about town were headed in one direction: to a massive outdoor area reserved for dandiya raas. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people had thronged inside this fenced area by the time we arrived, and were dancing with their wooden sticks (‘dandiyas’) with great enthusiasm. The music was very commercial – Bollywood with an electro beat added to it – a far cry from what is traditional. But nobody seemed to mind.

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Young people of Satara delight in dancing dandiya for hours without a break.

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and head back to our hotel, where we had arranged to meet Vishal. We picked up our luggage and headed to the railway station. Before leaving us, Vishal showed us a photo on his mobile phone of an old-style car horn in the shape of a trumpet. He told me he’d heard that they’re available in London, and asked me to send him one to attach to his auto!

Like so many stations up and down the country, Satara’s resembled a refugee camp as people were sprawled out all over the floor under blankets, waiting to make train connections in the dead of night. I’m always fascinated by the idiosyncrasies of different Indian railway stations, and here it was the clanging device used for announcing the arrival of trains that caught my attention. As I admired it, drunk men fought with one another nearby over a group of eunuchs who were bargaining with them over the fees for ‘services’ while listening to mobile phone music. I’m sure this was not how Satara wanted us to remember it as the time came for us to move on. Suffice it to say that there was no need to worry on that front, as this town and its surrounding region have plenty of positives to commend them for guidebook entry… not that I’m complaining that they have so far been omitted.

 

25 Years of Struggle and Reconstruction in Narmada Valley

The images in this photo essay document the work of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activists during 21st to 23rd October 2010, as the movement and its supporters from all over India gathered in the Narmada Valley to mark 25 years of struggle against repeated flooding and submergence, and reconstruction in its wake.

Click on a slide to view it full size with captions. You can then scroll forward and back by clicking on the ‘next’ and ‘previous’ tabs on the right- and left-hand sides. Click outside the image or press Esc to return here.

All images © Robin Wyatt.

UPDATE: Following changes made to this site in July 2013, the plugin used to embed images in this position could no longer be used. However, you can click here to view the corresponding page on Robin Wyatt Vision’s legacy site.

Highlights of this album can be found on my International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP) member’s page:

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Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

Using images shot in November 2010, this is the second photo essay from a two-part mini series on environmentally destructive activities in India’s Western Ghats. While the first essay focused on sand mining in Raigad District, this one looks particularly at open cast mining and deforestation in Sindhudurg District. Activities such as these are often carried out in the name of ‘development’, but seem to bring more benefits to vested interests (big business and corrupt politicians) while causing harm to both the people who live in these areas and their fragile ecosystems.

Several of the photographs below are available for purchase and sharing – please visit the Western Ghats Under Threat gallery in the Image Archive or simply click on any image.

 

sindhudurg perennial stream source Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

This image, photographed nearby to the village of Dabhil, is of the source of one of many perennial streams found in this area. Activists opposing so-called ‘development’ here say that the fact that these exist in plenty make a planned Rs. 175 crore irrigation project entirely unnecessary.

 

sindhudurg dense vegetation cover ugade reserve forest Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

This shot gives an idea of the density of the vegetation cover in the reserve forest of Ugade. Although mining in this region is thought to be worth Rs. 25,000 crores, activists say it is worth ten times that in ecological and biological terms.

 

sindhudurg flooding for reservoir sarmale dam Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

When the Sarmale Dam is constructed, all of the land that can be seen in this shot will be flooded to form a reservoir. The logic is that those villages that lie downstream of this area need more water for agricultural and horticultural purposes. Those who are opposing the scheme argue that the damage to the area’s forest cover will be tremendous, which will have cultural ramifications (owing to the way local people revere the forests and the gods that they believe dwell within them as their protectors) as well as environmental implications. Simply digging more wells would, they say, be a more environmentally sustainable solution.

 

illegal deforestation sindhudurg 1 Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

Deforestation on the hillside overlooking Sarmale, making way for crops. Illegal tree felling is rife across this region, and paying off the right officials ensures that nothing is done about it. Sindhudurg District has lost 30 lakh trees this way over the last three years. One of the implications of this has been that forest elephants have increasingly been found travelling haywire, often straying into urban areas. Over the last seven years, Rs. 6 crore has been paid to farmers in compensation for damage done by elephants.

