Tuesday, 23 June 2020

The Nature Whisperers of the Sherdukpen Tribe

It was sometime in November 2018 that I stumbled upon an article on the net which mentioned ‘Ethno forestry’ and a unique library run by the Sherdukpen tribe in a remote village in Arunachal Pradesh. These keywords were enough for me to decide that it will be my coming Spring getaway to the Himalayas, a ritual I have been following for a few years now.

You may also like my blog post on the Shamans of Dzongu.

The members of the Garung Thuk- Photo by Lobsang Tashi Thungon
From the article I had the name of the village, of the person who is doing research on Ethno-Forestry and the name of the library. With these keywords, I combed the net for any contact number I could get. After a few days of search, I found a Facebook group in which a number was mentioned related to the activities of the library. I called the number and thankfully it happened to be Lobsang Tashi’s who is the very person whose research I was curious about. He was curious about where I had got the number from since their contact details are not posted anywhere explicitly. He directed me to his cousin Dorjee Thungon, whom I spoke to and he told me that they are in the process of setting up home stays and that I could stay in his sister’s house. Since I had no idea of how the accommodation would be, I requested Dorjee to send me pictures of his sister’s house. He innocently asked me what kind of pictures I wanted since they had not yet got into the ‘business’ of running home stays. I sent him some sample pictures of home stays from the net requesting him to send me pictures of his sister’s house from those angles. In a few days he sent me the pictures and I was bowled over by the surrounding beauty of the house.
The river gurgling past Dorjee's house. I sketched the scenery.

I read a beautiful book about Nature Spirits sitting by the riverside. Can't be a better location than this to read on the subject.
In April 2019 I arrived in Arunachal Pradesh. I first visited Thembang, and then Dirang and then Shergaon was my last stop on my way back. My lovely host Karmu Chotten from Thembang dropped me right at the home stay in Sheragon. Lobsang Tashi welcomed me and took me to Dorjee’s sister, Chang Chom Ano’s home. I was introduced to his father, Shri. Lotu Thungon, a remarkable person about whom I would be writing more.

I was so eager to know more about the culture of the Sherdukpens and how they have been preserving their ancient knowledge and culture.
Everywhere I walked in Shergaon I was met with serene sights like this and few people. 

The ubiquitous cherry blossoms during Spring time. 

The Sherdukpens are a small tribe numbering around 4000 people in the three villages of Shergaon, Rupa and Jigaon in the West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. It is believed that they are descendants of Asu Gyaptong, who belonged to the bloodline of the 7th century the ruler of Tibet, Gyalpo Song-tsan Gampo, who married an Assamese princess. The Sherdukpens call themselves as ‘Sheinji’ and the label of Sherdukpens is probably given to them by those from outside their community. The village was also originally called ‘Shenthuk’ and later changed to Shergaon. They speak a dialect which belongs to the Tibeto-Burmese family of languages. They do not have a script but the Budhhist monks use the Tibetan script for religious purposes. The Sherdukpens were earlier hunters gatherers who also practiced agriculture and traded with neighboring Assam.
Located just below Zengbu Gompa. It got its name from there. Zengbu kho Bang. This used to be the water source for monastery before the pipeline water connection came in. The serpents here is of black colour as per eye witness. Caption text and photo by Dorjee K Thungon.

The Sherdukpens were originally followers of the Bon religion which originated in Tibet before the advent of Buddhism. Tombu Sherap of Tibet was the founder of Bon. Bon religion believes in the presence of a super sensible world and that every object, animate and ‘apparently inanimate’ has a spirit. In other words they are nature worshipers.
Monks offerings prayers to a Lei (sacred grove). Caption text and photo by Dorjee K Thungon.

Female Lei in the middle of the field. Such is the respect ffor the Lei that it is left untouched and offered prayers even though it occupies a substantial space. Photo by Dorjee K Thungon. 
Although Buddhism was introduced to the Sherdukpens in the mid- 18th century and although all Sherdukpens now identify themselves as Buddhists, they still retain their Bon practices. So, they have Buddhist monasteries and Buddhist lamas who perform rituals as well as Shamans or Chizi or Yumin as they are referred to in Sherdukpen language.
When I visited Shergaon, I realized how Nature is an integral part of their lives and how the survival of Bon religion alongside mainstream religion has helped preserve the rich flora and fauna and forests of Arunachal Pradesh.
The Lei beyond the fields.
Firstly, in Shergaon there is the concept of community owned forests, a feature very unique to the North East India. I had visited the only other community owned forest outside the North East in Sarmoli, Kumaon. Within these forests are sacred groves called ‘Lei’ or ‘Lei thung’. The Lei is usually associated with a stone, stream or stone. Lobsang showed me a Lei while exploring the village and surrounding areas. From a distance I paid my respects to the majestic oak trees in the Lei. 

