Vignettes from Himachal Pradesh – Part 4

The Mighty Muddy Satluj River
The Mighty Muddy Satluj River

The Mighty Muddy Satluj from Kotgarh, Himachal Pradesh

This is the river Satluj as it traces its muddy course through the valleys of Himachal Pradesh. It originates in Tibet and surges its way through to the plains of Punjab and drains into the Arabian Sea in Pakistan.

The river is muddy all through and I have no idea if it was so before the numerous hydel projects started coming up on it in the state of Himachal Pradesh.

This was shot one fine day on a trip from Narkanda to Thanedhar and Kotgarh from a point just below Barobagh, the place where commercial apple farming began in India.

I was in Barobagh two years later for the BBC Good Food magazine to shoot the story of apples and the huge effort being put up by Mr. Vijay Stokes, the grandson of the legendary Mr Samuel Stokes who commenced the great commercial movement in apples. The article appears in BBC Good Food magazine but alas, online links are not available. Maybe I will put the content on a blog post sometime later.

DSC_0834 nef 2 exp normal color

Vignettes from Himachal Pradesh – Part 3

barog morning 3 100 ppi


Casting Mile Long Shadows at Barog, Himachal Pradesh


Out on the hills you can barely hear a sound.

Bar the soft hiss of the breze rustling in the pines.

A small sharp horn, of a car, somewhere on the road.

Silence seems to rule the world.

You need the light to have life.

And Lo!, the day breaks

Melting away the demons of the night.

Shafts of light chase the long shadows,

Mile long at times,

And you can hear the clarion call of joy

As the birds greet the sun with a chirpy song.



_DSC6437 nef working crop 1 thru ACR color

Vignettes from Himachal Pradesh, India Part 2

Clouds and Shadows

The Stand of Pine Trees in a River of Clouds at Barog Valley, India

Another take from the same day and shoot as the last one with a slightly different perspective

The foreground has a stand of tall coniferous trees while a settlement of a few houses glints in the morning sunshine through the fleecy thick cover of clouds.

Barog is a mountain at the cusp of the Himalayas and the older Aravalis and is a formidable barrier to the interior Himalayas. The place is named after Colonel Barog, an engineer from England who was supposed to get the longest tunnel in the Kalka – Simla route, made through the mountains. The two ends of the tunnel did not align properly. Sadly that led to a bout of self depreciation for Col Barog . One misty day he put a gun to his head.

You can see the old alignment on the Barog railway station side if you ever go there.

Vignettes from Himachal Pradesh

Clouds and Shadows

Himachal Pradesh is a state in India that was carved out of the vast Northern territories that were controlled by Emperors and Kings, charlatans and brigands and local Rajahs and chiefs over centuries. It has a distinct geography and culture compared to the plains because it was always a little inaccessible being in the heart of the Himalayan mountain chain. Secondly the area did not have any great economic relevance for empires or any strategic territorial highlights that would make it an important conquest for invaders. So it remained peaceful and life whirled slowly and serenely.

Simla is a town that is like folk lore in the Raj and post Raj era as it was a town that was developed by the British as the  summer capital of their Indian empire. Much politics and intrigue as well as decision making happened here.  I have had the good fortune to be in Himachal Pradesh for a long period of time first while at school in Chail and then college in Simla. Fun time indeed where sometimes one had to walk 10 kms to college on early morning exam days as the buses would not ply so early.

I have been lucky to see some great sights while traveling in this state. Early mornings in Barog, Mid day spectacle in Kotgarh, late evenings in Solan and jungle fires late in the nitgh. These are what I have been fortunate to capture recently. The earlier sights just remain etched in the mind as there was no camera then.

Without much ado, let us start with the first image of a morning in Barog.

Clouds and Shadows
Arise Brave Helios and Lift the Rivers of Darkness – At Barog, Himachal Pradesh


A valley lies submerged in a river of clouds. The valiant Sun makes an effort to pierce this muddy whitish grey river of clouds early in the morning in the cold winters of the Himalayas. Barog is a fairly large mountain peak that anyone on the famous road track to Shimla will remember for the most arduous climb and descent en-route. Now there is of course a new route, but I still use this for my numerous journeys to and fro to the Himalayas. It has its rewards and this surely was a vision straight out of the annals of a Chinese fairy tale. Sometime later in the day, the clouds lift up buoyed by the warmth of the sun and leave the cold valleys in bright sunshine.

