Top Moment #1: The Playa
The playa is the area at the center of this temporary city of 70,000 attendees. Exactly at the center is a 40-foot tall statue of “The Man” (see cover photo above).
The playa is like a blank canvas: vast, flat, and monotone, contrasted by the hills in the distance and the sky as a backdrop. Artists showcase their creations here – statues, structures, and music. By day, these creations seem to sit still, blending into the playa as they become covered in its dust. Some of my fellow campmates, biking around the playa together.Remind you of an old fairytale?
This piece is called “REvolution”.Robot Heart. They play music.Many people loved this piece. At night, the adults disappear, and the children glow.(^ photo credit Dev Mishra)Jumbo beetle. People tell me this is like something out of Mad Max.
Sometimes there were “whiteouts”, sandstorms that greatly reduced our visibility. One sandstorm was so strong we had to walk our bikes back to camp.By night, the plays transforms as all these creations come to life through colorful lights, some emitting flames. The best way I can describe the playa is Disneyland-meets-Vegas; the duality of fun creations to experience, but at night if also feels like a club, with EDM blasting from colorfully lit art cars.
Check this out: Simons Says, Burning Man style.
Following an art car.
Interactive light art. “Stairway to Heaven”. There 4 staircases, only one makes it to the top.Everyone is lying down to enjoy the view of the changing patterns above. (should have made a video) (^ photo credit Dev Mishra)
“Totem of Confessions” – there was an actual confession booth inside.White Ocean, where you come for music and dance……and fire of course.The beauty of it all is that there aren’t any lines for most things. I would ride around with my campmates and experience a series of serendipities. Moments like:
- Biking behind a giant art car, which is like a club on wheels. The car will randomly stop somewhere, and then everyone gets off their bikes and a dance party ensues. No money/cover, no lines, no pretentiousness. Just music and dance. This is a gift.
- One night we were biking and saw a a small table, with a red-checkered tablecloth in the distance. As we got closer, we got off our bikes and took a seat at the table. A group of people were making pizza, in the middle of nowhere. Joy ensues as we receive a warm slice of pizza. Nothing expected in return, this is a gift.
- Another night we biked to the “deep playa”, considered to be far from where most of the action is. My friends and I found a movie theater at 2am. Upon entering we were given free candy from the concession stand, and walked inside to watch an old B&W Western film, in theater-style seating, with about 30 other people! Someone actually created a small movie theater on the playa. No money, this is a gift.
The fact that the playa is so vast is also freeing – no boundaries, no walls, no enclosed space. Being in such an open environment made me feel very open – playful, creative, silly. The community helps foster this feeling as well, as there is no judgement – it didn’t matter how I dressed or looked. When I met people, there was no fear, because no one wants anything from you; they’re usually doing the opposite by gifting you food and drink, or a creative experience.
At some point, my friends had a saying, “The playa shall provide”. Despite being in the desert and off the grid, there is an abundance of energy, and we began to trust that we would be taken care of by the community.
Top Moment #2: Tycho at Sunrise
Catching a sunrise while at Burning Man is a must. On Wednesday night, we decided to go hear DJ Tycho play a sunrise set at 5am the next day. We debated whether to stay out all night, or sleep in and wake up really early; we decided on the latter. At 4am I woke up, and then woke up the others while it was still dark and chilly.
Dev decided that he wanted to ride the chai cart out to the playa to serve chai during sunrise. This ended up being a special moment for all of us.
We rode out onto the playa around 5am, not really knowing where to bike to, but somehow we found the Dusty Rhino (name of the art car) with DJ Tycho playing. Surrounding the art car were hundreds of people dancing, many who had probably been up all night.The sun had just started rising, and over the next hour, I watched the sunrise and the beauty of the desert environment transforming with the sunlight. I felt grateful to be experiencing this unique moment, surrounded by a crowd of people crazy enough to be partying in the desert during sunrise. I imagine for the DJs, there must also be a special feeling to play a set during sunrise at Burning Man, out on the playa. It’s magical.
A fire twirler.
DJ Tycho on top of the Dusty Rhino art car. Initially I thought we weren’t going to be serving chai, as somehow our ingredients had fallen out of the cart on the way. While the group was enjoying sunrise, Dev decided to bike all the way back to camp to replenish the lost ingredients. He surprised the group when we found him by the chai cart, making the first batch of chai.This moment ended up being filled with joy for our entire group. The joy of watching the sunrise on the playa, listening to Tycho’s sunrise set playing in the background. On top of that, people were eagerly lining up for a warm cup of chai. Four of us had worked on the creation of the chai cart – Dev, Raj, Anand, and I – spending weekends before Burning Man in the design and construction of it. Now here it was, in its fully glory on the playa.While people were waiting for hot chai, conversations started. It was interesting to meet a variety of people, young and old. The most serendipitous moment: I was talking to two people, and one of my friends saw me talking to this woman. After a few moments of uncertainty, he realized it was his ex-girlfriend from 6th grade, who he hadn’t seen in over a decade; now re-united at Burning Man. The playa is a series of small serendipities.
Top Moment #3: The Temple of Reflections
Most of Burning Man is fun and smiles. The temple however, is not. The temple is the spiritual center of Burning Man. On the temple walls are intimate stories. Some are pinned on, others written directly onto the wooden temple wall. The kinds of intimate stories people shared on these walls:
- tributes to a family member who had passed away
- inspirational quotes or poems
- traumatic stories, mostly involving the subject of rape
This person just conquered cancer, and had her last chemo treatment 20 days before coming to Burning Man. Tributes to family member who had passed away.A beautiful poem written on a column.I, along with many others, walked out of temple teary-eyed after reading so much about the suffering of others. I wondered how it all felt for those that had shared their intimate stories on these walls. They knew their stories would be read by thousands of fellow Burners, and it could feel comforting to be able to share your suffering with the community. On the last day (Sunday), they knew that the temple would be burned; their stories would vanish into the ether. Perhaps this whole process feels liberating. There’s something spiritual about fire.
Top Moment #4: The Man Blowing Up
This moment was the culmination of everything, the last night we were to spend at Burning Man. What the festival is named after. There was a special energy in the air that night, standing with a crowd of 70,000 others as a community, all waiting for The Man to burn. The moment didn’t feel like a spectacle, but a tradition; even a ritual.(^ photo credit Dev Mishra)
I stood there and witnessed the best fireworks I’ve ever seen in my life. The result of a community that loves fire and doesn’t care about money. The amount of fireworks that were being launched was astounding; I don’t even understand how there was time to reload.
(^ photo credit Dev Mishra)
The ultimate moment came with a Hollywood-style explosion, which took all of us by surprise. We continued to watch for another 20 minutes until The Man fell over.There’s something about watching fire that feels innately mesmerizing for me. I feel connected to my ancestors, who also watched this fire, and formed ancient rituals around it which are still practiced today. In a world of smartphones with endless distractions, I find fire slowing my mind down, creating a relaxed presence.
Burning The Man was a spiritual moment for me on the playa, where we as a community were making a statement: to shun the powers in society that create suffering, and impede our progress as a civilization.
Here was a temporary community where we came together to enjoy freedom for a week, to express our creativity and love. Then at the end, we burn The Man.
Leaving Burning Man
On Sunday morning, after spending a full week in the desert, we deconstructed our camp and packed our van, to go back home, to go back to our normal lives. All the experiences throughout the week passed through my head, and created a feeling I couldn’t describe. Until a week later: