Photo of the Day: welcome to Rajasthan

Dear Reader,

This is the I know spot used as a cover for Lonely Planet Rajasthan.

The door is found in the Pink City, Jaipur.

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India: a Cow’s Paradise?

Dear Reader,

If you think about it, the life of a cow is something incredible to describe.
If you’re in the American continent, central and southern Europe, then I would say ‘poor cow!’… Inevitably, beef is part of our delicious diet. Go to Argentina and you will find that eating beef is a religion just as important as soccer.
Good for us but sad for them. Short life, lived in a farm if lucky, fed with chemicals most times and then slaughtered for our pleasure on a plate.
Now imagine for one second, dear Reader, as a cow going from this…

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At Parrilladas El Gaucho you will find a beautiful map of a cow’s body. Each part of the cow has its special taste and obvious difference in price. I came here for lunch with my colleagues few years ago.

… to this

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A woman worshipping a decorated cow during a Jainist festivity.

You’d probably think the second option is best for a cow.
In Hindu tradition, a cow is honoured and worshipped for many reasons: due their agricultural uses like tilling and fertilising the fields, due to their gentle nature, because they are a major source of dairy products. In a way, cows represent a form of caretaker and maternal figure for Hindus.

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As a result, cows are found literally everywhere you walk in India, ambling unmolested in traffic-choked streets, stationed at crossroads, stationed in front of markets and stores completely undisturbed.

In case of car accidents resulting in a injured cow, normally the latter should be taken to a hospital if a vet is not nearby. Truth is, most times they are left to die or starve.

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Fond of this pond. Water buffalos enjoy just as much pleasure as their bovine cousins.

 


Calves, cows and bullocks may enjoy similar privileges but only the cow is sacred.
For example, bullocks are a minority and they are fed well because of that and used for agriculture purposes and mating as well as to preserve their inferior number. However important calves will be at some point, they are not useful until they reach maturity.
Healthy cows have to starve or feed on rubbish. Bullocks, not so sacred, are fed because India has too many cows and not enough bullocks.

However sacred these animals are, there are times where you really question it.

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These are cows I saw eating garbage. Most of cows in Rajasthan, i.e., are owned by dairy farmers who let them loose in the streets to look for free food instead of feeding them regularly. Some family can afford feeding their cattle only once a day. This way they ingest plastic bags, rotten food and garbage, resulting in a potential reduction in their milk production ability, poisoning and even death.

This is the reality. Can we really call it paradise?

 

 

Canneto di Caronia: a Poltergeist town

Dear Reader,
Remember Sicilians and superstitions saga on this blog?
Well, mystery and curiosity struck again and Stanito & staff are right there on spot.

It all happened one day, when I receive this piece of news via e-mail:

The mystery of Caronia’s fires, a 10 year long-lasting nightmare. 
A trip to Canneto di Caronia, in the province of Messina, through people and houses burnt down by mysterious fires that have stricken the area since 2004. 
TVs, fridges, washing machines and even couches and sofas catch fire seemingly without an explanation… 

And then the video:

As part of my Sicily plan, Canneto di Caronia was set towards the end of the trip.

What Happened?

First incidents are dated back to 2004 so it’s been going on for about 13 years now. This bizarre phenomenon revolves around spontaneous combustion of mattresses, beds, cars, and devices like fridges and mobile phones, even when these are switched off. Quite obviously, the events couldn’t but attract the attention of physicists, geologist who gave all sort of explanations. Villagers were not convinced though…

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Theories:

Grounded theories vary. It could have been simply arson or old devices and poor electrical cables simply gave up.
Well, arson was ruled out when the devices that caught fire were unplugged. Then something happened: in 2007 an Italian newspaper published a leaked report from Civil Protection, concluding that aliens were the only plausible explanation as the result of the two investigation led to ” 15 gigawatts high power electromagnetic emissions that were not man-made”. Investigation remained open attributing the causes to simply “unknown electromagnetic radiation”.

And then something even more incredible happened! The Vatican’s chief exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, backed the villagers true fears by saying the following: “these fires are caused by the Devil. I have seen incidents like these before. Demons occupy houses and appear in electrical devices”. The interview in Italian is right here.

Another report also detailed a possible UFO landing close to the village, citing “burnt
imprints which have not been explained were found in a field.”

What’s Canneto di Caronia like today?

Years have gone by and eventually the town emptied considerably. Don’t forget that this is the region where superstitions have a big role in people’s lives (read my post on Sicilian superstitions for more on the subject). The episodes have attracted the attention of geologists, physicists and volcanologists, NASA experts without providing an accurate scientific explanation so far or a logical real conclusion to the case. Naturally, the villagers are blaming supernatural entities like UFOs, poltergeists, or other demonic forces, prompting them to evacuate the town.

