Sonepur Mela © stevedavey.com

I am endlessly fascinated by India. It treads a unique line between age old mysticism and the modern world, that always seems to draw me back. The very scale of India is bewildering: the largest demacracy in the world, it is home to the Kumbh Mela festival that is the largest gathering of humans ever on the planet; Indian Railways is the largest single employer in the world with over 1.6 million employees and Cherrapunji is the East is the wettest place on the planet.

There are also a lot of strange happenings in India, but after you have spent time there they all seem somehow quite normal!

Take the train driver who asked all of the passengers to get out and push in the state of Bihar after the train stalled between electrical points. Thirty minutes later and they were on their way!

Or how about this story in a Pakistan paper about Earring wearing monkeys that are a novel way to mark out animals that have been sterilised in a program to reduce numbers, but without killing animals believed to be sacred.

Spend any time in India and you will have to get used to the ubiquitious Head Waggle a unique way of signalling agreement of all forms.

More strange is the Dope Chewing Squirrel and the Sword Weilding Surgeon.

And where else but the city that gave us Dehli Belly (quite literally) would you find the Toilet Museum?

We head back to the impoverished state of Bihar to hear of a legal case that has dragged on for Thirty Years where a poor farmer stands accused of stealing two long dead oxen when he was just 13.

India is of course noted for it’s spirituality and it’s Sadhus, or holy men. Many of these carry our bizarre panances like standing for years or even holding one hand in the air for decades. One of the most bizarre penances though belongs to Ludkan Baba, the Rolling Baba who rolls for world peace – once carrying out a rolling pilgrimage of 4000 kilometres. Our very own editor of Perceptive Travel, Tim Leffel wrote about Smokin’ Sadhus and their use of dope for meditation.

Well now I have sucked up to the boss, here is a bit of shameless self promotion. The perceptive amongst you will notice that three of these links involve the state of Bihar – the most impoverished yet one of the most fascinating in India. The tax officials there even employ transvestite eunuchs to shame people into paying tax! In November I will be leading a photo tour to the Sonepur Mela, which happens in Bihar and is the largest livestock fair in the world. Famed for its haathi bazaar where elephants are traded, the tour also takes in the Taj Mahal at Agra, the holy city of Varanasi, the Buddhist pilgrimage centre of Bodh Gaya and the beguiling city of Calcutta. Westerners seldom visit the mela, and it really is a chance to get off the beaten track and to visit one of the most traditional and unspoilt festivals in India – and to improve your photography of course! More details from the Intrepid Travel website.

Sonepur Mela © stevedavey.com

Words & pictures © Steve Davey 2007

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