The Great Indian E-commerce Rip Off

E-commerce is happening these days. Every startup, whether from a pearly fresh IIT/IIM graduate, or a Mom & Pop store entrepreneur to established business houses are into it. It is a big market and it is growing bigger everyday. Investors are lining up with huge sums of money to fund such  ventures.
The transparency and ease that comes with an online platform would make you believe that the ongoing eCommerce sites are trying to make products available to online customers at reasonable prices in comparison to the big showrooms because they do not have an urban retail real estate model that is prohibitive.

There are plenty of established ( in terms of number of months/years) eCommerce retailers in India who sell fashion and day to day wear. “Indian Roots” is one such venture that has a good lineage in terms of its promoters. It belongs to Prannoy Roy and the NDTV group. As is the custom with most such eCommerce retailers they send out emails on a daily basis to consumers announcing deals and new items on their sites.

So here is one such email received on 27-09-2015 from giving an amazing offer of “Flat 80% off” on a whole range of products.

Email from Indian roots
Lured by such a fantastic deal any sensible recipient would rush to the site to get a bargain. So I checked out the leader page that opened up on clicking through on the email.

A screen grab, just in case

flat 80 pc off leader page

I chose something called and clicked through to a range of sarees showing up. At random I selected the 4th item in the list ( which appears topmost in the screen-grab because of scrolling) with the following url

A screen-grab in case the webpage changes –

vishal hypno sarees with prices

Off white Resham embroidered Georgette Saree. A little tacky with really bad posing priced at Rs 13,100/- The details of the Fabric description made this out to be :- (Saree: Chiffon, ). It was a tad hard to believe that a tacky saree like this ought to cost Rs 13,100/- and if one were to factor in a Flat discount of 80 percent, the price should work out to Rs 2620/-. Who in their right senses sells a synthetic saree for such an exorbitant price and then gives away an item for a 80 per cent discount? It just does not make sense. This is where the first uncomfortable alarm bell started ringing.

indianroots vishal saree

I went through a dummy routine of buying the tacky saree till the stage when the money had to actually go out of my bank account. To my great surprise, the amount all along was Rs 13,100/ – there was no sign of the discount kicking in anywhere.  If you enter into a purchase, the shopping cart shows the price at which the product would be billed/sold and the amount of money to be paid. The amount was Rs 13,100/- all through.
I wonder how that item could be displayed in the Sale category and that too with 80% off. If one was not too careful, one would have gone through the routine assuming that one would be paying only 20 percent of the listed price. A clever trap indeed.

Since the alarm bells were ringing and it was obvious that there was something of a fishy pattern nay smell here, I thought it would be appropriate to obtain the pricing of this particular item from other eCommerce vendors.

A small search later, look at what the results were like. –   Rs 3295   Rs 4707   Rs 3792

The screen grabs of these products is included here so that in the event of the page being removed we do not get a 404.




I was totally taken aback at the huge price differential between the price quoted at “indianroots” at Rs 13100 and that of other upcountry vendors in the range of Rs 3300- 4700. It is easy to see what the modus operandi of some of the eCommerce retailers is. Each e-tailer has its set of customers and database of clients who utilize the site. Most of them do not even bother to compare or check what the truth is. So milk them for their ignorance.
A little bit of skulduggery is fine but marking up the price of a product by an astonishing 300-400 percent compared to the retail price of other vendors is a little too much. Top that by placing the inflated price product in a category of Sale/discount but not really giving it is a double whammy or should I call it a double sham(my).

Make that a triple or Quadruple whammy. The “indianroots” description of the product made it out to be a Georgette saree in the banner / title of the product and chiffon in the detailed description. The other vendors were more honest and called it “faux chiffon” for that is what sarees coming from Surat are. It certainly is not “Georgette”. In India when a customer or a shopkeeper talks about chiffon it is the one made of natural fibres like silk etc and not synthetic ones like polyester etc.

