Shri Jasnath Asan, Rajasthan, India
Photo © Shri Jasnath Asan, 2016
I am closing the door on my room at Shri Jasnath Asan one last time and heading out for a drive to the Jodhpur airport, then a flight to Delhi, then Dubai, then Los Angeles, and then southern Nevada. I will be opening my door in Henderson about 40 hours later after I leave here.
It’s not often you get a chance to really immerse yourself in a different culture and way of being. It’s not the same as a a few weeks in Africa or Argentina skimming lightly across the landscape and over the culture as a tourist and not a participant. Here I was a part of this place for a time. Everyone was kind and considerate and let me find my way along my steep learning curve.
To each and every one of you at Shri Jasnath thank you for an amazing experience. You have changed my life. The Jasnathi are on the right path, but then I guess you know that. You have been here for 500 years. You can bet as I leave the main gate today I will look at the shallow alcove next to the fortress gates where Dungarbaba always sits. Time worn, smoothed and polished by 500 years of priests and visitors, the step reminds me of the long flow of time that stretches long and thin across our collective memories. We all experience such a little fraction of it, and each of us experiences it in their own way. What we do, here and now, determines the future. Jane Goodall once said “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” I have learned much here about choosing wisely and compassionately.
This sojourn in Rajasthan at Shri Jasnath Asan has made my world smaller, my thinking broader, and my heart bigger. I will forever be grateful.
MEET PAPU SAI
Papu is as at home chopping vegetable as chopping trees or dancing on red hot coals during a fire dance.
His main job though, for the last four years is as the ashram’s chief cook and kitchen manager. I think he is actually a gourmet magician specializing in supernatural food conjuring. As a recent visitor and PhD food sociologist Estelle Fourat beautifully put it, he creates "food that has the right combination of nutrients through delicious ingredients to please the palate, at the same time to nourish body and soul.”
By carefully ensuring all ingredients are fresh and organic, and prepared to perfection, he is one of the people most responsible for the overall health and happiness of everyone here.
He creates his nutritious menus in accordance with the principles of a pure sattvic vegetarian diet. A diet regimen that places emphasis on seasonal foods such as fruits, dairy products, nuts, seeds, oils, ripe vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and non-meat based proteins. He prepares each meal with local ingredients from environmentally sustainable sources.
However, I think the he has a two secret ingredients that makes the food he conjures incomparable. In addition to fresh organic local food, he adds a large measure of joy. You can see it in his eyes and smile as he stands before us and watches us at every meal, making sure we are absolutely, completely, and totally satisfied with both the quantity and quality.
Papu, you have made me feel at home.
… and I think the other major secret ingredient you add is love, Thanks.
Splendidly and unabashedly hirsute, mustachioed, bristly, brushy, furry, rough, shaggy, silky, unshorn, woolly, bearded, bewhiskered, unshaven, lanate, stubbly, downy, fluffy, fuzzy, lanate, and down right pilous, piliferous and pileous.
In Rajasthan facial hair is an art form.
PHOTO CREDIT:@ Shreejan Sita 2016 - Shree, the Director of Yoga Programs here at the ashram, got this terrific shot while on our trip to the tree farm in Rampura. I only wish I could take wildlife photos like this!
New Year 2017 dawned for me in a spectacularly splendid fashion.
Some days you can hike for days … and days … and days, and find no great opportunities for photographing wildlife. Other days you go out, have an unbelievably perfect, astonishingly awesome opportunity, and miss the exposure, blur the shot, have your battery die or a CF card fill, or somehow stupidly miss a perfectly wonderful chance at capturing a remarkable image.
Other times, like New Years week, I just couldn’t miss – and they were all species that I had seen before but were unable to get really nice images. All were on my “wish list” for images I’d like to get before I leave country. It was as though Rajasthan was feeling benevolent, heard my request, and decided to grace me by granting my wish. Thank you Rajasthan, I couldn’t have asked for more.
