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Nazima Kowall

photojournalist/videographer•travels120 countries•stories/pics in150 publications+•exhibitions worldwide•11books•w/GettyImages•writing family saga

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PART 2 From protean ape to handsome saint, the Monkey King/God’s mischievous presence was tangible throughout the day as His faithful fans gathered on Hong Kong’s crowded streets to witness the boisterous, colorful parade replete with waving triangular flags, frenzied lion and dragon dances accompanied by beaten tanggu (drums) and gongs, a procession of god statues from the respective temples carried in sedan chairs (the Monkey, ninth of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, symbolizes cleverness). Walking around, Peter Gabriel’s enigmatic song “Shock the Monkey” popped into my head. I wondered if it could be interpreted as the struggles of alienated modern man trying to return to the purity of his inner, animal psyche in increasingly high-tech, advanced civilizations; and if the medium, inhabited by the spirit of the Monkey King/God, duplicated this lofty goal by climbing a ladder of sharpened blades as high as a 16-story building and, in a dramatic finale, walked barefoot through a flaming fire pit of red-hot coals (extinguished ones were avidly collected by his followers). Other possessed mediums duplicated his feats. Devotees paid their respects to the Monkey King/God with food and paper offerings, burning incense to send their smokey-sweet prayers heavenward. After a large vegetarian banquet, traditional Cantonese Opera performances recreated the Monkey King/God’s tales―beforehand, the actors had conducted rituals to channel the gods they would be portraying, linking the sacred with the theatrical. As the bizarre spectacle/celebrations were coming to a close, my husband Earl and I closely examined the Monkey King/God medium and were astonished that his self-mortifications had caused him no ill effects, visible scars or scorched soles. The spirit of the Monkey King/God vacated the bodies of the actors and the mediums and returned to His statue in Tai Shing Miu (Temple) to greet visitors until His next birthday, when, once again, the spirit of the Monkey King/God, all-pervading, all-powerful, with a bronze head and iron shoulders, will be released to relive his divine misadventures and reek havoc! ©Earl Kowall

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PART 1 Hong Kong is a Paradox! High-tech, sophisticated, heavily-western-influenced, it observes its ancient Chinese festivals traditionally. The Monkey God/King’s Birthday, dedicated to His most exalted form—‘Chai Tin Dai Sing’/‘Great Sage, Equal to Heaven’—is a major festival celebrated by the local Chiu Chow community on the 16th Day of the 8th Moon at Tai Shing Miu (Temple) located in densely-populated Sau Mau Ping (where a disastrous 1972 mudslide killed 71 hillside squatters who turned into water ghosts placated yearly at a temple ceremony) in Kowloon’s industrial/container-shipping district of Kwun Tong. The festival’s origin can be traced back to the epic Chinese novel ‘Journey to the West,’ written by Ming Dynasty (1386-1644AD) author Wu Cheng’en recounting the tales of a universally-loved character―the incorrigible/impetuous/handsome/trickster Su Wukong (the Monkey God/King)―born from a magical stone egg on the Mountains of Flowers and Fruit where he returned, single-highhandedly defeating 100,000 celestial warriors with his spectacular powers. After courageously escorting His master, pilgrim monk Xuanzang, harassed by demons and bandits on their 17-year-long-perilous journey through Central Asia/Subcontinent to collect Indian Buddhist sutras for Emperor Taizong of Tang, the Monkey God/King was granted enlightenment/Buddhahood, becoming “Victorious Fighting Buddha.” During the festival, the temple’s spirit medium (a practice dating back 3,500 years to Chinese Shamanism, absorbed into Taoism) prays and falls into a trance possessed by the essence of the Monkey God/King who communicates with His followers through him. Symbolically impersonating the Monkey God/King’s battles with heavenly beings and demonstrating His supernatural mastery, the spirit medium, carried aloft in a sedan chair, performs a series of religious rituals—plunging his hands into a bowl of boiling oil (washing his face with it), eating razor blades, cutting his tongue with porcelain rice-bowl-shards and a sword, licking the blood onto ‘fu,’ green-paper-slips bearing symbols that keep away evil spirits and attract good fortune, given to devotees donating to the temple. ©Earl Kowall

