Archive for January, 2013


Goa

State: Maharashtra (North Goa) & Karnataka (East & South)
Population: 1,457,723

Old Goa Well

Old Goa Well

Goa, known for its beaches and party scene, sits on the Arabian Sea in the middle of West India. It can be divided into three sections: the northern part of Goa is replete shopping and activities as well as quiet beach resort hotels and houses; the middle of Goa holds the capital Panaji which is full of restaurants and home to the Bollywood Film Festival, inland spice plantations and waterfalls; and to the south are quiet remote beaches with natural landscapes to enjoy.. One of the smallest districts in India, Goa has packed in it fair share of occupants ranging from the Sumerians to Buddhist emperors to Jains. By the 14th century, Goa had been in constant war between sultanates until the Bahmani sultanate championed them all and formed a capital city, which is now called Old Goa.

Old Goa

Old Goa

When the Portuguese colonized Goa by pushing the sultanate out of power in 1510, their European ways of living and religion spread out around the region. One can see evidence of this in the architecture of homes in Old Goa – small, colourful, quaint single-family homes and attached terraced housing.

The Portuguese introduced Christianity into their new colony and instilled its doctrine and ideals on Goans (known as the Goan Inquisition). This is evident in the number cathedrals that were erected in Goa and along the coast of the Arabian sea. Some of the more famous cathedrals are the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Se de Santa Catarina and the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. It wasn’t until 1961 that the Indian army marched into Goa and reclaimed it for their own. After almost five centuries, Goans were finally free from Portuguese rule.

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Agra – The Taj Mahal

State: Uttar Pradesh
Population: 4,380,793

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

Perhaps the most beloved site in all of India is the Taj Mahal. Built in only eight years by Shah Jahan during the 17th century from 1632, it was a mausoleum for Shah Jahan’s third wife, Mumtaz, who had died while giving birth to their 14th child. Sadly, when it was finished, Shah Jahan was then overthrown by his own son, Aurangzeb, and was subsequently imprisoned in the Agra Fort, which overlooked the Yamuna river and the Taj Mahal. When Shah Jahan died, his body was buried beside Mumtaz deep within the Taj Mahal. When you enter into the main structure of the Taj Mahal, you can see the replicas of their resting place in the entrance way while their real tombs lie down below, cordoned off to the public.

The amazing art of pieta dura work

The amazing art of pieta dura work

This beautiful structure is one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World and is built of marble and inlayed with malachite, lapis, jade, carnelian and obsidian. The main tomb area is structured with one main dome in the center topped with a lotus motif; traditional Hindustani designs and four smaller domes open up into the tomb area to provide light. Each corner of the 30 meter high base the Taj Mahal sits on, has a minaret which stands about 40meters in height and are slightly tilted away from the main mausoleum so that if there is any potential destruction, such as an earthquake, the minarets will fall outwards away from center. Their traditional use was for the call to prayer but the minarets are now closed off for safety reasons.

There are quotes from the Qur’an written on the main entrance to the tomb, the main entrance area, the mosque and the guest house. The quotes, stretching from the bottom to the top of each structure, are designed uniquely by the widening the writing so that as you look up at, it appears as the same size all the way up. Flanking the Taj Mahal are two identical buildings made from red sandstone – to the left (or west) is the mosque and to the right (east) is the guest house. To the north lies the Yamuna River venerated as a holy river in Hinduism and referred to in the Rig Veda dated back to 1100 BC. The beauty of this structure is awe inspiring. It simply takes your breath away.

Varanasi

State: Uttar Pradesh
Population: 3,682,194

Varanasi, also known historically as Benares, is considered one of the oldest cities in the world. It is also a center for education, housing the Banaras Hindu University which is the largest residential university in Asia. It’s primary manufacturing product is silk weaving, in particular gold and silver threaded silk Banarasi saris that are often used for weddings. Sarnath, only a few kilometres away is considered the birthplace of Buddhism because in 538 A.D. Buddha gave his first sermon after gaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya.

