Buddhist monk smoking a cigar

Well before dawn, hundreds of monks, old and young, queue at Ananda Temple during the Ananda Pagoda Festival in Bagan, Myanmar. Around the temple, thousands of pilgrims have congregated and set up camp. A hive of activity, including worshipping, cooking, and shopping for trinkets, surrounds the temple. Here, a Buddhist monk smokes a cigar.

Hindu priest relaxing

Wandering around Hpa An in Myanmar, we made our way through the courtyard into the large Hindu temple. Dark but brightly decorated inside, with the main door overlaid with intricately patterned brass or bronze, this was likely the main (perhaps only) Hindu temple in town. It was quiet and I was pretty much free to walk around the place. Here, a Hindu priest relaxes by a window, reading a magazine.

The chowkidar

Northern Afghanistan, near the ruins of the ancient city of Balkh, in the region once known as Bactria.

Balkh was once a majestic city, and one with an illustrious history. It was likely a base from which the Aryan civilisation spread through the region. Zoroaster is claimed to have been born here, and it is where Alexander the Great married Roxanne, a local Bactrian. A place once renowned for its Buddhist monasteries and stupas, a place the Arabs called the “Mother of all cities”. But after centuries of war and climate change, those days are long gone.

The remains of probably the oldest mosque in Central Asia can be found here, itself having been built on the ruins of Buddhist and Zorastrian temples. This is where I came across the site’s caretaker (chowkidar). He allowed us access to the ruins and to roam the area.

The chowkidar