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A romantic Chinese poem, “May we live long and share the beauty of the moon together, even if we’re hundreds of miles apart,” describes one of Hong Kong’s three major festivals—the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the ‘Lantern Festival’ or ‘Moon Festival’ on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month—the other two are Lunar New Year and Dragon Boat. Beginning in the early Tang Dynasty (618-907AD), the festival expressed gratitude for a bumper harvest at season’s end and reunion with far-away relatives; over the centuries, it became a colorful celebration with variations in Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and S.E. Asia. Shops sell varieties of lanterns: shaped like animals, birds, fish, fruit with concessions to modernity—vehicles, rockets, tanks. Bakers work around the clock supplying mooncakes, symbolic of the holiday, tweaked for regional variations, given as gifts to friends and family—traditionally round/multi-sided pastries, embossed with Chinese characters for “longevity” or “harmony,” filled with ground lotus/sesame seed (some contain salted duck egg-yolks). Currently, pricey potpourri mooncakes are spurring a “mooncake bubble” in China. The custom of eating mooncakes began during China’s Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Orchestrating an uprising against the governing Mongols, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang’s military counselor, Liu Bowen, ordered paper-slips with the slogan “Revolt on Full Moon Night” hidden inside mooncakes and distributed among insurrectionist armies who converged to successfully drive the cruel invaders out of the country. Along with stage shows, palm readings, game stalls, a fire dragon dance (adopted after the people of Tai Hang village used one to miraculously stop a 19th century plague), on the night of the full moon, when it reaches its fullest, brightest, its round shape symbolizing the unity of Chinese culture, stirring ancient sentiments, families throng to Hong Kong’s peak or public parks like Victoria—where my husband Earl and I gleefully participated—to witness thousands of lanterns and candles placed on the ground or hung from the trees magically transform these spaces into seas of twinkling lights. ©Earl Kowall #gettyimages

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Aboard the miniature ‘Toy Train’ (officially ‘Darjeeling Himalayan Railway’), one of the world’s highest (2,744m/9,000ft), a technological marvel of engineering, my husband and I took a nostalgic, 9-hour journey to Darjeeling ‘Queen of Hill Stations,’ a Victorian town of Old World charm in a setting of incomparable beauty. Chugging 70km/50 ¾ mi on 6-metre/2-foot-gauge track using a system of singular loops and switchbacks, the ‘Toy Train,’ huffing, puffing, wheezing, tooting, wrestled its way up a nearly-vertical track of blind curves and figure-eight loops, zigzagging/reversing to attain higher elevation. Dense clouds blew in through open windows, making Earl look ethereally-cherubic with his misty halo. The train’s meditative motion and blood pressure-lowering pace, combined with the air’s medicinal freshness, was the exact prescription the doctor ordered. For connoisseurs, Darjeeling has become synonymous with the finest, rarest teas in the world. Tea gardens flowed over the layered slopes like emerald swells on a rough sea. Pickers with dokos (baskets) on their backs carefully plucked the freshest tips. Slowly/steadily our ‘Toy Train,’ a steam-powered caterpillar of iron and wood, inched its way along the fractured hillsides through leech-infested forests of oak and magnolia, hanging moss, brilliantly-hued rhododendrons, lush ferns and exotic orchids. Hauling its bogies over the final mountainous hurdle—chug-chug-chug, puff-puff-puff, ding-dong-ding—it reminded me of my favourite childhood book ‘The Little Engine That Could’ and its inspirational message: “I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can…” At ‘Batasia Loop,’ the track negotiated a horseshoe-half-circle before descending into Darjeeling (2,134m/ 7,000ft) where I had attended Loreto College. Harkening back to British Raj days, ‘the Place of the Thunderbolt’s’ multi-hued, gabled-dwellings, steepled-churches, & Buddhist monasteries clung to the steep hillsides like tenacious ivy; a neo-impressionistic pointillism of wood, brick and mortar, ageing and mildewing gracefully under the gaze of the world’s 3rd highest peak, Mount Kangchenjunga (8,586m/28,169ft) and its ‘Five Sacred Treasures of the Snows’ ©Earl Kowall

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Aboard the miniature ‘Toy Train’ (officially ‘Darjeeling Himalayan Railway’), one of the world’s highest (2,744m/9,000ft), a technological marvel of engineering, my husband and I took a nostalgic, 9-hour journey to Darjeeling, ‘Queen of Hill Stations,’ a Victorian town of Old World charm in a setting of incomparable beauty. Chugging 70km/50 ¾ mi on 6-metre/2-foot-gauge track using a system of singular loops and switchbacks, the ‘Toy Train,’ huffing, puffing, wheezing, tooting, wrestled its way up a nearly-vertical track of blind curves and figure-eight loops, zigzagging/reversing to attain higher elevation. Dense clouds blew in through open windows, making Earl look ethereally-cherubic with his misty halo. The train’s meditative motion and blood pressure-lowering pace, combined with the air’s medicinal freshness, was the exact prescription the doctor ordered. For connoisseurs, Darjeeling has become synonymous with the finest, rarest teas in the world. Tea gardens flowed over the layered slopes like emerald swells on a rough sea. Pickers with dokos (baskets) on their backs carefully plucked the freshest tips. Slowly/steadily our ‘Toy Train,’ a steam-powered caterpillar of iron and wood, inched its way along the fractured hillsides through leech-infested forests of oak and magnolia, hanging moss, brilliantly-hued rhododendrons, lush ferns and exotic orchids. Hauling its bogies over the final mountainous hurdle—chug-chug-chug, puff-puff-puff, ding-dong-ding—it reminded me of my favourite childhood book ‘The Little Engine That Could’ and its inspirational message: “I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can…” At ‘Batasia Loop,’ the track negotiated a horseshoe-half-circle before descending into Darjeeling (2,134m/ 7,000ft) where I had attended Loreto College. Harkening back to British Raj days, ‘the Place of the Thunderbolt’s’ multi-hued, smoke-stacked, gabled-dwellings and steepled-churches clung to the steep hillsides like tenacious ivy; a neo-impressionist pointillism of wood, brick and mortar, ageing and mildewing gracefully under the gaze of the world’s 3rd highest peak, Mount Kangchenjunga (8,586m/28,169ft) and its ‘Five Sacred Treasures of the Snows’ ©Earl Kowall

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“WHO YOU GONNA CALL? SANGOMAS!” Our Zulu friend Amahle, unable to conceive, putting a strain on her marriage, invited my husband Earl and I to a sacred hut (indumba) outside Johannesburg to witness four indigenous traditional healers/shamans/diviners/fortune tellers—known as sangomas— communicate with her ancestors to create harmony between the living and the dead, vital for her trouble-free life. After years of intensive training as thwasas (assistants), these sangomas, who had a “calling,” could reach deep holistic layers of self-mastery, psychic awareness and communion with spirits, ghosts and extraterrestrials. The sangoma practice in South Africa began around 2000 BCE, currently numbering 200,000, highly revered in a society that believes physical/psychological illness is caused by sorcerers’/witchcraft’s charismatic power over patients (rogue US President Trump should hire sangomas to rid himself of special counsel Robert Mueller’s rigged “Witch Hunt” investigation!!) or neglect of ancestors who must be shown respect through various rituals. To guide Amalhe, the sangomas threw bones, interpreted her dreams, sacrificed a chicken, prayed and supplied muti— medications from botanicals, animal body fats and minerals imbued with spiritual/symbolic significance. In an apparitional environment reminiscent of Shakespeare’s prophetic Three Witches in ‘Macbeth’ —“in thunder, lightning or in (pouring) rain”—Earl and I—mystified, fascinated, awestruck —watched the four sangomas, wearing traditional ancestral garb/beads, waving itshobas (ox-tail flywhisks), chant, drum, and dance frenetically to the spectators’ clapping, working themselves into trances, with episodes of convulsive fits, so their egos stepped aside, allowing Amahle’s spirit to take possession of the sangomas’ bodies and interact directly with her. Unfortunately, fraudulent charlatans, claiming to be official sangomas, charge exorbitant prices for outlandish prognostications—retrieving lost lovers, enlarging penises, curing AIDs, making instant millionaires, providing gambling or lottery luck. Innocent victims have lost significant amounts of money from their scams/tricks/false promises! © Earl Kowall

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Before Yemen’s holocaust (war between Houthi rebels/Saudi-led invasion forces), my husband Earl and I visited Shaharah, the most remote, spectacular mountaintop citadel/village/stronghold for Imams in the Arabian Peninsula. After climbing a precariously-steep 1000m/3280ft path, we crossed the iconic 20m/65ft arched-limestone “bridge of sighs,” built in the 17th century to thwart a Turkish invasion, suspended 200m/656ft above a craggy, yawning chasm. At a cistern in 2600m/8530ft-high Shaharah, women, ensconced head-to-toe in black garments, balanced 30kg/65 lb plastic pails of water on their heads (women who shoulder 3/4 of the workload have 1/2 the rights as men in court). Turbaned Ahmad, wearing a full-length thoub, a sheathed jambiya (curved dagger), brandished an AK-47 rifle for encounters potential enemies. He offered Earl and I famed Yemeni hospitality, inviting us to stay in his four-story stone house overnight. Ahmad’s children who viewed us with suspicion, soon warmed to our presence, posing for a family portrait in his mafraj. After lunch of salta and hulba, drinking qishr, puffing on a hookah pipe, chewing stimulant qat leaves, we engaged in conversation about traditional Yemeni family values and tribal fascination with guns equated to manliness. I told Ahmad that Yemen was the second most heavily-armed country, the good ol’ USofA, a civilized nation, was numero uno due to its Second Amendment, signed Dec.15, 1791, giving Americans the right to bear arms—despite multiple school shootings, horrific massacres and skyrocketing murder rates, an untouchable political philosophy. (With potential blood on President Trump’s hands, terrorists/criminals worldwide must restrain from firing their traditional weapons skyward in jubilation until courts lift a temporary injunction allowing American citizens to print 3-D plastic, undetectable, unlicensed “ghost guns”/assault SR-15s (1000s of plans already downloaded!) I often think about our wonderful Shaharah meeting of two different world’s, hopeful that Ahmad wouldn’t resort to a growing underground trend—trafficking his organs on the black market—to feed his family and survive potential famine! ©Earl Kowall

