Ashura celebrations. Kashan, Iran, 2018.
       
     
Men playing a game of nard. Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 2019.
       
     
Bar Mitzvah. Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, Israel, 2018.
       
     
Traditional kitchen. Near Jaisalmer, India, 2016.
       
     
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, 2015.
       
     
Deir es-Sultan. Jerusalem, Israel, 2018.
       
     
Sleeping on rooftops. Jodhpur, India, 2016.
       
     
Boy with cymbals. Aran, Iran, 2018.
       
     
Navruz festival. Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 2019.
       
     
Turkish sweets. Istanbul, Turkey, 2015.
       
     
Morning meditation. Varanasi, India, 2016.
       
     
Morning walk. Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 2019.
       
     
Sleeping Monk. Jerusalem, Israel, 2018.
       
     
Toorji Ka Jhalara. Jodhpur, India, 2016.
       
     
Cleaning rice. Matanga, Madagascar, 2013.
       
     
Fun at Hazrati Imam. Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 2019.
       
     
Ashura celebrations. Kashan, Iran, 2018.
       
     
Ashura celebrations. Kashan, Iran, 2018.

When I arrived in Iran in September 2018, I first visited Kashan. It was on the day of Ashura, the commemoration of the death of Husayn ibn Ali, the third Shia Imam. People were clad in black, giving out free food (also to strangers like me) and remembering the martyrdom of Husayn in various ways, including public processions, striking the chest and self-flagellation. But the most memorable scene was this burning of a tent which represented the destruction of Husayn’s camp and his death at the Battle of Karbala. The tent went up in flames in mere seconds while the observers were reliving the suffering of their beloved Imam. Ashura is celebrated mostly by Shia Muslims, which are a majority in Iraq, Iran, Bahrain and Azerbaijan.

Men playing a game of nard. Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 2019.
       
     
Men playing a game of nard. Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 2019.

Nard is a popular board game in Iran, the Caucasus, Uzbekistan and Russia. I usually had to walk the side streets to find people playing nard. The old days of tea-sipping Uzbek men playing board games at Bukhara’s Lyab-i Hauz are all but gone in favor of a more tourism oriented management of historical city centers. There are still some chess players around the Chorsu Antiques Bazaar in Tashkent, but otherwise you have to get out of the touristic zones to get a glimpse of such traditions.

More photos from Uzbekistan:

Samarkand / Navruz / Nuratau / Bukhara / Khiva / Tashkent / Collection

Bar Mitzvah. Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, Israel, 2018.
       
     
Bar Mitzvah. Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, Israel, 2018.

When Jewish boys reach the age of 13, they become accountable for their actions and bear their own responsibility for ritual law, tradition and ethics. From this moment on they are able to participate in all areas of Jewish community law and may lead prayer and other religious services in the family and the community. This coming of age is celebrated with the Bar Mitzvah ritual, part of which is shown in this picture taken at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, where men and women are separated by a fence.

Traditional kitchen. Near Jaisalmer, India, 2016.
       
     
Traditional kitchen. Near Jaisalmer, India, 2016.

I have taken this photograph near Jodhpur, in a village of the great Rajasthani Thar Desert. It depicts a young woman in her traditional kitchen, dressed in a sari of the same tones as the room around her. The fireplace is low on the ground - people in many Indian households also eat on the floor, they don't use chairs and tables. With many cultures dissapearing due to the rising western style of living, I'm asking myself: how long will we still be able to witness such scenes?

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, 2015.
       
     
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, 2015.

One of the best moments of my life happend during a night in Salar de Uyuni. I woke up early and walked from the edge of the salt desert for about one hour in search of these hexagonal patterns. At first there was only an endless plane 4000 meters above sea level with nothing in sight. It was then when I realized the total silence, being surrounded only by salt, darkness and stars. Those few minutes of serenity touched the deepest parts of my soul: here I am, a small speck in the universe, able to participate in this vast creation of life.

Deir es-Sultan. Jerusalem, Israel, 2018.
       
     
Deir es-Sultan. Jerusalem, Israel, 2018.

The Monastery of the Sultan, located on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is one of several holy sites in the area which are contested by various Christian denominations. It was built by Ethiopian Christians in the 12. century. Five hundred years later, during a short period with no Ethiopian monks living in Jerusalem, it was given to the Copts and is since then the source of conflict between the two Orthodox Churches. The Status Quo, a 250-year old understanding between religious communities, does not help in resolving this issue any time soon. Nearby is also the ninth station of Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifiction.