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Some of the villagers came back but the town still remain in ghost state…

 

 

Inter-caste Marriage

Dear Reader,

Traditionally, the caste system in India forbids marriage outside the same caste. However, in the past few years inter-caste marriages have gradually gained acceptance due to increasing education, employment, middle-class economic background, and urbanisation, mostly provided by the central government in light of the increasing number of such marriages and in an effort of integrating the dalits or untouchables in government job positions.

However there are advances on this matter mostly in the capital, inter-caste marriage remains particularly frowned upon  in the countryside where these unions primarily take place on the traditional grounds of jatis (higher-caste) and up-jati (sub-caste), forcing the spouse of the higher caste to be alienated from his family and community.

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Deepak and Meene are couple married outside of their castes in Jaisalmer. I met them in their little store where they sell beautiful embroidery and patchwork made by underprivileged or divorced women from the region. 

How to Enjoy Mexico: understand its background first!

Dear Reader,

It’s been almost three since I moved to Mexico and I don’t feel I have fully explained this wonderful country. I wrote several posts on it and it will probably take several chapters to even slightly envision what Mexico is and it’s worth doing so. I want you to feel it as if you were here with me exploring this remarkable land.

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The beautiful and shining Guanajuato town.

It sounds so basic and futile when you think about it, as if by reading the title the imminent thought would be “oh come on, no need for guidelines”. But believe me, there is a science behind the enjoyment of a new city or even country, especially one you hope to survive without stress and melancholy. You might also think that all it takes is to join a tour or simply read about it on a travel guide.

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Learn how to make tacos. It’s fundamental in order to understand how delicious they can be…

Let’s take Mexico as an example. Mexico is a huge country full of colours, culture and above all contradictions. They say that here in Mexico you will find four stories: the one the Government wants you to believe, the one academic institutions want to teach, one that foreigners want to explain. And the last one, the one you have to discover yourself. And this is mine.

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Cute little restaurant in Mexcaltitán, the Venice of Mexico

Certain beliefs and conceptions of reality characterise some populations more than others, and Mexico recalls images of ancient civilisations, plundering Spanish conquistadores and moustachioed revolucionarios. The many contradictions of this vibrant country lie in its unique history and are deeply reflected in the character and personality of the people. The expansive friendliness of norteños (Mexicans from the northern states) compared to the more defensive and rebellious southern Chiapanecos (people from Chiapas state). Mexicans can be intensely fatalistic, resigned even. And when the mood takes in, they are hedonistic and carefree. A reserved poker face will suddenly give way to astonishing warmth and familiarity.

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Indigenous children from the sort of forgotten state Chiapas

We know Mexico’s first hundred years were bloody while the last eighty-five years have been at peace; it shares a long land border with the United states and yet they couldn’t be more different.
When the Spanish brought Catholicism, the missionaries took a very pragmatic approach to it and incorporated many beliefs from earlier religions. That’s why there are so many religious festivals here like Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Muxis (gay/transgender divinity festival), the Guelaguetza and many others that blend Catholic celebrations with indigenous rituals.

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Mexico is dual.

It emerged from its bloody history and claimed its place in the modern world. And now globalisation and free trade is altering Mexican society once again.

 

Rebellious and Fashionable Iranian ladies

Dear Reader,

time to break the backward image most people get from just hearing the name “Iran”.
There are many things to say on this regard but this time I will start with a small preview on women fashion…

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Too modern and too conservative at the same time. Fashion in Iran is more than The Rich Kids of Tehran and highly linked to a strong feeling of rebellion. Stay tuned for my story.

 

How to take Photos with your Mobile

Dear Reader,

It’s time to learn something new today 🙂
Experience teaches us a lot, especially when we’re on the road. Nothing makes a story more beautiful and interesting than colourful eye-catching photos taken on the go.
Most of us travellers rely on good cameras with settings. However, as we travel and share instant snaps on our blog or social media, we often recur to smartphones. You need to be able to use your smartphone well, especially if you go to places where cameras are either not welcome or you don’t have time to set up your regular camera. Smartphones are more conspicuous and with technology that allow us to do wonderful things.

So here are few tips I learnt myself 🙂

Think Mobile

Before using a picture, look at it on your smartphone and ensure your main subject is clear and any writing, such as a sign, is legible. Keep in mind that most people will check your photos and articles from their phones so make your shots mobile friendly and neat.

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If you’re able to read the 007 commemorative sign then it’s a successful mobile-friendly photo

Keep it Simple

I learnt that my most popular photos are the simplest ones. They don’t have many people in them, multiple props, and complicated staging. The most effective images so far have been those with simple subjects, such as a close-up of a situation, object, person or even buildings.

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Play with Light and Shadow

Both Samsung (S7 series) and iPhones allow you to adjust the lighting by simply tapping on the screen so pay attention to your scene’s lighting. Bright light and deep shadows create a stark contrast that can make your photo more interesting and dramatic.

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Natural light inside the peacock dome
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The Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan was a tad darker than the peacock dome mosque so here all I did was slightly augmenting the contrast level.