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GOOOAAAALLLL!!! Light-years removed from the glitz/fanfare/hoopla of Russia’s World Cup 2018, boys play soccer/football, the world’s most popular game, on the desert sands of Yemen’s Wadi Hadhramaut where camel caravans carry goods along the ancient Frankincense Trade Route. Behind them, the ancient city of Shibam, their sun-dried-mud-brick home of 7,000 inhabitants, a jewel of vertical Islamic urban architecture with 500 or so mud skyscrapers, ranging from 5 to 11 stories up to 30m/98.4 ft high, the “Manhattan of the desert,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in existence for 1,700 years. At the crossroads between Africa and Asia, land of Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, the Roman moniker for historical Yemen was “Arabian Felix” or “Happy Arabia,” now ground-zero for the world’s largest “forgotten emergency” where 3/4rds of the 27.5 million population, many suffering from malnutrition and diseases such as cholera, are on the brink of mass famine (50,000 children die yearly). Shibam’s architectural style/fortified walls protected against Bedouin attacks, not heavy rainfall and flooding, is especially useless against potential airstrikes/bombing from Saudi-Arabian-led coalition forces (Sunni) backed by the UK and US (warmongering “leaders of the free world”?) who are selling weapons and providing intelligence for their violent civil war against the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran (Shias) begun March 2015 (15,000+ innocent Yemenites have already been killed). Another concern: due to skewed religious interpretations, Islamic fundamentalists/fanatics/extremists’ are vandalizing their irreplaceable cultural heritage sites (collectively belonging to our planet, making it a poorer place) including two of Earl’s and my favorites from previous visits: Al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden ordered the Taliban to dynamite to smithereens the magnificent 4th/5th century-cliff-carved-world’s tallest Buddhist statues of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, claiming them idols; ISIS ripped the heart out of Palmyra, the 1st-to-3rd century Roman stone city in the Syrian desert, the ‘Venice of the Sands,’ one of antiquity’s best-preserved sites. STOP THE INSANITY! ©Earl Kowall #gettyimages #smithsonian

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Twinkling stars and alpenglow illuminate/tinge the magnificent twin-summits of 6,993m/22,943ft Machhapuchare (fish tail in Nepali), one of the world’s most beautiful peaks. My husband Earl photographed it during twilight, “cow dust time,” sacred in Hinduism, enroute to the sublime mountain scenery of Annapurna Sanctuary, the first of many treks I have undertaken in Nepal (including to the forbidden Kingdom of Mustang). As bizarre as it may seem, for our trek, Earl had to hire a beer porter to carry bottles of ‘Star Beer,’ the cleanest water in Nepal, since unbridled population growth and human/animal waste disposal had polluted all water sources. Like other Himalayan peaks, Machhapuchare has a magical genealogical genesis—created by the collision of the Indian tectonic plate with the Eurasian landmass some 50 million years ago and the uplift of the Tethys Sea. Riverbeds littered with well-preserved ammonites (fossils of extinct marine molluscs) testify to Machhapuchare’s oceanic origin. Unlike 8,848m/29,029ft Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, (Tibetan Chomolungma “Mother Goddess of the World” or Sagarmatha “Ocean Mother” in Sanskrit), Machhapuchare, sacred to Lord Shiva, is luckily off-limits to climbers, its virgin summit untrodden by human feet and unsullied by the heaps of garbage left by inconsiderate climbing teams on other peaks. It also has escaped the disasters plaguing Mount Everest, mountaineering’s mismanagement poster boy—with a total of 375+ deaths including eight foreigners during the May11,1996 disaster, 16 Nepali guides during an avalanche on April 18, 2014 and 18 hikers at base camp during the earthquake April 25, 2015. Even with the 2018 guidelines, the greedy, corrupt government of our planet’s 25th poorest country, Nepal, is over-stuffing its coffers by issuing too many climbing permits, costing $11,000US, for the super-crowded route on Everest—sometimes resembling a snowy-traffic-jammed escalator at a crowded mall—forcing guides and Sherpas to literally drag well-endowed/inexperienced/novice/couch-potato climbers/clients, by their bootstraps, to the top of the world and the “TRUMPED”-up-bragging rights that go with it! © Earl Kowall