You may like to read my blog on community owned forests in Sarmoli, Kumaon.
The sacred grove-Lei.

The scared spirit of the forest in the form of a serpent resides in the Lei. Dorjee mentions that the one in "Zengbu Kho Bang" upper Gompa in Shergaon is of black colour and smaller in size as per the eye witness. It is forbidden to cut trees, damage flora and fauna in these scared groves or show any disrespect and doing so would cause great calamity on the violator. The person who owns the land adjoining the Lei takes responsibility to protect and preserve it. He may use the fallen oak leaves litter from that area for agriculture and it’s proved to be the best for mulching. 

The Lei in a stone. 
This Lei has an old tree and a stone and is located near the entrance of the old village. Photo by Dorjee K Thungon. 
Respecting the Lei ensures a healthy crop and all round prosperity and this belief is intrinsic in preserving the forests of the area. Dorjee recalls a popular legend associated with the Lei. “Long time back there was devastating flood in the village. The rain would not stop for months. There was great fear of Shergaon being wiped out of human existence. The Leii rose to the occasion. Leii God in the village offered Mithun to the river coming from South and a Pig to the one coming from the east, hence the flood was stopped. Even today when there is prolonged rain, the monks would offer models("tormu") of Mithun and Pig to the direction as done in the legend. This prayer is called "kho-batap".”

Sherdukpen children playing instruments during Kro-Cheykor festival. Photo by Lobsang Tashi Thungon.
A form of tribute is paid to Mother Nature by means of two festivals- The Kro-Cheykor in the Buddhist tradition and the Khiksaba in the Bon tradition. Kro-Cheykor is a celebration in which the entire clan of the Sherdukpens regardless of their age participate with full gusto. The rituals and dance which have been in practice for hundreds of years are kept intact through this festival. The younger generation even receive training on the dance moves and songs for a dedicated period of time from the elders in the months preceding the festival. Traditional food including wild berries, roots and fruit foraged from the forest are served with copious quantities of the locally brewed beer. This is the time when each member of the clan, dresses up in traditional attire, complete with the Sherdukpen hand woven bag and necks bejeweled with big coral and turquoise beads.
Sherdukpen women in their traditional finery heading for the Kro Cheykor festival. Photo by Lobsang Tashi Thungon.

A unique culture in Shergaon during  the Kro-Cheykor puja is to bless the mothers. All newly married ladies among with the other mothers are ask to sit. Honouring them with local wines and juices or teas, chanting Buddhist mantras by the monks, the women folks are being blessed by the entire community on the said day. Some are blessed for their babies while some are blessed for their daughter in laws. Many mother ask people to pray for her children’s to be recruited in some good job while few pray for their families well-being. Unique part about this ritual is that only women are being honored by Monks and village elders, not Men. A deep respect for women folks. Text and photo by Lobsang Tashi Thungon.

Monks playing musical instruments during Kro Cheykor. Photo by Lobsang Tashi Thungon.

Performers during the Kro Cheykor. Photo by Lobsang Tashi Thungon. 
The Kro-Cheykor festival was started by the great monk Doyan Tanzing and commences on the 25th day of the 3rd lunar month and the main procession is taken out on the full moon day of the holy month Saka Dawa, the 4th month. During the 20 day festival, all Nature spirits including the Lei spirits are invoked and their blessings are sought. They are also given a beautiful farewell through a song called Lurjaang in which the first few lines are dedicated to the great monk. After the farewell, the Nature spirits retire to their respective resting places thus bringing an end to the fun and festivities.
Sherdukpen men dressed up for the Bon festival- Khiksaba in Rupa. Photo taken from https://www.facebook.com/Shertukpen/

Offerings made to the Nature Spirits during Khiksaba. Photo taken from https://www.facebook.com/Shertukpen/
Khiksaba is a Bon/Animist celebration of Nature Spirits and also coincides with the harvest celebration. Earlier entire families of Sherdukpens would migrate to Assam for the three freezing months of December, January and February when Shergaon used to be covered in snow. So Khiksaba used to be (and still is) celebrated before the winter migration, which happens on a full moon day as per the lunar calendar usually in the month of October/ November. The Shamans play a major role in offering prayers and performing rituals to appease Nature spirits. All the village people come dressed in colourful traditional attire and there is dance, music and, fun and feasting.

