MindStorm Photography Blog and Gallery

Travel Photography by Burt Johnson and Evelyn Johnson

India 8 – Hola Mohalla

Punjab, India, Hola Mohalla 2018 - turbans blue

A few days after the Holi Festival, the Sikh hold a three-day celebration of Hola Mohalla. There was very little throwing of powdered paint here.  Instead, the big event was a show of horsemanship, martial arts, archery, and military skills.

The Sikh are easily identified as all men must wear a turban. Many of the turbans were a bright blue, as seen above. We were told that a blue turban signifies a temple worker. There were a couple of Sikhs that had huge turbans (center image).  This Sikh had a cadre of other Sikhs following him, though I was not able to learn if the size of the turban actually has any significance other than for show.

Punjab, India, Hola Mohalla 2018 - turbans other

Turbans did come in a variety of colors. Our guide could not tell me if there was any significance to their colors beyond personal choice. Every so often, we met one that was overtly pro-American, such as the guy lower-right with the "4 USA" shirt.

Punjab, India, Hola Mohalla 2018 - transport

People arrived by motorcycle, in the back of trucks, tuk tuks, buses, on tractors, and on foot.  Each evening one small tractor would run down each road slowly spewing out a choking gas (center) that was intended to destroy the mosquitos in the evening. I believe it was Malathion, but nobody I spoke to knew for sure.

Punjab, India, Hola Mohalla 2018 - feeding the people

The Sikh tradition is one of sharing, and various groups set up free kitchens in the area for the three days of celebration, serving more than 10 million free meals.  The man lower-right is repeating a chant over and over all day long, saying in Punjabi "free meals." The kitchens were very willing to allow me to photograph their progress, and I had to politely refuse free meals at every stop (American stomachs don't do well with Indian food bacteria...).

Punjab, India, Hola Mohalla 2018 - horses

The highlight of the celebrations is a show of horsemanship skill.  Horses are galloped at full speed mere inches from the audience -- the latter crowding in to see the horses come, then jumping back seconds before being trampled.  In order to get these images, I had to also flow with the crowd, and had to duck several times to avoid being hit by the spear the riders were carrying.  The spears were used to poke at a pile of grass tufts in front of the judging panel, to pick up and show off.  Many of the horsemen came around empty and tried again, while a few managed to have more than one tuft of their spear.  One old gent, who looked too ancient to ride, was galloping at full speed, proudly showing off the five tufts on this spear -- far more than anyone else.

Punjab, India, Hola Mohalla 2018 - horses standing

As if riding and spearing the tufts were not enough challenge, several riders came through galloping while standing on the backs of two horses.  All the time, trying to wind through the organically flowing path through the crowd that opened at the last second to let them pass.

Punjab, India, Hola Mohalla 2018 - misc

Here are a few final images from the day.  The temple (upper-left) is lit up and looks like it belongs in Disneyland.  Before the horses started their hour-long run, a man warmed up the crowd on a motorcycle (upper-right).  After the horse run was complete, many of the horsemen waited around for photographers, some rearing their horses for display (center).

The photographs just can't do justice to the speed and closeness of the horses to the crowd.  Watch this one minute clip to get more of a gut feeling for the field... though until you are there in person, you won't really know what it is like!

India 7 – Kaputhli Artist Colony

Kapuleti, India - puppet2

We visited an artist community in Delhi called Kaputhli.  This is a group of some 300 families that was forcibly moved as a group from their prior homes, into temporary housing.  They were promised "new and better" homes within two years.  I'm sure you can guess the punchline -- that was 5 years ago, and groundbreaking has not yet begun where they were promised to be placed.

Our first stop was at the home of a puppeteer, who put on a short show for us. We then had various members of the family sit in the stage with the puppets, resulting in the above images.

Kapuleti, India - life

As we wandered the area, we found ourselves the center of attention, particularly with the kids. Every kid wanted their photo taken, and many wanted selfies taken with the tourists. Bottom-left image shows dozens of kids sitting on a rail, just to watch us.  Top-middle image shows the size of their current homes.  That one room you see in this photograph is the entire home, often occupied by three generations.

Kapuleti, India - fire breathers

Oliver (our guide) arranged for some fire breathers to perform from an adjoining rooftop. This location offered a unique photographic opportunity, a blending of creative energy in the  environment of the slums.

