1. Ladakh (the land of magical light)

    By Dibyendu Das.

    Ladakh is possibly one of the dream destinations for every landscape and travel photographer. To me, it is ‘the land of magical light’: I call it so because every minutes, one can see the change in atmospheric light, and hardly any dull light can be experienced. I never experienced flat light in Ladakh. From the day I had started photography till now when I consider myself as a landscape and travel photographer, it was always my dream to visit Ladakh. I was extremely eager to cover Ladakh at my young age because people who had visited spoken of problems in breathing, digestion, severe headache and other physical issues. A few had even said that they had to inhale oxygen a couple of times. I had been planning for Ladakhsince three years. Everything was set for September, 2015 but I had to postpone on the eleventh hour due to my father’s demise. I was determined to shoot at Ladakh in 2016 without fail, and accordingly, I had made a plan with three other friends. It was decided that we would cover Ladakh in 12 to 13 days, between August and September. After a brief discussion we had decided to travel to and froLeh so that we could save time. Finally, we fixed the date for the first week of August for the tour.

    I started from Silchar on 3rd August, 2016, and reached Delhi on the same day, did some photography on 4th; other members joined in the evening, and we flew off to Leh by the morning flight. I tried to capture a few bird’s eye views through the window of our flight— for this, of course, I had to book the window seat at GoAir Airline. We reached Leh around 11 o’clock in the morning, and as we had our hotel booked, so we took taxi and reached the Guest House which is just within 3 km radius from the airport. One thing I must admit that after landing in Leh, I felt a change in my body, but, I tried to keep myself strong mentally. I kept on telling myself that since I live in a place which is less than 100 feet above the sea level, and suddenly I was at around 11000 feet above sea level, there must have been a little imbalance in the physical affairs. At reaching the guest house, the owner gave us a warm welcome, and requested us not to take any medicine as a precautionary measure. He advised us to take plenty of water, and take rest for the entire day. After an hour or so, as we started feeling a bit better, we went out to the market on foot for lunch. It was around 1 km from our guest house; on the way, we visited a few shops. After lunch, we roamed around for more than 3/4 km. We bought a few items, and returned to our room in the evening. By this time, we were almost 80% acclimatized. In the evening we all sat together, and finalized our tour plan in an hour.

    Our tour started on 6th of August, 2016 with local visits; in the afternoon, we went to Spituk, and then came back, had our lunch and spent the entire evening in Leh Palace. We captured some shots, and covered the sunset at Shanti Stupa. On the 7th we started early in the morning for Lamayaru, and on the way, we first saw the PatharSehib, did some photography at the famous Sangam Point of Indus-Zanskar confluence. We could get good shots in the Basgo Monastery, Ney. Before reaching Lamayaru, we visited the Moonland to do some shoot there, and had our lunch. After lunch, we checked in to our pre-booked hotel at Lamayaru, which was adjacent to the Lamayaru Monastery. We took rest half an hour and then proceeded to the Lamayaru Monastery for photography. To me, Lamayaru was one of the best places for photography; on its rear, you can compose your settings with the ruins of the monastery, Moonland which is near to the monastery and the magical play of evening light. We all had a wonderful evening there. Our next destination was Dah from Lamayaru but due to landslide we had to return halfway. We decided to return to Leh. On the way back to Leh we visited Alchi, Likir, magnetic hill and again the Sangam Point. On the 9th as per our plan, we had to go to Nubra Valley, and then to Turtuk, and accordingly, we started and on the way we stopped in few placed. Amongst them Khardungla Pass which is the highest motorable road in the world, must be mentioned. We enjoyed there for around 15 minutes, experienced breathlessness due to lack of oxygen, did some photography and resumed our jouney. That day, we had our lunch just before reaching Dishkit. After lunch we were in confusion whether we should check in to hotel first or photograph a few pictures in the white sand dunes of Hunder. After discussion, we decided to do some photography; accordingly, we went to sand dunes, and tried to manufacture a few frames with reflections, camels, dunes etc. On the next day, we went out early for Turtuk village which is around 90 km from Hunder; the river Shyok flows through this scenic village. The interesting story about the village is that, before 1971 this village was under the control of Pakistan, and India captured the village during war in 1971. Majority of the villagers are Muslims; we reached the village around 11 AM, and as we tried to shoot people they objected, and we had to stop here. Luckily I got a chance to shoot children in a village school, and by the grace of god I got a few fantastic shots of the angels studying in the school. Later, we tried to capture shots with the help of the villagers but could not succeed, and came back to Hunder to visit the Diskit monastery. In the afternoon, we went to the sand dunes again for another try. This time, we started our shoot from the rear, and proceeded to the entry gate as we kept on capturing photos. Everyone got some good shots, and returned to hotel in a happier mood. Next day, after breakfast, we started again towards our base point, Leh, and on the way to Leh, we visited Alchi and Likir Monetary where we actually did some shopping more than photography. Here I must mention a funny incident. While entering to the Alchi Monastery, we noticed an old wrinkled faced lady selling some ornaments. We decided to photograph her but she got angry, and started telling us if we didn’t buy from her she would not allow us to shoot. But I just started ignoring her and kept on clicking. Later, other members purchased a necklace from her but the lady got furious again because I was just clicking her photographs without purchasing anything.

