Akharas have always been an integral part of Varanasi's culture and wrestlers who come out of the these have won enough tournaments outside the city as well. Tulsi Akhara of Varanasi, in particular, is the most famous one and has produced many famous pehalwans (wrestlers) in the past and hence is also the most famous one.

Not just Akhara, kushti is extremely popular in many other North Indian cities like Mathura, and Agra, among others.

pehalwan langot akhara varanasi desi bulge
A wrestler getting ready...
kushti akhara langot tulsi ghat varanasi banaras
A wrestling match in progress...

I stumbled on this akhara while taking a walk early in the morning when I was sitting on the ghat and just chilling out alone. I saw an old man doing yoga on the steps and on following him for some cool shots, eventually reached the akhara itself.

Over the next hour or so I witnessed their morning rituals, which included some heavy-dose workout and a few bouts of wrestling. Interestingly I wasn't alone and there were a few foreigners as well who joined me. The head of the akhara was very particular about only letting the men take pictures and come close to the pehalwans, as they usually practice celibacy (it's quite rare though and the wrestlers also confirmed to me that they were quite active..ahem ahem...in bed!).

The day usually starts with wrestlers stripping down and putting on a special garment, called langot, which is a sort of underwear to keep your manhood safe, as wrestler put it to me with a smile. Wearing a langot is quite a challenge, though pehalwans do it with ease. One of the American guy wanted to try it out himself, but decided to skip it when he realised the risk of exposure was way too high and there were so many people ready with their cameras...hahaha!

Once the langot is worn, the pehalwan oils his body with mustard oil. Oil is essential as it helps you to slip out of the grip of the opponent and is also believed to have healing properties. Usually wrestlers help each other for this.

kushti akhara langot tulsi ghat varanasi banaras
Oiling before the start

Next is exercising which actually takes up most of the morning as building stamina is considered essential for this sport. Both strength and agility are focus here. Our American friend who shied away from wearing the langot, did join the wrestlers for this session.

kushti akhara langot tulsi ghat varanasi banaras
Working out!

And finally, the wrestlers get down to practice with each other guided by a coach. Usually each pair plays one complete game (i.e. till the time one of them is defeated) and by the time it ends, they are too exhausted to play another game.

They practice moves, exercise some more, take a bath, change and go back home, college or to their offices. Most wrestlers are quite young and have school or college right after they finish practice.

kushti akhara langot tulsi ghat varanasi banaras
Coach giving lessons
kushti akhara langot tulsi ghat varanasi banaras
Match in progress...
kushti akhara langot tulsi ghat varanasi banaras
There is quite a bit of throwing around...
kushti akhara langot tulsi ghat varanasi banaras
And finally one of them loses!

How to reach the Akhara?

The best way to reach the Akhara would be to take any local transport and reach Assi ghat. Get off at the Assi ghat and walk towards Tulsi ghat - will be on your left if you are facing the river. A short five minutes ride later you will reach Tulsi ghat. Take the steep steps which go up, and the akhara is right there on the right after the last step across the narrow lane.

It's really easy to find, but ask for directions if you don't find it yourself.

Timings:

Unlike other akharas, this one starts a little late in the morning:

Morning: 8am to 10am
Evening: 4-5pm to 7pm

The timings are always approximate and change as per the season.
I have been to Singapore twice and on both of these occasions I saw a city that every other traveler sees. So today let me introduce you to someone who sees the city like a true local would - from inside out. Let's welcome Sheva as he shares his life story and also some tips to explore Singapore like an insider!

black and white singapore photography
Sheva
black and white singapore photography
A lady having a break and cool drink in the warm humid weather at Tanglin Halt, Singapore

So, who is Sheva?
My Name is Siva Shankeran but I go by the alias, Sheva. I am 26 years old and I'm born and bred in Singapore.

I'm working towards becoming a chartered architect. I studied landscape architecture in Temasek polytechnic and then moved on to do my degree in architecture at university of Manchester. I take photographs during my spare time as  I've always loved the expressive nature of the art.