Shri. Tawla Thungon, Bon priest who is considered to be a last priest left in Shergaon village performing a ritual on his grandson. Photo by Lobsang Tashi Thungon.
Coming to the Bon priests of the Sherdukpens who are Shamans, there are two kinds primarily. One is the Chizi, who performs household rituals like house warming, general rituals, prescribing herbal remedies for ailments, etc, and the other kind is called Yumin, who is of a superior kind by virtue of his supernatural powers and the ability to communicate with spirits and the after life. There are no standard scriptures in the Bon religion and all rituals and chants are received by the Chizi or Yumin in a dream or trance state. Both receive their abilities and powers from the Nature Spirit who is called ‘Phu’ in Sherdukpen language. Lobsang says that every Bon priest is assisted by invisible super natural powers locally known as “Zaablo”, Bzampu, Maakpe etc.
At the beginning of every ritual, the Shaman invokes the Nature spirits to assist and guide him. Usually the mountain peaks are guardians and family deities of the tribe people so the mountain spirits are invoked. He requests them for blessings for a good crop, prosperity, etc, and they in turn also offer specific advice for problems.. At the end of a ritual, there is a concluding ceremony to bid farewell of the Nature spirits.
The Shamans, in addition to working with the Nature Spirits or Phu also prepare herbal medicines and treat ailments of all kinds, physical as well as mental. They can feel the pulse of a person and tell the ailment troubling them. There have been umpteen instances of the Shaman sucking out stones and thorns from people who are afflicted by strange problems and spitting them into the water during rituals which has brought them relief.  They also help people locate lost belongings through predictions which they call “Thaanbu”.

The Shaman is bound by a strict code of conduct to maintain his powers. They cannot consume beef, mutton, chicken, pork, eggs, onions, garlic, etc. There is only a specific variety of fish they are allowed to consume. The Shaman either follows his family legacy of Shamanism or receives inspiration in a dream state to become one.
I, unfortunately, could not meet the Shaman in Shergaon as he was very old and with failing health. Luckily I had seen a Shaman ritual in Thembang a few days prior.

Lobsang Tashi on the left and Shri. Lotu Thungon, Dorjee's father on the right discussing about plants.
Coming back to Ethno-forestry, which Lobsang is doing research in, I had a very enriching discussion (he mostly spoke as I had nothing to contribute) with him and Dorjee’s father, Shri. Lotu Thungon, who is a brilliant repository of traditional knowledge of the forest. But let me explain what Ethno-forestry, used interchangeably with Ethno-Botany is. Ethno-forestry is the collective knowledge of flora and some fauna) of the forest of the community through observation and rooted in culture. It is knowledge passed over from one generation to other over hundreds of years of the community. It relies on knowledge embedded in stories, myths, recipes, songs, art forms and rituals of the community. This knowledge conveys the wisdom that human life is interwoven with that of Nature and teaches man how to respect Nature.

Lobsang, as part of his research, in an effort to preserve the ancient knowledge and wisdom of his ancestors, has been talking to and learning from the elders of the village about the secrets of the forest. Dorjee’s father has been a major contributor in this effort. Even as we sat and sipped tea taking in the morning sunlight to keep us warm, Grandpa randomly picked and plucked leaves around us and talked about their medicinal properties. Everything in nature, be it a leaf, flower, twig or bark, has properties beneficial to mankind, only that some are undiscovered yet.

I got these Botanical names from Lobsang and I’m listing a few of these herbs/leaves about which Grandpa spoke about.
While ambling around the village with Lobsang, we spotted a few women collecting the very rare mushroom Marcella (Sherdukpen name is ‘Mubung Shruk’) which sells for an exorbitant price of around Rs 2000 per kg on account of its rarity. But because it’s so scarce people don’t sell but consume it themselves.

The thorny leafed plant is called 'bichchu' (Stinging nettle) and contact with the skin causes severe itching. It's very common on the mountains. And the plant that I am holding is an anti-dote for the itching growing just beside it called dock leaves.

Artemesia plant which is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.