    We reached at Leh at around 2.30 PM, had our lunch and went to the Leh market, did some photography, and returned back to our hotel. On 12th morning we started our last part of our journey to Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri. On the way to Pangong, we enjoyed the scenic beauty on both sides of the road, stopped at the Changla Pass, and heartily enjoyed the snowfall for the first ever time in my life. Before reaching Pangong Tso, on the way we got the chance to shoot yaks and some horses. We also got Himalayan Marmot but due to rains, they retreated into their holes, and we had to proceed forward. When we reached Pangong, it was raining and before checking into the tent, we tried our luck in the rain, but nothing dramatic happened. Later, we decided to check in to the tent, and go for photo shoot. By this time, the rain had stopped and the beautiful evening light began its play over the mountain and the Tso. We did our photography with utmost satisfaction till dark and had to return to our tent after a long tiresome walk as our driver was very tired and had gone to sleep. In the next morning we were to go to Hanle via Chuchul: to go through this route we had to take special permission. It was a wonderful journey alongside the Pangon Tso for about 20 to 40 km till that point where the Pangong went to China. On this route, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery on the side of the road (not road, it was like a game path created by the cars which go through); we got wild asses, horses, yaks, deer, etc. After a drive of two and a half hours, we reached Chuchul where we finished our light tiffin with noodles and omelette. We all were happy because we were to shoot the night at Hanle which is considered as the best for night photo shoots. But the most unfortunate thing happened with us when we reached the check post from where we had to advance to Hanle. As we showed our pass to the authority, they told us that Hanle was not written in the permission letter, which we also didn’t notice earlier. Still we requested them but the objection came from the JK police, and we had to re-adjust our plan. We then decided to go to Tso Moriri without further delay. We reached Tso Moriri late in the evening and were very tired for any further shoot. Above all, Tso Moriri is 15000 feet above the sea level, and we all were not feeling well; so we decided to take rest and not do anything. But as we all were very passionate photographers, how could we stay in the tent? We went out with our camera and start roaming here and there. Doing this, we suddenly saw a large herd of sheep coming down from the hill with their shepherd; we quickly took our position to shoot and started clicking. We got a few good shots. Thus a tiresome day ended; at night, we took our dinner early and went to sleep wearing jackets and warm cloths. Next morning, we woke up early and after breakfast went to a near village name Korzok and spent some time in the Gompa. In the evening, we did our last landscape shoot at Ladakh in Tso Moriri till the dark and on the way back, we lost the way to our tent and somehow reached to Korzok village. Later, we found a man with whom we had shot during the morning. He then helped us to reach our tent at around 8.30 AM. Next day, i.e. on 15th of August, 2016, from Tso Moriri we reached Leh via Tso Kar and Tanglangla. We had decided to stay at Leh during the last two days because landslides or any natural calamities might ruin our departure. So on 16th we visited Thiksey and Hemis Monastery and kept the evening for Tsemo Castle from where we decided to shoot our sunset. On the 17th we spent the whole day in the market without camera. We shopped the whole day. The most amazing and thrilling thing happened to me was my last shot of the tour which I took from the flight. It was just few minutes after take off when I looked below through the window when I saw the “The Confluence” where the rivers Indus and Zanskar meet. Without wasting any second, I just clicked. It had been my dream to shoot that point from a bird’s eye angle— I had tried during our arrival to Ladakh but failed. Anyway, the second time I was lucky enough that I got a rare shot.

    A photo journey to Ladakh