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In Walag Shambekit Village, on the Ethiopian highlands north of Gondar, Inguach Nogese and her family invited my husband Earl and I into her humble mud-brick dwelling to partake of an ancient coffee ceremony (bunna maflat)—integral social/cultural pillar, tenet of friendship and welcome into their family circle. Fragrant frankincense cleared the air of evil spirits as we sat in surroundings reminiscent of a page in the Old Testament Bible (allegedly, the original Ark of the Covenant is housed in the Axum’s Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo ‘Chapel of Our Lady of Zion’). Ethiopia is the birthplace of the species Coffea arabica. According to their folklore, coffee beans (actually seeds of cherry-like fruits) were discovered by 9th century goat-herder Kaldi when his energized flock began to frolic. He rushed the mysterious seeds to nearby monks who tried to destroy the potentially sinful substances by tossing them into a fire but roasting instead, they exhibited two miraculous qualities: a celestial aroma and, when crushed and steeped in boiling water, an invigorating kick allowing them to carry on their daily devotions late into the night. Ethiopia has four trademarked brands, mostly hand-cultivated/harvested by 12 million Ethiopians, marketed with regional names (Harar, Sedamo, Limu, and Yirgacheffe) each with their own distinctive taste, pungency, aroma, color, acidity. During the ceremony, Inguach’s practiced movements elevated relatively simple acts—of roasting (in a small pan), of grinding (in a mortar/pestle), of brewing (in a black jebena clay pot), of pouring into chini (delicate China cups from a foot-above)—into an gastronomical East African art-form! For a few sublime hours, we shared news, exchanged gossip, debated local politics as global companions—the room suffused with heavenly aromas of roasting beans. Like the preparation, the coffee service was filled with symbolism. Earl and I drank three distinctively-brewed cups known as abol, tona and baraka (literally “to be blessed”)—according to some tales, the three names of Kaldi’s caffeine-buzzed goats—increasingly elevated closer to ecstasy by the world’s supreme bunna (coffee). @Earl Kowall

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In the ancient Islamic city of Harar located in Ethiopia’s eastern highlands, a major crossroads between the Arabian Peninsula and entire Horn of Africa, my husband Earl and I were invited into the colorful Arabic-styled mafraj of a upper-class Harari family to partake in a birtcha: a khat-chewing, coffee-and-cola-drinking, hookah-pipe-smoking, slow-motion/incense-hazed/rosy-glow party lazily stretching from noon well-past sunset. The social custom, analogous to the usage of coca leaves in South America and betel nuts in Asian/South Pacific, dates back thousands of years. According to legend, coffee was discovered by 9th century Ethiopian goat herder Kaldi after his hyperactive goat consumed the beans; and Harar was the birthplace of Catha edulis, a flowering evergreen tree reaching 35 feet. Commonly known as khat/qat/qaad/miraa/etc, the leaves are chewed, releasing the alkaloid cathinone, a stimulant pharmacologically-related to amphetamines that caused mild euphoria and excitement and circumvents Islamic constraints on alcohol consumption. For hours, Earl, his cheek bulging with leaves, resembled a goat chewing its cud. He found the effect of swallowing the bitter juice similar to drinking a couple of strong espressos. Khat’s quiet mafraj-buzz initially stimulated animated conversation and wakefulness, later introspection. But khat is also an insidious substance: 20 million addicts in the horn of Africa and Arabian Peninsula, many more worldwide (except countries classifying it as an illegal narcotic) chomp on fresh leaves delivered daily by khat flights within 24 hours of picking to retain their potency. Khat victims/addicts prefer it to food, some suffering madness/psychosis, depression, malnutrition, heart disease, tooth loss/decay, mouth cancer. In Yemen’s mountainous regions, children as young as six start down the lifelong path to addiction. Other negative effects of khat: economic ruin for users and countries; wasted man-hours; grown in favor of vital food crops; excessive depletion of ground water; plastic-bag pollution; high-divorce rates; black market crime; traffic accidents; gang violence, warlord-funded terrorism. © Earl Kowall ' ' #gettyimages