Childhood days...
I must say that I've been lucky to have a childhood that I've always looked back on during tough times. It's a whole lot of happy memories hanging around and playing football with the kids around the block. In school i was rather reserved in nature but I always knew when to be mischievous. I was just a very energetic and hyper active kid when it comes to sports and games. I would always remember spending time with my parents and family on weekends when we go to the beach and to swim, play football and baseball. I always feel the nostalgia when we talk about it.

black and white singapore photography
The silence was poetic...

black and white singapore photography
Postcards from Dakota - an abandoned neighborhood to be demolished soon...

Any inspirations?
My dad has always been an inspiration to me. He is hardworking, well mannered and led by example. He doesn't smoke nor drink alcohol and always lived life in a simple and peaceful way. My dad has always been there for me in every stage of my life, and he has always supported me in whatever I aimed to achieve. I hope I can be at least, half the man he is.

I am so grateful to have awesome friends and family around me, who continuously inspire me and make life worth living for. I would say that I have friends who are like family and family who are like friends. What I am today is because of such beautiful souls around me, always having my back.

black and white singapore photography
A devotee carrying a Kavadi during the Thaipusam foot procession in Singapore
black and white singapore photography
A conversation with a fishmonger in my Neighbourhood market.


What does photography mean to you?
Through photography, I have discovered another side of me. A side that is passionate about art. A side that is poetic and expressive. I love to tell stories using photographs and express my thoughts and feelings through post processing the image. That is one of the reason why my photos are almost desaturated or black and white. It leaves the viewer to add another intangible layer to the photograph, which is their own imaginative perspective.

Singapore beyond the eyes of a tourist...
It definitely shows my unorthodox nature. I've always loved the anti-hero. When I watch movies, for example, I'm always more interested in the perspective and psychology of antagonistic characters. It is something many people overlook. There is so much more intrigue when you put yourself in the shoes of the bad guy. It is a very interesting perspective. This is somehow translated through my photography as well. The beauty in the imperfections. As much as people think of the city as a utopia, a modern perfect metropolis, there is as much imperfection to it. My agenda has always been to show the world the antagonistic perspective.

black and white singapore photography
The sound of his music guided me through the narrow maze-like streets of the Albayzín district in Granada, Spain.

black and white singapore photography
The tattooist in Bangkok Thailand attempts to tattoo a Hindu scripture 'Om'.

There is so much more to Singapore than it meets the eye. it's such an amazing city that has so much going on. As a traveler in Singapore, to really capture the essence of this place, it's best not to spend the whole duration on the tourist attractions. Save a considerable amount of time to visit the neighbourhood heartlands. Trust me, the food tastes so much better, it's also cheaper because it's away from the expensive city and more importantly you can see how Singaporeans live and feel what it is like to live in Singapore. Good or bad that's the beauty of your story.

black and white singapore photography
A man was having a heated conversation with the shopkeeper : stories from Little India, Singapore

black and white singapore photography
A devotee pulling a 'ratham'


And what about your love life?
Hahahah! I'm not in a relationship now, definitely single. So I'll just leave nature to take its course on this one. I'm in no hurry to get into a relationship right now. 

What is your dream Sheva?

My dream is to become an architect and eventually have my own architectural practice. They say that it's an architect's ego to think that they can single-handedly change the world for the better. Well as for me, I wouldn't say I want to change the world. Inspire would be a better term. Inspire people to take up photography and be passionate about design and architecture. I want to inspire people to go be what they want to be and challenge the norm of you have to. We live in a world where is there is so many ways be successful

Connect with Sheva
Paayasam
Shevashankeran
Kerala, a state on the Malabar coast in southern India is probably one of the most popular Indian tourist destinations. It has been popular among tourists - couples, families & backpackers alike for the longest time - perhaps because geographically it is the complete travel package - It has everything from serene beaches to scenic hills, from tea & spice plantations to dense forests & calm backwaters. Apart from scenic beauty, it is popular for Ayurvedic treatments, classical dances - Kathakali & Mohiniattam, Kalaripayattu & of course, its delicious cuisine.

To celebrate their wedding anniversary, Roshni and Vikram traveled to Kerala for a week. This is Part I of their story in Roshni's own words. Over to her now :)

The legendary tea gardens of Munnar...