Sometimes you’re lucky enough not to need any of these 🙂 just because the light is so naturally beautiful and unique (Iran has plenty of these places where light is so mystical you can play with it for hours). So before you start thinking about tapping on the screen of your phone, analyse your surrounding and catch the elements already at your disposal.

Follow the Rule of Thirds

If your subject is a person or more people, have them closer to either side, or along the top or bottom, rather than in the center. This is the rule of thirds, where you basically break an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts.

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The Rule of Thirds

Studies have shown that if you place the subject along the intersection lines rather than the center of the frame – the photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally.

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If you divide this photo in 9 squares, my face comes right up to the lower right intersection.

An exception: Faces. Faces can be anywhere in the frame.

Subject / Try different Perspectives

Mix big and small things and create an interesting contrast with different perspectives. For example, put a subject close to the camera and others in the background to create a more spaced composition.

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The Salisbury Cathedral from a dark side.

You can either take a typical frontal photo of the Jame Mosque like this one…

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Or you can be creative by simply changing angle like my friend Marina did with this photo of me under the crystal-turquoise arch and make it sensational.

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Don’t Zoom and Don’t Flash

I learnt using my own flash is a terrible idea, just as bad as zooming.
If you really must use artificial light because you’re either in a dark setting or because you want to give your photo a magazine look, get help from a friend. Ask your friend to point their smartphone flashlight (or a proper flashlight, if available) at the subject from a different angle of yours.

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This photo was an experiment using my friend who was sitting next to me and her iPhone flashlight. The room was already very well lit but her flash allowed me to highlight the food in more detail.

Don’t photograph directly with Instagram

Instagram comes with a preset square mode that will not allow you to crop or give your subject proper focus. It is better that you take your photo with your regular camera vertically (regular full-sized portrait mode). This way you will be able to visualise more and not be limited to format constrictions. You can always edit the photo later, just get the first one properly sized.

Use interesting elements

Be creative and use the elements around you to make a photo interesting. Most of the time it will spontaneous but consider spending some time analysing the surrounding to create an appealing photograph in such way that it almost tells a story on its own.

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My subject was the balcony_restaurant San Fernando, however, what makes this photo attractive are the live musician dedicating their tunes to the restaurant’s clientele.

 

Add a focal point and varied textures

When setting up your photo, ensure you have a subject in the foreground that provides a focal point. Use varied textures that create an interesting contrast.

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A flower I found on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. Notice the blurred background.

Blend in and Ask for Permission

Before snapping a photo of a local merchant or nomads, always ask. No need to invasively snap a quick shot and run (you probably wouldn’t like it done to you either). If you ask you’d be surprised at how receptive people are to smiling 🙂

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Nomads of Iran. It is a distinct luck to actually find and interact with them

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And last but not least…

Say NO to selfie sticks!

The idea of a selfie is having an impromptu photo of yourself with a background that you like. And as such, it should look like a rustic spontaneous shot. A stick defies this logic because it forces a selfie to look like anything BUT a natural moment.

Not only selfie sticks are very annoying (blocking views, turning a memory trip to a self-aware photo trip) and have a lot of tourist destinations now banned them, but also the angle that the stick creates is unoriginal and fake given the effort of hiding who’s taking the photo.

 

Take normal selfies. Be natural.

 

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Sinking Buildings: a curse or consequence?

Dear Reader,

Mexico City could have an entire collection of strange facts and curiosities. Here is one. Sinking buildings are a curious phenomenon occurring in Mexico City affecting mainly Hispanic churches.

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The Ex Teresa Arte Actual museum is inclined over its right side

The ground is slowly giving up as most of these buildings were erected on an already built up Aztec city.
The Aztec’s legacy people of today dare to suggest the phenomenon to be a silent vengeful curse…

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The leaning Metropolitan Cathedral on the right side.

The city is sinking on a daily basis, so far it has gone down of about 10 metres in the last few decades.

One theory explains that underneath the city is located the aqueduct which sustains the thirst of over 9 million people. As millions of people drink its water, it slowly becomes less sustaintable and more prone to degradation and debilitation of the structure.
Another explanation dates back from the Aztecs and the Spanish arrival: during the Aztec period when the city was known as Tenochtitlan, the town was initially built on a Lake Texcoco by creating islands using dumped soil right into the lagoon. When the Spanish arrived they erected a second city on top of the Aztec ruins after been demolished. A city atop of another, basically.

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Templo Mayor Ruins (Main Temple), or the remains of it.

The base, however, was a lake. Drained and all, but still a lake.

This has caused buildings to lean and sink into the ground at a rate of up to one foot a year in the most extreme places.

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This is the pendulum hanging inside the Matropolitan Cathedral right on main aisle. If you look carefully, the pendulum shows you how the foundations of the cathedral have been shifting since it’s conception.

And last, a balcony that has suffered from unevenness of the ground and shows a wavy effect as a result of the ground’s debilitation.

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