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A decorated elephant walks on a street carrying the mahout and branches with fresh leaves in Allahabad, India on Aug. 27, 2014. (Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP)
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A girl stands on a sidewalk after putting an unlit cigarette in her mouth, which she picked up from the ground, in Shanghai July 31, 2014. Photo taken July 31, 2014. REUTERS/ Carlos Barria
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(by Cody Cobb)

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Portrait of a beautiful Peul ( Fula,Fulani) woman. The Peul decorate their faces with beautiful tattoos.
Photo taken in Northern Benin.
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The Silk Road by Walter Callens

1.  Bukhara is one of the most ancient cities of Uzbekistan. Bukhara city is supposed to be founded in the 13th century BC.

2.  The name of Bukhara originates from the word “vihara” which means “monastery” in Sanskrit. The city was once a large commercial center of the Great Silk Road; it was also a center of learning renowned throughout the Islamic world.

3.  The old walled city of Khiva, in western Uzbekistan, was once the capital of the kingdom of Khorezm, near the Aral Sea. It grew rich on the Silk Road trade carried across Central Asia’s deserts. Now it is a remarkable open-air museum of history and architecture.

4.  ceremonial glassware

5.  Samarkand - the Capital of Tamerlane

Samarkand is situated in the valley of the river Zarafshan. It is the second largest city of Uzbekistan and is of the same age as the city of Babylon or Rome. The history of Samarkand is about 2,500 years old and has witnessed a lot of upheavals during the times of Alexander the Great, the Arabic Conquest, Genghis-Khan Conquest and lastly Tamerlane’s. Hence, the culture of Samarkand was developed and mixed together with the Iranian, Indian, Mongolian and a bit of the Western and Eastern cultures. Majestic and beautiful city Samarkand has a marvelous and attractive power. Poets and historians of the past called it “Rome of the East, The beauty of sublunary countries, The pearl of the Eastern Moslem World”. Its advantageous geographical position in Zarafshan valley put Samarkand to the first place among cities of the Central Asia. 

Registan Square, Samarkand

During centuries Registan Square was the center of Samarkand. The word Registan means “sand place”. There was a river running there many ages ago, before building the first Madrassah on the square. Years passed, the river dried out and left lots of sank there, that was the first place where the first Madrassah was built in the beginning of the 15th century and named Registan square. As the Madrassah was first built, all the holidays, parades, festivals and Sunday bazaars took place.

6.  The old walled city of Khiva, in western Uzbekistan

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"Praying…" by KnikmanAV - Hans Knikman

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Dipo Ceremony, Krobo, Ghana by Anthony Pappone

The dipo ceremony of the Krobo people.

Africa many cultures celebrate the passage of a child towards adulthood. Among the hills Krobo of Ghana, young girls carry on an ancient tradition. Every year, girls undergo a transition to adulthood.
In the beginning of the Dipo each woman Enters a house where they shed Their clothing representative of Their childhood and put on a new, mature set of clothing by Their ritual mother. Then, they shave Their Heads and wash in the river Which is meant to cleanse the body and spirit in preparation for womanhood.

During this ceremony they dance to music to celebrate Their passage into wmoanhood, Represent and their Families by wearing handmade beads passed sown for generations, but most imnportantly to impress a suitor and the tribe’s chief With Their new found grace and beauty.

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The Rat Temple in Rajasthan by Anoop Negi 
Rats are not the most liked of mammals for a variety of reasons. They carry the ominous burden of spreading  diseases and destroying food grains. The primary response to a rat is revulsion and its removal from the visual cortex.

Deshnoke is a small temple town, about 30 kilo meters away from Bikaner in Rajasthan, India. Dust eddies  swirl around chase each other in the trail left behind by motor cars. Most places in Rajasthan are barren and dry with scant grass climbing over large hill sides. Stone boundaries demarcate ownerships. It is a semi desert landscape of utter beauty and fascination and at times terrifying proportions for some.
As you reach Deshnoke, a fort like outer facade of ochre pink stands squat and low with bastions in the corner and gun emplacement slots peeping down at you. India’s feudal structure demanded such forts from the marauding intentions of the neighbors as well as long term Muslim invaders from Central Asia. So there is a fort here too but I wonder if it was ever laid siege to. Not likely. It was built only around early 1900s by which time the British Empire was in total control of the Indian subcontinent.

The fortification served the purpose of  hiding the temple from the prying eyes of humans and predators. Within lies the Karni Mata temple and about 15000-20000 rats that inhabit the courtyard. The rats are sacred. It is good manna if a rat scampers over your bare feet. If you manage to sight albino ones, then it is a sign of great fortune.

