Photo Of The Day: The Ganges River At Dawn

Sometimes, the most poignant travel imagery is captured before the destination has even woken up. Take, for instance, today’s Photo of the Day, taken by Flickr user Calvin Lee on the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. Later in the day, the river will be filled with pilgrims engaging in religious rituals, tourists taking photos of them and the hustlers that inevitably follow the tourists. But in this image, taken at dawn, you can practically hear the silence.

Do you have any evocative travel photos of destinations at dawn? Upload your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

Video: A sadhu singing by the Ganges River, Varanasi

One of the best gifts travel gives you is all the great music you wouldn’t otherwise hear. Strange tunes often stick in the mind long after the memories of meals and sights have dimmed. Last week I brought you a video of a kalimba player in Malawi. Here’s a completely different tune from a completely different country, yet both tunes have gotten into my head.

This man is a sadhu, one of the countless Hindu holy men who wander the city streets and country roads of India preaching the tenets of Hinduism. He’s playing by the Ganges River in Varanasi, one of the holiest spots for Hindus. Watch how he plays two instruments and sings with ease. The camera is a bit shaky at the beginning but gets much better. Does anyone know what he’s singing?

Medieval pilgrims journeyed deep into Africa, archaeologists discover

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The Kingdom of Makuria is the quintessential forgotten civilization. Very few people have even heard of it, yet it ruled southern Sudan for hundreds of years and was one of the few kingdoms to defeat the Arabs during their initial expansion in the 7th century AD. Makuria was a Christian kingdom, born out of the collapse of the earlier Christian kingdom of Axum. Makuria survived as a bulwark of Christianity in medieval Africa until it finally collapsed in 1312.

Now excavations of some of its churches at Banganarti and Selib have revealed that this kingdom was a center of pilgrimage, attracting people from as far away as Catalonia, in modern Spain. The 2,300 mile journey from Spain to southern Sudan is a long one even today, but imagine when it had to be done on horseback, walking, and boats powered only by sails and oars. Yet an inscription records that one Catalan named Benesec made the journey almost a thousand years ago, probably to pray for a cure to an illness. “Benesec” was a popular Catalan name in the 13th and 14th centuries.

MedievalAnother inscription with an accompanying painting shows a Muslim man, Deif Ali, making a pilgrimage to the church to pray for a cure to his blindness. This isn’t as unusual as it might sound. In regions where religions mingle, some people will go to holy places of the other religion. When I covered the Hindu pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela for Reuters back in 2001, I met Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs all coming to be a part of the religious festival.

Makurian artists produced some amazing religious frescoes, like this image of the birth of Jesus, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, and this closeup of St. Anne, also courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Both come from the cathedral of Faras, an important Makurian city.

The churches are in southern Sudan, not the new Republic of South Sudan. The nation of Sudan (the northern one) has many sites of archaeological and historical interest and is a popular destination for adventure travel.

Photo of the Day (11.16.10)

This Sunday marked the beginning of the Hajj, the world’s largest annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. As the fifth pillar of Islam, the pilgrimage is a religious duty that must be carried out by every able-bodied Muslim that can do so. Saudi officials have reported that a record-breaking 3.4 million people are expected to come from all corners of the globe to perform the Hajj this year.

This astounding photo, titled “Headed to Mecca” was taken by Flickr user Theodore Kaye as a mother prepares to leave Osh, southern Kyrgyzstan for Mecca. I love that Theodore was able to be present for and capture the intimacy of this moment and took advantage of the lighting to make the image even more beautiful. The result of being in the right place at the right time, and knowing how to capture a great photograph.

If you want to see more of the Hajj, Boston.com put up an amazing series of images of this year’s processions. Also worth checking out is VBS.tv’s short documentary of an inside look at the pilgrimage. What’s your personal Mecca? Share it with us by adding photos to our Flickr group and it could be our next Photo of the Day.

El Al to Nigerian pilgrims: No way on our flights

El Al, Israel‘s airline, has banned thousands of pilgrims from Nigeria from traveling to Israel. Security is the reason given. The Tourism Ministry, according to the Associated Press, says that this move will screw up the travel plans for 28,000 Nigerian Christians from Abuja in the next few months.

The Nigerian pilgrimage season starts in late October and continues through January, and a subsidiary of El Al was hoping to cover the route during this period. However, there have been concerns about airport security after a Nigerian man was accused of trying to blow up a plane bound for the United States using a bomb hidden under his clothes.

[photo by Deanster1983 via Flickr]