Here is a short clip from Kaputhli.  It opens with a portion of a puppet show, then a few seconds from some kids jamming in their one-room home, and finishes with fire breathers.

India 6 – Holi Festival at Nandgaon

Nandgaon, India Holi - dance

This is the third of three blog posts describing our experience at Holi Festival 2018.  For our third day, we moved from Barsana to Nandgaon.  Though many aspects of the festival are the same here, there were some very important differences -- the biggest being the behavior of the crowds and lots of water mixed with the powder.

In Barsana, it was a mob mentality, with extreme pushing and shoving, and a strong every man for himself approach.  The same crowds existed in Nandgaon, but here they walked into the temple orderly, waiting their turn and moving civilly. It was a much more pleasant experience all the way around.

Once in the temple area though, the scene was again dominated by music and dancing.  The words were different, since this temple was not dedicated to Rahde, but the beat and the frenetic dancing was the same.

Nandgaon, India Holi - paint

Again, paint was thrown by everyone at everyone.  You were not part of the party if you were not covered in paint, mostly red but with some yellow thrown in for good measure.

Nandgaon, India Holi - kids

The festival here included lots of water too, and when mixed with powder, it was the makings for a slippery mess.  The kids took particular joy in this aspect, and squirt guns and water cannons were manned by anyone under puberty.


Here a few selected images we were able to capture of the surrounding village, outside of the thrown paint zones.

Nandgaon, India Holi - beating men

The game of the men being beaten by women moved from Barsana to Nandgaon, so we got to see them again.  This time, we went early to a nearby rooftop to secure prime viewing space. When the participants gathered below us, they started with random men and women dancing together (upper-left), then separated into a dozen circles of women around one or more men under shields (upper-right).  The bashing then began (middle-right and lower-left) for a full hour, with the women never letting up -- though a you could see many of the women were exhausted and the blows did not have as much strength towards the end.

As the sun set (lower-right), new men gradually failed to enter the circles, and the whole party just kind of slowly dissipated.  That ended the Holi Festival experience for us in this region.  Lots more to come!

Watch 90 seconds of musical pandemonium as the revelers go into frenetic dancing.

Here is another short 70 second clip showing women beating men, this time from our front-row vista on a neighboring rooftop.

India 5 – Holi Festival Part 3 – Barsana

Barsana, India, Holi Festival 2018 -dance

This is the final of three parts describing our time in Barsana, India, during the Holi Festival 2018.  People were frenetically dancing everywhere at all times, from early morning, until sundown when we left. Small bands of drummers would wander from place to place (upper-left and upper-right), and start a rapid staccato snare drum beat. Immediately, they were surrounded by smiling people dancing wildly, usually in a rhythm having little to do with the music.

Every so often, two people would join hands, and swing around each other like a child's game, until one or the other would quit in exhaustion or dizziness (upper-center). Wherever you turned though, there was wild dancing, often chanting "Rhadhe! Rhadhe!" -- the most well-known devotee of Krishna. People rammed into each other constantly, but I don't think I saw a frown all day that lasted more than a brief second.

Barsana, India, Holi Festival 2018 -crowds

The crowds were unbelievable. No matter how much Oliver (our guide) described them in advance, we were simply not prepared for the reality. It was a mob mentality trying to get into the temple. People pushing from the back, forcing everyone forward to where there was not a spare inch to breathe. Even when there was absolutely no space, more people would attempt to squeeze in.

At one point, as we were pushed up the stairs, I missed a marble step and slipped.  The crowd was so dense that the people behind just literally walked on me to keep moving forward.  Fortunately, I fell only a few feet from a policeman, who quickly came to my side, and forced the crowd to go around me the few seconds it took me to regain my feet. Evelyn was being pulled up by people in front of her holding her hand, while others were lifting her step by step from behind.

I have read of cases where people in this part of the world are killed in stampedes.  I never really understood how it could happen, until experiencing it for myself.  I must admit, that was one aspect of this celebration that I do not care to experience again...

Barsana, India, Holi Festival 2018 -painted crowds

Once inside the temple, the crowds continued to be massively dense -- now with the addition of thrown paint powder to the mix.  The top and bottom border images above all show colored powder being thrown by someone in the crowd, leaving the overall atmosphere a colored haze (center image).