On a trek to a mud fort another day, we chanced upon the dork eared fungus. We gathered it, took it home and just nibbled on it after washing it. Apparently it tastes delicious when cooked with fish. 
From the Artemesia-used as an antibacterial medicine, for ear bleeding, itching, stomach ache, skin disease, swelling, etc, to the Narang which is a type of grassy leaf is made into a paste with oil and relieve pain (for men and animals), to Plantoga Erosa which heals cuts and bruises and when eaten with betel leaves aids in digestion, to a variety of rhododendron which purifies the air and is used for fumigation, to Auxilarus corniculata which curdles milk, to Litsea cubeba  used to treat sleeping disorders, each leaf and herb was a hidden and unsung wonder.
Timur seeds. I had seen this being used in Sarmoli too and bought a packet with me back home. 
Lobsang spoke about a spice called ‘timur’ ( Zanthoxylum armatum) which I had eaten in Sarmoli too. It is sharp and hot much like black pepper. Timur was used in the barter system with Bhutan in the earlier days in exchange for plates, clothes, etc. It is expensive at Rs 800 per kg.  It grows alongside the rive bank and is used for cooking fish too. It’s seed is oily so it’s difficult to sprout. So when birds eat the fruit and poop it germinates. Timur oil also alleviates tooth pain, stomach ailments, cold and fever. There is a belief that if there is a dispute over the tree, it won’t survive long.
Shri. Lotu Thungon explaining about the plants.
Another tree, Pine, which is abundant in the area also has many uses. When the bark is removed, there is a milky layer underneath which is used for deworming. It is only to be eaten fresh and it’s especially juicy during summer. The Pinus valichena, a variety of pine has oil content. When the tree is wounded it secretes a sap which is white like sugar. This is used for cough and cold. Before electricity arrived in the villages and candles were hard to come by, pine sticks rich in their oil content were used as a source of light. 
The pine bark acts as a candle due to its oil content.

If you look closely you will notice creases which are darker due to its oil content.
My host in Thembang Jambey Gyaltso Chetan had mentioned this was the practice in Thembang too. Another semi-liquid sap which is brownish is colour was used as glue. And the soot from the pine candles used to be collected and used as ink. Old pine trees have more oil. Other tree parts used for fumigation were pine, artemesia, juniper and thuja.
Lobsang mentioned a few more uses of the rhododendron tree. It’s wood was used for agricultural implements. When a fish bone gets stuck in the throat, the rhodo flower helps getting it unstuck. When a thorn gets stuck on your feet or fingers, the crushed flowers helps to take it out easily.
I saw plenty of cannabis growing everywhere in Arunachal Pradesh. It is used to treat dysentery in cattle. Either the leaves are boiled in water and then the water is given to the ailing cattle or the leaves are mixed with flour dough and then fed to the them.
A sketch of Dorjee's father.
I sat in awe as Dorjee’s father spoke joyfully and spontaneously about the characteristics of all the plants around us and also some not around us. Suddenly, what I had till then perceived as just another plant acquired a personality of its own and commanded reverence.
I would say Lobsang is doing a commendable job by preserving the ancient knowledge of the forest and the flora around them by documenting these from the elders. This is precious treasure which otherwise would be lost to future generations.
The close bond that the Sherdukpens share with Nature is translated into the various activities they are involved in to conserve the rich forests. I have mentioned them in detail on my write up on Garung Thuk which started as a library but has become a hub for preserving and the continuation of the Sherdukpens’ rich cultural and environmental heritage.

That's me enjoying a flower shower on my last day in Shergaon. 
They may be a small community but they are giants in terms of the pride and love they have for their culture, village and Nature. And I am glad to have experienced that for myself. On my last day there, I sat beneath the cherry tree with full blossom to wrap myself up with the beauty of the place and a farewell flower shower.

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Monday, 24 June 2019

Walking Tour in Amsterdam

People happily co-exist with water in Holland.

As soon as our plan for The Netherlands was finalised and our tickets booked to Amsterdam, I started searching for walking tours of the city. The first link that came up in the search was ‘Free Walking Tours Amsterdam’. Impressed by what I saw on their website, we registered for it. We had landed at around 9 pm in Amsterdam the previous night and the next morning was the walk. Jet lagged in a new country and trying to figure out the transport there got us late by around 5 minutes to the starting point. We saw the group leave and after a jog caught pace with them.

Sorry about this first photo in this post! But this was the first stop!
The window at Condomerie. Photo taken from here
The first stop was at Condomerie, the world’s first condom speciality shop where men can go and get customized fittings of condoms. They also have varieties of lubricants and other products related to sexual pleasure. Now, I looked around and saw that none of the other members in the group were taking any pictures. Having missed the introduction I wasn’t sure if there was a rule of no photography. I walked upto Marius, the tour guide and told him we had missed the introduction and if we were in the right group. He told us sternly that we were 10 minutes late (by now) but kindly permitted us to join the walk.

