Shri Jasnath Asan, Rajasthan, India
Photo © Shri Jasnath Asan, 2016
11 NOV 2016
We traveled about 20km to the next village to attend the first Fire Dance of the season. An amazing, mesmerizing 5 hour event. We arrived a little after 6 pm and found the place was already full of a crowd of people. A very large colorful tent set up with the central portion open to the sky. The floor was covered with large fabric tarps for seating with the central area under the open sky left as bare ground.
The women were dancing outside near another canopy. The driving beat of drums and percussion accompanied them as they danced in stunning, beautiful, colorful dresses. Time disappeared as the drums took over. I’m not sure how long they danced but they ended as the crowd gathered around Guru and paid their respects.
We moved into the big tent. Soon more drumming and chanting took over the room as the room was cleansed. A mound of logs was prepared then set ablaze. Singing, chanting and percussion continued as the wood was consumed. In 3-hours-time the wood would be reduced to hot glowing coals and the fire dance would begin. While the logs burned we moved back over to the house for a delicious dinner cooked in an outdoor kitchen over a wood fire.
Moving back into the tent, after dinner, we waited till the fire had transformed the wood to embers. Larger chunks of wood were removed and a small bed of coals carefully prepared. The fire dances began dancing clockwise around the fire spinning as they danced like the whirling dervishes of the region.
At the beginning of the dance, the drum beats were slow and dancing slow but with the passage of time the drum beats and chanting got faster, driving the dancers to match the pounding rhythm. The intensity of the dancing matched the intensity of the glowing embers and they began dancing through the hot coals. The fire dancers would reach to the ground and pick up glowing coals, pop them in their mouth then holding them with their teeth they would puff out bursts of air creating showers of sparks. As the dramatic dancing reached its peak they kicked the pile of coals with their feet or scooped them with their hands the pile of coals to spread them in great showers of sparks and glowing embers across the bare ground of the dancing circle.
It was a night I will not soon forget.
10 Nov 2016
Had another world class sunrise at Karmlai this morning. I packed a few pieces of fruit and a thermos of tea and was dropped off a for a half day so I could take my time and explore. Saw some chinkaras in the distance. Extremely wary and difficult to get close to, but I posted the best image I could get. The chinkara, also known as the Indian gazelle, is a gazelle species native to Iran, Pakistan and India. They live in arid plains and hills, deserts, dry scrub and light forests and Karmlai area provides the perfect habitat. Well adapted to the arid lands they can go without water for long periods and can get moisture just from plants and dew.
A few of the mornings highlight included that wonderful Indian black Ibis again as well as a little egret, little cormorant, little grebe, desert wheatear, and a great gray shrike. Also saw a large eagle though not clearly enough to identify it, but I am told eagles are common here and I will be seeing more. My best guess was that it was an Eastern Imperial Eagle.
Tomorrow I will return again at sunrise and hike the upland regions and see what I can find. Perhaps I’ll get lucky enough to see that eagle again.
Journeyed past the ashram fortress wall about 6:15 for a couple of km drive to Karmlai, a pond owned by Shri Jasnath Asan. Arrived just as the sun was coming up and was greeted by a spectacular sunrise. Every day I walk in beauty. I can’t ask more than that, and I do realize how privileged I am to have this experience.
Saw a herd of about 15 nilgai waiting to come down to the pond to drink. Also known as “blue cows,” niglai are asia’s largest antelope and are endemic to the Indian subcontinent. A very large antelope, with the males up to 290kg and possess two small, 15 – 24 cm, straight horns. Females are way smaller, about 150kg and without horns. An odd fact for your next trivia game – the niglai were first introduced to Texas in the 1920s and the 1930s. As of 2008, the feral population in Texas is nearly 37,000.
The other remarkable bird today was the Indian black ibis a huge 68 cm tall breeding resident of the region. The plumage was glossy black with naked skin of the head black with a bright red crown and nape. It from a distance remind you of our ibises in southern Nevada until you realize the size and catch a glimpse of that spectacular red skin on the head.
Also saw a few old friends, mallards and gadwalls on the pond. Again another species so similar to ours … but not quite … was the black-winged stilt. It had different black and white color patterns but still had those same fabulous long brightly colored legs of the black-necked stilt that is commonly seen in our region..