Sleeping on rooftops. Jodhpur, India, 2016.
       
     
Sleeping on rooftops. Jodhpur, India, 2016.

People in Rajasthan are frequently sleeping on rooftops, especially during the hot dry months before the monsoon season. Many of them can't afford air-conditioners in their homes and with temperatures rising as high as 50°C (122°F) it's easy to see why spending the night outdoors is a much better idea. These houses are located in the Blue City just under Mehrangarh Fort.

Boy with cymbals. Aran, Iran, 2018.
       
     
Boy with cymbals. Aran, Iran, 2018.

The Shrine of Hilal ibn Ali, son of the First Imam, is a colourful mausoleum just outside of Kashan. It gets especially lively during Ashura, when a lot of people come to this holy site to participate in the celebrations.

Navruz festival. Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 2019.
       
     
Navruz festival. Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 2019.

Navruz, also known as the Persian New Year, is celebrated in Central and Western Asia, the Caucasus, Black Sea Basin and the Balkans. It happens on the first day of spring - the first day of the Iranian calendar. As in so many other countries, it is a national holiday in Uzbekistan. My first wish was to go to the countryside to observe a game of kupkari, a match between two teams of horse riders fighting for a headless goat carcass. But I changed my plans at the last moment and stayed in Samarkand, where I observed various traditions, dancing, music, short musicals, martial arts and parades.

More photos from Uzbekistan:

Samarkand / Navruz / Nuratau / Bukhara / Khiva / Tashkent / Collection

Turkish sweets. Istanbul, Turkey, 2015.
       
     
Turkish sweets. Istanbul, Turkey, 2015.

Window of a bakery shop in Istiklal Caddesi. The seller is pointing towards a pile of baklava, while people inside and outside are admiring the tasty looking pastry. Turkey is well known for its desserts, including Turkish delight and halva.

Morning meditation. Varanasi, India, 2016.
       
     
Morning meditation. Varanasi, India, 2016.

On the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi, the holiest city in India, you can see countless sadhus during all hours of day. Some are bathing in the holy river, others are praying on the steps of ghats, and some are calmly reading and meditating as masses of people go by.

Morning walk. Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 2019.
       
     
Morning walk. Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 2019.

Uzbekistan is known for its architecture, particulary mosques, minarets and madrasahs. I believe that taking an early morning walk is the best way of sightseeing, especially in old silk road towns like Bukhara or Khiva. On the right we see the portal of Ulugbek madrasah, in front is one of the city’s covered bazaars and behind it the famous Kalon minaret.

More photos from Uzbekistan:

Samarkand / Navruz / Nuratau / Bukhara / Khiva / Tashkent / Collection

Sleeping Monk. Jerusalem, Israel, 2018.
       
     
Sleeping Monk. Jerusalem, Israel, 2018.

The Status Quo is an agreement between different Christian communities in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic and other Churches have a claim to several holy sites in these cities and that is the reason for tensions between them. Some places are divided by time of usage and others - like this chapel with the sleeping Greek Orthodox monk - by location. By far the most interesting place is of course the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Toorji Ka Jhalara. Jodhpur, India, 2016.
       
     
Toorji Ka Jhalara. Jodhpur, India, 2016.

Toorji Ka Jhalara is a stepwell in Jodhpur. In the past, these stepwells ensured availability of water during the period of drought, but today they are only monuments to behold, or - as seen here - used as a pool for children to have fun. Most of this kind of stepwells are located in Rajasthan, the largest and dryest region of India - courtesy of the vast Thar Desert.

Cleaning rice. Matanga, Madagascar, 2013.
       
     
Cleaning rice. Matanga, Madagascar, 2013.

Life in Madagascar depends heavily on rice. When harvest comes, people have to separate rice from sand and dust. The ones who do most of the work are usually women and children. They have to pick out sand by hand, then throw the rice into the air so the wind blows off the dust.

Fun at Hazrati Imam. Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 2019.
       
     
Fun at Hazrati Imam. Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 2019.

Happy moments on a Sunday afternoon at Khast Imam Square. Kite flying is a major free time activity in the Middle East and Central Asia. Other kids are playing soccer, driving bikes, roller skating or just having a nice time with their friends and parents.

More photos from Uzbekistan:

Samarkand / Navruz / Nuratau / Bukhara / Khiva / Tashkent / Collection