The next stop was my favourite, Metropolitan-The Pastry Room. We sampled the popular Dutch stroopwaffle and Marius announced that this place had the best hot chocolate. After the tour we came back to have that and trust me having that hot chocolate was like going to heaven and coming back! It was the best I have ever tasted! Thank you Marius.

You may also like my blog post on the 'Pune Heritage Walk'.
This cafe is a must visit.

The heavenly hot chocolate and the Chocolate  Bible. I will follow every word of this book! 

The Dutch speciality- Stroopwaffel. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

We then proceeded to the red light area. Photography is prohibited in this area. Called the De Wallen (the walled area), this is the only place in the world probably where religion and prostitution live side by side. Even while we walked the streets of the De Wallen we heard the tolling of the 14th century Oude Kirk (Old Church) bells. There are around 400 windows in this area from where women stand and cater to customers. One rule is that women cannot solicit on the streets. So, we saw women in small rooms behind glass walls ready for their work.
The red light area. The rooms with bright pink lights on the ground floor are where women stand for customers.Photo taken from here

How did this area become a hub for prostitution? One reason is that women would solicit men in gambling bars and then take them to their own parlours later. The gambling bars thus started to lose customers. So they came up with an innovative idea that suited everyone- they set up parlours with fancy interiors and gradually starting employing prostitutes. Another reason for the flourishing sex trade in this area is that Amsterdam has been a trading port for many centuries where there were many sailors, traders and migrant population. Many centuries ago it was also the time when there was abject poverty. So men offered their wives for some money and a few herrings (which happens to be a favourite street food even now). So to cater to the influx of sailors and traders the red light area came to be established here. One version says that during the 16th century when prostitution was punishable, the women in the trade would slip notes with their confessions under the church doors. The priests would then seal the confessions and pardon their ‘sins’ in exchange for acts of indulgence.
A street sculpture by an anonymous person. 
It’s well known that The Netherlands is one of the few countries where prostitution is legal. But Marius informed us that this does come with its share of problems. Crime has increased behind closed doors and the women who are in the business are mostly from East Europe and 90% of the customers are from outside the country. So it’s a law that is mainly profited by people outside the country. Also the rent for the windows (rooms) has shot up so women are having to work extra to pay the rent.

You may also like to read my blog post on 'A Day in Mysore'.
The statue of the 'belle' to honour all sex workers across the world. Photo taken from Wikipedia.
Thereafter, we stopped at a point and Marius explained how in the 1600's the Dutch were possessed by the 'Tulip mania'. Tulips were introduced to Holland in the late 1500's as an imported item from Turkey and were viewed as exotic flowers which only the affluent could afford. In 1634 the urge to possess tulip bulbs was so great that other industries were almost neglected! The prime variety of tulips could cost as much as $150,000 in today's money. There were even professional traders who would trade tulips on people's behalf. People even purchased tulip bulbs on credit and after taking loans thinking they could make huge profits out of it. But by 1637, prices began to fall and never recovered. Holders of tulips were forced to liquidate and declare bankruptcy.  
Photo taken from here.
As we walked along the canal to our next stop, Marius explained that Amsterdam is part of the 1/3 of Holland that lies below sea level and is slowly sinking. The Netherlands is called so for this very reason- 1/3 of it lies below sea level. Through a sophisticated and complex anti-flood system of dikes, pumps (windmills earlier) and sand dunes along the coast the city is kept from flooding. The whole of Amsterdam is built on poles drilled into the wet soil. And these poles and buildings are around 200-700 years old. He pointed out to buildings which are tilted or leaning forward. Wood rots over a period of time and especially so when water levels drop and the wood is exposed to air. Hence, the buildings lining the canals are mostly crooked. There is an agency appointed by the government to check water levels regularly and to maintain records to repair and reinforcements.

