Festival, India, Photo Feature, Photojournalism, Travelogue, Uncategorized

Some time back when we started planning the trip, we read up a lot on Bonalu. But as far as research on the internet goes, we weren’t sure if the information we got was correct or not. We had also called the Telengana Tourism department confirmed that the festival was happening on that sunday we had very little other information about the time and place. The incessant pouring rain made it almost impossible to take the bus. We finally boarded the bus, drenched because of the rain. As it was a sleeper we could thankfully change into dry clothes. Once we settled down I started to read up on Bonalu again as recent news articles had been published by various local newspapers and it seemed to give us a better understanding of the festival.



Bonalu is a Hindu festival where Goddess Mahakali is worshiped. It is an annual festival celebrated in Telengana. Hyderabad and Secunderabad and other parts of the state host this month long festival where thousands of devotees gather to worship and celebrate other festivities. The word ‘Bonam’ has been derived from the word Bhojanam (a Sanskrit loanword) which means a meal or a feast in Telugu and is an Offering to Mother Goddess. Women cook rice with jaggery and carry it in a brass or earthen pot on their head to the temple to make an offering.




As the arduous 15 hour bus ride from Mumbai came to an end we were greeted by the lovely Hyderabad! We took an auto rickshaw to go to our hotel and on the way could some places where preparations were being made for ‘Bonalu’. We reached our hotel in the evening and quickly put our cameras to charge so that we didn’t have to worry about it the next day which was the day of the shoot. We freshened up and left the hotel to get a feel of the city. Hyderabad, famous for their food, treated us well! We had biryani for dinner and met up with a few friends in Hyderabad. We got a lot of new information about the festival as well since one of them was a photographer who, coincidentally had shot Bonalu a few years back.




Bonalu is celebrated in various parts of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. On the first Sunday of Aashadham, celebrations are held at the temple at Golconda Fort. On the second Sunday, at Balkampet Yellamma temple in Balkampet and Ujjaini Mahakali Temple in Secunderabad and the third Sunday, at The pochamma and katta maisamma temple of chilkalguda and the Matheswari temple of Lal Darwaza in Old City of Hyderabad. Akkanna Madanna temple in Haribowli, Muthyalamma temple in Shah Ali Banda are among other temples where Bonalu are celebrated. Since we had arrived on the third Sunday we decided to head for Lal Darwaza. I got up early and went to a nearby temple called ‘Bhulaxmi Mata Mandir’ in Begum Bazar. It was drizzling that day and I was a bit worried if devotees would show up for the Puja or not.

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On my way to the temple I could see hundreds of women walking to the temple with earthen pots balanced on their head. It was reassuring. The women were impeccably dressed in sari and jewelry while teenage girls wore legenga choli. The men usually wear new shirts and trousers on the special occation. The temple was beautifully decorated with flowers and people were offering their Bonam to the shrine. It is believed that the Goddess comes back to her maternal home during Ashada Maasam, so people come to see her and bring offerings of food to show their love and affection, just as they would prepare a special meal when their own daughters visit them. I shot photographs of the festivities for around two hours. It was still drizzling but the weather shield on the Canon 7D Mark II held well. A non-vegetarian family feast follows after the great the offering. The meat used to prepare the meal is the meat of a goat or a chicken which is offered ceremonially (Bali in Telugu) to goddess and it is considered sacred. Offering alcohol is also considered a must. Women carrying earthen pots are accompanied by drums as they get into a trance and dance to the beats. Many also carry more than one pot on their head.

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In the afternoon, after another Biryani lunch, we arrived near Charminar where the main festivities are to take place. It was surprising to see a small temple right on the walls of the Charminar – a monument and mosque in Hyderabad. The diversity of culture was a sight to see! We came to know from the locals that we could find something interesting if we headed towards Lal Darwaza, so we did.

