Michael Biach Michael Biach

Michael Biach is a travel & documentary photographer and writer who began his work in 2012. Since then his major interest lies in documenting social issues, labor conditions and human-interest stories in general. He recently reported of human struggle in post-war countries such as Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo or Sri Lanka, Bangladesh’s garment industry, religious ceremonies in the Balkans and Southeast Asia and social grievances in Roma communities.

His photographs have been published in many print and online publications, including National Geographic, ZEIT Online, GEO Saison, Vice, Al-Jazeera, Die Presse, Wiener Zeitung, Weekendavisen, Spiegel Online, Daily Mail, Ouest-France, ZDF, Die Furche, profil, Roads & Kingdoms, Nettavisen and many others. His work has been exhibited in Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, London and Bosnia.

“I am fascinated in documenting other people’s lives, their living and working conditions, simple moments of everyday life. I always treat people with respect, try to never bother them or photograph them out of a voyeuristic view. If you are respectful, if you first get in touch with people and try to talk to them, to understand them, before you grab your camera and do your photographs, then your images will be honest. I always try to improve my ability in empathy, so I am sure my pictures will get more authentic.”

Collections created

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Krizna Jama - Slovenia's Majestic Cave
Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
15 Feb 2019

Križna Jama is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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DEEP BENEATH THE CITY – EXPLORING BUD...
Budapest
By Michael Biach
25 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

 

 

Budapest is divided by the river Danube into two parts. The hills of Buda are situated on the west bank while Pest is on the flat east side. The cave system of Molnár János is located in the old town of Buda. Its healing thermal waters have been used for centuries and flow into a little pond called Lake Malom (malom means mill in Hungarian). Divers have found Roman constructions on the ground of the lake. Long time nobody knew where the water was coming from. In the 19th century an enthusiastic pharmacist named János Molnár started to investigate the dry areas of the cave and analysed the water of the spring. He was the first to think that there might be a huge underwater cave system under the Buda hills. First underwater explorations started in the 1950s, in the 70s and 80s divers successfully explored and charted 400 meters of the underwater cave. In 2002 a new passage and a whole new cave system were found after divers drilled through a wall into a huge chamber. Today several kilometers of the caves have been explored.

Today scientists regularly explore the cave, mapping the system and analyzing water and mineral samples. Even three new species of the Niphargus have been found inside the warm thermal waters.

Molnár János is also open to well-trained cave divers from all around the world making it a once-in-a-lifetime experience as it is the only natural cave system beneath a metropolis.

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Landmines: Bosnia's Silent Hazard
Sarajevo
By Michael Biach
28 Apr 2015

Almost two decades after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended the country remains threatened by more than 120,000 landmines, buried in the ground along former frontlines. As urban areas are meanwhile largely cleared people living in the remote landside of Bosnia are permanently threatened by the silent hazard near their homes.

Today nearly 1,250 square kilometers of Bosnia - about 2.5% of its total land mass - are still profoundly mined and not all areas are already known. Bosnia was supposed to be mine-free in 2009 but had to postpone the date to 2019, an enthusiastic goal that still seems very unrealistic. Bosnia seems to have the personal and technical capacity to demine the country but lacks in financial funds. The country needs an estimated amount of 40 million Euros every year to be mine-free until the end of this decade. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Center (BHMAC) is responsible for non-technical survey of contaminated areas, planning, quality assurance and coordination of mine action activiites in the country. Demining activities are conducted by 27 accredited demining organizations including the highly efficient Norwegian People's Aid (NPA).

Living next to mine fields in rural areas has been accepted as a fact of life. Since Bosnia's three-year war ended in 1995 landmines have killed more than 600 people and injured about 1,700 individuals while the total number of victims including those killed or injured during the war is almost 10,000.

FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE

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Srebrenica: 20 Years After the Genocide
Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
By Michael Biach
24 Apr 2015

It took Hajrija Selimovic (not pictured) 19 years to bury her dead husband and her two sons. "It was July 11th, 1995 when I last saw my boys Nermin, 19, and Samir, 25, and my husband Hasan".  On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb troops led by Ratko Mladic stormed through the UN peacekeeping enclave into the city of Srebrenica, executing over 8,000 Bosniaks, mostly men and boys. Many other hundred inhabitants tried to flee through enemy lines to reach the safe haven of Tuzla, Bosniak territory. At least 8,372 men and boys were killed in the Srebrenica area and burried in so called primary grave sites. Soon after the massacre the perpetrators tried to cover their traces of this genocide and opened the mass graves in order to rebury the dead all over Bosnian Serb territory in so called secondary mass graves. During this attempt many dead bodies were "broken" leading to the fact that some parts of a body went to one grave and other parts to other graves. It took several years after the war to identify the most of these 300 secondary mass graves. In 1997 the ICMP was set up in order to search and identify the dead people from Srebrenica. But it wasn't before 2002 until the first identification was possible through DNA.

Dragana Vučetić (pictured), Senior Forensic Anthropologist at the International Comitee for Missing Persons (ICMP): "The greatest problem we have is that we do not find a complete body in one grave. So we have to identify each and every bone. Sometimes we find human remains of one person in up to four secondary mass grave sites." That is what makes the work so complicated.

