Saturday, 31 December 2016

Cambodian sound of silence

I have been following Angkor Photo Festival and Workshop for almost last five six years. I have deep respect for it. So, when the program coordinator and curator Francoise Callier emailed me for one of my works to be exhibited over there, I did not put a second thought on it. I felt privileged enough to be in one of the best photo festivals of the world. I started preparing to go Siem Reap from that day. I just needed an excuse to go Cambodia. Siem Reap is one of the best travel destinations of the world for its famous Angkor Wat temple. This is the largest religious monument in the world with the site measuring 162.6 hectares (1,626,000 m2; 402 acres). It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple of god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in YaÅ›odharapura (present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. The nearest Cambodian city from Angkor Wat is Siem Reap. It was a great double bonanza for me to visit Angkor Wat and enjoy the festival at same time. So, I boarded the flight from Kolkata to Siem Reap via Kuala Lumpur. 

After reaching there I started to feel the vibration of the city bit differently. A city with broad roads with less traffic which I hardly expect here in Kolkata. It made me curious to know the city better in night. I heard a lot about the night life of Siem Reap before coming here. So, I decided to go out at around nine and my first destination was Pub Street area, the famous partying spot of the city. My hotel was quite nearby and I reached there by just ten minutes of walk without any problem.

It was just like what I heard before. That is an area with full of pubs, bars and restaurants. Wherever you see, you can only find foreign tourists. They are jumping, singing and dancing all around. It’s hard to find anyone who is not happy over there.  One can easily find nice foods and cheap beers at almost all the restaurants over there. Everyone’s destination becomes Pub Street after sun goes down to relax and enjoy. The nearby night market is open for whole night where one can find different types of goods from souvenir to daily usable items. The market opens almost whole night to cater huge influx of foreign tourists. This is somehow an answer to Bangkok’s Khao Sun Road. 

After spending some time over there I decided to come back to hotel. When I just left the area and crossed the river, I had a bizarre feeling. I just felt that I was standing in quiet and tranquil environment and few minutes back it was difficult to hear each other words. It was completely a different feeling. So, I realized that two different souls are living in a single body here at the same time.

So, I decided to move around the city in both the areas in night to feel this juxtaposition where one part is full of energy and other is just preparing to sleep. The areas outside the pub street and night market is completely different at night. The street lamps are pouring lights on Empty Street. Windows are closed. Cats and dogs are moving around. It was very difficult to match the environment which I left just meters away. I walked down almost everywhere and found same atmosphere almost everywhere. It cannot felt at day time by any chance. A small city becomes smaller and concentrated at particular area during night time, especially around midnight. I do not know that it is possible to feel the quietness without the loudness of the other part. I guess it is not. Because it is not first time I am experiencing quietness at night, but it was a different feeling altogether. If anyone stands just outside of the pub street area, she can hear the loud music coming out from the pubs and same time feel the silence of the other part just beside it where quietness is too strong. While I was walking through the street I was able to hear the sound of silence of the buildings, parked cars, closed doors of the shops and the street lights. 

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The land of mountains and a photo festival

Nepal has been a dream place for me from my childhood. First time when I studied that the highest mountain peak is not within India, I really felt sad. I had a special mental connection with hills and mountains, which I still continuing. So, I finally got a chance to visit the country where the highest peak exists, but it was not to see the Everest. It was for a different purpose.

I went Nepal to attend the ‘Photo Kathmandu’, the annual photography festival in Kathmandu. It is Nepal’s only international photo festival started from 21 October, 2016. A jam packed festival with a lot of activities including print exhibitions, projections, workshops, portfolio reviews and talks of different artist came from around the globe. It was a quite fascinating experience to enjoy the festivals as well as the overall atmosphere of Kathmandu and the old city Patan. Kathmandu and Patan are basically twine cities divided by the river ‘Bagmati’. This year the festival was hosted in Patan. So, I got a chance to experience the oldness of the Patan city and narrow alleys in and around the famous Durbar Square.  Most of the exhibitions were installed around that area. It created the excellent environment for the show altogether.

The official name of Patan is Lalitpur and the Durbar Square is situated at the heart of it, making it a major tourist destination. It is an UNESCO world heritage site. This is where the Malla King of Lalitpur resided, although there is no clear authentic history of Durbar square till date. Some chronicles hint that the history of Patan Thakuri Dynasty built a palace and made reforms to the locality but the evidence is minute. Scholars are certain that Patan was a prosperous city since ancient times. The Malla Kings did make important changes to the square. Most of the current architecture is from the 1600s, constructed during the reign of King Siddhinarasimha Malla and his son Srinivasa sukriti. Some of the notable Mallas Kings who improved the square include Purandarasimha, Sivasimha Malla and Yoganarendra Malla. Most of the ancient buildings which are the marvels of ‘Newa’ architecture were heavily damaged by the last year’s earthquake. So, a massive reconstruction and restoration activities are going on right now.

Patan is believed to have been founded in the third century BC by the Kirat dynasty and later expanded by Licchavis in the sixth century. Patan is one of three royal cities in the valley. The others are Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. It was further expanded by the Mallas during the medieval period. Several historical records including many other legends indicate that Patan is the oldest of all the cities of Kathmandu Valley. Old alleys, buildings are the main flag bearer for its rich history. Those are still evident. One can find numerous big and small temples around the old part of Patan city. It’s quite amusing to see how cars, bikes and bicycles are passing through such extremely narrow alleys. Evening and morning lights make it a fascinating place to be watch and enjoy. Some of the buildings are still on support of strong bamboo or wooden structure after the earthquake, but it does not dent anything about the spirit of this old city. These things sometime made me feel the oldness of Varanasi quite often. The city was initially designed in the shape of the Buddhist Dharma-Chakra (Wheel of Righteousness). The four thurs or mounds on the perimeter of Patan are ascribed around, one at each corner of its cardinal points, which are popularly known as Asoka Stupas. Legend has it that Emperor Asoka (the legendary King of India) visited with his daughter Charumati to Kathmandu in 250 BC and erected five Asoka Stupas, four in the surrounding and one at the middle of the Patan. The size and shape of these stupas seem to breathe their antiquity in a real sense. There are more than 1,200 Buddhist monuments of various shapes and sizes scattered in and around the city.

It’s not long ago that a devastated earth quack smashed this country including Kathmandu and Patan. But the sheer resilience of the people has brought them back in normalcy. The festival itself reflected that mental stamina. I guess that is the main reason so many photographers, editors and photo enthusiast visited this year. Photographic community in Nepal is going through a transitioning phase and this kind of initiative will help them to build it for further expansion. They are doing some excellent collaborative projects with some international universities. As a result some tremendously talented photographers are coming out and making their marks in photography world.