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Each year, in Rajasthan, the “Land of Kings,” over 200,000 visitors arrive at the lakeside town of Pushkar in the Thar Desert to take part in one of India’s most colorful, exciting and exotic festivals. Due to its magnetic appeal, my husband Earl and I have visited the three-day-long Pushkar Mela thrice. The gathering began as a religious pilgrimage for Hindu worshipers to pray at an Indian temple solely dedicated to God Brahma and for women to bathe naked in Pushkar’s sacred waters during the full moon of October or November. Tens of thousands of villagers and farmers—proud, brightly-turbaned, mustachioed Rajput men dragging livestock (8000 or so camels plus horses, cattle, sheep, goats) to sell and barter and regal, straight-backed women, resplendently-draped in brilliant fabrics, heavily adorned with silver, gold and ivory jewelry balancing a variety of items on their heads including huge brass water pots and animal fodder—stream into Puskhar, setting up encampments that materialize from the drifting desert dunes, stretching into the horizon like mirages and reveling in a non-stop, kaleidoscopic-explosion: of animal trading, eating and drinking, traditional music and dancing, merrymaking; visiting stalls manned by tradesmen, nomadic salesmen, freak shows, magicians, snake charmers; playing carnival games and tugs of war; racing camels and participating in contests like the most people seated upon a camel and the longest mustache... As the blazing sun slid from the horizon, Earl and I spent our evenings wrapped in blankets huddled around camel-dung-fueled campfires surrounded by munching camel and cattle, sipping scalding tea as villagers and farmers regaled us with stories of daily life, discreetly listened to by the married women peaking from behind their ghoonghat veils adopted during the Muslim invasions of 14th century AD India. Serenaded with tales of bravery by roving minstrels and entertained by sensuously-gyrating Gypsy dancing girls, Earl and I were wonder-struck by the spiritual soul of Rajasthani desert life! © Earl Kowall . . . #takemetoremotelands #gettyimages #smithsonian #nytimestravel #huffingtonpost #globeandmail #natgeo #rajasthan

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Visiting Yangshuo market in Guangxi Province with my husband Earl brought back a memorable experience that took place at Guangzhou’s Qingping Shichang (translation ‘Peaceful Market’) which, ironically, has the carnivorous reputation as the world’s culinary underbelly—a veritable take-out zoo and animal lover’s worst nightmare where a Noah’s Ark of beleaguered creatures await their fate under horrific conditions—the cooking pot and dinner plate. Auspicious Dog, symbol of loyalty and prosperity, plays as important a role in Chinese mythology, ruling for one year of the Chinese zodiac’s 12-year-calendar cycle (the Year of the Brown Earth Dog began February 16th, 2018). The ancient Chinese Book of Rites classified dogs according to breeding—watch, hunting or grace-the-cooking-pot dogs—further evaluating them by colour and head shape. Among Qingping’s 2,000 stalls and 60,000 customers, we met Mr. Wang who told us, “village doctors consider dogs an age-old dietary tradition with health-giving properties. Black dog’s white meat soup gets the libido humming; roast dog eaten in summer is an aphrodisiac.” I watched, horrified, as vendors manhandled their canines:  hauling puppies, fattened on rice to reach culinary maturity by nine months, out of their cages by their hind legs, stringing them up by their necks, mercilessly beating the slowly-strangling puppies with wooden clubs before throwing them—barking, yelping, kicking—into vats of boiling rice liquid. “Mr. Wang, don’t you think the practice is cruel... savage?” I protested, profoundly disturbed. “Not at all, madame.” Mr. Wang announced with pride. “Cooking dog alive brings out the best flavor; their fear and pain releases enzymes, tenderizing the meat.” At his preferred stall, savoury roast dog carcasses hung from meat hooks completely scraped clean of bristly hair and nicely glazed. Mr. Wang joshed, “Mr. Earl, take a ‘doggy bag’ back to your hotel for supper.” The butcher sliced off a flank with her cleaver, weighed it on her hand-held balance and handed it to Mr.Wang who added, “Watch out madame. Tonight your husband will be a tiger in bed!” © Earl Kowall . . . #gettyimages #huffingtonpost #smithsonian #natgeo