The situation in the eCommerce world is startling and this is just one instance for one tacky saree. I would encourage you to go check out the other items that appear in the “indianroots” 80% sale page” to see how it pans out. I would be surprised if the pattern is any different from what is followed for the “Off white Resham Embroidered Georgette Saree”

The Rat Temple in Deshnoke, India

There is a lot of text here.The subject matter may be a tad uncomfortable for some. You are cautioned, there will be rat pictures here.

Rats are not the most liked of mammals for a variety of reasons. They carry the ominous burden of spreading diseases and destroying food grains. The primary response to a rat is revulsion and its removal from the visual cortex.

Deshnoke is a small temple town, about 30 kilo meters away from Bikaner in Rajasthan, India. Dust eddies swirl around chase each other in the trail left behind by motor cars. Most places in Rajasthan are barren and dry with scant grass climbing over large hill sides. Stone boundaries demarcate ownerships. It is a semi desert landscape of utter beauty and fascination and at times terrifying proportions for some.

As you reach Deshnoke, a fort like outer facade of ochre pink stands squat and low with bastions in the corner and gun emplacement slots peeping down at you. India’s feudal structure demanded such forts from the marauding intentions of the neighbors as well as long term Muslim invaders from Central Asia. So there is a fort here too but I wonder if it was ever laid siege to. Not likely. It was built only around early 1900s by which time the British Empire was in total control of the Indian subcontinent.

The fortification served the purpose of hiding the temple from the prying eyes of humans and predators. Within lies the Karni Mata temple and about 15000-20000 rats that inhabit the courtyard. The rats are sacred. It is good manna if a rat scampers over your bare feet. If you manage to sight albino ones, then it is a sign of great fortune.

The temple was built in the early 1900 by the Maharaja of Bikaner who used to be a great patron and follower of Karni Mata. She was a wise and powerful lady with immense spiritual powers worshipped by the the lay populace as well as the Rajas in Rajasthan. We are talking of the late 14th and early 15th century here. She is supposed to have lived for about 150 years. Somewhere in her journeys, a young follower of hers lost his footstep near a water hole and drowned. The other followers beseech-ed Karni Mata to revive the young man. The Hindu God of Death who reaps the souls is called Yama and he comes astride a dark and sculpted buffalo with big horns.

Legend has it that Karni Devi would not allow Yama to perform his duties. A stalemate ensued. Ultimately a solution was arrived at. The God of Death passed on the soul of the dead boy into that of a rat and saved his face. From that day onward any member of the Charan community who died would be reborn as a rat and every time such a rat died, a Charan boy would be born. Re-Incarnation at full work here.

Rats from that day onward are revered by this community of Charans in this area of Rajasthan. The rats are the past as well as the future of the community of Charan male members. The white rats in the temple complex are supposed to be the direct descendents of the immediate family of Karni Mata whereas the others are the rest of the community members.

In the temple complex about 15000-20000 rats live. I have no idea when the census was done but these are just guesstimates over a period of time. Devotees come in daily and so do visitors who want to see this great terrifying spectacle of rats and the crazy worship. Most visitors must steel themselves to withstand the sight and the smell and get used to the idea of rats and their excrement on the floor. Now a days the visitors have the option to receive a cloth or a polythene sheath shaped like a shoe covering for the feet. It helps.

Writers and media people make frequent forays to present the exotic, arcane and bizarre to the world at large. One of the most terrifying experiences in the world as per the New York Post is a visit to the Rat Temple.

Not to be trapped in the listings game, I would say that the place leaves an indelible mark in one’s mind for the sheer concept of it. The experience can not be termed “terrifying” for sure. More unsettling and unnerving maybe.What about you ?