After bones are found - either in mass graves or above the surface (pictured) - these bones are collected by the ICMP. Dragana Vučetić then cuts out a piece of the bone (pictured) and sends it to Tuzla's Identification Coordination Division (ICD) where they try to extract DNA. The ICD is also responsible for the collecting of Blood samples by relatives. The closer the relatives are the better the chance to identify someone. Blood samples are stored in the ICD (pictured).

If a blood sample - like the one from Hajrija Selimovic - fits with DNA from newly found bones the ICMP is contacting the relatives. Hajrija Selimovic: "The ICMP called me and told me that they found my husband, but they don't know where his head is". It isn't difficult to understand that Hajrija didn't let the body of her husband be reburied but wanted to wait until the head was found. "I got another call", Hajrija says. "they have found my son! But the problem was they didn't know which son it was". Hajirija had to wait another two years before also her other son had been identified. In 2013 she was able to put her husband (with his head) to rest... In 2014 she had to attend (and didn't want to be photographed during the burial, acutally was just lying next to fence during the ceremony) the burial again and had to lay her two boys to rest! It took her 19 years!

Jasmin Agovic was the head of press at that time (in 2014) and told me following thing: "Imagine you are one of these women and you know that your brothers, your husband, your sons are dead. You can't be sure because their dead bodies haven't been found yet. Then you receive a call and someone tells you that they have found some bones and that one of your sons is dead. But they don't know which one, they can't tell you. And they haven't found everything of the human remains. On which point do you decide to burry your loved-ones or wait if the maybe find more bones. As an ICMP forensic team member you aks yourself if you identify onother bone: Should I call the women and tell them I have found one more bone or do I wait until I find more bones and they can burry their loved-ones. When do I call them and when do I not? What if they die in the meantime and you weren't able to give them their dead sons' bodies back?"

The process of contacting family members is a psychologically stressful one from start to finish, as survivors re-live the agony of the loss while deciding to hold a funeral immediately or to wait until all the remains have been found. 

Not all of the dead are found in mass graves. Many were killed while they were trying to flee the enclave through Bosnian Serb enemy lines. Zijad Ibrić (pictured) who fled the enclave on Juy 11th, 1995 through enemy lines and survived is now working as a deminer in the region for Norwegian People's Aid. The area surrounding Srebrenica is still scattered with landmines and UXO. No anti-mine-vehicle and no dogs can operate in that area. Only the deminers themselves. And they have to see and collect the bones as well as clothings and personal belongings for ICMP for identification.

Zijad Ibrić: "I was fleeing Srebrenica with my younger brother on July 11th. My younger brother didn't make it. One moment he was next to me, the other he was vanished. Bosnian Serbs were coming and telling us they are refugees themselves and we should come out of the woods. Many did. They were arrested and later murdered. They also were firing granates on us. Many died. But today I am not angry. Norwegian People's Aid is a multi-ethnical family. I am working with Serbs and Croats. It wasn't my collegues who killed someone. It was those criminals and politicans at that time. Not today. Today I come back here and I am happy for each bone I find, for each individula I can help to be identified through ICMP. That is what I am doing today."

Dragana Vučetić (pictured): "Sometimes it is not easy to get useful DNA out of bones that were lying on the ground for nearly 20 years. We have some bones in our mortuary (pictured) we were trying to identify for four or five years now." But technology increases. In Sarajaevo ICMP now runs hyper-modern cubes that are able to multiply short DNA parts so that the DNA can be compared with the blood samples and so they were able to identify more and more people.

Every year on July 11th, the anniversary, a commemoration is happening in Potocari (the place where the UN Dutch peacekeeping bataillong was stationed - pictured) and all the dead who were identified in the last year are burried. 6,241 victims have been buried so far during the annual anniversaries of the massacre in Potocari, Bosnia. The number of burials decrease every year. While burrying their relatives (burial of Nermin, 19, and Samir, 25 - pictured / more images available including the names on graves and coffins) the women cry and collapse and faint (pictured). But finally they were able to say goodbye to their loved-ones. Only because of the work of ICMP.

More quotes and pictures available on request.

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True Faith, No Blood - The Howling De...
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michael Biach
25 Feb 2015

Each year members of the Rifai'i brotherhood gather to celebrate a special ritual: At its peak, after the faithful have reached a trancelike state, they start to pierce their cheeks and other parts of their body with long century-old metal nails. Blood only flows rarely.

Every year the members of a Kosovo Sufi order repeat their centuries-old ceremony in a sleepy side street in the Ottoman-style town of Prizren. Howling men call the name of God and dance and bounce in ecstasy until – at the peak of the ceremony – they are piercing their cheeks with antique ritual tools.