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My husband Earl and I were the honored guests of a Korean wedding in remote Zhongxing village, Heilongjiang province (previously Manchuria). For the Koreans or Chaoxian of northeastern China, one of 55 ethnic Chinese minorities, marriage traditionally combined an arranged wedding with the socialist austerity of their adopted homeland. Our bachelor perused a professional marriage broker’s photo albums filled with prospective mates; also consulted a fortuneteller before determining his suitable partner. After the two families signed the contract, the couple met for the first time. On the wedding day, graceful dancers in the courtyard of the bride’s house showered the bride, wearing a pink hanbok, and the groom in a blue Mao-style-zhongshan jacket, with confetti. The couple attended a brief ceremony following to calligraphic instructions written on red paper pasted to the house’s mud walls—the expressionless bride believed that if she smiled, she would bear daughters (due to their patriarchal Confucian beliefs Koreans prefer sons, avoiding the burden of a daughter’s dowry called ‘yedan’). The bride and groom exchanged gifts (after giving the bride’s mother mine, she reciprocated, doubling the amount including huge jars of kimchi). After a few words from the village chairman and a brief speech by the groom, the ceremony ended. Inside the home, the newlyweds sat behind a huge display of food—fruits and cakes wished the newly married couple many offspring and rooster-shaped cookies represented fidelity. The cranes and pine trees decorated the backdrop symbolizing longevity in both China and Korea. To maintain kibun or all-important face, guests were treated to a lavish banquet set upon the home’s ondol or heated bed. After clearing it, the bride and groom began to dance, wandering among the guests, filling their empty glasses with soju (“friend of life”) and maotai liquor and inviting toasts and salutations, including Earl’s and mine. Celebratory merrymaking continued into the wee hours of the morning. ©Earl Kowall . . . #takemetoremotelands #gettyimages #smithsonian #nytimestravel #natgeoyourshot #colorsofchina #weddingsofchina #getty #huffingtonpost #globeandmail

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The former kingdom of Sikkim, now the 22nd state of India, is populated by three main ethnic groups—Bhutia, Nepali and Lepcha, the original people or Rongkup (Ravine people). Tracing their decent patrilineally, the Lepchas, nature lovers and farmers, reside in Sikkim’s forest areas; also expert herbalists, they use over 300 species of animals, fungi and plants as medicine (my grandfather Sabila, a renowned caravan leader and trader on the Silk Road of Central Asian, also a naturopath, often invited knowledgeable Lepcha practitioners to teach him their craft). Although the Lepchas practice Lamaism, Tibetan Buddhism (Lepcha shamans, called mun, worship and honor ancestral mountain peaks), in the 18th century, many were converted to Christianity by Scottish missionaries. Sikkimese children studied at a school opened by Mary Scott, the first Scottish missionary. Like many Lepcha students, Sandra, the bride in the photo, was sent to Scotland for further study where she met a young Scottish pastor. Mutually falling in love, they decided to get married under the auspices of the century-plus-old Scottish Protestant church in Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital. Traditionally, Lepcha marital bonds are a union of the two individuals, an unbreakable link between two clans. To choose a bride, a family sends a maternal uncle to the girl’s house; while the bride’s parents consign relatives to investigate the boy’s family for hereditary diseases like leprosy, epilepsy, TB, those caused by mungs or devils and curses from past misdeeds. Sandra’s family invited my husband Earl and I to photograph their happy occasion. To the musical echoes of the church organ, the maid of honor entered with bouquet of flowers followed by Sandra, radiantly dressed in a Lepcha gadha (dress), her bowed head covered with a transparent red veil, standing next to her husband to be, outfitted in a Scottish kilt, who joyously sang hymns with full-throated, rafter-rattling abandon. © Nazima Kowall . . . #takemetoremotelands #gettyimages #smithsonian #nytimestravel #globeandmail #huffingtonpost #natgeoyourshot #getty #asianweddings #himalayanweddings #colorsofindia #sikkim #condenasttraveler #bbctravel

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On the island of Langkawi, where life continues in the gentle tradition of rural Malaysia, my husband Earl and I were invited to a two-day traditional Malay wedding, a cause for joyful celebration. The akad nikah (solemnization ceremony), a private affair held on Saturday, conducted by a kadi, a religious official authorized to perform Muslim marriages, took place in front of a wali (the bride’s father) and two male witnesses. After reciting verses from the Qur’an and a short sermon on Islamic marriage, the couple signed the marriage certificate and the groom sealed the contract with mahar, a betrothal dowry of cash and gifts that would become his wife’s exclusive property. On Sunday morning, adding an air of festivity, a kompang drum band led the groom to the bride’s home where he had to bribe his way inside with presents of money. The highlight of the wedding was the bersanding (sitting-in-state ceremony). A mak andam (make-up artist), who had beautified and hennaed the bride, hid her face with a fan, only revealing it after being paid a fee. The couple, dressed in finery made of songket, a hand-woven fabric embroidered with golden threads, sat together like a king and queen on a pelamin, a raised dais. Those friends and relatives who offered their congratulations and blessings by sprinkling the couple with rose water and throwing yellow rice and bunga rampai (fresh flower potpourri)—items of fertility—over their shoulders were given a bunga telur, hard-boiled eggs on a base of saffron rice tied with ribbons and artificial flowers, another symbol of fertility to bless the couple with numerous children. The walimah (feast) and entertainment lasted until the sun set beyond the palm trees lining the Indian Ocean paradise as “Allah Akbar” echoed from mosque’s minaret ending a magical spectacle straight out of the ‘Arabian Nights.’©Earl Kowall . . . #takemetoremotelands #gettyimages #getty #nationalgeographic #smithsonian #nytimestravel #globeandmail #huffingtonpost #weddings #exotictravels