Planning our trip

Planning a trip can get overwhelming, from narrowing down to the place to selecting what to see & do, to all the bookings. Having received mixed reviews from friends & acquaintances, when Vikram & I were planing a holiday, we turned to lonely planet, trip advisor & many travel blogs.

Weve had Kerala on our bucket list for the longest time, Not wanting to miss out on anything, we planned a tight 9 days trip covering Kochi, Munnar, Thekkady, Allepy & Poovar, planning to stay in each place 2 days & in Poovar for a day

Kerala itinerary for couples
Kerala travel itinerary

TripAdvisor became my planing bible & I stalked Cleartrip, Yatra.com & Goibibo for best prices, I ended up booking hotels & flights from a combination of the sites.

In the first of the two series guide, we will be sharing our experiences from two major tourist attractions - Kochi and Munnar.

Kochi 

Kochi, the largest city in Kerala, has historically been an important port city right from the 14th century - colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch & British at different times in history, the city still preserves an intriguing mix of architecture from its varying colonial past. Ernakulam is the citys  cosmopolitan part where as Fort Kochi is the tourist hub.

fort kochi kerala map
Checking out the map...
fort kochi elephants
Elephants on Kochi streets

We chose to stay in fort Kochi area which is almost 40 Kms from the airport, luckily there are hourly AC buses from airport to fort Kochi.

The fort Kochi area has it own quaint charm, It is buzzing with tourists, but each at their own pace - this part of the city has a homestay in every corner! We chose to discover this area on foot since all the places we wanted to see were close to each other.

We first walked to the Chinese fishing nets - Iconic to Kochi, these cantilevered fishing nets are said to be in use since 500 years! these are fixed land installations & each of them is about 10M high operated by a team of 5-6 fishermen. If you wait around, you might get to watch them in use!

fort kochi chinese fishing nets
Chinese Fishing nets
We wanted to visit the folklore museum but being shut on Sunday, instead we walked on; stopping from time to time taking pictures of interesting street art - we also visited David hall & OED galleries on the way. Do stop by if you are an art lover, I had an interesting conversation with Mr. Dilip, who spent time with us & showed us the gallerys diverse contemporary art collection, you can also check the gallery website if the current exhibition is of interest to you before going there (galleryoed.com).

Mattancherry is known for spice markets, we visited a local spice store called All spices market & were in awe of the variety of spices,oils,teas & coffees & felt like a kid in a candy store! I even bought chocolate tea! (which I dont recommend!). Some of the street stores also sell spices, herbs, soaps & oils.The Mattancherry (Dutch) palace museum is definitely worth a visit. The Murals in the bedchamber part of the palace depict scenes from the Ramayana. It is said to cover an episode from the epic in 48 paintings. Another part of the museum documents the portraits & lifestyles of the rajas of Cochin. One can also find a few items of furniture gifted to the rajas from the Portuguese. The museum captures a small part of Kochis Traditional, Portuguese & Dutch history.

fort kochi old house
An interesting building on the way to Mattancherry
fort kochi all spices market
All Spices market
fort kochi antique shop mattancherry
Antique Store at Mattancherry

Jew street has some very interesting antiques & gifting items, once can find painted cow heads, little house boats & hand made soaps everywhere. Many antiques sold here are not traditionally from Kerala though, I was surprised to find many shops selling handicrafts from Kashmir & Rajasthan not just here but at most tourist attractions in Kerala. The Jewish or Pardesi synagogue is a highlight of this area. This entire area preserves parts of its Jewish heritage. One can also purchase lace & needle work pieces like table runners & matts locally made by the residents of the area.

fort kochi pardesi synagogue
The Pardesi Synagogue from outside
fort kochi jew street
Shops at Jew Street

Kochi also has some interesting Churches, here one finds a unique blend of European architecture (introduced by the Portuguese, Dutch & British respectively) & Kerala architecture in terms of motifs, mural painting or wood carving & there isnt a standard layout for these churches either. I found the churches of St Francis & Santa cruz basilica particularly interesting.

fort kochi our lady of hope church
Our Lady of Hope Church
At night  we ventured out to princess street - it is a great place to shop & eat! It rained that evening & being unprepared, we were drenched (it often rains in Kochi, be sure to carry your umbrella when you visit!) One can see pretty houses with flowers on their windowsills & more street art across this area. We ate at Kashi cafe (& art gallery - another recommendation if you are an art buff like us! ) Every cafe we visited in the city had great cold coffee & homemade cake.

fort kochi rain in night
It rains often in Kochi...
 