8 Nov 2016
USA- Election Day 2016
… and yes I voted before I left the country…
Sorry I have been slow in getting posts to you. It was 25% trying getting used to routines, 25% internet problems, and 50% simply due to the difficulty in coming up with words to describe this amazing experience. Maybe add an extra 10% due to a food coma caused by the absolute best Indian food I have ever experienced.
MOST FAVORITE BIRD AWARD GOES TO ....
I have been bird watching and photographing just on the fortress grounds and have found about 45 species. Far and away the winner of the “most favorite bird” contest is the Common Hoopoe. The hoopoe is a bird that definitely has a future as a cartoon character. Each morning I have been here I find them industriously ridding my lawn of grubs and bugs. The diet of the hoopoe is mostly composed of insects, including crickets, locusts, beetles, earwigs, cicadas, ant lions, bugs and ants, as well as the occasional small reptile, frog, or a tasty bit of plant.
This little Afro-Eurasian guy gets around and has quite the reputation. Hoopoes were considered sacred and were depicted on the walls of tombs and temples of Ancient Egypt. They are mentioned in the Torah in Leviticus 11:13–19, and in Deuteronomy (14:18) where they are declared to be not kosher. Hoopoes also appear in the Quran and is known as the "hudhud", in Surah Al-Naml 27:20–22. Hoopoes were seen as a symbol of virtue in Persia and as thieves across much of Europe. In Estonian tradition, hoopoes are strongly connected with death and the underworld. In present day Morocco, hoopoes are traded live and as medicinal products in the herbalist shops in the markets.
SOME FAMILIAR FACES
As I have been hiking through the 350-acre ashram grounds I find it uncanny how similar it seems to natural areas back home. I suppose it comes as no surprise. Both areas are desert and the plants and animals face similar environmental challenges. Below are a few plants that, though not the same species, are in the same genera as those similar looking ones back in the Mojave Desert. Our Sacred Datura, found in disturbed areas all over the Mojave, has a cousin over here, also highly toxic, with smaller flowers that are only about 2 inches across. Our honey mesquite in the Mojave also has a close relative living in India in the genus Prosopis .
4 Nov 2016
I arrived the same day as the parrots did.
The rose-ringed parakeets, raucous flying rainbows, excitedly explored the drainage pipes coming out of the fortress wall next to the ancient gates. A graceful arc of Indian black ibis flew overhead, a black drango sat on the handle of the bucket that is lowered by rope to bring up water from the well. Water from the Himalayas they said….pure sweet water filtered by 10,000 years of travel down from the world greatest mountain chain. I really am here, I really am. A year of planning, a lifetime of curiosity and love of the natural world and specifically arid lands has brought me to this place. I am here because I need to be, and somehow I fit within the stream of things. May I remain open and receptive to the gifts that are streaming toward me.
Today is a day just to get oriented and take it easy and to begin to merging to join the join the gentle rhythm of this amazing place.
Here I am sitting cross-legged on a polished marble floor in a 500-year-old-ashram, waiting for breakfast that will be served on small 12” squares x 6” high tables with an elegantly simple metal plate, cup and single small bowl. Before we eat I place my hands, palms together fingers outstretched, and mostly listen, but try to recite the Bhojan Mantra with the others in a melodious soft lyrical prayer.
Om Ann Pate
Annoys No Dehy
Pra Pra Dataram
Parish Unjam No Dhehi
Oh God the giver of food!. May you provide us
with healthy and energy producing food.
Grant happiness to those that give food in charity.
May this food provide energy to all living beings.
We had a light breakfast of bahia (porridge) with cashews into which we added fresh pomegranate. On the side we had slices of apple and mango. Exactly the right fuel for a body still a bit tired from jet lag.
I had the honor of meeting with Shree and Guruji after breakfast regarding the international student project. They are very supportive about the project and recognize that the key the future of our planet is keeping the kids connected to the natural world. From its founding the main goal of the ashram, and is that “all humanity will have an abiding connection with ecology.” Isn’t it what we all are seeking? Isn’t what all of our environmental educators in the Park Service, BLM, US Fish and Wildlife, Clark County Wetlands Park and more - all of us working in the Mojave Desert and beyond - are all trying to impart this to people. It is a goal we must realize for the “eyes of the future that are looking back at us, and they are praying that we see beyond our own time.” (Terry Tempest Williams). It must be the goal of all humanity if we are to survive.
