Chiang Mai Thailand by Frédéric Réglain

Chiang Mai Thailand by Frédéric Réglain

The Sybarite city

Article et legendes egalement disponibles en Francais

Text Danielle Tramard

A smiling and modest aesthete, a breeding ground for artists and craftsmen, Chiang Mai charms one as much with the beauty of its rice paddies and mountain landscapes as with its style, that of the former Lanna Kingdom.

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Chiang Mai is one of those places where seeking pleasure for the senses becomes almost an obligation. There is so much to see: the soaring temples, the verdant landscapes of the North, the ever-present culture illustrated mainly by the traditional crafts.

And the layout of the city center is of biblical simplicity. Imagine an old square city, 1.2 km on each side, surrounded by moats in which reflect the trees and the walls cut out with five doors, two of which are to the south. A wide, falling down brick wall, moss-covered, worn away by the rain. The charm of fragility. With the Ping River to the east, the mountains to the west, it’s impossible to get lost in this market town, covered in half an hour.

There are three Thai smiles, one could say. “A business one in Bangkok, a commercial one in the South and, in the North, the smile that comes from the heart.” The Thais of the North are easy-going, relaxed and love festivities. For loi krathong at the end of November, they throw banana leaves dressed with flowers, a candle and small change into the Ping River, and into they sky, they release white cylindrical lanterns in which a candle flickers…

The density of the temples, more than three hundred of them, is higher than in Bangkok, for a distinctly smaller surface area. For a long time, though, Chiang Mai was the capital of the North. Often built by the kings, these temples present constant features: superimposed roofs like wings, with red tiles dominated by the fine royal umbrella, eaves falling low bordered by nagas, whose head and tail rise up towards heaven. Throughout Asia, the naga, a mythical animal represented as a serpent with a dragon’s head, protector of Buddha in the forest, flank the steps at the temples’ entrances. Its head comes out of the mouth of another animal, the makara. There are frescos on the walls and a sylvan décor on the inner shutters, often with gilded transfers. Near the doors, other demons, the tao wetsuwan, stand guard.

Wat Tjet Yod, the monastery of seven spires, was built in 1455 for the 8th Buddhist Council, proof of the influence enjoyed by the Kingdom of Lanna, which means “a million rice fields”. Eight Buddha statues stand at the entrance, “one for each day of the week, two for Wednesday which is governed by two planets”, explains Louis Gabaude, former member of the EFEO (Ecole Française de l’Extrême Orient or French School of the Far East). The branches of the ficus religiosa, the bodhi tree under which Buddha attained Enlightenment, are held up by white stays, another recurring custom, and the stupa’s structure imitates that of Bodhgaya in India. “Thailand, he continues, differentiates between the chedi, a stupa in the shape of a bell housing the relics, the vihan, “Buddha’s residence” and the ubosoth, surrounded by ornamented posts or simple stones stuck in the ground, which accommodates the chapter’s meetings twice a month, on the days of the full moon, for the recitation of the 227 articles of the rules and confessions.”

The imposing Wat Chedi Luang (1411) in the town center, which was decapitated by an earthquake in 1545, housed for a time the famous Jade Buddha, today in the royal palace in Bangkok. Opposite the main gate, the well-preserved, partially teak Wat Phra Sing, founded in 1345, enthralls you with its frescos depicting the inhabitants’ life: bare-breasted women with long tied-up hair smoking cigars, tattooed men sporting a loincloth and mustache. Separate from it, the library has a high base to protect the texts from termites.

The famous temple of the Doi Suthep (1383) sits 1650 meters high at the summit of the mountain with the same name. A heavy tropical rain turned the route into a torrential stream and sent the pilgrims running for shelter. Solitary, sitting humbly on the sands, the Wat Ton Kwen (1860) has everything to please: its blackened carved wood, wooden dowels in the place of nails, pink roof tiles, fine gilded parasols on the overlapping roofs, nagas without colour or gilding. Meanwhile, the Wat Umong (XVIe) will intrigue you with its communicating “meditation tunnels” below the chedi.