Barsana, India, Holi Festival 2018 -throwing paint

Inside the temple, there is a stage where the holy statues reside, covered with cloth so they could not be photographed. On that stage stood half a dozen priests who alternately threw paint powder (center image) or sweets.

In the afternoon, Evelyn bribed some temple helpers, and after some persistence, she was able to sneak upstairs to the balcony to photograph and video the craziness from above, whereas I was swept out the exit.  Instead of fighting it, I photographed the women beating the men below.

Barsana, India, Holi Festival 2018 -beating men

At the end of the day, the men and women of a local Hindu club get together in the streets to "play a game" as they called it.  One of their gods was a womanizer, who told many women in town that he would marry them, in order to bed them.  Finally the women got together and beat him savagely with sticks, as he pleaded for forgiveness.

In this game, men kneel in the center of a circle of women, holding a shield over his head.  The women, all dressed in wedding clothes, then beat the shield mercilessly.  After a set time, or if the man has had enough, a referee comes in, stops the beating, and the man is replaced by the next person to receive the beating.  See the final video below to get a feel for just how hard these women are hitting!

Here is a 90 second clip showing the nature of the constant dancing.  To get this video, we managed to sneak upstairs to a loft overlooking the main floor.


This 45 second clip gives you a feel of just how hard these women are hitting. It is obvious that the man is barely holding up, and does get replaced right after this clip finishes.

India 4 – Holi Festival Part 2 – Barsana

Barsana, India, Holi Festival 2018 -selling colors

We spent two days in Barsana for the Holi Festival.  This is the second of three parts covering those days.

Holi powder is sold everywhere. We were told that only red and yellow should be used though, as those represent the upper caste, while blue and green were for the lower castes.

Barsana, India, Holi Festival 2018 -painted faces

After only a couple hours, everyone we saw (including ourselves) was covered in paint of various colors. This was truly a rainbow coalition, with paint that would stay with us for days in some cases.

Barsana, India, Holi Festival 2018 -kids

Kids joined in the fun, both in the throwing of paint, and in the getting painted.  Some kids would wait on the rooftops, and squirt those underneath with paint mixed into water, making for a particularly messy tableau (upper right)

Barsana, India, Holi Festival 2018 -beards

Many of the elder men wore long, usually grey, beards. Though a few stayed relatively paint-free for a few hours, by the end of the day, beards looking like the middle image above became the norm.

Barsana, India, Holi Festival 2018 -travelers

Above are images of our merry gang by the end of the day.  Oliver Klink, our photography guide, is shown lower-left, while I am in the middle image above.  hmmm... I kinda like that portrait. Maybe I will make that my new online avatar...


Believe me when I say that you can probably not conceive of the level of pandemonium and mob mentality of this crowd trying to get into the temple.  This 30 second clip only gives a brief view of what we encountered.

India 3 – Holi Festival Part 1 – Barsana

Barsana, India - faces

Holi is an ancient religious festival, also known as the festival of colors. It celebrates the start of spring, the end of winter, good over evil, thanks for a good harvest, and in 2018, starts the evening of March 1st, ending March 2nd, 2018 (though celebrations start a week earlier). This festival is celebrated throughout India and Nepal, and wherever there is a large population of Indians and Hindus.

The result is a great party, starting with bright colored powders on the first day, then the addition of water guns, water canons, water balloons, and buckets to the mix of colored powders, resulting in quite a slippery surface for merry making. Combined with cannabis, and other imbibing, the party goers appear like zealots, and no person - young nor old - is exempted from playing "holi" with them.

This has been on our bucket list of "must do" photo events for years. Even after hearing what to expect, we were totally unprepared for the intensity and fervor of this celebration though.

Barsana, India - colored faces

The Barsana Holi in Uttar Pradesh is one of the more colorful villages to experience Holi, as it is the birthplace of Radha Rani, the beloved of Krishna. Radha Rani Shriji Temple is the first temple of the goddess of love.

On the dry run of the holi photo shoot, we walked through the quiet town and took portraits of the people before the craziness (top block). Once we arrived at the temple, we were given instructions to walk into the temple, and told to sneak under the ropes before we got spit out the exit with the horde. If we found ourselves outside, we would have to walk around the temple to get back in the cue to try again.

On our first attempt to enter the temple, we were quickly evicted by the guards who told us no photographs were allowed. hmmm... Changed our clothing slightly, to be less identifiable, shifted the cameras low on the opposite side of the guards, and then walked back in with a crowd.  Got in that time, where we quickly learned one of the lessons of this grand party -- police and military try to enforce order, but very quickly give up under the pressure of the crowd, and whatever rules existed 10 minutes ago are quickly forgotten...

The crowds were tossing some powder and dancing with the sound of any drummer, so we had a chance to see part of the activities before the serious paint throwing, and practice with our protective gear.

Barsana, India - crowds

The following afternoon (the start of the event), we were informed by Oliver Klink, our tour leader, to follow the crowd up the stairs into the temple, and to expect that it would be crowded. Go with the flow, and try not to be pushed out the exit.

Barsana, India - colored crowds

Even though we had been told in graphic detail, what we experienced was beyond anything a Westerner could have conceived. The crowd was so thick, we were literally carried up the stairs, not being able to breathe as there was no gap between you and the next person. Pushing and shoving was the watchword of the day, with the people behind trying to move forward, regardless of any available space to go.

When you were caught in the wave, you had to stay with the momentum. There was no getting out. You simply moved when the crowd moved, and hoped not to get crushed. Every member of our group managed to sneak under the ropes into a side chamber, where we were able to capture a few photos. However there were also thousands of mobile phones and cameras to compete with (the guards had given up on that score). Red and yellow were the dominant powder color for this temple.

Barsana, India - celebrating

Between the morning and afternoon, the temple closed so it could be cleaned.  That moved the celebration to the base of the steps. More drummers, dancers, singers...there was never a quiet moment, though a few worn out souls did try to catch a nap on the marble floor (bottom right two images).

Barsana, India - travelers

Our group survived the first dry run of Holi. To sneak past the guards, I had rid myself of our group orange bandana, so the guards wouldn't recognize our gang colors.  As a result, my hair caught the brunt of the color attack, and was still tinged a strong red three weeks later (the green middle-right would be covered over in red soon)!

The story continues tomorrow...

Here is a short 100 second video to give a sense of the music, dancing, and paint powder of today's activities.  The group at the beginning is chanting "Radhe, Radhe," which is the name of the goddess this temple is devoted to.

India 2 – Vrindavan

Vrindavan, India - animals, monkeys, cows, bulls

Vrindavan, a three-hour drive from New Delhi, was our home base for the Lath mar Holi Festival that are celebrated in the small villages. Nidhivan was considered to be the best hotel in the region, though it requires a 1-1/2 hour drive to the festival. As a dry run for the festival, we dressed in our Holi clothes and put  protective gear over our cameras to protect them from the fine color powder that would be prevalent for the upcoming festival of colors. Some  members of our group used simple plastic bags with duct tape, while others (like ourselves) were enveloped with an underwater camera casing. Trying to focus and change the zoom turned out to be quite a challenge in that underwater housing.

For the dry run, we took tuk tuks into the Banke Bihari Temple neighborhood of Vrindavan. We were warned to NOT wear our eyeglasses, nor any shiny jewelry, as the monkeys in this neighborhood were quite acquisitive. One member in our tour decided that it was more important to see where he was going, and was confident that he would be watchful. Not for long though, as an aggressive monkey simply jumped from behind, reached out and snatched away his glasses and ran away.

We even witnessed monkeys jumping onto other tourists, and stealing glasses that were tucked inside pockets. On two other instances, we saw monkeys scamper onto tuk tuks, steal a pair of glasses, and scamper up the walls. One enterprising monkey dropped a pair of glasses after a tuk tuk driver threw up a banana, in exchange for the pair of glasses.

Walking through town, several times the guide yelled at us to walk into a store, as bulls would not deter from their path, and would have gored us. Several times, the bulls followed us inside the stores, as that was also their destination. Cows are sacred in India and not to be touched.

Vrindavan, India - food

We still have a few days until the scheduled March 2nd Holi Day. However people are already preparing to play "Holi", with lots of dancing, singing, and tossing of colored paint powder.