If you enjoy seafood, Kochi has some pretty great restaurants & cafes - My favourites are Fort house restaurant without a doubt as it  had the best food we had in the entire trip; evenings are the best time to visit since it has a great view as well. Kashi cafe (Art & food)  & Oceanos (seafood) If you like Art & Seafood - I bet youll like Kochi as much as I did!

fort house restaurant fort kochi
Fort House Restaurant
fort house restaurant food thali
Lunch at Fort House restaurant

Munnar

Munnar is a Hill-station on the foothills of the western ghats, One of the most sought after tourist spots of Kerala owing to its scenic beauty - lush carpeted plantations of tea & spices around its hills. It is also the largest tea growing region of the south.

munnar kerala tea gardens
Tea Gardens at Munnar
We took only AC KSRTC  volvo bus from Kochi to Munnar, Starting from Ernakulam bus depot at 9AM. The journey was scenic but nearly 5 hours long! and all through the way, our bus driver played 90s Bollywood music! So our playlist comprised of - songs from Raja Hindustani, Ashiquie, Darr & other nineties hits! quite a nostalgic journey if you ask me!

munnar kerala tea gardens
View from the bus
I found taxis quite expensive in Munnar & realised the need to bargain (luckily, I had Vikram for this!) Kerala is hot during February, & as I found out much later, its not the best time to visit Munnar - the waterfalls start to dry up & the wildlife sanctuaries are shut due to breeding season (Eravikulam national park was shut) so we werent able to do any wildlife activities! 

munnar rope bridge
An old rope bridge
Though Scenic, with large properties, resorts in Munnar are far away from the market & tourist spots, we had to plan our entire day well before leaving the hotel. While we were not able to make it to all the places on our list - My favourite was the Kanan Devan Tea factory & museum. Vikram & I have become green tea converts with this trip & ended up buying a lot of tea from the factory store (make sure you carry a big bag here ;) )

One of the things I enjoyed most in Munnar, was stopping on the way & walking through tea gardens, there are many many scenic places to discover by chance & If you are lucky, youll get to see tea pickers in action!
munnar kerala tea gardens
A rock and tea plantations
munnar kerala tea gardens
Walking through tea gardens
munnar kerala tea gardens vikran tej
Vikram picking tea :)
munnar kerala tea gardens
Tea picker Jothy...

The Mattupetty dam was extremely scenic! beautiful, calm & serene. Though it was quite sunny around 4pm, (the Kerala sun is quite harsh, during the day & it gets hot by 9 am! dont leave your hotel without a hat & sunglasses & carry appropriate sunscreen). Boating at Mattupetty dam is one of the main attractions here.This whole stretch is scenic, one can walk around, boat or even shop for home made chocolates in the stretch of stalls by the lake. A completely commercialised tourist spot now - it has all the street food one would expect corn, coconut water,peanuts, snack stalls & even Passion fruit vendors! One can club visiting Mattupetty dam with Top station as both these are only a few kilometres apart. On the way back, our cab driver stopped by many places, claiming that these were Shooting points or points where some Bollywood film shooting has taken place. although truth be told all of it was equally scenic!

munnar kerala mattupetty dam lake
Mattupetty Dam
elephant ride in munnar kerala
Elephant ride at Munnar
I found the elephant ride in Munnar to be short & over rated & would recommend the one in Thekkady since its in the forest! We also chose to visit spice plantations in Thekkady Instead of Munnar.

I didnt enjoy the food in Munnar all that much. I also surprisingly found the coffee & tea very mild & milky here. Munnar was not my favourite of the Kerala trip for sure, but I do plan to come again in the monsoon or winter to visit all the places Ive missed out on!