Varanasi - Ghats along the Ganges

Varanasi – Ghats along the Ganges

With about 23,000 temples, Varanasi has been called the “city of temples.” Steeped in religious history, the heart of this city sits on the banks of the Ganges, the holiest river in India and is the center of cultural Indian traditions, Hindu mythologies and legends. It is considered the ultimate location to pass away in, be cremated and placed into the river, thus bringing salvation to the individual. It is often that one can see bodies wrapped in saffron shrouds covered in marigold garlands being carried through the windy streets of old Varanasi to Manikarnika Ghat for cremation. The rawness of humanity abounds everywhere in this complex ancient city and touches all that come to the banks of the Ganges.

Amritsar

State: Punjab
Population:  1,132,761

Amritsar is in the state of Punjab which borders Pakistan and is considered the spiritual centre for Sikhs. Although the site is fraught with violent historical events that resulted in many lives lost, Amritsar is famous for the most beautiful temple called, Harmandir Sahib or The Golden Temple.  One of the many dark marks of Britain’s occupancy of India is the Jallianwala Bagh massacre that took place in 1919 where the British open fired with machine guns on the people of Amritsar killing almost 400 Indians and wounding 1200. Decades later, long after India had been liberated, Indira Gandhi headed Operation Blue Star in 1984 which extracted militant Sikhs hiding in The Golden Temple which left 83 dead.  But perhaps the more significant event that Indira Gandhi participated in was the burning down of the Sikh Reference Library which created animosity toward her resulting in her own Sikh bodyguards assassinating her only months later.  This instigated retaliation on the Sikhs and resulted in about 3000 deaths.  It is this event that the Sikhs refer to as “the great massacre”.

Sikh man at the Golden Temple

Sikh man at the Golden Temple

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Traffic in Varanasi

Complex traffic conditions  in India

Complex traffic conditions in India

Varanasi traffic is no different than any other busy city in India. The dodging of both pedal and auto rickshaws, cars, trucks, bicycles, cows, goats, water buffalo, children and adults makes for a potentially stressful situation. The trust in rickshaw driver’s ability to navigate successfully through this maze is crucial. This cacophony of horn blowing definitely can put one on edge after constant exposure – one of the many ways that India forces you to grow in different areas (patience and acceptance) – or get out!

We were trying to make it to the Ganges for the evening aarti ceremony when we hit a traffic jam. Our driver did an amazing job of making it through the traffic and help us to land at Dashashwamdh Ghat with plenty of time.
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Aarti Ceremony – Dashashwamedh Ghat

Waiting for aarti to begin

Waiting for aarti to begin

We had arrived late in the afternoon but in time to visit the Dashashwamedh Ghat for aarti.  We jumped in an autorickshaw and zipped along until we arrived at the old city of Varanasi where traffic condensed and we lurched and edged our way through to the closest place for parking that was allowed.  Our guide walked ahead of us leading us through the maze of pedal rickshaws, cows, goats, pedestrians and shops to the edge of the ghats.  We climbed down the steep steps and arranged for him to meet us in a certain spot after the ceremony.  I led us to the front of the five platforms to landings that were already populated by Indians and tourists alike.  We sat there waiting for the ceremony to begin and just took it all in.
Varanasi - boatsThe feeling of heightened anticipation and the smell of incense permeated the entire area.  Some people were eating with families while others were selling kum-kum (coloured powder to place on your forehead), offerings made of marigolds with rose petals filled leaf bowls with a dollop of ghee in the center to light before releasing it into the Ganges with a prayer.  Boats filled with tourists lined the waters edge and layered out into the middle of the river – a sea of boats everywhere.  Kids darted in and out running up and down the stairs while devotees sat on the stair landing above already in reflective prayer.  And then the ceremony began with chanting and the ringing of bells.  They resounded crystal clear, shattering any mental thoughts you may have had before and bringing your attention to the present moment, centered and attuned to their ritual.  We sat mesmerized as Hindu priests performed their religious rituals using incense, fire (from ghee), chanting, bells and movements that flowed in all four directions.
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Sunrise on the Ganges

