On Assignment (2)

On Assignment


The mass pilgrimage at Kumbh Mela unites Hindus in a splendid showcase of faith & devotion

India is not for the faint-hearted. It is sensory overload; there are no grey areas: either you’ll love to travel the country or hate it well enough to take the first flight out. India can break you with its poverty, lack of privacy and dirt; ironically, Western travellers claim to have found inner spirituality after a two-week trip. The Kumbh Mela – the largest spiritual gathering in the world, when Hindus gather en masse to bathe in a sacred river and cleanse themselves of sin – is the ultimate test. First documented by a Chinese traveller in the seventh century, the colourful celebration of the world’s oldest religion is held once every 12 years. The exact date of the festival is determined according to a combination of the zodiac positions of Jupiter, the sun and the moon.

Languages in India

The Indian metalanguage has 122 active languages and over 1,500 sub-dialects.

Hindi, the national language, is spoken throughout Northern and Central India. Some 75 percent of Indians speak the Indo-Aryan languages, which originated mostly from Iran, while the rest converse through Dravidian dialects. Persian, which has influenced Farsi and Urdu, was the predominant language during the Mughal period and used in courts in Northern India.

The English language was introduced under British rule. Prior to the British Raj, ancient words in Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu and Tamil found their way to foreign tongues. The influence of the Indian language on English is vast: jungle, veranda, patchouli, shampoo, pyjamas, loot, bungalow, pundit, thug... the list goes on. South Asian words were brought to the West by trade through the East India Company. The soft wool from picturesque Kashmir is known as the root of the famous cashmere shawl or sweater that we cherish today.


One Hundred Years of Song, Dance and Masala.

Hindi is the official language of the republic of India, and an official language in Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname. Estimates of the number of speakers very considerably, dpending on what speech varieties are subsumed by the term 'Hindi'. Ethnologue gives a figur of 260 million speakers of the language in India alone, give it the fourth largest number of native speakers among languages of the world. The language is directly descended from the classical language of Sanskrit and belongs to the Indo-Aryan language group, a sub-set of the Indo-European family. It has been influenced by various languages, among which are Persian, Turkish, Farsi, Arabic, Portuguese and English. 

(Read more on India and its many languages from the full story available in print. Subscribe to our magazine via here)


Within seconds, a herd of huge, burly yaks stampeded past the school, thundering toward the river. The yaks’ hoof beats shook the ground and momentarily drowned out the voices in the classroom. As the yaks thinned out, the students turned their attention back to the teacher and did not notice the young boy in threadbare clothes and Chinese rubber boots rounding up the stray yaks.

Krit. Wakhan. Afghanistan. July 14, 2012
Krit. Wakhan. Afghanistan. July 14, 2012

The boy should be in school. But like millions of children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, he has to work instead. When children reach school age in these impoverished societies, parents must weigh their two options: work or school. “Everyone has a fierce desire for education, but where there is such abject poverty and survival depends on manual labour, many children are deprived of school,” says Greg Mortenson, co-founder of Central Asia Institute (CAI), a non-profit organisation that built DeGhulaman’s first school.

In DeGhulaman, most adults are illiterate and there are no paying jobs. Families herd sheep, goats and yaks, and grow small plots of grain and vegetables in the arid, high- altitude landscape.

The village children rise before sun-up, fetch water and collect dry yak dung and brush to fuel the fire. They milk the goats, sheep and camels, and later take the animals high into the mountains to graze. Everything is done by hand: ploughing, building, sewing. There are no shortcuts. In the face of such adversity, parents too often have no choice but to keep their children home from school to help support the family.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights unequivocally states that every child has a right to education. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, governments, community leaders and humanitarian groups like CAI are working with communities to make that right a reality. But the work is slow, labour-intensive and expensive.


By Karin Ronnow

Read more in ASIAN Geographic No. 111 Issue 3, 2015.


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ASIAN GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE celebrates Asia in all its rich diversity, from its natural environment to its assortment of wildlife, cultures and scientific discoveries. Based in Singapore, the team has its fingers on the pulse of Asia, with its award-winning contributors scouring the region to bring powerful stories and images to you. Titles under Asian Geographic Magazines include its flagship title ASIAN Geographic, PASSPORT, JUNIOR, and its diving titles, Asian Diver and Scuba Diver.

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