The temple Sri Supan, built to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the king’s reign, presented a never before seen show. Under a shelter, bare-shouldered novices in orange robes embossed with sharp blows the aluminum plaques representing flowers and other Buddhist ornaments. A statue of Ganesh stands near the shining temple, as well as a portrait of the king sitting on a base. Illustration of the Thais’ three objects of devotion: Buddha, Ganesh, god of the fine arts, and the immensely respected figure of the sovereign.

The craftspeople, whose ancestors built these magnificent temples, work outside the city. At one time, each village had its specialty, like Bo Sang, devoted to making parasols of mulberry paper, cotton or silk. The big white flowers dry around a lawn.

Like a hangar cluttered with old tree trunks given over to the chisel, another workshop produces the magnificent Buddhist and Hindi sculptures in old teak from the hand of the impassioned artist Kasem Tipkama. The trunks’ size and shape guides him.

In the silver workshop, men hammer away at the molds to produce the required motifs. To make the jewelry, the silversmith pours melted silver directly into the mold. The celadon, “ green porcelain”, came from China in the 13th century. Beneath the shiny glaze you can see the crackle. In front of Narumol, one of the ten artists, all women, stands a wide necked vase, Lanna-style celadon porcelain to which she applies delicate colors, letting her imagination run free.

The lacquer comes from the lacquer tree in the forests in the north of Thailand. On a bamboo or teak support, the craftsperson applies, after filling in the holes, seven coats of lacquer, each one followed by a week of drying. Then, the sanding and the painting or the application of 24-carat leaf, typical of the North.

The cotton by Huan Fai Dai Ngam, or Cotton Chic, is hand-worked and dyed with incomparable natural pigments. One woman puffs it out by lifting it with a thread stretched across an arc, then unravels it and spins it into a skein. Others weave. Explicative panels complete the demonstration: sowing in April, reaping from November to December…

And so the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom reveals itself, the land of “a million rice fields” and a hundred thousand smiles, of whitewashed monuments with black and gray streaks left by the monsoon. The round varnished leaves glimmer, just like the red tiled roofs. A good odor comes up off the saturated earth, a slight sultriness so pleasant in the heart of our winter.

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Sadhus Kumbh Mela India

Sadhus Kumbh Mela India

TheKumbh Mela takes places every 4 years, switching between 3 cities. In 2013, the Maha Kumbh Mela took place in Allahabad. 100 million pilgrims came, making it the biggest gathering of humans in history.

Photos and words by Eric Lafforgue

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The Kumbh Mela provides an opportunity for young people to join the order of the Sadhus. This boy is in the process of joining. He has not yet cut his hair, a symbol indicating that he has renounced his past life.  The young recruits are shaven, their hair put into a ball and buried on the banks of the Ganges.  After staying up all night, the initiates take their first bath. Access to this ceremony is strictly forbidden. A young Sadhu spends his days blessing believers who come touch his feet as a sign of respect. He rubs their foreheads with ceremonial ash. He also smokes illegal substances to better open his mind.

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The Himba Tribe of Namibia

The Himba Tribe of Namibia

Himba pastoralists live in the Kaokoland, an extensive territory in northwest Namibia bordering Angola in the north along Cunene river. The Atlantic Ocean and the Skeleton coast form its Western boundary. The Himba are related to the Herero people. Approximately 10,000 Himba live in Kaokoland and 3,000 others live in Angola.

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Some Himba, locally referred to as “Hererotracht”, were evangelized by German missionaries in the 18th century and began to wear Victorian-style clothes. The rest live the traditional tribal way of life.

The Himba live in small villages that usually accommodate one large family. Enclosures for the cattle (“krall”) are situated in the center of camp, encircled by huts. A fence made of Mopane wood, a strong and very durable material, surrounds the village.

Each Himba village has a “Okoruwo”, a holy fire kept constantly burning that represents the ancestors.  It is located between the entrance of the krall and the west-facing door to the chief’s home (the “Ondjuwo Onene”). It’s taboo to cross this invisible line between the two. If someone does cross and a sudden death occurs, the Himba will believe that the ancestors are angry.

