By Purva Grover
Each time anyone heads to Leh, Ladakh, it makes almost everyone who is not on their way to the destination envious, and for obvious reasons. A couple of weeks ago, a bunch of UAE-based photographers, did that to us, yet again! With their Ladakh gear in tow, they headed to explore the unknown. “On our road trip, we gave the crowded tourist spots a miss and visited the unheard of places,” shared Subodh Shetty, a full-time travel photographer and photography tutor, who led the trip. Excerpts from a conversation with the photographers, who are now back in the city, but can’t stop talking about their trip of a lifetime.
“Buddhist monks with candles, a concept that I executed on the spot without any prior ideas or leads.”— Subodh Shetty
A dream destination
“It is a peaceful place where each peak is breathtaking and unique. It’s a dream spot for a photographer as it allows one to shoot both dense landscapes and interesting portraits” says Vinanti Shah, who was a professional procurement consultant for 12 years until she recently left the corporate life to follow her passions — photography and jewellery designing. “The photographic encounters with the locals and their way of life, the adventurous road trips, the serene and surreal views, those cold dreamy starry nights, and the world’s best momos and Maggie noodles on the go — when all these elements come together, they create unforgettable memories,” adds Sonu Sultania, a freelance artist and illustrator, who discovered her love for photography a year ago when she went for her first photo tour to Rajasthan, India. “It’s a place with diverse natural beauty. I admire the people of the land, especially for their commitment towards cleanliness and sustainability,” says Emina Besirevic, who visited Ladakh for the first time.
“High altitude sickness, limited electricity, vanishing mobile network (almost no WiFi), and uncertain weather situations are just a few challenges that exist, but they appear tiny when compared to the magic of the destination,” says Sonu. Her tips: Go fully prepared, be it your fitness level or the clothing you carry. “A steady tripod and a flashlight is a must if you wish to shoot the Milky Way,” she adds. “Motion sickness can leave you uneasy and drained,” says Vinanti, “Reaching specific spots say a distant village, in the midst of obstacles like landslides is a tough task.” Emina, a German, who works with of a food manufacturer company in Dubai, felt that not knowing the language of the land was the biggest challenge, “Speaking the same language makes it easier to connect with people, especially if you want them to pose for you.”
You keep returning to Leh
Subodh, who runs Photowalk Connect, a Dubai-based group and company for learning and exploring all things photography, confesses having lost count of the number of times he’s been to Leh. “May be 12, but then homecoming isn’t really counted. A trip to Ladakh is pure soul therapy. I call it my second home for many reasons. It puts us, humans, in place — the scale of Himalayas helps us realise how small we are in front of nature. It teaches us about life and puts things in perspective: proving that we are not the centre of the universe. The destination is not just about lessons from nature, but also from the people of Ladakh, who can teach us about humility, simplicity, and genuineness of character; the locals share an invaluable lesson on coexisting with nature.”
For Vinanti, this was her second visit to Ladakh in last ten months, “The saying — “There’s beauty everywhere, all you have to do is just look around” — holds so true when it comes to the Ladakh. “My first trip to Leh was five years ago, with my family. The place left me spellbound with its raw beauty and rugged terrains even back then, but this time since I was looking at everything from a photographer’s perspective, it was a completely different experience,” says Sonu.
On a bike vs. with a camera in hand
“I am not a biker, but I rather not be on the bike, considering the weather conditions we faced from sudden rains to extreme cold. As a photographer, when you’re travelling in a vehicle driven by someone else, you get the time to check your pictures or even take a nap, so you are fresh for the next shoot,” says Emina. “Bikers do have their share of fun. It’s adventure at its best. It’s about facing the challenges, nose first. Photography trips can very well be done on bikes too. Both have their advantages; to each his own,” sums up Subodh.
A storyteller, Purva is in search of her favourite word