Vrindavan, India - people

The faces in India are fascinating, and most people are more than willing to have their photos taken. In fact, it is hard to walk down the street without someone shouting "one photo!"

Vrindavan, India - travelers

Evelyn (left), Mukesh (our local guide, 2nd), Bruce (3rd),and Burt (right) were looking forward to playing Holi.  None of us, with the exception of Mukesh, had any idea of what was really coming...

India 1 – Dehli

Delhi, India - monkeys

India was described to us by one of our guides as a Land of Extremes. From the very wealthy to the very poor, love it or hate it, cutting edge technology to villages which have stood still in time. Vibrant colors stands out from gray dust, food may be extremely spicy or bland. You may find a quiet corner, or be blasted with the continuous sound of honking cars. Extreme smog in the cities vs. clean air in more remote areas. Plus, there is a severe reduction of a westerner's sense of private space. At 1.3 billion population, India has extreme polarities for every aspect of their life.

We landed in New Delhi and went out on the street to explore street foods with  a guide. Near the University of Delhi were student hole-in-the wall cafes and eateries which only the locals know about. Popular chai (tea) spots hidden in narrow alleys plus places where local fried food is made and cooked in outdoor kitchens. The tour guide claimed that all the local spots had been tested for safety, yet our stomachs did not always agree.

Delhi, India - peddle power

Much as in Cuba (our most recent trip), pedal power was a very common mode of transportation, both for people and goods.  Single gear bicycles were everywhere you turned, often piled high with goods, making the cart so heavy that we knew we would not have been able to move it, let alone transport it for long distances.

Within the city of Delhi, English was very widely spoken, though not universal. (We later found that English was almost totally absent in some of the smaller villages.)  Even when someone spoke to us in English though, we often had a hard time understanding them.  Their accent is so thick that it takes some tuning of the ear before we could figure out what was being said.  It gave us a new appreciation for why Ecuadorians have trouble understanding our attempts at Spanish -- even if we say the right words, our accent in Spanish gives Ecuadorians the same trouble we have here in Delhi.

Delhi, India - food vendors

The spice market was incredible. As soon as we got near the entry to this market, the aromas were so powerful that we both started sneezing. The vendors were active, and we finally wandered to the roof area to see the panoramas and witness the trading below. The volume of commerce could be seen from this vantage point, as we looked down on the loads carried on bicycle rickshaws.

Earlier, we had wondered why there were so many fenced balconies and we soon saw why when we got to the roof... monkeys. They were grouped into tribes, and we were warned not to get bitten (rabies). One monkey grabbed my camera lens, and another monkey wrapped its arms around Evelyn's leg (monkeys in top image block).

Delhi, India - vendors

Merchants were busy everywhere, as business here was frenetic all day long. Even the occasional vendor taking a break, did not leave his cart (top row, 3rd image).

We have experienced aggressive vendors wherever we've traveled. However the ones in Delhi were extreme, sometimes following us for blocks. When we did business with people on the streets, it soon became apparent that dishonesty should be assumed in every transaction, and within a single day had three different vendors try to overtly cheat.  It was sad how quickly I shifted to the mode of assuming whoever I was talking to was dishonest. (Later, in the South, we heard many Indians say that was one reason they disliked Delhi.)

Delhi, India - street scenes

Traffic in Delhi was chaotic. At times, there were 8 lanes of traffic on only 3 marked lanes. Tuk tuks, motor scooters, pedestrians, cars, trucks, cows, all merging in and out of lanes to push a foot further, even though there was no space. There was no sense or order, to move everyone along.  Rather, the entire mentality was "every man for himself," which we saw even more strongly in coming days.

The extreme level of traffic from cars with no pollution controls, combined with the coal burning electrical plants, and the habit of burning trash on the side of the road, all resulted in the worst air quality of any major city in the world.  WHO says that anything over 80 ppm particulate matter in the air is unhealthy, yet Delhi reached 999 ppm in November, 2017.  Though I do not know the measurement for the days we were there, everything was hazy, and even buildings a block away could not be seen clearly.

Delhi, India - temples

We visited the Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir temple downtown. This is one of the oldest temples in the area, founded in 1658.