Sheikh Adrihusein Sheh is the religious leader of the Rifai'i, a Sufi brotherhood founded in the 12th century near Basra in todays Iraq. The community is celebrating Nowruz (Nevruz), the beginning of spring and therefore the New Year. The day also marks the birthday of Imam Ali, the cousin and son in law of the Prophet Mohammed. According to Shia belief Mohammed has chosen Ali as his successor and assigned him with the leadership of the Muslim nation. For Sufis Ali is the starting point of a continuous transmission of the spiritual heritage of Allah's Prophet Muhammad.

In the tekke, the prayer house of the Sufis, believers start to clean ancient religious tools, some of them are long, richly ornamented metal nails with a wooden handle. At the height of the feast the Sheikh will bless these ancient tools and gradually pierce the cheeks of the faithful believers. No blood will flow and scars will be gone in time. At least in theory.  

“For some outsiders, our ceremony is just humbug”, remarks Sheikh Adrihusein sternly, “but the ritual is leading to the purification of the heart of a believer und gives him the opportunity to obtain to know God”. His criticism applies not only to people of other or no faith, but also to Muslims in their own country.

The Sufi’s mythical interpretation of Islam and their own sight of spirituality often turn them into religious outsiders in Islam world. "Sufism is a way of life and an ever-lasting journey of perfection," says the Sheikh. He illustrates his statement with a parable: "First arose the man, but without a soul, similar to a vessel without anything in it. This form must be filled with wisdom and love”. For the Sufi master his way of religion is a true form of worship, based on a traditional method of enlightenment, which has carried the haqiqah – the basic truth – through the time.

The Sheikh is the spiritual leader of the Rifai'i Order. The title is hereditary according to the tradition of the Sufis. He got it transferred from his father after he died. Since his birth, he was prepared and he will pass on the title after his death to his eldest son.

Only those are allowed to lead the order who can prove an unbroken chain of transmission, starting from the Prophet Mohammed himself. Each Order has ancient scrolls on which the genealogy of this pedigree has been written down. "The role of the individual," explains Sheikh " is to fight against the false self and to walk the path of perfection." Aid is given to the seeker from the order leader, the Sheikh himself, who helps him to take the right path and to realize the Divine Presence of Allah.

Sufis are also called Dervish, which is derived from the word dari – door – and means that someone goes from door to door. Dervishes were known to be associated with criticism of an overly materialistic society for centuries. The first followers of Sufism were characterized by a strong ascetic way of life and by material poverty. Often they were therefore also called faqir - the poor in front of Allah.

"Every divine attribute is hidden in the human heart", expresses the Sheikh almost self-evident. The dhikr, the communitie’s prayer ritual is a tool to make the Dervishes aware of the constant presence of God. A compulsory procedure for the dhikr, which means ‘remembrance of God’ does not exist in Sufism. Each Order has its own method. The trance dance of the Mevlevi order is probably best known. Its members are often referred to as rotating or dancing dervishes. The prayer ritual of the howling dervishes of Rifai'i Order is loud and ecstatic. Although they may not be more different, both forms of dhikr serve the same purpose.

In the meantime, the tekke has filled with more than seventy believers. The dervishes are wrapped in black robes with sleeveless white vests and a Fez-like hat. Crowded together, they sit side by side on the floor, then the ceremony begins. Together, the dervishes constantly repeat the name of God. Therefore they are not limited purely using the word Allah, but make use of the 99 names of God mentioned in the Quran.

Doing so, the Dervishes start very slowly while sitting but will raise their voice and get into an upright position after a while.

After about an hour of swaying the dervishes start to move their upper bodies up and down, again and again. They are accompanied by drum sounds. Still they are repeating the name of God. Inevitably, the believers fall into a trance-like, ecstatic state.

Close to the ”awareness of God in their own hearts”, it's time for the ultimate proof of faith.

"Only those who manage to separate the spirit from the body, are able to recognize the Divine", reveals the Sheikh. The youngest Dervishes, about eight to twelve years old, stand in a row in front of the Sheikh. In his hand he holds a long needle.

For some of the boys it is their first Nowruz ritual. They have no fear and act excited and proud. The Sheikh speaks a blessing, leads the iron needle slowly through his mouth and moistens it with his tongue. With his left hand he grabs the boy's right cheek and pierces it with a quick tug.

The boy smiles and makes room for the next one.

The repetitive confession of God as well as the sway of the upper body is still ongoing in the meantime. Now the adult Dervishes have their turn and the Sheikh now graps for the large iron nails, many of which are centuries old.

The ritual is repeated; the dhikr is at its peak. About a dozen of the Dervishes have already had been pierced their cheeks. With the left hand they hold the ornate wooden knob and continue to sway and repeat the name of God.

Two older, much more experienced-looking dervishes enter the center of the Tekke.

They will carry out the spiritual ritual themselves. Dancing they walk through the room from one corner to another, under constant rhythmic accompaniment by drumming and singing of the other dervishes. Again and again they stop and leave the pointed iron rods revolve on their necks below the larynx. The metal chain on the knob is swirling through the air.

When the music and the prayers seem to be more and more maniac, the two dervishes take the metal nails and stab them laterally in the abdomen above the hips.

The ecstatic noises decrease apparently, but no one is startled. The dervishes are experienced and know how far they can go. The sheikh steps forward. In his hand he holds a heavy iron bar, a hammer. Several times he swings it onto the bars in the bellies of the dervishes.