Rats gather for the Feast
Rats gather for the Feast
Rats gather for the Feast
At the Rat Temple – A photo of the Reincarnated Male members of the Charan clan
  • No photo journey of the Rat Temple would be complete without having close up glimpses of the actual rats that inhabit the warrens inside the Karni Mata temple complex. You can find them peeping out of small holes in the marble walls, scurrying down steps and darting around trying to get some food.MIlk is available in the shops outside that sell prayer ware. You can also buy yellow Laddus for the rats. These are traditional offerings for the rats.The rats that you see during the daytime are generally furtive and not so bold. Not many can be seen either. The popular numbers touted for the rats is about 15000-20000, though no census ever was taken. It is only during the early morning time that there is a large presence of the rats and most of them that are visible are large and healthy. The weaker ones come out later to forage on what they can get.The rats are supposed to be reincarnated male members of the Charan caste of Rajasthan and they are the vestments for the human souls for a short time. As soon as a rat dies, a human being is born. That in essence is the karmic cycle of the Rat temple.There are more rat photos, so just bear with me 🙂
Holy Rat Fight at the Temple
Holy Rat Fight at the Temple
  • Yes more rats here.
  • From the Rat Temple at Deshnoke in Rajasthan where the rats are holy and the quirky temple experience is regarded as one of the most terrifying experiences in the world ( NYPost )
  • A rat was trying to roll a Laddu ( a round yellow sweet made of besan in ghee) away but with an occasional challenge thrown in by other rats from the hood, some peeping from their warrens in the marble walls of the temple complex.
  • At 10 am in the morning, these are not the strongest and the best rats of the temple complex. The healthy and sleek population is visible in the early morning when the food gets distributed. Thousands scurry around and it is a moving tangle of brown fur.
  • Most people who visit the Rat temple get to see the weaker not so sleek specimens like what you see in the photo.
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The idol of Karni Mata revered as an incarnation of Goddess Durga by the locals of Deshnoke area, lies in a recessed, dark sanctum sanctotum where only a priest minds the goings on at any given time while the devotees sit or line up outside waiting their turn to pass by the idol and seek the divine blessings.
It is difficult to take shots over the heads of the devotees in the dark interior lit up by a small flame of organic and perfumed bric a brac,
Rats can scamper freely in the sanctum sanctotum and you can see two oops three of them here.
Devotees at the Rat Temple in Deshnoke, Rajasthan
Devotees at the Rat Temple in Deshnoke, Rajasthan
This image here is purely to fill in the series on the quirky Rat Temple at Deshnoke.
This is how a make to path has been made by the temple authorities to have an orderly entrance to the sanctum sanctotum of the Rat Temple from its inner courtyard.
Temples in India are not the last refuge for peace and quiet and a heart to heart with your God. It is more a commercial arrangement where you offer money and food items to the God along with your prayers for success, wealth, children or whatever else one asks of Gods, including forgiveness for their misdeeds.( the last part of the line is thanks to a fellow photographer Anandmoy
I wonder if we in India ever ask for a fulfilled and happy life not only for themselves but for the whole wide world.
The temples can get very very crowded but not on this day, thankfully. The ladies sitting down are waiting for the temple priest to finish his ritual obeisance of Aarti and then proceed inside, seek a hurried commune with Karni Devi before being pushed out by the following crowd and the temple priest.
The routine is the same in every temple in India
Karni Mata Temple or The Rat Temple in Bikaner
The Rat Temple as it is popularly known is a dull sandstone color reminiscent of a small fortification. It is close to Bikaner and is located in a small settlement called Deshnoke.
The pinkish fortifications house the temple complex inside and within its four walls and meters of mazes of burrows and tunnels, the thousands of rats that are regarded as sacred.The origin of this quaint worship is enshrined in events that shaped the kingdoms of Bikaner and Jodhpur. Karni Devi was an ascetic who disappeared one fine day in the 16th century at a ripe old age of 150 years.
She is regarded as an incarnation of Goddess Durga and worshipped with much fanfare.
Notes – A light pillar has been removed for most parts. Left a stump on purpose as it does not intrude.
The Gateway to the Karni Mata Rat Temple
The pink sandstone washed outer wall of the fort like Deshnoke temple complex has a large arched gate in the middle of a carved block of white stonework.
There are two large wooden panels that swing open with a smaller trap door for human beings to walk through if you do not want to open the rather large cumbersome panels. The doors are studded with metal panels and strips to strengthen the wood. There is the usual agglomeration of neatly stacked gamut of thick pointed barbs of metal to repel recalcitrant invaders who would use elephants and large wooden logs to ram the doors to gain entry. Yes it would appear that this also functioned as a fort besides being a temple.
The flooring is grey black slate or granite( of which I am not too sure ) and you get a view of the main temple complex after an open courtyard paved in square blocks of white and grey. This is a sitting area too. The sky is covered with a netting of blue and white to prevent the ingress of avian hunters for whom rats would be abundantly easy prey to feed on.
Two prominent boards display the going rates for carrying photographic equipments inside the complex. For “movie” it is Rs 50 and for the still one it is Rs 20/- All this adds up to the revenue of institutions who must fleece a camera wielder no end. This is still cheap compared to the Jodhpur fort where the charges are much higher