Copies of all of my images will stay with the ashram to be used in their educational programs in their exemplary ongoing efforts to reconnect people to nature. It is in the mission statement of the ashram, written by Jasnath 500 years ago, that all of Humanity will have an abiding connection with the natural world.
NEW YEARS DAY, 2017
The only thing cuter than 2 Rajasthai kids is 4 Rajasthani Kids.
As I was walking around the Bitari Farm near Palodi on New Years day a couple of boys came running up to me and dragged me over to the goat shed to show me the cutest little kids. We all laughed as the baby goats were a real pain in the udder as they pushed, shoved, and excitedly jockeyed for position for their morning breakfast.
Crisp cold air, hot warm milk, excitement and laughter, and boundless energy. The young ones, both humans and goat kids, were so in the moment; vibrantly alive, acutely attuned to the world, and so open to the gifts this particular day had to offer. It is a lesson worth learning. Both excelled at the joy of just being. It was as though these things were all that mattered. - They were right.
I love this place it never ceases to amuse and amaze me … and teach me.
NEW YEARS DAY, 2017
This post is simple, short, and totally relatable, especially for those of you that have done some serious cold weather camping or live in a home where dishes are done in an outdoor courtyard.
No one, I mean no one, really enjoys doing dishes outside in the cold, whether it be in a courtyard or campsite. She quickly did her task with great efficiency and not a word of complaint. I think she drew the short straw since the rest of us were inside busy making sogra or chopping veggies next to a crackling fire.
Once she was done with her chilly task she came back inside, snuggled up to the fire and warmed her hands and feet. Once her frozen extremities regained feeling and her hands started working again, she cradled a cup of chai and sipped it slowly to warm her chilled inner being.
1 JAN 2017
My New Years morning was spent at a farm near Phalodi about, two hours drive northwest of the Ashram. There I sat on a rug, on a concrete floor, helping the women make lunch ... and enjoyed every minute of it.
Do to my limited Rajasthani cooking skills, I was relegated to the “peeling garlic and shucking peas duty” which I believe I truly excelled at. The best part of the morning though, was watching one of these women prepare sogra and then expertly cooking it over a wood and dung fire. Such perfect delicious food coming from humble surroundings. Rajasthan never disappoints me.
The story of our lunch time sogra began the day before on New Years Eve. When Guruji and I got there the women were in the courtyard of the house carefully cleaning the millet of any little stone or stick that had found its way into the bag of seed before the they ground it into flour.
I met this ground flour again the next morning on New Years Day. I wandered into the kitchen and found the women all gathered in there busy tending pots and cutting up vegetables for a nice subje of some delicious sort, and cooking sogra.
There was such an elegant poetry in watching practiced hands expertly rolling the dough into a ball, adding just the right amount of flour or water to get the proper consistency, then expertly flattening, and patting it into, what we, in southwest United States and Mexico, would call a thin tortilla.
This thin flatbread was placed in a flat pan, above the open fire and allowed to cook. The woman’s hands continued their dance of grace and beauty, as the flatbread was cared for and tended to. The bread was flipped several times then, when cooked to perfection, it was exposed to the flames of the fire for a final mild roasting or toasting to bring out every gram of flavor. The ashes were blown off and the sogra was ready for our meal
The ingredients were simple; millet flour, water, a little salt, and sometimes a little ghee, but the result of the work by these amazing woman in a simple kitchen, was a delicious, nutritious, thick, crunchy millet flat bread that I enjoyed with my meal on New Years day in Rajasthan, half way around the world from home.
They made it feel like home here too.
I was out for a short walk just after breakfast just in the field behind the fortress to enjoy the bright morning sunshine. I saw something in the hedgerows, a bird that was pretty big , clambering clumsily along through the tangle of dry brush and grass. It was apparently hunting things on the ground and now and then it cocked its tail up in a pose reminecent of the roadrunners found in the desert of the U.S.
It was very wary, and from a long distance half hidden in the bushes, it looked like a really chubby roadrunner that someone had spray painted black and rust. What I was stalking was a beautiful greater coucal wa member of the cuckoo family; the very same family as our beloved southwest greater roadrunner.