One of the two lets himself fall to his knees. The expression in his eyes gives an idea of ​​the ecstasy in which it is located. Calm and in control, he gets rid of the metal nail, which is in his stomach.

With the right hand one of the dervishes holds the knob of the metal nail, while he is putting the other hand on his face. Then he pierces both of his cheeks with a fast move.

It seems that the Dervish, due to his trance, does not even feel the pain. Exhausted, he breathes out several times, then he is quickly on and joins the others, invokes the name of God and fluctuates in time with his upper body.

"It is by no means a kind of self-flagellation", assures one of the dervishes. "The one who can separate the spirit from his body, is able to notice God and follow the path to perfection" he implores.

The believers stand again in front of the Sheikh.

Slowly he removes the nails from the cheeks of the dervishes. With thumb and forefinger he is pressing on the sore openings. This shall help that after removing of the instruments no blood will flow and the injuries will heal quickly.

"Through this ritual we show that our faith is sincere and Allah recognizes and protects us - when we recognize him," says the Sheikh again.

In fact, the wounds do not seem to bleed and scars are searched in vain in the faces of elders. Also, none of the faithful seemed to be plagued by pain.

Then one of the dervishes pushes through the crowd, pulls out a tissue and gives it to a boy.

Some blood has flown in the end.

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Turkey's Camel Wrestling Championship
Selcuk
By Michael Biach
17 Jan 2015

January 16-18, 2015

Selcuk, Turkey

In January each year there is the annual Camel Wrestling Championship held in Selcuk in Turkey. The event puts together two bull (male) camels with a female camel on heat nearby. The camels fight it out for the female, leaning on each other to push the other one down. It is most common in the Aegean region of Turkey, but is also found in the Marmara and Mediterranean regions of that country. There are an estimated 1200 camel wrestlers (or Tulu) in Turkey, bred specially for the competitions.

A camel can win a wrestling match in three ways: By making the other camel retreat, scream, or fall. The owner of a camel may also throw a rope into the field to declare a forfeit if he is concerned for the safety of his animal.

Camels wrestle with others in their same weight class. Camels have different tricks, and contest organizers match camels with different skills. Some camels wrestle from the right and some from the left; some trip the other with foot tricks ("çengelci"), and some trap their opponent's head under their chest and then try to sit ("bağcı"); some push their rivals to make them retreat ("tekçi").

A camel wrestling event involves considerable pomp and ceremony. The camels are decorated, and participate in a march through town followed by musicians on the day before the event. The actual wrestling can be somewhat underwhelming to someone not familiar with the intricacies, although onlookers must often flee from an oncoming camel that is retreating in defeat from his opponent.

In the heat of the tournament, camels spew foamy saliva in their excitement. Additionally, camels are retromingent animals, and so spectators would be advised to beware not only of flying saliva but of flying urine as well.

Popularity of the sport is declining, as the relative costs of caring for such an animal rises, as well as concern for the animals' welfare.

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In Search of Poland's Black Gold
Walbrzych, Poland
By Michael Biach
29 Dec 2014

(FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST)

For centuries coal mining has been the most important industry in Walbrzych, Poland. However, in the 1980s many of the coal mines became unprofitable. With Poland's transformation from a state-directed to a free-market economy in the 1990s, nearly all of the coal mines in Lower Silesia were shut down. Thousands of people became jobless.

The area still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country despite new industry settling in the area. It didn't take very long until the jobless miners in the area started to dig for coal on their own. The business is dangerous and illegal. Tunnels leading as deep as ten or fifteen meters below the ground are only protected by wood and sandbags. Inside, people dig for coal the same way they did centuries ago, by hand.

Police regularly arrest illegal coal miners and confiscate their equipment, so most people dig by night to avoid police control. Not only the well-educated former miners search for 'black gold,' but also young and unexperienced jobless men risk their freedom and their lives to make a couple of Euros a night by selling illegal coal to residents.

Every year several people die after tunnels collapse. Roman Janiszek is a former coal miner, now an illegal miner who has founded a committee that is trying to make the activities legal and also to keep track of the situation in the outskirts of Walbrzych. Roman also points to the fact that people not only lost their jobs and privileges but also their social position with the closing of the mines. Once prideful coal miners, people like Roman Janiszek now work illegally every night to make a living.

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Stolen Beauty - Tribal Tattoos of Bur...
Chin State
By Michael Biach
26 Oct 2014

The isolated mountains of Burma’s Chin state are home to a number of hill tribes that have been separated from modern world for centuries. Chin women used to follow the thousand-year-old tradition of tattooing their faces. The ritual, officially banned by the government in the 1960s, doesn’t attract modern Chin girls anymore. Soon the thousand-year-old tradition could be gone forever.

According to an old legend a Burmese king once traveled to the remote hill regions of Chin state, which was known for its beautiful women. The King then displaced a Chin girl, brought her back to his palace and made her his wife. The girl, desperate and unhappy with its situation, finally managed to escape and tried to make her way back home, always afraid that the king could eventually capture her again. In order not to get caught again she disguised herself by making incisions in her beautiful face using a knife.