Veejay & FamilyWe had befriended an auto rickshaw driver named Veejay while in Varanasi who took us everywhere we wanted to go. He had a kind heart and was so helpful in fulfilling our early demands and late shopping sprees – very touching. This morning we had arranged with him to pick us up at 5:30am to take us to the Ganges to watch the sun rise over the Ghats. After the ceremony the night before, we were exhausted and found our pace towards Veejay’s auto rickshaw slowed and sleepy. It was still dark and in preparation for the cold temperature, I brought a blanket from the hotel for us to wrap ourselves in. We zipped along the virtually empty streets – a vast difference from the traffic of yesterday’s drive to the Ghats. We arrived and were led down a dark tented area where people were still stirring. Veejay took us to the boat area and told us what to pay – 300 rupees total. As we waited for the boat to arrive, the quietness of the Ghats was in such contrast to the ceremony the night before.

Manikarnika Ghat - the burning ghat

Manikarnika Ghat – the burning ghat

The sun began to light the sky with pink hues and we stepped onto our boat with the help of our boatman and began to row toward the sun away from shore. The early morning at the Ghats brings a whole other side and experience of this holy river. Men and women alike are bathing (in separate locations) while laundry is being beaten to cleanliness and then laid out to dry. Sadhus arrive and begin their meditation while blessing those that come before him and further up the river at Manikarnika Ghat, bodies arrive shrouded in saffron and marigolds and are laid on a funeral pyre and burnt at the rivers edge. If the body it not fully burnt, they’re still released into the river for salvation.

Varanasi Sunrise

Varanasi Sunrise

As we rowed along the river, the sound of water lapping, birds chirping, boat vendors calling out and the odd boat with chanting devotees passing by were the only expressions here. As the sun rose up off the horizon burning its way through the pink hues and turning the sky blue, we headed back to our boat docking location. Veejay was there to meet us and take us back to our hotel to dine, nap and enjoy our afternoon.
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Map of Varanasi Soundscapes

Here is a map of the soundscapes conducted in Varanasi. The blue markers give brief information of where each location is. I hope you have enjoyed listening and sharing in my experience.
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Basilica of Bom Jesus

Old Goa houses many cathedrals including the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in 1594, the Basilica holds St. Francis Xavier’s body elevated in an encased silver casket. It is said that every ten years, this casket is lowered for devotees to pray next to. St. Francis Xavier arrived in Goa in 1542 with the intention of restoring Christianity to the Portuguese settlers and their illegitimate children. He began a Jesuit hermitage and after three years of catechizing children, he traveled to Indonesia to carry of with his work.

Basilica of Bom Jesus

Basilica of Bom Jesus

We arrived by bus close to Basilica of Bom Jesus during the morning and walked to the Basilica in the hot morning sun. We could hear the singing of Christian songs as we approached from a block away and as we got closer, we could see a canopy or tented area that had been set up outside the cathedral where hundreds of people had gathered. After a relaxed security check, which confirmed that our knees and heads were covered, we went through the main entrance of the cathedral to find many people lined up to take communion.

Basilica of Bom Jesus

Basilica of Bom Jesus

The main alter was gilded in gold filigree with angels and depictions of St Xavier’s life. Many people were actively praying on in pews while tourists were snapping shots. The feeling inside was very different than the singing outside where the service was taking place. In some ways it seemed almost “busy” and impersonal and I found myself feeling conscious of turning on my recording device. As I settled in though, listening to the Basilica of Bom Jesus, watching how the sunlight flooded through the side windows, the coolness of the pew beneath me, the soaring arch of the high baroque architecture, the feeling of the cathedral’s intention began to wave through me—the glory of God.
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Britto’s on the Beach

View of Baga Beach

View of Baga Beach

It was our final day of our residency in India. We had spent the day presenting our chapters of Popular Culture in a Globalised India and then watched / listened to the famous speech Martin Luther King, Jr. had given, “I have a dream.” We learnt that our professor, Michael R. had been present for this infamous speech all those years ago. He described his circumstances around the event and when we watched, I found that was not alone as tears welled up in me—the connection between Gandhi and Martin Luther King’s vision of a free people, working in harmony and creating the change we wish to see in the world resonated loudly as the speech came to a close. It was a kind of silence you never want to leave for to break it through movement or words shatters the purity of the moment. It was like listening to the most beautiful piece of music—in that hushed moment before applause lies the whole lived experience of it, pregnant with possibility. We left our classroom to spend free time and planned to meet up for our final dinner together.