Enjoyed the post? Why not tweet and tell the world :)



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Roshni and Vikram are my close friends and almost like family members. This is their story from a recent trip to Kerala. Stay tuned for Part II of the story :)

Do you also have an interesting story to share from your town/ city? Something unusual that not many people may know about? Write to me and perhaps you could be published next here :)
I have always been fascinated with Iran, especially Tehran, and have been tripping on some fantastic black and white photography from the city. I have been following the work of this fantastic young lad for a while now and it's my pleasure to share the story of the man behind these thought proving images of Tehran. Let's welcome Ali :)

black and white street photography tehran iran
Man with an adopted face...
black and white street photography tehran iran
The beauty in details...

So, who is Ali?
It's a  very difficult for the first question because I'm still trying to know Ali. However, I'll try to answer this question.

Ali is an human like everybody - the same blood, the same body... everything!! :) But somethings are different, the choices of Ali are different! We can call it worldview. And another thing about Ali, he lives in a real world! (I think it's a very important point! )

Well, at this time I'm architecture student in Qazvin. I'm in love with photography and my free times are for my camera. And sometimes I'm in photography classes as a teacher assistant.

I was born in Tehran/ Iran 1995 , and I lived in some cities in Iran such a Tehran, Karaj , Rasht and the last one is Qazvin.

black and white street photography tehran iran
Women


black and white street photography tehran iran
Looking by...

In my experience in different cities I understand Ali love his country! :) but personally I'm thinking about abroad and I'm trying to go some Europe countries or USA for life and education. And about  memories, I have some bad memories in Rasht. First I should say this bad memories are for me specially and it doesn't matter about people live there (you know I want to tell it's not a bad place etc)

I think my memories from Rasht are affected to my life and my worldview. And they are some kind of contradiction with environment and people. I was in Rasht between 13 and 16 years old and  that point I needed  to connected  to boys and I had some friends! I think it's usual ! But I didn't  can find some friends and really I didn't  have anybody except my mom ,my brother( he was 4 years old) and my father ( my father didn't home for 4 days a week).


black and white street photography tehran iran
Smile :)

And it was a very bad situation for little Ali ! He wants to connected someone and be happy but he couldn't (ecause the people of Rasht was unfriendly and very native and they didn't like accept someone else!) I don't know  what do you  think, maybe you're laughing to me ! But it was very strange for me maybe because I am very emotional!

Any major inspirations in life?
There is no such special person, but I really love my dear Master from the first meeting (about two years ago) "Mehdi Vosoughnia". He is my lovely person and great master.

Mehdi is a great master ! I can remember the first time I saw him, he was very humble and patient and I was attracted to him.

What inspires you towards photography?
I remember that my willingness to photographing appeared as In my childhood - a child willing to record humans moods and specialties. When I held the camera the first time, I think it was just magical ! It was communicating with me in a simple, clear, quick procedure and since then I got into taking pictures and records .

I think whoever becomes acquainted to camera and willing to take pictures , wont ever stop investigating the world he/she lives in; this is the specialty of camera!

black and white street photography tehran iran
Me...
black and white street photography tehran iran
Me again...

Black and white photography has been more interesting for me from the beginning, it is like I’m discovering more and more facts through this technique. I forget about all the outward sweetness of the colored pictures and make the concepts outbreak themselves. The story is better understood, and the parts of composition are getting more relative.

Tell us about Iran a little...
I can explain a little, this is a very long story. About Iran, Iran is a very historic country with a lot of antiquities. The culture of people are very original and warm encounter is a part of it. The people of Iran are very important to the family and I think this is a very big difference between European countries and Iran.

And in contemporary we have economic problems and they changed conditions any way the Iranian people are still friendly and hospitable. :)

If you want to explore Iran, just bring  your backpack and come here! We have a lot of historical places you should see. I think you should wear some modestly clothes .

How about your personal life Ali?
I am Single.

And finally, what is your dream Ali?
My dream is to someday I know myself.

black and white street photography tehran iran
Young and old...

black and white street photography tehran iran
Leaving a mark behind...

Connect with Ali
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