The temple was built in the early 1900 by the Maharaja of Bikaner who used to be a great patron and follower of Karni Mata. She was a wise and powerful lady with immense spiritual powers worshipped by the the lay populace as well as the Rajas in Rajasthan. We are talking of the late 14th and early 15th century here. She is supposed to have lived for about 150 years. Somewhere in her journeys, a young follower of hers lost his footstep near a water hole and drowned. The other followers beseech-ed Karni Mata to revive the young man. The Hindu God of Death who reaps the souls is called Yama and he comes astride a dark and sculpted buffalo with big horns.

Legend has it that Karni Devi would not allow Yama to perform his duties. A stalemate ensued. Ultimately a solution was arrived at. The God of Death passed on the soul of the dead boy into that of a rat and saved his  face. From that day onward any member of the Charan community who died would be reborn as a rat and every time such a rat died, a Charan boy would be born. Re-Incarnation at full work here.
Rats from that day onward are revered by this community of Charans in this area of Rajasthan.  The rats are the past as well as the future of the community of Charan male members. The white rats in the temple complex are supposed to be the direct descendents of the immediate family of Karni Mata whereas the others are the rest of the community members.
In the temple complex about 15000-20000 rats live. I have no idea when the census was done but these are just guesstimates over a period of time. Devotees come in daily and so do visitors who want to see this great terrifying spectacle of rats and the crazy worship. Most visitors must steel themselves to withstand the sight and the smell and get used to the idea of rats and their excrement on the floor. Now a days the visitors have the option to receive a cloth or a polythene sheath shaped like a shoe covering for the feet. It helps.
Writers and media people make frequent forays to present the exotic, arcane and bizarre to the world at large. One of the most terrifying experiences in the world as per the New York Post is a visit to the Rat Temple.
Not to be trapped in the listings game, I would say that the place leaves an indelible mark in one’s mind for the sheer concept of it. The experience can not be termed “terrifying” for sure. More unsettling and unnerving maybe.What about you ?
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Old Khamu woman smoking - Laos by Eric Lafforgue on Flickr.
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Awkward one
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In search of the Kalinga, project by Frederic Wissink 

the Kalinga village of Buscalan sits high up in the Cordillera Mountains of northern Luzon, Philippines. Although all of the tattooed warriors are now gone, the village is teeming with tattooed elderly women that wear the artistry of the last Kalinga tattoo artist: 89-year-old Whang-Od who learned the art of batok (tattoo) from her father.

Whang-Od is a graceful woman who despite her age continues to work in her family’s rice fields nearly everyday. That may seem like nothing special, but then again Buscalan sits high atop the ridge of a mountain that dives 1,500 feet down towards a raging river that feeds numerous terraced rice fields below. Every morning at sunrise, Whang-Od scales down some one-thousand stairs that shimmer in morning dew passing waterfalls and lush foliage in her worn-out flip-flops that have lost their treads. After reaching the river, she heads one mile upstream on a series of treacherous and muddy footpaths that eventually lead to her family’s rice terraces. She works all day until the heat of the afternoon sun drains all of her strength.

Just after 4pm, the trek back up the mountain begins and Whang-Od now has a fifty pound basket of rice attached to her forehead with a tumpline. Singing a few melodies along the way, she takes care to not miss a step and slowly, and very methodically, she plods her way up the staircase that seems to have no end. Once she reaches her hut, the rice basket comes to rest on the creaky wooden floor and then she immediately begins to prepare her dinner consisting of rice, greens, and a little pork that was gifted to her. As the sun starts to fade, crisp mountain air begins to permeate the cracks of the wooden walls of the house and Whang-Od moves closer to the fire in her kitchen where she always sleeps. Tomorrow, she will repeat her routine as she has for over seventy years.

Whang-Od tells that when she was twenty-five, the man she was in love with died in a logging accident. Instead of looking for a new husband, she dedicated her life to tattooing and now sixty-four years later she is the last practitioner of an art form that many  scholars believe is nearly one thousand years old.

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The Blue Arch of a Mosque in Esfahan
Photo and caption by Tandis Khodadadian (Woodland Hills, CA); Photographed April 2013, Esfahan, Iran
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Poliosis is a condition in which there is a lack of pigment in the hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, which appear whitish, grey. The condition normally occurs in patches. It is often associated with vitiligo, alopecia and forms part of the Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome.