Favourite places 2: Ladakh, India
There are some places in the world that a photographer can easily fall in love with. For me, it was Ladakh, in northern India. Ladakh, meaning ‘land of the high passes’ is located in the Himalayas and consists of a series of valleys, separated by hulking mountain ranges. There is a definite Tibetan feel to the place (it is often referred to as ‘little Tibet’), and the Indus Valley is dotted with Buddhist monasteries big and small.
One of the most impressive and accessible is Thiksey Monastery. Every day, monks are called to morning ceremony (puja) by monks blowing conch shell horns from the roof of the monastery. The ceremony is open for travelers and it is deeply moving to attend the 1,5 hours of prayer, chanting and music, accompanied by several cups of milk tea.
Photographers love Ladakh for its amazing light. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always blue sky country; quite often there are some clouds in the sky. It is exactly this presence of clouds and an often piercing quality of sunlight that makes for a very dramatic light play on the buildings and hills.
For years, Ladakhs capital Leh had been a major post on the trading routes between Central Asia, India and China, causing an influx of people from many parts of India. Although trade with China has declined, the rise in tourism to Ladakh still attracts many Kashmiri, Punjabi, Sikh and Rajasthani merchants, let alone workers from relatively poor states such as Bihar, and the neighbouring country of Nepal.I met some wonderful people as I wandered the streets of Leh with my camera and portrait lens. Every time, after taking their photograph, I would return to my hotel room, print the image with a Polaroid ZINK printer, and return with the printed image as a gift. It’s been a great way of sharing photography, without the hassle of having your mail opened by customs or the post office.
Ladakh is accessed most easily through Leh. You can travel to Leh by airplane from New Delhi, or by a two-day bus or jeep ride from New Delhi, overnighting in Manali.