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As we were walking towards Lal Darwaza we came accross another festivity that has been a big part of Bonalu. We came accross a procession that was just about to start and it was being led by a well-built, bare-bodied man, wearing a small tightly draped red dhoti and bells on his ankles, and anointed with turmeric on his body and vermilion on his forehead. Potharaju, as they are known, is the brother of Mother Goddess. Dancing ahead of Palaharam Bandi, the procession, he is considered the initiator of the festivities and the protector of the community. Leading the female dancers who are under spell of the Mother Goddess (known as shigam) to the temple he lashes his whips around, as people in the procession try to dodge it, accompanied by trumpets and drums. The locality also celebrates with songs and dance as many places host cultural programmes in the evening. Thottelu, a small colorful, paper structure supported by sticks, is also offered as a mark of respect. The Thottelus are decorated with flowers and carried to the temples on the following day. Sri Ujjaini Mahakali Temple and Sri Devi Pochamma Temple Somasundaram Street are two of the most prominent temples as these are government owned and the festivities are visited by Government officials and legislators as well. The near carnival like atmosphere with processions from different parts of the city arriving in regular intervals is a sight to be seen! People spend their afternoons and evenings looking at the processions from their balconies in specific parts of the city. Unlike Ganpati Puja in Maharashtra and Durga Puja in West Bengal, Bonalu is only seen in specific parts of the twin cities as other areas run normally.

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We covered the procession and festivities and were ready to head to the station for our bus back to Mumbai. Even though we wished we could have covered the month long festivities we did end up seeing and experiencing the ‘essence’ of the festival in all its glory. After a 15 hour bus ride, the Bonalu festival did not make us feel tired or unwelcome. The spirit of the people coming down to the temples even in the rain, the children in new clothes, the smiles, the baloons, the Pothraju and their whipping while people run around them, the drums – all added up to one of the many exciting and little known festivals that this great country has to offer – Bonalu.


Maharashtra Drought

Documentary, Photo Feature, Photojournalism, Travelogue



High Walls (Ongoing series)

Documentary, Photo Feature, Photojournalism, Travelogue

Beaches are celebrated to be a neighborhood for recreation, a place to let go of the day-to-day life and have a quiet time. It is, in most metropolitan cities, also known for its beach side properties and sea-facing villas for the affluent communities. But Mumbai, India’s economy capital differs from most cities. In this city, the beach becomes a liaison for the prosperous and the underprivileged. Residencies of both the prosperous businessmen and the deprived slum dwellers within kilometers of one another are hard to miss. The rich build high white-washed walls and fences around their villas and the underprivileged hang and dry clothes on them. The closed sea facing windows of the air conditioned rooms compliment the window-less shanties. The high walls meant to keep privacy inside the bungalows are used by couples who sit on the other side of the wall for a quick afternoon romance, seeking a piece of the privacy for themselves. In these beaches people’s resilience in co-existing and conquering the hardships of the social order become prevalent. A symbiotic relationship prevails, working and living through social discrepancy, and an act of triumph of human spirit, ignored perhaps because of their own cultural baggage.



Dubai, a name that is synonymous with tall structures and even taller ambitions, the most populated emirates of the seven emirates that make up the country.At this point is a city that has already exceeded anyone’s wildest imagination. A magnificent city built on the most inhospitable of places with an unbearable climate. But Dubai has made it work for itself somehow and still is growing. One cannot take a photo of a tall structure in Dubai without having cranes or an under construction building seeping into the frame. This ever growing city still amazes the world and will keep on doing so in future as it becomes the tourism and economy hub of the Middle East.

Darjeeling – Mysterious Monsoons

Photo Feature, Travelogue

Darjeeling is a small hilly town in the Indian state of West Bengal. At an elevation of 6700 feet its location in the lesser Himalayas makes it an attractive tourist destination during the summers. It boasts of clear views of five famous peaks of the Kanchenjunga mountain range and the famous Darjeeling tea, which is one of the most famous black tea in the world. I wanted to see the other side of the town, when there are lesser numbers of tourists and have a different perspective of the place as a whole. So, I booked my tickets and landed in Bagdogra airport in July which is peak monsoon season on the hills. Amidst landslides and red alerts for flash floods I took a car and headed to Darjeeling.

Within half an hour of my journey the I was on cloud covered winding roads and a fear of the unknown. “Darjeeling usually does not experience landslides as much, but this year is different” explained the driver, “This year, due to the Bhutan earthquake, the land has loosened up because of aftershocks, thus causing the lose mud to cause massive landslides blocking roads and highways”. Just the day before there was a massive fatality and 36 people died from different landslides in different areas. Soon, we were surrounded by clouds and visibility was restricted to a few meters.

The car kept climbing at a steady pace and we were brought to a halt near Sonada, another sleepy hill town, where there was an accident due to visibility issues. The local people were prompt to jump in and help the two cars that collided and luckily, no one was injured. We moved on, without incident to Darjeeling.