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Tourists come to exotic Bali, Indonesia, the so-called “Island of the Gods,” for beach holidays, to seek spiritual harmony, to party hard in the bars and discos, and to revel in the island’s stellar arts. The Balinese are Hindus (the remainder of the country is Islamic) who are extremely proud of their rich traditions and culture. Their dances and music, spectacles of color, acts of worship, are performed primarily during religious ceremonies at a variety of temples. Both girls and boys undergo rigorous, disciplined dance training at a very early young age. In Ubud, Bali’s center of traditional arts and dance, my husband Earl and I attended and photographed the unique, dramatic, fascinating Monkey or Kecak dance-drama, a version of sanghyang or trance inducing-exorcism, the pinnacle of all the country’s dances. It is based on an epic battle from the Ramayana, the fantastical, ancient Indian epic poem of 24,000 Sanskrit verses—Hanuman, the monkey god helps prince Rama- fights the lustful demon King Ravana to rescue his beautiful abducted wife Sita from his evil clutches. Near dusk, a group of 60 or so virile, beguiling men, bear-chested, dressed in black-and-white checkered surongs with a red hibiscus flower behind one ear, formed a circle around the perimeter of the torch-lit temple. Initially sitting cross-legged, the dancers/choir shook their shoulders, swayed their bodies from side-to-side, stood up, lay down, twisted, writhed, reached out, waved their fluttering hands in the air, entrancing the audience with their multi-layed hypnotic, monkey-like onomatopoeic chant cak, cak, cak, cak, cak performed a cappella without musical instruments, a form of gamelan suara (voice orchestra). Actors, some masked, entered and exited the stage, dramatizing the tale as the dancers/choir’s percussive, poly-rhythmic wall-of-sound chants ebbed and flowed like wind-generated oceanic swells, reaching crescendo after crescendo as the story reached its thrilling conclusion! © Earl Kowall . . . #gettyimages #getty #smithsonian #natgeoyourshot #nationalgeographic #takemetoremotelands #globeandmail #nytimestravel #huffingtonpost   #bali #kecakdance #monkeydance #colorfulbali

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Dashain in September/October is the most auspicious, anticipated Hindu festival of the year among Nepali ethnic communities living in Nepal, the Indian Hill states of Darjeeling, Sikkim and Assam, Bhutan and Myanmar. The photo shows young, virgin Darjeeling girls parading to Chowrasta Mall to perform a festive dance. Tantric priests worship virgin girls to help them achieve spiritual perfection. In Kathmandu, the Prime Minister (previously the Kings of Nepal) receives blessings from the Royal Kumari Devi or Living Goddess, the most important of eleven Kumaris in Kathmandu Valley. According to legend, her cult started during the 16th century AD reign of Jaya Prakash Malla, the last Malla King of Kathmandu, after a prepubescent girl died from his sexual assault. To atone for his sins, he venerated a young girl as a living goddess. Whenever a sitting Royal Kumari Devi experiences a blood loss or starts her period, a new one must be chosen from the Newari Sakya Buddhist clan of goldsmiths and silversmiths. The girl has to pass strict physical requirements and possess 32 distinctive signs including good health, flawless tender skin, a moist tongue, black eyes and hair, well-recessed sexual organs, lack of body odor, flexibility of a willow tree, etc. On the night of the eighth day of Dashain, known as ‘Kalratri’ (the Black Night), insecure candidates walk anti-clock-wise over freshly-severed, blood-soaked buffalo heads inside Hanuman Dhoka temple. Temple priests wearing horrific demon masks leap from the shadows, strike menacing poses and make gruesome noises to terrify them further. Those who panic or cry out are swiftly ushered away. The calmest, most fearless, bravest candidate, a true incarnation of Goddess Taleju (Nepalese name for Durga), is chosen. From that moment forward, during her 13-yearly public appearances—an auspicious number—her feet will never touch the ground. Devotees from all spheres of life flock to the Royal Kumari Devi’s three-story wooden Kumari Bahal (Palace) in the belief that She can grant their wishes, predict their destinies, bring them wealth and good fortune or help them attain merit in the next world. ©Nazima Kowall . . . #gettyimages

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