The Last Supper

The Last Supper

I took the shuttle bus provided by our hotel to the beach to meet at Britto’s which is a restaurant right on the beach. With a wooden roof and a plethora of tables and chairs, a “c” shaped table had been reserved for all 17 of us. The smell of the Arabian Sea wafted in—a subtle scent of salty sewer (we had heard that Goa has been known to dump sewage into the ocean), the sound of birds, people talking and music playing in the background and watching the waves rolling in onto the shore made me feel grounded—reflective. As I was one of the first people there, I decided to conduct a soundscape and placed my recording device on the dinner table.

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Map of Goa Soundscapes

Here is a map that shows the Basilica of Bom Jesus and Britto’s where our Last Supper took place in Goa. I hope that you have enjoyed listening and sharing in my experience.

We had flown in to Amritsar for the day from Delhi and planned to fly out the same night. When we arrived the sun was shining and air smelled fresh – much cleaner than Delhi. We met our driver for the day who was to take us to The Golden Temple, the Sikh museum and then out to the Wagah border ceremony. As we drove along, I noticed how much cleaner Amritsar was – less garbage and less homeless people. The roads were evenly paved and there were areas of manicured lawns and hedges that had been trimmed. It gave me a sense that this city was cared for, more affluent, and perhaps more forward thinking than Ahmedabad or Varanasi. Could this be a religious difference I thought? All the other locations I had visited were primarily Hindu, could it be that the Sikhs carried a different sense of their environment, sanitation, and pride?

The Golden Temple

The Golden TempleBuilt in the 16th century by Guru Arjan Dev, the man also responsible for establishing the Sikh religion, it stands in the middle of a man made lake filled with holy water and is completely surrounded by white structures on all sides. There are four entrances representing the openness of the Sikh religion for all people to come and worship. Many photographs and paintings depict historical events and a few trees that also carry significant reference. There is an ashram of sorts there that allow people to sleep there overnight. The temple never closes.

We arrived at the entrance area to the Golden Temple to find that we had to remove our shoes (no surprise there) AND our socks! Anything that has touched shoes had to be removed and you were not allowed to even bring them with you in a backpack – you HAD to check them. After we did this, we were lead down a red carpet that was laid out over the rocky walkway. I could feel the stones pressing through the thin rug against my delicate western feet and it was uncomfortable, making me lose my balance as I lifted my feet quickly from the sharp stones. Indians seemed to be walking with ease, relaxed, and some people were pushing past me; I decided to just take my time.

Golden Temple KoiOnce we arrived at the marble stone entrance, we walked through a foot bathing area that was guarded by a Sikh man wearing a turban and carrying a large kirpan, or sword, across his body. We had come prepared with head coverings and we entered through the main area. The marble floor felt cool and soft and it was all so very clean. As we came to the top of the stairs, the Golden Temple almost radiated in the sun.

Surrounded by a pool (complete with giant koi) the gold shimmered off of the ripples created by men bathing in the far left corner area. It took my breath away as it had the first time I visited almost 6 years ago. In the center area – a bridge – the people were lined up on to enter into the temple and we joined them. Live music from inside the temple played loudly over speakers that were all over the temple grounds. It took about 1 hour for us to finally reach the inside of the temple and when we entered the entire room was filled with gold filigree – everything from railings, to walls, the ceiling and doorways and in the center sat four musicians and a man making prayers. To the right sat many women, slowly rocking and chanting and many people who entered were giving offerings and making prayers.

We exited out the left entrance and walked the perimeter of the building. Outside there were rugs laid out where some people sat crossed legged meditating while others sat on the few benches provided. From inside the immediate temple area, I looked out at people who were walking, taking pictures, bathing, buying chai and snacks. There was a quiet about the temple even through the chanting, the stillness swept over me and I found myself being reflective, tranquil, and rendered silent. We stood observing people and just taking in the sun. A sweet peacefulness, despite of the historical unrest three decades earlier, resonated throughout the temple and I found my heart opening up to this part of India that felt very different from the rest of the places I had recorded in. There was a deep sense of pride, quiet strength and reverent dedication to their religious practice.