After some discussion we have decided that the STEAM Global project in Rajasthan will mirror what is going on in southern Nevada. We will be picking 15-18 students, ages 8-12, and taking them on at least 3 field trips into the wildland regions of the Thar Desert. During their journey the students will photograph the life and landscapes they find there. The instructors and I will be guiding them to a better understanding of the fragile nature of arid lands and discuss adaptations of the flora and fauna to make their living in a seeming harsh environment. Additionally we will be teaching Leave No Trace principles to the Indian kids but will be adding will be adding a uniquely yogi layer … a trataka (a mindfulness exercise) plus a walking meditation exercises to get the kids to be “mindfully present” through yoga methods before they get off the bus to explore the desert.
At days end we gather at the most sacred part of the ashram, the temple where the mortal remains of 16 generations of Gurus have been interred after they chose to transition we have our puja - a dance, drumming and chanting event. A daily bringing together of souls and a demonstration of respect and a celebration of community.
I will sleep well tonight.
Indira Gandhi Airport
Even In the airport the magnificence of India is on display. There is some beautiful public art gracing the main terminal.
“Regal Processions in India are symbolic of grandeur, pomp and festivity. Regal processions were carries out at celebrations, victories, weddings, and religious festivals. Generally lead by provincial rulers in full regalia, riding on gaily festooned elephants and accompanied by their retinue of courtiers, ministers, musicians and warriors on horses, these processions were a declaration of splendor and also at times a show of strength. Notable among these being the regal procession of Rajasthan and Mysore which are still held annually with their traditional pageantry.
The Gangaur Festival Processions of Jaipur and Ashwa Poojan Processions of Udaipur, in Rajasthan have also retained their traditional charms. These processions include cannons, decorated horse drawn carriages, elephants, horses and camels. A number of musicians and folk dancers also accompany the procession. The events are widely attended by locals and tourists.
The artwork has been created with the help of skilled sculptors to evoke the nuances of the iconic processions.”
The Surya Namaskar
“Surya Namaskar, a series of yogic postures means salutation to the sun. It finds it roots in the worship of Surya, the Sun God. This sequence of activities and poses can be practiced as a physical exercise or a complete “sadhana” which incorporates exercise postures, breathing exercises, and deep meditation. A complete sequence of these poses (known as ‘asanas’) is complete with two sets of twelve postures comprising of forward and back stretch of the spine.
The Surya Namaskar holds equal benefits for the body and the intellect. Its practice results in a shapely and strong body encompassing a sharp and focused mind. Working out the routine at dawn, with controlled breathing, uplifts the mood and provides an invigorating start for the day. This alleviation of anxiety and stress grants a clear mind that is capable of concentration and meditation which is the ultimate path to creating complete harmony of spirit and body”
So much for a clever post filled with wit and sage humor.
I'm sitting in the dark at LAX Gate 132 trying to repair the threads of work that have gotten tattered and frayed the last few weeks. So many loose ends, and with the prospects of being away from my office for such a long time, the task has been daunting. Here and now I am sending out an official blanket apology to anyone that I forgot to do something for or promised something to. The oversight was not intentional nor malicious, but is instead living proof that stress kills brain cells.
So here I am at LAX where I will catch my Emirates flight. Emirates is an airline based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The airline is a subsidiary of The Emirates Group, which is wholly owned by the government of Dubai's Investment Corporation of Dubai. Great Airline!
The Emirates flight departs at 10:30 PM, Pacific Daylight Time (UTC -7:00), direct to Dubai where I will catch a 4:30 AM, Gulf Standard Time (UTC +04:00) flight to Delhi to arrive at 9:10 AM, Indian Standard Time (UTC +5:30). I then hang out there all day for a 4:00 PM flight to Jodhpur. By the time I get there, I won't have clue what time it is or what day the week it is and I suspect it really won't matter, nor will I care.
After a 90km drive to Panchla Siddha and the Shri Jasnath Asan I will have arrived at my home for the next two and a half months.
I can hardly wait!!
Panchla Siddha, India
Sharon K. Schafer
I paint, photograph, and speak about wild places in an act of reciprocity that is as vital to me as heartbeat or breath.
My interest in the magic and mystery of the natural world lies at the intersection of art and science.
Made possible through
the generosity of
Generous support and inspiration provided by
Shri Jasnath Asan