It was calm, quiet and peaceful. Very few tourist cars, very few ‘pahari’ people going about their daily chores and almost no tourists at all. The weather was cold and I was craving for some hot Darjeeling tea. I headed out into the nothingness and on to the winding roads and found a local tea shop. The hot tea was heavenly. As I took to the streets the old archaic buildings built during the British period stuck out like a sore thumb among the modern buildings and hotels and shopping malls built in the now popular tourist destination.  The hill station had come into being in the late 1800s when under the British Raj. It was seen as a suitable summertime escape for the Brits and this led to the construction of a sanatorium and a military depot. Darjeeling as a tourist spot had been established. But this also caused increase in traffic and the simple cart road was not enough. Franklin Prestage, an agent of Eastern Bengal Railway Company proposed a railway line connecting the popular tea haven to Siliguri, which had a broad guage train service connecting it to Calcutta Harbours. He proposed a steam tramway, along the lines of the cart road and finally after due consideration in 1879 the proposal was accepted by the government. On 4 July, 1881 the train line was inaugurated and the railway company was named Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Company which still remains the same. As the British Raj ended, the old buildings and heritage structures of their memories stayed. A few heritage churches, mock tudor buildings, hostels, the train stations and post office are what remains from that era.

I decided to go to a local shopping district in the northern part of the city to get a feel of the local people. The open air shopping district is extremely photogenic and a must go for photographers. During summers, the hills and mountain ranges are visible from the Mall area as it is situated in a high ground and has a good viewpoint as well. I explored a considerable part of the city on foot as I wanted to get an idea of the place and its different viewpoints which later helped me to shoot. A recce of the place is always advisable if you have considerable time in your tour and since the weather kept changing every half an hour I knew exactly where to go and when to go to get a good view of the cloudscapes.

It is important for a photographer to always be aware of their surroundings and measure and calculate the pros and cons. Since my first destination was supposed to be a monastery it was actually better for me to reach there early in the morning. Ghoom Monastery or the Samten Choling Buddhist Monastery was built in 1875 by Lama Sherab Gyatso and is the largest of the three monasteries in Ghum. As I reached the monastery and climbed the 30 odd steps down the hill, I was disappointed to see it closed. I was too early and I was not going to let it go. After waiting for almost half an hour a monk came and opened the doors. The monastery was quiet, surrounded by clouds and mysteriously beautiful. A Tibetan chant started playing from a recorder inside the monastery. The environment was engulfing and peaceful. This is what I wanted! No busy tourists taking selfies, no distractions. It was just me and the monastery but I still had only seen one monk. I wanted some activity for my photographs to look better. After another half an hour wait little children in Maroon Buddhist robes showed up. Some thirty odd monks of varying ages went into a hall. I followed and ended up into their eating hall; they had prepared breakfast and were just starting to eat. A visual treat for any photographer, I grabbed the chance and shot extensively. Going in the off season helped as there was no one else around and the monks felt quite okay with my intrusion.

I was playing hide and seek with the unpredictable weather. For a photographer, waiting for the perfect time and perfect weather is more important and time consuming than shooting. I waited for hours at a time outside Darjeeling railway station on the tracks for the perfect time to shoot. Monsoons had taken their toll and the Toy trains were not operating, which was sad as they are an integral part of covering Darjeeling. Two famous food joints to visit in Darjeeling are Glenary’s and Keventer’s. Glenary’s is a three story building in the heart of the shopping district with huge windows, live music and a bar. It has assorted muffins, cookies, chocolates and patties. It also serves Darjeeling tea which is a must have. The ambience was nice and warm and the shop has a British styled telephone booth as a decoration as well. Keventer’s is in the same lane as Glenary’s and is one of the best food joints in Darjeeling. The second floor has a open air seating as well as an indoor seating which has clear views of nearby hills in the summer. Keventer’s is famous for its pork and ham assortments.

Undoubtedly Darjeeling is the queen of hills in the eastern part of India and the peak seasons, that is March/April or September to November is the best time to go if you are looking for a happening hill station with a clear sky, breathtaking views and amazing food. But the monsoons have a very different melancholy, mysterious and sublime feel to it. Even though I missed out on most of the usual things seen by every tourist like the Kanchenjunga, Toy Trains in action, tea picking in the plantations etc I did not feel unwelcome to the place. The lack of regular tourist spots and sights gave me a perspective to look within the city – its culture, its heritage, its history and its people. Monsoons bare the naked Darjeeling in all its glory, the real people- the real city.