The houses are made of mud and cow dung. These materials stay cool during the hot days and maintain their heat during the cold nights. The weather is extreme in northern Namibia. In summer, temperatures reach 45 degrees, while in winter, they drop to what feels like freezing point! Inside the houses, cowhides serve as beds. Various goat and cow hides, used both as clothing and for special celebrations, cover the walls. The Himba sleep on wooden pillows to ensure that they don’t mess up their intricate hairdos.

The Himba are nomadic, moving place to place in search of better grazing lands for their goats. They usually return to the same villages every year. When they move as a group, the Himba walk in single-file line in order to avoid snakes bites.

According to a local proverb, “A Himba is nothing without his cattle.” The Himba almost exclusively derive their sustenance from cows and goats, which provide meat and milk.

In Himba society, women tend to have the most difficult daily tasks such as gardening, milking the livestock, caring for the cattle, constructing houses, and carrying water and wood. The men on the other hand handle political administration and legal trials. They also take long rests!

Despite the fact that they are living in small villages, the Himba are relatively wealthy, with hers that can reach up to 200 cows. They will never disclose how many cows they have since they keep it secret to avoid attracting thieves.

The size of a Himba man’s herd reflects his social status. A man without cattle, or that owns just a few, is unworthy of respect. The word “Tijmba”, which means “Himba without cattle”, is used as an insult…..

Photos and words  Eric lafforgue & Stéphanie Ledoux

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Ethiopia Bodi Tribe Fat Men

Ethiopia Bodi Tribe Fat Men

Ethiopia Bodi Tribe Fat Men. Every year in june, takes place in the deep south of Ethiopia, in the remote area of Omo valley, the celebration of the Bodi tribe new year: the Kael.

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For 6 months the men from the tribe will feed themselves with only fresh milk and blood from the cows.
They will not be allowed to have sex and to go out of their little hut. Everybody will take care of them, the girls bringing milk every morning in pots or bamboos.
The winner is the bigger. He just wins fame, nothing special.
This area does not welcome tourists and has kept his traditions.

The fat men drink milk and blood all day long. The first bowl of blood (1 to 2 liters) is drunk at sunrise. The place is invaded by flies. The man must drink it quickly before it coagulates.
Some can not drink everything and vomit it.

On the day of the Kael, the fat men cover their bodies with clay and ashes.  To access the full story please fill the form below:

Photos & story Eric Lafforgue

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Etosha National Park Namibia

Africat & the Etosha National Park Namibia

Etosha National Park is a national park in the Kunene Region of northwestern Namibia.

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Etosha was first established in 1907, when Namibia was a German colony known as South West Africa. In that time it was the largest game reserve in the world. Due to political changes since its original establishment, the park is now slightly less than a quarter of its original area, but still remains a very large and significant area in which wildlife is protected. AfriCat was founded in 1991 on Okonjima Farm in Central Namibia whose mission was to contribute to the long term conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores. The consequent contact with numerous farmers and AfriCat’s exposure led to the rescue of many trapped large carnivores. Since 1993, 1080 of these predators were rescued. Over 85% were released back into the wild.

Donna Hanssen is responsible for the new image which the Foundation now represents. To access the full story and order low res photos, please fill the form below

Text and Photos Eric Lafforgue & Stephanie Ledoux

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Theyyam Festival Kerala India

copyright the tribe press agency - thetpa.net / Eric Lafforgue

Theyyam Festival In Kerala India

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The Theyyam Festival Kerala India a popular Hindu ritual of worship. It is an ancestral cult for Hindu population, which is divided by castes.

Theyyam tells the story of people who lost their lives in battlefield, pangs of women who committed suicide or persons killed by the local chieftains. Such heroes or gods are honoured through theyyams, the ceremonies performed in front of shrines.