The photos I took don't do it justice. The coucal was stunning, with a glossy black-purple head and body, wings a rich deep copper, and a long graduated tail that shone, almost glimmered, a glossy dark black green. Its head sported a strong, heavy black bill and then to add that bit of showmanship and pizzazz it had a brilliant ruby red eye. And for all you birdwatchers the coucal just like our roadrunner, has zygodactylous feet (two toes forward and two back) a characteristic of the cuckoo family.
At 48 cm they are a big bird again about the same as our roadrunner. I have since learned that they are, indeed, weak fliers, and prefer walking on the ground as they forage for insects, small lizards and vipers, eggs and nestlings of other birds - much the same life style and diet as our roadrunners.
I know its a common bird found in wide range of habitats from jungle to cultivation and urban gardens, from Asia,to India, south China, Nepal and Indonesia. But it was the first one I had seen…
… and what a beauty it was.
27 DEC 2016
Just in case if you wondered what a fire dancer does on his down time...
A few weeks ago when we were starting to scatter after Puja, friend and fire dancer, Jogesh Beniwal, sauntered over to a pile of red-hot coals, carefully picked through them and then popped one in his mouth. He then tilted his head up and started blowing out red hot sparks. I saw him do it at the Fire Dance last month but to see it up close was unbelievable. I did the best to capture the event but an iPhone only can do so much.
What do you do after you put scoarching red-hot burning coals in your mouth and spout sparks? Well you take a selfie of course. I just love this place.
To learn more about famous Jasnathi fire dancers see my November 13th post on my blog at http://skydanceblog.weebly.com/ or visit YouTube at https://youtu.be/7EvWXThm98A to view a short film made at the ashram by Quark Films in collaboration with Shri Jasnath Asan.
Don’t worry, I will introduce you to more of the dedicated, talented staff in the next few weeks. You will meet some wonderful people I promise.
23 DEC 2016
On Friday night, 23 Dec, I was outside in a beautiful garden, under a crystal clear, and very very cold, Rajasthani sky giving a program to 100 villagers and students with a Bisnoi botanist and Guruji translating my words into Hindi. I clearly remeber thinking of the words of Dorthy in the Wizard of Oz - “Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.”
I believe in global environmental education … and I am here to tell you, it works. I began with “Southern Nevada Student Photography,” a 5-minute multimedia program compiled of images taken by students in southern Nevada while on field trips to Red Rock Canyon, Desert Refuge, and Lake Mead. The audience loved them and gave our U.S. kids a great round of applause.
Next up was a much anticipated 5-minute clip I made from photos the Rajasthani students took on our field trip to Karmlai Pond. It was the first time they had seen the photos they had taken. There was a huge round of applause for the home town kids, and as I had them stand, applause continued and increased in volume.
The next 5-minute presentation was of my own photographs that I have taken during my stay at the ashram. There was much talking, generous applause and discussion, as the more unusual images made it on screen. They were so kind with their applause, and I loved that they were so engaged.
Afterwards I was told that one person said, “I have never seen all those birds around here.” That statement demonstrates the power of environmental education. By taking people out and asking them to really look at their surroundings, in this case using the activity of bird watching and photography, they expand their ability to see. Then by teaching them about the environment it then gives a framework to categorize and a logical structure to help recall and appreciate what they have seen. The person that said "I have never seen those birds around here" didn't lie, he just hadn’t seen them. In reality those birds had been all around him many times, but had been bind to the bird’s presence as well as their subtle beauty and intricate differences. He had not been taught to see them.
Now that we opened eyes of our program audience to the wild beauty and diversity of the region with the first three short multimedia programs, the final program of the evening was a PowerPoint discussion about the local environmental challenges facing Panchla village. We posed the question: “How do we save the beauty and diversity of this place?” The discussion touched lightly on air, water, and soil pollution but expanded upon the growing problem of noise pollution. However, that is fodder for another blog post on another day.
It was a very good night.
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.
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Generous support and inspiration provided by
Shri Jasnath Asan