As we left the temple and began to walk back to retrieve our shoes, I walked along the red carpet and noticed that the stones underneath did not hurt as much as when I had walked in. Was this because the pathway back was less rocky? Or had I “let go” of the rigidity of western attitudes and just experienced what it was like to be a devout Indian – connected to something greater and completely in the present moment of ‘now’.
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Wagah Border Ceremony

Wagah Border signThe Wagah border ceremony has become somewhat of a spectacle in the last decade.  What was once a simple closing of the border and lowering of flags, now draws thousands of people every week on both the Pakistan and Indian border sites. The ceremony takes place on Grand Trunk road which is the only road opening between the two countries until Kashmir up in Northern India.  The iron gates between the border are opened at sunrise and closed at sunset. After a brisk, high-kicking ceremony, the gates are opened, the infantrymen on both sides salute one another, lower their respective flags, shake hands and the gates are closed again.  This sole border handles any kind of transport between the two countries.  This sign outlines its responsibilities perfectly.

We drove to the closest point possible for our driver to park – about two kilometers from the border and then began to walk the rest of the way. Kiosks lined the dirt roadside area selling blankets, scarves, handbags, food and drinks.  The smell of popcorn wafted through the air as we walked quickly with hundreds of other people.  Eventually, men and women were divided and as we parted ways it seemed odd to me that there were hundreds of women and very few men attending. We went through a security gate area that seemed like it wasn’t activated as the female guards just looked at my bag and camera and waved me through. After the security check point, we were rejoined and ushered behind a large steel gate that was lifted for us to enter once we showed our passports.  Only tourists were allowed in this designated area and specific seats had been reserved for us forward of the crowd.  The guards who seemed almost giant to any other Indians we had seen in other cities in India were dressed in very large head dresses sporting a red fanned feather hat and tan coloured uniforms.  It seemed that there were many school kids that had arrived in buses and slowly our designated seating area (stone steps) was filling up.  The guards kept telling everyone to sit down blowing whistles and pointing.

Wagah Border CeremonyThen the ceremony began with music playing over the load speakers and people lined up to run to the gates with Indian flags.  Most were couples of women both holding the flag and running.  Then suddenly the guards would come to salute on either side of the street, yell out orders and then kick their legs very high sometimes almost knocking off their headdresses.  Some British tourists, found this quite amusing and began to laugh.  The infantrymen would then “storm” in a brisk march towards the gate, arms swinging and crowds cheering.  Then he would stop and march in place then salute the flag and senior officer that was there.  The day was waning and eventually the gates were opened and although many people struggled to see better, the guards blew their whistles and forced them to sit back down.  The soundscape I was able to capture does not show the actual saluting of the guards on both sides as I was unable to get a good view of this.  However, we can see the gates open and hear the cheering on both sides.  This soundscape is a bit longer than the others as I felt that it was important to capture the many facets of ritual taking place. Enjoy!
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Map of the Soundscapes of Amritsar

Here is a map that shows the Golden Temple and Wagah border locations in Amritsar. I hope that you have enjoyed listening and sharing in my experience:
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Agra: Soundscapes

The Taj Mahal: From the Western side

Main Entrance to the Taj Mahal

Main Entrance to the Taj Mahal

We had rented a SUV to take us to Agra for the day from Delhi. We got on the expressway and found ourselves there within about three hours. A guide was there to meet us and give us a tour. We entered through the East gate and passed through security. I was stopped because of my recording device but our guide helped me negotiate getting through. We walked toward the main entrance gate and stopped under a tree to hear the history of the Taj Mahal and then proceeded into the main entrance way.