We then stopped at Den Waag, the oldest standing non-religious structure built in 1488 which now houses a cafĂ©. But it has witnessed many a historical event. It was constructed as a city gate as an extension to the walls of Amsterdam, but when Amsterdam expanded beyond the walls, the walls were demolished and De Waag became a stand alone structure.  It was put to use as a weigh house (where goods were weighed) prior to the 1800’s when there was an absence of standard units of measurement. For some time after that it served as an anatomical theatre where surgeons performed well…surgeries! The legendary Dutch painter Rembrandt depicted De Waag in his 1632 painting titled, ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.’ In the early 19th century it was the site for punishments and Marius showed us a painting of a guillotine in front of the building. As with the whole of Amsterdam, De Waag is also slowly sinking due to the porous soil and repair and maintenance work is routinely carried out.
Den Waag

A painting of Den Waag with the guillotine. Photo taken from here

Marius showing a photo of the Rembrandt's painting, 'The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp'.
Next stop was the erstwhile headquarters of the Dutch East India Company or the VOC. The VOC was a formidable megacorporation formed by competing Dutch trading companies in 1602. Its main purpose was trade, exploration and colonization of East Asia throughout the 17th and 18th century.  Being surrounded by water it is no surprise that the Dutch were pioneers in exploration by sea and subsequently cartography. The Dutch discovered Australia in 1606 and had named it Nova Holland. And also New Zealand which they named after Zeeland, a village in Holland. Similar is the case with New York which was called New Amsterdam originally and Brooklyn gets in name from Breuckelen, a village in Holland. We visited the National Maritime Museum later where we saw maps dating back to the early and mid-16th century where only the west and north of Australia and shown on the map because the rest of it had not been explored! The VOC was a multi-national company and global employer, probably the first of its kind and in its prime it built and owned 1500 ships and employed 25,000 people out of which 3000 were in Holland. It was a forerunner of all modern corporations and even the British East India Company is believed to have been built on this model. But due to socio-economic changes in Europe and lack of proper financial management the company shut down in 1800. It was acquired by the University of Amsterdam in 1965 and now houses the Department of Sociology.
The VOC building from the inside. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

A coin issued by VOC in 1789.

Next to the VOC is the smallest house in Europe with an area that’s 2 meters wide and 5 meters deep built in 1738.  Marius informed that there used to be a tax imposed on the width of the house so to escape that the owners kept it at a bare minimum of 2 meters. It’s now the smallest tea house in Europe with just one single table.
The smallest Tea house.

During the walk, we noticed in many places three X’s marked. Marius explained that it represents the 3 dangers that afflicted Old Amsterdam- fire, floods and the Black plague.  We saw these marks everywhere-on buildings, on benches in the promenade, on flags, etc.
3 X's

Another one.

The next was not exactly a stop in the walk but more of a cultural perspective. Dutch people have funny names. You will understand why when the surnames are translated into English. As a disclaimer Marius stated that we not get offended by his language and that he is merely explaining what the surnames mean! Here I have listed the less offensive names. It all started when Napoleon Bonaparte had occupied Holland in 1811 and for the purpose of census made it mandatory that everyone pick a surname/family name which was not a common practice for the Dutch.  They thought it would be a temporary measure and picked offensive and comical surnames as a way of rebelling against their French occupiers. So you have surnames such as these:
·         Naaktgeboren (Born naked)
·         Poepjes (Little shit)
·         Kaasenbrood (cheese and bread)
·         Rotmensen (Rotten people)
·         Suikerbuik (Sugarbelly)
·         Spring in 't Veld (Jump in the Field)
·         Schooier (Beggar)
·         Scheefnek (Crooked-neck)
·         Uiekruier (Onion-crier)
·          Niemand (Nobody)

We then stopped at the oldest bank of Holland. In the 15th and 16th century there was a constant tussle between the Catholics and Protestants with the latter overthrowing the former in 1580. The Protestants closed all the Catholics monasteries and convents and the Magdalena Convent (formerly a Catholic convent) became a house for the poor. In 1614, a municipal pawn broker, Stadsbank van Lening purchased the former convent and converted it into a bank where the poor could get credit at fair rates instead of taking loans from private lenders at exorbitant rates. An architect was hired in 1616 to give the convent a makeover and he was the one who designed a relief over the door depicting 3 women pledging their possessions.

Have you read about the 116 year old Kulfi shop in Delhi?
The oldest bank in Holland. 

Earlier, laws pertaining to the construction of buildings were very strict and even windows were taxed. So we saw a few buildings with the window frame but no windows. Opposite this is another wall where artefacts and objects salvaged and retrieved from the devastating 1953 floods are displayed.
A window frame with no window. 

Artefacts salvaged after the 1953 flood and displayed here. 

We concluded the tour at this point. As the name of this tour suggests (Free Walking Tours Amsterdam), there is no upfront payment for this and it’s purely on a tip basis. 
The walking tour map plotted by us. 

We checked with our Airbnb host about how much an appropriate tip amount would be and payed that. I would highly recommend this tour as it gives a wonderful insight into the history, culture and quirks of Amsterdam in just 2 hours!

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