The Outer Courtyard of the Rat Temple- Another view DSC_3850 nef fir behance

The Rat Temple, India - the facade
This is how the actual Temple building looks from front on. This has been shot at 12 mm and I have just about managed to squeeze the minarets and the cupolas in alongwith a few of the people going about with their daily routine in life. The space is best shot with maybe 10 mm on a non Dx lens.
Karni Mata Temple - The Cooking Vessel at the Rat Temple
One of the most terrifying experiences in the world as per the New York Post is a visit to the Rat Temple in Deshnoke in Rajasthan. 20000 rats roam freely and one has to enter bare feet and perhaps take a sip or two out of the milk pails where rat saliva and excreta is visble to the naked eyes. This is as per the article of the New York Post in October 2005. I do not have a copy of the magazine but this is quoted out of mentions on searches in Google.
Of late, in the last decade or so, lists have become a popular means in our lives to reduce everything into numerical absurdity.
I have no idea if drinking the milk is the done thing and going bare feet is a must. While I was there, the temple office was supplying feet coverings for the tourists. If you were a foreigner, you got white clean cloth slippers and if you were an India it was blue polythene sheaths. The local worshippers of course preferred to go in bare feet.
If one were to get trapped in the listings game, I would say that the place leaves an indelible mark in one’s mind for the sheer concept of it. The experience can not be termed “terrifying” for sure. More unsettling and unnerving maybe.
What about you?
The large pail pictured here is not a milk pail. It is used for making food/ prasadam on special occasions in the temple. It just lies with a few other vessels in the courtyard of the temple complex.
Silver Gates at the Deshnoke Rat Temple of Karni Mata
A stout mouthed and stocky limbed mythical lion looks a little surprised at the goings on at the Rat Temple in Deshnoke. Perhaps it was intentional on the part of the silversmiths who made this or maybe I am seeing much too much into it.
The doorways are made of silver and animals stand out in bas relief. Intricate patterns and designs are repeated on the surface to make beautiful filigree work by the local silversmiths of the Bikaner area.
You can also find lions and elephants and other such carvings and statues of marble stone as well.
Lie Down Low, Sweet Priest, Let the Rats Roam all over you!
At the Karni Devi temple in Rajasthan a priest and a devout follower of the goddess lies down prone licking the bare stone slabs while rats climb over him.
I guess the rats know him pretty good.
The price we pay for God is astronomical in terms of loss of common sense but it keeps the people content and happy with their fate on Planet Earth.
Checkerwork of Belief
Here is another take of a keeper or a priest of the Charan community lying prostrate on the checkered floor work of the Rat Temple in Deshnoke, Rajasthan.
Rats run in from the openings in the wall to climb over him. While the half clad believer of Karni Mata utters his prayers and occasionally licks the floor, the rats scamper over him as if blessing him doubly.
The Priest of the Rat Temple
The Priest of the Rat Temple
The Priest with Rats on his bare back - Karni Mata Temple at Deshnoke
The Priest with Rats on his bare back – Karni Mata Temple at Deshnoke
Rats on a Human Body.. ouch and Eeews..but it is nothing for the Charan community of Rajasthan
Rats on a Human Body.. ouch and Eeews..but it is nothing for the Charan community of Rajasthan

Public Monuments with Bicycles and a Photographic still image from India

Monuments on Cycling

Of David Gerstein, Bengt-Göran Broström, Einar Utzon-Frank and others

 Lalit Kala Akademy Still Photography

Bicycling is a part of growing up.

An ode or maybe a celebration of motor skills and locomotion that gives you freedom to roam and explore the world around you. The scratches and bruises a life long reminder to the process.