“It was like she was stealing her own beauty in order to protect herself from the king,” Daw San recounts the old fairytale. The woman in her sixties belongs to the Muun tribe, one of the few Chin sub-tribes that originally practiced the tradition of facial tattoos. “Every little child knows this story,” she further explains with a smile. Anthropologists believe that it is more plausible that not the king but hostile invaders from other tribes kidnapped the girls. The tattoos then would allow them to identify from which tribe a girl originates. Myth or truth, the fact is that the adoption of facial tattoos became part of Chin culture nearly a thousand years ago and since then has been passed from one generation to the other. Until recently at least.

Today the Chin people consist of various sub-groups which are distinguished only by the women’s facial tattoos as well as differences in their language. The tribes are mostly situated between the north of Arakan state and the southeastern hills of Chin state. The Burmese government officially banned the tradition in the 1960s after the military took over power in a coup d’état. But the Chin-State has long been neglected by the far-away government or, as others say, the Chin state has long tried to avoid contact with outside rulers. In fact the Chin people were in a state of war with the military regime until June 2012 when a formal truce was announced after power was shifted to a civil government. For most of the isolated hill tribes these past events happened without notice.

The Chin-State is still one of the country’s poorest and most isolated regions, with a 73% poverty rate according to an official survey. Some areas are widely inaccessible. While this is the reason that local traditions have survived the past centuries, it also means that malnutrition, childhood mortality and the risk for women to die in child bed are tremendous. Efforts of NGOs to push for the construction of streets and the implementation of governmental action could bring an improvement to the people’s living and health standard.

“People are now hoping that they will profit from the truce and from the booming tourist industry in Myanmar,” says Nay Aung, a 28-year-old guide from Bagan who is regularly organizing trips into the area for NGOs and adventurous tourists. Traveling to hill areas of Chin state is quite challenging and by now still far off the beaten track. Areas are only accessible by four-wheel-driving jeeps on damaged rough tracks. The two-to-three days drive is halted by river crossings, mudflows or flat tires. New roads are currently under construction, often with the use of low-paid child labor, but are not to be expected before the next three years. “Part of the roads get damaged again during the rainy season,” says Nay Aung, “this makes it hard to finish the construction”.

The mountainous area has always been wild and inaccessible. The Chin accepted the harsh and inhospitable conditions of the mountainous regions for centuries by choice, so they could avoid foreign influence and invasion.

But times are changing and more and more Chin, especially the young, are willing to open their region for a better health care, maintenance and modernity. “All the faces with tattoos are those of old women,” says Daw San. Her striking face is graced with distinctive patterns that symbolize a pearl necklace and a dominant ‘Y’ that is illustrating a sacrifice trunk. The tattoo shows that she is a member of the Muun tribe. The differences in the patterns of the about twelve facial-tattoo practicing Chin-tribes vary from simple dots practiced by the Daai tribe or straight lines by the Yindu tribe to spiderweb-like tattoos of the Laytoo or even the full-face tattoos of the Ubun tribe where not even a single dot is spared. “Every tattoo has a spiritual meaning and defines the values of the tribe,” says Daw San. The sacrifice trunk in her face reflects the totem of her village. “So we know who we are and we can find our ancestors in the afterlife by identifying the tattoos,” Daw San is convinced.

The Chin, although most converted to Christianity by American Baptists a hundred years ago, are strongly committed to Animism. Every man or woman needs a ‘House of Spirits,’ a secure place for the afterlife. Once in his or her life, the tradition says, a member of the Muun tribe must hold a sacred ceremony to avoid harm by spirits and gain peace for the afterlife. During the week-long celebration the Muun will sacrifice one chicken, one wild pig, one goat and one wild buffalo and will divide the food with the tribe’s shaman and the remaining villagers. If the ritual is fulfilled one will collect flat stones from the river to build a ‘house of spirits’. After the death of a tribe member its remains are cremated and the ashes are laid to rest under the stone altar. “One is deemed to be alive until the bones have been disappeared,” explains Daw San. Only the most experienced hunters – or the wealthiest villagers – are able to repeat the ritual a second time in their life. “If this happens,” Daw San recounts further, “one is allowed to build the altar next to his or her home.” (See images of two stand-alone-altars next to home in photos 13 and 14, plus a ‘cemetery’ in pictures 19 and 20.)

The town of Mindat is situated five hours on foot through the mountains from the ‘house of spirits’ cemetery of this group of Muun villagers. The town doesn’t differ much from other places in modern-day Burma. Local boys play soccer as the sun goes down; some girls drive through the village on motorbikes; and trucks and jeeps park in front of the town’s market. The place is completely alien to the remaining tribe-members who live their lives quite isolated on the hills.

“Today the girls, at least in Mindat, see the fading custom as an unattractive relic of the past and they are aware of outside beauty standards,” says Daw San with a cautious smile. Decades ago it would have been out of question for a man to marry an un-tattooed girl. “When I was a little girl”, she says, “it would have been impossible not get tattooed. Every woman was proud of her tattoo.”