The dancer along with the drummers recites the particular ritual song, which describes the myths and legends of the deity of the shrine or the folk deity to be propitiated. The dancer comes in front of the shrine and gradually “metamorphoses” into the particular deity of the shrine.

There are about 450 known forms of « theyyams » and each has got its own myth and style of costumes, make-up, choreography and songs. After the dance, people also consult the performers because they can see the future. There is a charge for the consultation.n attend to a popular Hindu ritual of worship called Theyyam. It is an ancestral cult for Hindu population, which is divided by castes.

The Theyyam worship is special because it involves all the castes and classes of the Hindu people living in the region. Theyyam is performed by male members of particular castes in most cases, but in the north of Kerala, some women do it to embody particular goddesses or heroins. Men from Malayan, Pulayan, Vannan, Anjoottan, Munnutton, Velan, Chungathan, Koppalan and Mayilon are part of the castes who perform Theyyam. The performers of Theyyam are all members of the indigenous tribal community, and they have an important position in Theyyam. This is unique, since only in Kerala, do both the upper- caste Brahmins and  lower-caste tribals share an important position in a major form of worship…

Photos & Text Eric Lafforgue, Copyright The Tribe Press Agency / Eric Lafforgue
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Thailand Impressions

Thailand Impressions
By Jimi Casaccia

Follow Jimi Casaccia as he wanders through Thailand

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The Tsechu Bhutan

 The Tsechu,

A Journey to the holiest of Bhutan

Flashy clothes, colorful masks, jumps and dances, the religious festivals in Bhutan, the Tsechu, are demonstrative celebrations. They happen all year around in different locations of the country. To visit Bhutan without assisting to one of them is a bad idea. One of the most popular is held in Paro between March and April.

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Bhutan, the Kingdom of the Dragon, the country with the highest rate of happiness in the world, is virtually still unknown. Unknown to the point where when we couldn’t go to Tibet as planned because the border was closed and were offered to go to Buthan instead, we had to look for it on the map! Lucky for us, the country wasn’t on the usual tourist trail.

Strolling along the streets and villages of Bhutan is to realize that a world without McDonald’s, Starbucks or Zara is possible. A world in which there are no signs for Coca-Cola. In which the only known pasta Indian, but the Italian never heard of. A land where three cars on a street form a jam and where people wear traditional costumes for their everyday whereabouts. If you wear traditional costumes everyday, what do not wear on religious holidays?

Nestled in the middle of the Himalayas, Paro Airport, the only international, is considered by Boeing Corporation as one of the world’s most dangerous for landing and takeoff. Bhutan remained isolated from the world for centuries. Their traditions and culture have remained unchanged until the late twentieth century. For a long time they haven’t allowed television, Internet and even cars trouble their lives. During our visit, we noticed young people beginning to wear jeans and abandon working in the fields. Pretty understandable when carrying a suitcase for a tourist from the taxi to the hotel room gets them a tip, which is nearly half the salary of a farmer.

This lack of contacts with the outside world has allowed them remain so genuine, that it can be interpreted as naivety and could surprise you in the first encounters. They can ask you questions such as whether it is possible to cross the street in company of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo in Madrid or how much you get charged for burn your photos onto. They can now watch the world football and basketball world cups on Indian cable TV.

Walking up to the temple Simtokha Dzong, a fortress located near the capital, Thimphu, we met with a gentleman who stopped by to chat with us. Later Kuenzang, our guide, explained the man was the Prime Minister. We had suspected the man was someone important from Kuenzang, body language – he kept his head bowed and eyes down as we talked. That same afternoon, in a park in Thimphu, we watched an archery competition. One of the archers, noticing the presence of tourists, approached us to explain that archery is the most important sport in the country and that they were competing to commemorate the celebration of the first Buthan national elections in 2008. This time gain, Kuenzang was staring at the ground while the man spoke to us. When we left, he said it was the leader of the opposition. We then realized that we had been lucky our steps had taken us to Bhutan.

