All Journeys Have to End

Just under two months in India and my Himalayan adventure has come to an end. As usual, time flew by very quickly and as usual I wish I could stay longer. I am tired though. This trip was intense in so many ways. Riding in the mountains does take a toll on the body and the motorbikes. Both “machines” have cracked chassis from the horrendous (but spectacular) Zanskar road.

We’re all emotionally exhausted. I need a break. I need to see new places. India has captivated me so much that I’ve traveled to here five times since 2005. It seems inevitable that I’ll be back yet again some time in the not too distant future, but I do want to see what the “rest of the world” has to offer. It’s hard to leave India because one can easily spend a few lifetimes shooting here without ever exhausting its photographic potential.

I’ve been accumulating a lot of images over the past couple of years. I think I’m producing them at a faster rate than I can do anything with them. I guess it’ll be good if I ever slow down and stay at one place. I’ll have something to do.

For now, I am posting some of the stuff I’ve made over the past few weeks, starting with the end of the Spiti valley trip and ending with a couple of shots from Kashmir. Click on the images to see them larger and to see the descriptions.

The shot at the top was taken in the village of Langza. The boy on the donkey is Sunny, I wrote a little about him on my Facebook page. You can see that HERE.

While looking for the home-stay in Lagza, we stumbled upon a group of Bihari (state in India) road workers who were living in the basement of one of the village houses. They were renting the space while they worked on the road a few kilometers away. These guys were super hospitable and immediately offered Hardik and I tea. A scene similar to the first of the two images is what attracted me to come back to try to photograph them.

A few kilometers up a winding mountain road is the village of Hikkim, another picturesque place with photogenic characters. We stayed there for just a couple of days and the above images are just snippets from people’s everyday lives there.

I didn’t get much time to shoot in Leh, though I wish I could have. The old town has a few of these traditional “bakeries” where men make bread much the same way they did a very long time ago. Interestingly, every bread-maker has a long line of customers waiting to get their bread every morning. I guess it is not surprising, considering how delicious it is.

I didn’t get to shoot in any of the monasteries around Leh either, but I did shoot in Lamayuru, which is a few hundred kms on the way to Kashmir. This was a special puja (prayer) for the younger monks and thankfully I could shoot from whatever angle I wanted to, which is not so common for a monastery.

Some crazy scenery from along road. The first is from along the Lamayuru - Kargil  part. The next is the Drang Drung crater in Zanskar (probably the most beautiful road I traveled on this trip), after is more Zanskar scenery and then - a regular scene - folks bringing their animals back home at sunset, after a day of grazing. Last image is from the Zoji La pass on the way to Srinagar Kashmir. Dreadful road, beautiful scenery. Seems to be the standard in this area.

In Zanskar we spent a lot of time around Karsha gompa. I am not a big fan of photographing monasteries and monks. They’re very photogenic, but I just feel like it’s not my subject. It’s been done to death and it’s hard to come up with anything new enough and worthwhile enough. Nevertheless, it’s pretty irresistible not to take photos in a great location like that and with such characters. The monks in this gompa were great. Some of the friendliest I’ve come across. Interesting story behind the image of the little guy in the hat with the kettle next to him. He is six years old and he is the reincarnation of a monk who used to teach at the monastery some time back. Read a little more about that HERE.

In many ways the last part of my trip was filled with frustration. Frustration that I had so little time. I always say that great photos require time, time to understand what the heck is going on, to study how the light is, so that you can place yourself at the right place at the right time. There were great scenes around Padum every afternoon. I think that riding around, looking for something photogenic to shoot could produce an impressive body of work in a few weeks. With just a few days and mostly bad weather, the above were the couple of a few decent images I produced.

The scenery around Padum is pretty stunning, you see impressive looking mountains in almost every direction. Another impressive sight is the Karsha gompa, the way it just kinda hangs off of the mountain “wall”. I also love the way that the light makes some of the wall look so dark and dramatic, but this only happens in the morning and obviously only if it’s sunny. It was overcast during every morning, except for the last. Good luck at last.

A scene at the table at a Zanskari wedding which we randomly attended. Great people, great booze, worst food I ever tried (almost raw meet of an unspecified animal).

The frustration reached an all time high (for this trip) when we came to Dal Lake in Srinagar. This is a place where one can shoot for at least a couple of weeks and come up with something interesting and new every day. I only had a solid half day to do any serious shooting there.

The highlight for me was the floating vegetable market. The images above are all related to it. The two fellas next to each other in Shikaras (local boats) are vegetable salesmen, the next one down is a scene from the market and the last is of a lady going to the market. There was a funny instance with her. I was photographing her from afar and as she approached, I noticed by her expression that she was probably not all that crazy about me just pointing the camera at her without any acknowledgment. As she got closer I smiled and said “Salam Aleikum”. She smiled back and replied “Aleikum Salam” while tossing a cucumber for me into our Shikara.

It’s facsinating that there’s so much life around the lake. This is an aspect that I am always interested in - people around water. Again, I didn’t have time to shoot much in the area, so if you are interested, check out Matt Brandon’s photos of Kashmir. The man lived there and produced some awesome imagery.

That's all for the images. I’m currently in Delhi. A couple of days back I left Hardik, my friend, travel companion, translator and general “right hand man” back in Chandigarh from where he will make one last grueling journey back to Ahmedabad (where he lives).

Hardik has been with me on a lot of my photographic trips. He is the main reason why I was able to do my Rabari project, my first significant body of work which opened a lot of doors for me. The dude is like a younger brother and I am often very hard on him, particularly so during this trip. He reads this blog when he gets a chance, so I wanted to say “Thanks for everything once again! Sorry for being so hard on you at times (though it’s for your own good :)). We’ll meet again in the not too distant future, my friend.”

After one more day in Delhi I am off to Madrid, Spain (then Portugal). New adventure, but also time to relax and maybe connect with some of you folks in real life.