Daw San is aware of ongoing development in the remote corners Chin state where she lives, and this gives her hope that a better life is on the way. She is happy for this, but she also fears the consequences for the Chin’s traditional lifestyle. She doesn’t doubt that her face is one of the last with a tribal tattoo.

“Soon,” she says, “this thousand-year-old tradition will be gone forever.”

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Bosnia War: Identifying the Victims o...
Srebrenica
By Michael Biach
20 Aug 2014

On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb troops led by Ratko Mladic stormed through the UN peacekeeping enclave into the city of Srebrenica, executing over 8,000 Bosniaks, mostly men and boys. Now labeled a genocide, the event is considered the worst episode of European mass murder since World War II, and was the wake-up call for the West to push for the cease-fire that ended the three-year Bosnian conflict. Now, 19 years after the event, pieces of the bodies are still being found in over 300 mass graves, often in several different locations due to the perpetrators’ attempt to cover up the crime. Most of the identification work is done by the International Committee on Missing Persons (ICMP), established in 1996. The process of contacting family members is a psychologically stressful one from start to finish, as survivors re-live the agony of the loss while deciding to hold a funeral immediately or to wait until all the remains have been found. 6,066 victims have been buried so far during the annual anniversaries of the massacre in Potocari, Bosnia. The number of burials decrease every year, with 175 bodies buried in 2014.

FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE IN COLLECTION

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Burma's holy sites
Burma
By Michael Biach
10 Apr 2014

Myanmar, or Burma, is one of the most mysterious and unexplored destinations in the world. Situated at the crossroads of Asia’s great civilisations of India and China, this Buddhist country is home to thousands of unique and bejewelled temples, holy sites, ancient kingdoms, and devout monks.

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Gold Leaf Makers of Mandalay
Mandalay, Myanmar
By Michael Biach
27 Feb 2014

In Burma, gold leaf is a sacred handicraft and is used to gild the thousands pagodas and temples, as well as the Buddhas statues. Pilgrims also buy gold leaves to honor Buddha and make offerings.
The country has its own gold production and the demand for gold leaves is very important. Craftsmen use handmade gold leaves to renovate enormous pagodas. In Mandalay, the hub for gold leaf production, a Buddha statue called the Mahamuti has 20 to 30 centimeters thick layer of gold leaves.

Crafting gold leaves is considered as a way to honor Buddha. Therefore, only men are allowed to shape the gold. The workplace is also sacred and one has to enter it barefoot - in Buddhism, the feet are the most dirty parts of the body.

Gold leaves are very thin and have to be handmade. The process is long, demands hard physical work and has barely changed for centuries. During the first step, a 24 grams piece of gold placed in a thin bamboo paper is hammered with a heavy hammer for half an hour. Then women cut it into smaller pieces. The process is repeated several times.

Crafting gold leaves is hard, but it pays well and, according to the Buddhist tradition, buys good karma. Most men start working at the age of 16, after six months of training. They retire in their mid-forties because their body can no longer endure the hard physical work. Women’s working conditions are not any better and their job is not as respected as men’s. They sit during hours in stuffy vitrified, wind-protected rooms to cut the feathery gold leaf into smaller pieces. No wind is allowed in the rooms in order to prevent losing or damaging the leaves.

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Burma-In Buddhas Honor
Yangon, Burma
By Michael Biach
28 Feb 2014

Burma, also know as Myanmar, is a predominantly Buddhist country. Nearly 90% of the country's inhabitants are Buddhist. A number of tribal peoples also practice forms of Animism. Among the country's most sacred sites are: Shwedagon Pagoda in the former capital Yangon (Rangoon), Golden Rock in the south, the ancient city of Bagan, Mount Popa, the most important nat pilgrimage site in Burma and the Maha Muni Buddha Pagoda in Mandalay. This photo collection documents some of the country's most famous sacred sites and the life of its Buddhist inhabitants.

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True Faith, No Blood - The Howling De...
Prizren, Kosovo
By Michael Biach
15 Apr 2013

Each year members of the Rifai'i brotherhood gather to celebrate a special ritual: At its peak, after the faithful have reached a trancelike state, they start to pierce their cheeks and other parts of their body with long century-old metal nails. Blood only flows rarely.

Every year the members of a Kosovo Sufi order repeat their centuries-old ceremony in a sleepy side street in the Ottoman-style town of Prizren. Howling men call the name of God and dance and bounce in ecstasy until – at the peak of the ceremony – they are piercing their cheeks with antique ritual tools.

Sheikh Adrihusein Sheh is the religious leader of the Rifai'i, a Sufi brotherhood founded in the 12th century near Basra in todays Iraq. The community is celebrating Nowruz (Nevruz), the beginning of spring and therefore the New Year. The day also marks the birthday of Imam Ali, the cousin and son in law of the Prophet Mohammed. According to Shia belief Mohammed has chosen Ali as his successor and assigned him with the leadership of the Muslim nation. For Sufis Ali is the starting point of a continuous transmission of the spiritual heritage of Allah's Prophet Muhammad.

In the tekke, the prayer house of the Sufis, believers start to clean ancient religious tools, some of them are long, richly ornamented metal nails with a wooden handle. At the height of the feast the Sheikh will bless these ancient tools and gradually pierce the cheeks of the faithful believers. No blood will flow and scars will be gone in time. At least in theory.  

“For some outsiders, our ceremony is just humbug”, remarks Sheikh Adrihusein sternly, “but the ritual is leading to the purification of the heart of a believer und gives him the opportunity to obtain to know God”. His criticism applies not only to people of other or no faith, but also to Muslims in their own country.

The Sufi’s mythical interpretation of Islam and their own sight of spirituality often turn them into religious outsiders in Islam world. "Sufism is a way of life and an ever-lasting journey of perfection," says the Sheikh. He illustrates his statement with a parable: "First arose the man, but without a soul, similar to a vessel without anything in it. This form must be filled with wisdom and love”. For the Sufi master his way of religion is a true form of worship, based on a traditional method of enlightenment, which has carried the haqiqah – the basic truth – through the time.

The Sheikh is the spiritual leader of the Rifai'i Order. The title is hereditary according to the tradition of the Sufis. He got it transferred from his father after he died. Since his birth, he was prepared and he will pass on the title after his death to his eldest son.

Only those are allowed to lead the order who can prove an unbroken chain of transmission, starting from the Prophet Mohammed himself. Each Order has ancient scrolls on which the genealogy of this pedigree has been written down. "The role of the individual," explains Sheikh " is to fight against the false self and to walk the path of perfection." Aid is given to the seeker from the order leader, the Sheikh himself, who helps him to take the right path and to realize the Divine Presence of Allah.

Sufis are also called Dervish, which is derived from the word dari – door – and means that someone goes from door to door. Dervishes were known to be associated with criticism of an overly materialistic society for centuries. The first followers of Sufism were characterized by a strong ascetic way of life and by material poverty. Often they were therefore also called faqir - the poor in front of Allah.

"Every divine attribute is hidden in the human heart", expresses the Sheikh almost self-evident. The dhikr, the communitie’s prayer ritual is a tool to make the Dervishes aware of the constant presence of God. A compulsory procedure for the dhikr, which means ‘remembrance of God’ does not exist in Sufism. Each Order has its own method. The trance dance of the Mevlevi order is probably best known. Its members are often referred to as rotating or dancing dervishes. The prayer ritual of the howling dervishes of Rifai'i Order is loud and ecstatic. Although they may not be more different, both forms of dhikr serve the same purpose.

In the meantime, the tekke has filled with more than seventy believers. The dervishes are wrapped in black robes with sleeveless white vests and a Fez-like hat. Crowded together, they sit side by side on the floor, then the ceremony begins. Together, the dervishes constantly repeat the name of God. Therefore they are not limited purely using the word Allah, but make use of the 99 names of God mentioned in the Quran.

Doing so, the Dervishes start very slowly while sitting but will raise their voice and get into an upright position after a while.

After about an hour of swaying the dervishes start to move their upper bodies up and down, again and again. They are accompanied by drum sounds. Still they are repeating the name of God. Inevitably, the believers fall into a trance-like, ecstatic state.

Close to the ”awareness of God in their own hearts”, it's time for the ultimate proof of faith.

"Only those who manage to separate the spirit from the body, are able to recognize the Divine", reveals the Sheikh. The youngest Dervishes, about eight to twelve years old, stand in a row in front of the Sheikh. In his hand he holds a long needle.

For some of the boys it is their first Nowruz ritual. They have no fear and act excited and proud. The Sheikh speaks a blessing, leads the iron needle slowly through his mouth and moistens it with his tongue. With his left hand he grabs the boy's right cheek and pierces it with a quick tug.

The boy smiles and makes room for the next one.

The repetitive confession of God as well as the sway of the upper body is still ongoing in the meantime. Now the adult Dervishes have their turn and the Sheikh now graps for the large iron nails, many of which are centuries old.

The ritual is repeated; the dhikr is at its peak. About a dozen of the Dervishes have already had been pierced their cheeks. With the left hand they hold the ornate wooden knob and continue to sway and repeat the name of God.

Two older, much more experienced-looking dervishes enter the center of the Tekke.

They will carry out the spiritual ritual themselves. Dancing they walk through the room from one corner to another, under constant rhythmic accompaniment by drumming and singing of the other dervishes. Again and again they stop and leave the pointed iron rods revolve on their necks below the larynx. The metal chain on the knob is swirling through the air.

When the music and the prayers seem to be more and more maniac, the two dervishes take the metal nails and stab them laterally in the abdomen above the hips.

The ecstatic noises decrease apparently, but no one is startled. The dervishes are experienced and know how far they can go. The sheikh steps forward. In his hand he holds a heavy iron bar, a hammer. Several times he swings it onto the bars in the bellies of the dervishes.

One of the two lets himself fall to his knees. The expression in his eyes gives an idea of ​​the ecstasy in which it is located. Calm and in control, he gets rid of the metal nail, which is in his stomach.

