In the shadows of the make-shift tea house, under his black helmet of hair, Salim’s eyes are lighted with curiosity. For a long time, the chocolate bar we offered him remains untouched, while his words whisper out in resonance to the breeze blowing along the mountainside. He senses our interest in photographing him, but doesn’t move an inch when we request him to come forward. He stares at us, too timid, too shy perhaps to ask us to have a look at our camera.
For several hundred miles, the peaks move between the grassy highlands of Lower Kashmir, through the northern high altitude deserts of Greater Kashmir towards the high plateaus of Central Asia. Once a series of prominent routes as part of the Silk Road, these pathways are blocked and dangerous, intermittently forbidden. We knew we were close to a military zone and that we could be at the mercy of any official if we moved an inch either side. But nevertheless, the sight of sunrise and the smell of wet grass when you wake up is a joy to behold.
The shoulders of unseen mountains drop towards us as the clouds slowly clear. Ten minutes earlier, not one of us would have dared guessed what was hidden behind. It is not for no reason they say that if you stray off the beaten path, the mountains have a surprise or two in store for you. A high altitude lake, as blue as I have ever imagined the color to be, as serene and calm as you would associate with angels, amidst pin drop silence keeps our gaze and thoughts fixed for the next hours.
I often do not take pictures of myself when traveling, given predominantly I travel solo. But this is a timely reminder that summer months, even at high altitudes, can be unforgiving during the afternoon. The risk of dry heat, or dry cold, is that you dehydrate without realizing that you are losing water. The consequences can be fatal if ignored.
Weather in the mountains can change drastically in a frightfully short period of time. When visibility is poor, it is a good idea to stay close to a pathway along the waters. The waters flowing down from the glaciers are fresh and cold.
On other days, if a window of opportunity opens up, capitalise on it. It may not last very long, and when I was warned about this the first time, I did not pay too much heed to it. By the time I took out my tripod and camera to set it up, down came a burst of rainfall.
I was advised by a professional photographer to carry a polariser (when the sun is perpendicular to you) and a Neutral Density Filter (where the sunlight reflects with high luminosity) with me. It worked wonders, despite my limited skills with the camera.
It isn’t uncommon to find local villagers traveling across the mountainside with their horses. Parvez, a local I met while traveling, told me that horses were trained to get accustomed to the terrain during their first three years. Between the ages of three and fifteen, they are most productive. By the time they are 18, their days of conquering such terrains come to an end. What I love about this particular photograph is the small turquoise-blue lake at a distance.