When we first entered it was dark and cool inside compared to the heat of the day. As we walked forward, the Taj slowly came into focus -a glowing white brilliance before us. I distinctly remember the first time I visited the Taj, I saw her beauty and immediately thought, “I can go home now. I’ve seen India.” Now almost a decade later, I know how naive that thought was because over four visits India’s many facets have slowly unfolded before me.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

Once you’re out of the main entrance foyer there were a thousand people trying to get their picture taken with the Taj as a backdrop. We patiently waited and did the same before proceeding down the right side. Our guide pointed out how the fountains in the pools of water were the original fountains. I am not sure if that is true but I would like to believe that back then they made things to last.

I was quite ill this day so as we approached the Taj I elected to not go in. I had been there 3 other trips and knew how crowded it could be inside. The sun shone brightly and seemed to beam down on us with its penetrating heat so I chose to sit in the shade on a bench to the left of the mausoleum with a clear view and few people. Birds zipped along from tree to tree as children ran past me. Looking back over the garden area, people moved in crowds it seemed, stopping to take pictures every few feet. It was a new experience for me to be inactive at this amazing wonder of the world. I clicked on my recording device and closed my eyes to hear the expression of the Taj.
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The Taj Mahal: From inside the guest house (Eastern side)

View of the Taj from the guest house

View of the Taj from the guest house

I did not see my friends come out of the Taj Mahal after completing my soundscape recording, so I walked over to the eastern side to the guest house building. On my way there, there were hundreds of shoes piled high around signs asking people to place them on the racks—clearly there was no order to this chaos…and yet, I’ve never had my shoes stolen in India…not so far, anyway! I walked up the red steps and into the guest house. Immediately the temperature dropped about 10 degrees inside and I enjoyed watching and listening to tourists call out to hear the echo of their own voices. The structure of the building is such that there are repeated arches the length of the interior of the building and facing outwards, framed in multiple arches is the mausoleum in all its glory. I decided to record here in hope that I could capture the contrast of the red sandstone against the brilliance that bounces off the white marble stonework; the difference in quality sound and the potential absence of a guide talking. This point of view of the Taj Mahal and the calmness of the guest house is my favorite location within the whole complex.
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Map of Agra Soundscapes

Here is a map that shows the two locations soundscapes were conducted in the Taj Mahal Complex. I hope that you have enjoyed listening and sharing in my experience.
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State: Himachal Pradesh
Population: unknown

Bhagsunag is located about 2 kilometers north of McLeod Ganj in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It is most noted for its temple and waterfall which legend reveals that a demon king, Bhagsu, had tried to take some of the water in Dull Lake by Dharamsala to help the people in Rajasthan. Before he reached his destination, the snakes that lived in the area discovered that some of the water was missing and fought with King Bhagsu, making the container of water fall – which metaphorically is the water fall that remains today. Before killing King Bhagsu, they gave him one wish – and he chose to have a temple built in his honour and declared that the waterfall had healing powers. From that day, people from all over the world have come to visit the snake temple of Bhasu and swim in her waters. The actual town of Bhagsunag is quite small and functional for it’s townspeople and is often visited on a day trip from McLeod Ganj’s busy tourist area.

Bhagsunag, snake temple, McLeod ganj, waterfall, No Name Cafe, India, soundscape, goats,

Bhagsunag, snake temple, McLeod ganj, waterfall, No Name Cafe, India, soundscape, goats,

Tibetan monks washing their robes in Bhagsu River

Tibetan monks washing their robes in Bhagsu River

I stayed in McLeod Ganj for a week and during that time I casually taught English to a fewTibetans that had recently arrived. I took many hikes through the beautiful mountains finding hidden temples, retreats, silent oases to connect to the simple beauty of this land. One hike was along the road to Bhagsunag and then beyond to the mouth of the waterfall. The Bhagsunag Pathway wends it’s way along the river side and down below you could see Tibetan monks cleaning their kashaya robes in the Bhagsu waters, and laying them out over large rocks to dry. It was an overcast day and not particularly warm. The roadway was uneven and rocky with a shear drop off to the bottom of the mountain on one side. While hiking, I came across two girls with a herd of goats on Bhagsunag Pathway.

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Map of the Soundscape of Bhagsunag

Here is a map that shows where Bhagsunag is in relation to larger towns – such as McLeod Ganj. I hope that you have enjoyed listening and sharing in my experience:
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