With the right hand one of the dervishes holds the knob of the metal nail, while he is putting the other hand on his face. Then he pierces both of his cheeks with a fast move.

It seems that the Dervish, due to his trance, does not even feel the pain. Exhausted, he breathes out several times, then he is quickly on and joins the others, invokes the name of God and fluctuates in time with his upper body.

"It is by no means a kind of self-flagellation", assures one of the dervishes. "The one who can separate the spirit from his body, is able to notice God and follow the path to perfection" he implores.

The believers stand again in front of the Sheikh.

Slowly he removes the nails from the cheeks of the dervishes. With thumb and forefinger he is pressing on the sore openings. This shall help that after removing of the instruments no blood will flow and the injuries will heal quickly.

"Through this ritual we show that our faith is sincere and Allah recognizes and protects us - when we recognize him," says the Sheikh again.

In fact, the wounds do not seem to bleed and scars are searched in vain in the faces of elders. Also, none of the faithful seemed to be plagued by pain.

Then one of the dervishes pushes through the crowd, pulls out a tissue and gives it to a boy.

Some blood has flown in the end.

Media created

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Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

A fossil of a cave bear teeth inside a rock stone in Krizna Jama. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

Cavers on their way to the exit of Krizna Jama. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

A caver is showing polished parts of rocks inside the Cross Cave. Thousands of years ago ancient cave bears pushed the rocks away while walking inside the cave to seek shelter for the elements or rest for winter sleep. Over thousands of years corners of the rocks had been polished by this behavior. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

Graffiti from the past 400 years showing that the cave has been visted intensivly over the centuries. The oldes grafitto is reffering to the 16th century. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

A caver is standing next to the underground river inside the huge cave. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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20190202_Slovenia_KriznaJama-9488
Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

A caver is inside his rubberboat on an emerald green lake inside the cave. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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20190202_Slovenia_KriznaJama-9410
Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

Some passages inside Krizna Jama are very narrow and cavers must lay inside the rubberboats to pass the restrictions. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

A caver is standing on a pile of collapsed rocks inside Krizna Jama while another caver is inside his boat on an emerald green lake of the cave. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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20190202_Slovenia_KriznaJama-9406
Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

Some passages inside Krizna Jama are very narrow and cavers must lay inside the rubberboats to pass the restrictions. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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20190202_Slovenia_KriznaJama-9371
Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

Cavers are fixing rubber boats to prefixed lines so that the boats will stay in the correct place even after rainwater is flooding the cave. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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20190202_Slovenia_KriznaJama-9380
Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

Cavers are walking along the underground river in Krizna Jama. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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20190202_Slovenia_KriznaJama-9365
Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

A rubber boat is fixed inside Krizna Jama next to the underground river so it will stay in the correct place after rain water is flooding the cave. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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20190202_Slovenia_KriznaJama-9282
Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

Two cavers are leaving their boat and carrying it to deeper parts of the huge underground river inside Krizna Jama. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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20190202_Slovenia_KriznaJama-9306
Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

Two cavers are leaving their boat and carrying it to deeper parts of the huge underground river inside Krizna Jama. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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20190202_Slovenia_KriznaJama-9240
Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

Two cavers are rowing their rubber boat along the underground river inside Krizna Jama. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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20190202_Slovenia_KriznaJama-9183
Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

A caver is rowing his rubber boat on an emerald green lake inside Krizna Jama and is looking to stalactites and stalacmites inside the cave. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

A caver is lighting his underwater lights inside one of the many lakes in Krizna Jama. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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20190202_Slovenia_KriznaJama-9159
Krizna Jama
By Michael Biach
01 Feb 2019

A caver is standing inside Krizna Jama and watching at stalactites. Krizna Jama (Cross Cave) is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.

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20180511_Molnar Janos-7280305
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180511_Molnar Janos-7280373
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180511_Molnar Janos-7280260
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180511_Molnar Janos-7280269
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180511_Molnar Janos-7280198
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180511_Molnar Janos-7280007
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180511_Molnar Janos-7280188
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180511_Molnar Janos-7280001
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180101_Molnar Janos-1040795
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180101_Molnar Janos-1040856
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180101_Molnar Janos-1040891
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180101_Molnar Janos-1040591
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180101_Molnar Janos-1040683
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180101_Molnar Janos-1040699
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180101_Molnar Janos-1040037
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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20180101_Molnar Janos-1040388
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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Molnar Janos
Budapest
By Michael Biach
27 Jan 2019

View of the old Ottoman bathhouse that was used as a haram and is out of use these days. Under the bride is the exit of the Molnar Janos spring that flows into Lake Malom (Hungarian for mill). The exit is too narrow for divers to enter the cave but there are two different man-build entrys for divers.

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.

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Molnar Janos
Budapest
By Michael Biach
04 Jan 2019

Budapest is known worldwide for its unique spa culture with more than a hundred thermal water springs originating from the volcanic earth below. Less known is that behind the spring of Molnár János lies one of the most extraordinary cave systems in the world. It is a doorway to a hidden underwater world open for well-trained cave divers.