The Tsechu Bhutan Full story upon request. Available in French in Spanish
Copyright: words and photos Sara Amata and JAAC / The Tribe Press Agency

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Daily Life in Antanambe Madagascar

Daily Life in Antanambe  Madagascar

Vie Quotidienne a Antanambe Madagascar – Disponible en Francais

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 Antanambe is located on the east coast of Madagascar, 320 km north of the town of Toamasina, Tamatave, in the Mananara district. Laying just across the islet of Atafana, or better said of the three islets of the Unesco World Heritage Atafana micro archipelago.

Small coastal villages are nestled in the midst of the maze of rivers, tributaries and confluences. Their life are punctuated by the incessant ballet of pirogues. All kinds of commodities pass through these water paths towards Tamatave downstream of the great river, and among these, the most valuable spices such as cloves, cinnamon, pepper, vanilla, berries and the precious and famous coffee from Madagascar. Located across the Island of Sainte Marie, facing the small island eponymous, Antanambe lives mainly from fishing and agriculture. As in most of the countryside of the Red Island, rice -the staple food by excellence -is cultivated. Ploughing is done thanks to the animals that makes the wealth and ” fortune” of many rural people. Who owns one or more zebus is a wealthy man. Popular traditions say that he humped cattle arrived by sea from India on a ship that wrecked somewhere on the coast near Diego Suarez, the largest city in the north of Madagascar . So the ‘Grande Terre” – as Madagascar is nicknamed – was populated with  this iconic animal that now lends a hand with farm work. Plowing is conducted by softening and flattening the soil by the herds. Then by seeding and transplanting follows, a job often reserved to the Betsimisaraka women, named from the ethnic group that populates mainly the east coast of Madagascar. Betsimisaraka originate in Africa. Here, ​​only one crop a year is produced, harvested around June 26, the day of the national holiday. The fady, local word for taboos, forbids a number of tasks on different days of the week, places, regions and ethnic groups . In short, everyone has their fadys and no one would dare to transgress them. Back to our small coastal village, working the land is prohibited on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Other days may be used for work the fields in the following order; plowing first, then comes the time of sowing and finally transplanting tasks which are the ‘privilege’, on days allowed, to the he fairer sex…

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Nyepi, Bali’s Day of Silence

Nyepi, the Day of Silence
When Everything Stops in Bali

Nyepi is celebrated on the New Year in the Balinese Hindu calendar. Spectacular statues- monsters, called Ogoh-Ogoh, personifying the evil spirits, are build by each banyar (neighbourhoods). The statues are paraded in the main street crossings then traditionally burnt before nightfall. Then the whole island falls silent for 24 hours to make the evil spirits believe that Bali is deserted in the hope that they will go away for the next twelve months.

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Nyepi is a day to restore the balance of nature. It origins with King Kaniska I of India in 78 A.D. The King was famous for his wisdom and tolerance.

The days before Nyepi, excitation spreads in the island. Every banyar is building it’s own Ogoh-Ogoh under the lead of local artists. Every member of the community, young or old, lends a hand. As a father explained to me, this is the opportunity toi transmit creative and artistic skills to the children.Bamboo scaffold are raised. Foam,. cardboard, paint, timber and bamboo are the materials of choice. generous donors are listed and their names displayed.

The evening before the Nyepi day itself, the Ogoh-Ogoh are lined up in the streets. Then the priest walk the spirits in the crowd, trances are common, the noise at at its peak. The Ogoh-Ogoh are paraded to the beach. At nightfall people walk home and fast, meditate, reflect in absolute silence for the next 24 hours. The Pacalangs (the security men) are dressed in black . They are the only ones allowed in the streets. Their job is to ensure that Bali is deserted and silent to trick the bad spirits into believing that the island has been abandoned by any living souls. It the trick is successful, the bad spirits will leave the island too and the upcoming year will be prosperous.

Everything stops for Nyepi. The radios and TV stop broadcasting, the busy airport is empty, no one cook, eat, play. Nyepi is a day of silence and reflection.

Words and photos: Jacques Maudy. Copyright: The Tribe Press Agency

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