 

illegal deforestation sindhudurg 2 Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

Land deforested illegally in Bhalawal is now being used for growing pineapples and, just out of this shot to the distant left, bananas.

 

open cast mining sindhudurg sacred groove Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

A sacred groove. These are homes to forest deities, said to protect the local people. In this case, the tree in the background is revered as a guardian god, who lives between the villages of Tamboli and Asaniye. Given the special place that the forests occupy in the lives of the people of this area, it is unsurprising that 22 out of 24 villages due to be affected by mining projects have rejected them.

 

open cast mining sindhudurg sacred groove 2 Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

Sacred groove at Asaniye, whose inhabitants believe that a tiger god protects their village. The rock in this shot, which looks like tiger, was formed naturally. Occasionally, tigers kills cattle in this village, but the villagers do not accept compensation for their losses. Instead, they see them as offerings to their guardians.

 

open cast mining sindhudurg wildlife spider endangered 2 Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

This breed of giant spider is endemic in this part of the Western Ghats. Ecologists point out that this is the last refuge of many rare and endangered flora and fauna.

 

open cast mining sindhudurg stone crushing quarry 1 Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

At around 1,100 feet, Phukeri plays host to stone crushers who have blasted out this quarry, visible for kilometres. In addition to being an eyesore and harming the local ecosystem, this process causes fractures in rock sediments, affecting water supplies to the villages below.

 

sindhudurg view planned mining sites western ghats 1 Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

Trees, as far as the eye can see. This is the current view from above the village of Asaniye and below the Phukeri BSNL tower, looking South down the Western Ghats towards Goa. According to existing plans, five to six mines will be developed within the boundaries of this shot, requiring massive deforestation and resulting in severe implications for wildlife and the ecology of this important North-South corridor.

 

sindhudurg view planned mining sites western ghats 2 Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

The view from the same position, this time looking North. A further six mines will fall within the borders of this photo if existing plans are carried out.

 

sindhudurg view of western ghats from inside quarry Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

View towards the Arabian Sea from the quarry at Phukeri, partially obstructed by material that previously made up the hillside and supported the roots of countless trees.

 

open cast mining sindhudurg stone crushing quarry 2 Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

Before and after, juxtaposed. The latter evokes eerie scenes from the no man’s lands between World War I trenches. Another view from within the stone crushing quarry.

 

open cast mining sindhudurg stone crushing machinery Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

Heavy stone crushing machinery at Phukeri quarry. The tree in the foreground to the left serves as the only barrier between this and a sacred groove that is said to house a guardian god who keeps watch over the villages of Phukeri, Zolambe and Asaniye.

 

open cast mining sindhudurg Western Ghats Under Threat II: Open cast mining

Open cast mining already underway at Kalne has ripped a colossal gash in the hillside, which is being relentlessly deepened. Activists say that this project was implemented after a false environmental impact assessment was not blocked and the vociferous objections of villagers were stubbornly disregarded.

 

Western Ghats Under Threat (Part II): Open cast mining

This photo essay from Sindhudurg District in the Indian state of Maharashtra is the second story from a two-part series on environmentally destructive activities in the Western Ghats region, originally produced for Tehelka in November 2010. I would like to acknowledge the significant assistance of one locally-based activist who cannot be named as it could risk his safety (he knows who he is!), D Stalin of Vanashakti and Sumaira Abdulali of Awaaz Foundation.

The Western Ghats series exposes some of the environmentally destructive processes that are underway in that region, close to the Arabian Sea. Such activities are often carried out in the name of ‘development’, but seem to bring more benefits to vested interests (big business and corrupt politicians) while causing harm to both the people who live in these areas and their fragile ecosystems. Please click on the image below to learn about the consequences of open cast mining and deforestation.

open cast mining sindhudurg stone crushing quarry 2 Western Ghats Under Threat (Part II): Open cast mining

CLICK THE IMAGE to go to the photo essay.