Delhi, India - free food

The temple provides extremely cheap living for those visiting to pray, plus they feed a meal to anyone who asks. We walked into their kitchen area to watch how they prepare the meals, as well as how they clean up (middle-right plus entire bottom row).  It was a pleasant change to see them using metal plates and utensils, and recycling everything possible. (Outside the temple, everything was single-use plastic, that was usually just thrown in the gutters when finished.)

Delhi, India - turbans

Delhi was rich with photographic subject matter.  Sikhs are immediately recognizable from the turbans they wore, and everyone was willing to pose for our cameras.

Dehli, India - people

New Dehli was the start of our adventure to explore various festivals in India. We are here at this time of year primarily to experience the true Holi Festival.

Manhattan and a New Camera

New York City, Manhattan - buildings

We are off on another extended trip, and we will be reporting on our progress over the next six weeks.  We started with a four day stay in Manhattan, and, it was C-O-L-D....We were bundled up with down jackets, ski hats and gloves.

Our first stop was at B&H Photo and Video, where I bought a new Sony 7R3 camera system to replace the Canon 5D that I have been using for years.  The plan was to spend the next 4 days using that camera and learning its abilities and foibles. Unfortunately, there was a mixup at B&H, and we ended up spending more time there, straightening out the order, so I would have the primary lens in time for the next leg of our trip, in India. We also were tortured, learning how to use the new underwater housing to protect our cameras.

New York City, Manhattan - music

We also decided to investigate a music instrument store, Sam Ash in Manhattan, which has  a huge inventory of new and used instruments, including a digital drum set that I would have drooled about when I was a kid.  [Note: sorry for the 'blogstomp' logo on that image -- some hiccups caused BlogStomp to forget our copy of the software was paid for, and it put the logo there in error.]

New York City, Manhattan - Street

Walking around town, largely testing the new Sony camera, we found there are several horse & buggy rides around Central Park.

New York City, Manhattan - Night

More walking around after dark gave us a good chance to test the low light performance of this new camera.  Being Valentine's Day, there were several outdoor flower stalls doing good business (center and bottom), and we had a chance to enjoy real Chinese food in Chinatown.

New York City, Manhattan - theater

We used to love going to Broadway musical theater when we lived in the Bay Area.  There is nothing like it in Cuenca, so we take every opportunity to see shows when in New York.  This time, we saw the opening night of "Escape from Margaritaville," Jimmy Buffet's new play.  Jimmy showed up at the end, to play one new tune for the opening night audience (center).

El Pase del Niño Migrante Parade Cuenca 2018

migrante parade, Cuenca, Ecuador 2018 - bands

Yes, it's another parade. There are three large parades at this time of year, before Carnaval. The first was the Passing of the Traveling Child held on Christmas Eve (el Pase del Niño Viajero). The second was the Day of the Innocent's parade. The third is today's Passing of the Migrant Child.

Today was the ninth El Pase del Niño Migrantes parade in Cuenca.  This parade celebrates another baby Jesus doll that travels the world ("migrantes") and is brought back to Cuenca each year for the parade.  The 2-hour parade starts off with marching bands from the local high schools near Iglesia San Blas, traveling along Simon Bolivar to the new cathedral.  We can hear these drummers practice for weeks from our apartment before the parade, and they show the results of all that practice here, marching and drumming in perfect unison.

migrante parade, Cuenca, Ecuador 2018 - giants

Behind the high school drummers come other groups dressed in traditional costumes of chola Cuencana, saraguros, cañaris and other local indigenous groups.  Also, these two giant dolls with people on stilts marching along and waving at the children in the audience.

migrante parade, Cuenca, Ecuador 2018 - parade

There were a few cars draped as floats, and several groups of dancers.  Behind the giant dolls shown above were also some young adults dressed as Angels walking on stilts (left-middle).

migrante parade, Cuenca, Ecuador 2018 - crowds

This year I put the drone up for a few crowd shots too (center and upper-right).  The streets of Cuenca are always amazingly clean -- all the more amazing when you consider how many parades there are in town.  Wait until the end of any parade though, and you will see why.  Each parade is followed by a small army of blue-suited cleaners that erase all signs that anything unusual happened within a couple minutes (lower-right).

Migrante Parade, Cuenca, Ecuador 2018 from Burt Johnson on Vimeo.

Here is a short two minute clip showing the nature of the parade -- both from the ground and from the air, via drone.

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