I captured some still images of a sculpture showcased by the Lalit Kala Akademy, the premier keeper of sculpture, art and culture in India. This image is of a bicycle rider sculpted by Narendar Singh in 2008 is titled “My Journey ” and is about 145×12.5×120 cms made of Iron and is painted in green strips of metal with scant flowers on the mud guards. That touch of flowers screamed a watered down “euphoria” of a David Gerstein creation. This metal sculpture by and Indian sculptor is a delight to look at and conveys the sense of freedom and motion that is the essence of what a bicycle represents. Job well done Mr Sculptor.

The Cycle Sculpture from Lalit Kala Akademy
Artist – Narendar Singh
My Journey
Iron, 2008
145×12.5×120 cms
Lalit Kala Akademy 2009 Winners Photo by Anoop Negi

Continue reading “Public Monuments with Bicycles and a Photographic still image from India”

Three Fat Ladies of the Sea and Jenifar.

Fishing Trawlers in Kerala, India

Photography of boats and other sea vessels.

Boats in Kerala, India
Three boats, fat ones and Jenifar

This is a single insertion of an image compared to the earlier entries which always had 6-10 photos, more like a photo essay format.

Change is the spice of life, so sail on.

This was shot from a moving boat, a difficult thing to accomplish on a day when the lighting was abjectly poor.

The earlier post on Boats, coracles and sea vessels is here —

Extreme Sports – Photography of Bull Races in Kerala, India

Photography of Bull Races in India

Craziest Extreme Sport

Kerala Photography by Anoop Negi

This post is not about Redbull Racing. No It is not that I do not like Vettel. I positively endorse his driving style and love his performances till date. If things be what they are, he may still win the 2012 F1 championship. If you think F1 racing is extreme or tough and exciting or for that matter snowboarding, skiing down the Himalayas or surfing mighty waves are all tough and exciting extreme sports, than you have not been to India to see the wet mud bull races which are held in Kerala. If you prefer a dry version, Pakistan has some over there.

The most famous bull race is held in Kerala in India and it is an extremely tough one. Bulls are reared specially for racing. They are fleet footed and tough and two of them are hitched together in a harness and a team of 3 men tries to run with the bulls till the finishing point which may be about 100 metres or so. A paddy field is filled with water days in advance and the field is generally in 6 or more inches of water. There is fine mud and rain and sometimes sunshine to accompany the event.

The bulls are always impatient and eager to run the gauntlet of 100 plus yards, mud or no mud. Two runners hold a guide rope to control the direction and speed of the bulls and they actually sprint in the mud alongside the bulls. There is a third rider who sits on a thin plank of wood between the two bulls. Here is a photograph to show case how it looks.

Bull racing
Racing with the bulls

This event is one of sheer courage and am sure an embodiment of manhood for the Malayali man. That year there were about 50-60 heads of bulls that you could count. The latest one held in August in 2012 is reported to have had only 12 pairs. There has been a steady decline in the numbers mostly because of ongoing litigation between organizations wanting a ban on any event that requires animals to perform. They are fighting cases in the Higher courts to stop the horse races because of the usage of a whip. Stuff like that. Anyway, it appears that these races may go on now till it suffers normal attrition as less and less brave or courageous souls venture in this mad bull rush.

For this event I drove down from Cochin to a small town called Adoor. Close to this, is a village called Ananadapalli where the race track was located.The whole exercise of the bull racing is called “Maramadi” or Maramady” and is held every year around Onam time. It is an agrarian pursuit and a thrill to watch for the pure joy of men splashing in the water and running as if for their lives. Beats the 100 m dash at the Olympics.

More exciting things happen during the race. Specially interesting and dangerous is when the bulls can not be stopped from running. They scramble and jump over the 4-6 feet embankment in the blink of an eye and the bystanders, mostly young men packed on the earthen bund have to save their lives. Similar fate awaits camera men who happen to be there. Fortunately all is in God’s hand and nothing untoward happens. A living proof that God exists and wants Indians alive and kicking..err running.;-)

This post is to showcase photos from the event A series of photos where the bulls go charging into the embankment stands will come up in a separate post.

Continue reading “Extreme Sports – Photography of Bull Races in Kerala, India”