Eight nights and nine days… that’s how long the Toehold Ladakh July Photo Tour was, offering the participants rewarding experiences in the high altitudes of the Himalayas. We share with you the Tour story here; a story from the mighty mountains and why they become an addiction that you never want to fight the need to call on them whenever you feel like.
Participants assembled at Leh on the first day of the Tour, and by lunch time, they were briefed about the Tour by Skippers Sachin Rai and Rajiv Shyamsundar. The group was advised to rest and get used to the high altitude so they could gear up with all the enthusiasm and love for the mountains and valleys.
On the side of a Ladakhi mountain is the oldest monastery that goes by the name Hemis. It was there that the participants got to try many different techniques of photography. Capturing the prayer wheels in motion and in stillness was no less than a prayer itself. And capturing the simple moments from the lives of the monks and their tranquil faces into portraits was the best way to begin the art of making images.
“A spinning wheel in Ladakh means someone’s prayer moving,” says Rajiv, “and capturing prayer wheels has never been as fun as it is with the Sigma art series lens.” This is how a photographer’s prayer for moving images can be answered in the monasteries of Ladakh, with the right lens adding its unique charm to a frame.
The next day was about more portraiture at the Thiksay Monastery. The monastery itself, built in many layers on the side of a hill, offered some amazing opportunity for photography, kindling the imagination of the participants.
The statue of the Buddha at the monastery, a major tourist attraction, became the subject of some evocative photography, apart from inducing a spiritual sensation in those who beheld his imposing form in vibrant colours.
After lunch that day, the group headed towards the renowned Shanti Stupa, where they made amazing time lapse photography, resulting in some breathtaking videos. They stayed there trying different techniques of photography until the blue hour. And even in the low evening light, when the Stupa was lit up, participants were able to make some artistic images of the monument and the landscape in which it nestled.
In the blue hour, when the Shanti Stupa stood in all peace justifying its own name even against a dramatic, bluesy sky, Rajiv managed to capture the sweet conundrum with his Sigma lens. “Even low light on a late evening can occasionally be a boon for such an evocative image,” asserts Rajiv.
During dinner, the Skippers discussed the plans for the following day, and called it a night, looking forward to the next day’s journey.
The day began with a long drive on the scenic paths that lead to Pangong Tso. En route, the group got to see and photograph the Himalayan blue sheep (bharal). They also stopped by a stream to make some serene images of the flowing water as silky, smooth white veil.
Passing through the Chang La, one of the highest motorable passes in the world, was a spectacular adventure, and the participants were able to make various landscape images even before reaching the Pangong Lake.
On the banks of Pangong Tso, the group had a great opportunity to make time lapse images and long exposure shots in the gorgeous soft evening light. They wandered a bit around the lake for different and unique perspectives and later gathered for a delicious dinner before bidding adieu to yet another rewarding day.
In the night, by the Pangong Lake stood the lit-up night camp under the starry night sky. Rajiv managed to capture a part of Milky Way with his Sigma art series lens, its large aperture capturing this vision in low light. “Containing a small part of infinity with mountains undulating as dark waves was an infinite joy,” says the lensman.
The following day, after breakfast, participants had a fun time making more charming landscape images and taking profile pictures on the banks of the lake. They also found prayer flags fluttering frantically in the wind and made creative images, along with those of the stone cairns that are an interesting detail about visiting the Pangong Lake. On their way back, they also got an opportunity to see marmots and make photos of the large rodents.
Nubra Valley was the next stop of the Tour the next day. The group had a great time travelling through the highest, awe-inspiring motorable pass in the world the Khardung La. The journey itself proved to be picturesque and upon reaching the Shyok River, a tributary of the Sindhu (Indus) River, they made some exotic shots with the help of the Skippers.
What followed next was a new way of making images of the meandering, tortuous sand dunes in the valley. They tried some imaginative silhouetted shots of the dunes and on the other end, they were able to see the famous Ladakhi Bactrian camels and capture them into interesting portraits and innovative pictures.
And like a sweet distraction, a cute little boy appeared somewhere on the way back. When Rajiv found the perfect opportunity for portraiture of this Ladakhi lad, he also made a mental image of the backdrop with a creamy, smooth bokeh effect to it, because the large aperture of the Sigma lens could allow him just that. Even as he got close to his subject, the surrounding fills almost half of the frame.
The next day of the tour demanded some physical strength and promised a ton of fun for the participants as they had to climb the hill to reach the Diskit Monastery. They made some stunning portraits at the Gompa. Another interesting technique of photography, panorama shots, was attempted here. The participants made spectacular images of the valley from the monastery. The giant, multi-coloured statue of Maitreya Buddha was also seized into several photos. The place proved to be excellent for time lapse photography as well.
And in one corner of the Diskit Monastery was a photograph in the forming, and it took Rajiv with his Sigma art series lens to capture this portrait with great colour rendition and the lovely bokeh of the Nubra valley in the background. “This is a favourite image from Ladakh,” exclaims Rajiv.
That evening, on the way back to Leh, the group had a great time shopping in the bylanes and back alleys, where they could also try out street photography. A while before, on the way, Skipper Rajiv saw another classic example for shallow depth of field and great bokeh effect that could be achieved with the Sigma wide angle lens. This interesting perspective was Rajiv’s way of capturing the flag from a short distance for a sharp image, with the lovely backdrop of the mountains smoothly bokeh-ed under the bright blue sky.
Tso Moriri waited to be captured into pixels the following day. To reach the Moriri Lake meant to drive along the beautiful, ancient Sindhu River. On the way, the group stopped at a scenic spot, by a rivulet to finish their lunch. On the way, the group spotted the golden eagle, and stopped by Kiagar Tso, which was like watching a trailer version of the Moriri Lake.
Reaching Tso Moriri by 4 in the evening, participants were able to make some striking panaromic shots of the landscape containing the gorgeous lake. They even tried silhouettes and light seemed to be camera-friendly that evening too.
On the way back from Lake Moriri, the participants also spotted some Himalayan wild ass. They visited Tso Kar where the marshy terrain offered itself for landscape photography differently. The group then saw red fox and made images yet another animal in the high altitudes of Ladakh.
Ladakh makes magic happen to a traveller who seeks beauty, even as the country is monsooning elsewhere. And witnessing such enchantment were the participants of the July 2016 Ladakh Photo Tour participants, whose photographs stand as a testimony to the spell that the ever-fascinating land in the Himalayas cast on its beholders.