In 1986, I was studying in a Delhi school (Union Academy), and at that time my friend and classmate Debashish Sarkar sold me a Premier automatic camera for 600 bucks. That was the beginning of my dabbling with pictures. (Prior to that I used to admire my father’s Yashika (he kept it in a leather case) and my uncle’s Canon from a distance.)
Then, in 1990, my childhood friend (my very first friend), Abbas Neemuchwala, sold me his Yashika SLR for 1500 bucks. That was also the year when, after a series of knee injuries and surgeries, I returned to climbing the Himalayas across Himachal with more vigour than ever- the Yashika and the Premier always with me.
My uncle, the late Dr Shaikh Abdul Jabbar (my father’s brother-in-law) was an accomplished photographer, a master of black and white, reel-based photography, and a great artist in the Dark Room. Between the two of them, they managed to ingrain and impress upon me that while technical accomplishment was critical, imagination and the story (what they called ‘perspective’) were the key. My father used to often say: “A photograph is not beautiful because of what’s in it but because of why it is in it.”
I am not a photographer, but I still dabble and therefore, here are some relics from my visits to Spiti these past few years … along with some notes on what I was thinking and why I took the photographs (in case the notes maybe of some use to somebody).
What do you see in this photograph? Mountains? Snow? Beauty? Existential Philosophy? This is a view of the Shila Torrent or Nallah flowing through Kaza into the Spiti river – in essence it’s a view of Kaza from the road to Komik. I found it poetic, the manner in which the Shila is snaking its way down, dissecting the town, and gushing out into the yawning wide expanse of the Spiti. Was it a coincidence that I was up there, stumbling upon this view? Photo: sanjay mukherjee
This is the ground-zero (well, almost) view of the Shila Nallah (Torrent), a lifeline for the inhabitants of Kaza all the year around. By the way, the water is freezing cold, as in freeeeeeezing cold in the winter – I know because I drank from it. This was the second thing we saw on the first morning in Kaza (the first was the market); Photo: sanjay mukherjee.
This is the point from where I looked at the Shila Nallah and followed its trail up and started wondering what mountain that was up ahead; Photo: sanjay mukherjee.
And this is the Shila Nallah closer to the mountain above Kaza (half an hour later); After I was done watching the student monks ice-skate, I looked up and wondered if Kaza could be seen from up there and what it would look like; Therefore, the first picture in this series (that picture was taken a few days later); Photo: sanjay mukherjee.
I have always been fascinated by rivers and the Himalayas. Fascinated because of the stories one can imagine in the lines, the curves, the time of day, and the age and timelessness of the land. This July photograph of the Spiti snaking its way from Kaza into the distant mountains towards Lossar is not a coincidence. This was not clicked from the road or the bank, but from midway between the two. Why? Because that was the only point from where one could achieve the straight entry of the river into the mountains in the distance, even as we could see how wide the river once was. What might be of interest is that this was taken a year before the Winter visit, and this was the moment when I first took a long look at the Spiti and then turned to Kaza and thought about how the people had come to settle here; Photo: sanjay mukherjee
This is the same view but from up closer to the distant mountain, also in July but early July in a different year. One can see the Keurik village across the river. The shorter distance, the later-midday shadows provide a different interpretation to the age-old story of the same river – the visual beauty is incidental and flows directly from the perspective and story – I clicked these photographs across three years in different seasons because I was curious about how it would look in different seasons, just as people are different in different moods and different circumstances; Photo: sanjay mukherjee
Early evening on an early July day, but with a bright blue sky and drifting clouds … the darkness of the land and the brilliance of the sky lend a magical touch to the story line of the Spiti’s journey toward Lossar – I imagined the journey to Lossar standing at this point in each year, even though I had been there previously – it is a new journey each time; By the third visit, I knew each village along both banks and I was more curious than ever how and why the people had chosen the sites for their villages; Photo: sanjay mukherjee
And here is the same river from a similar vantage point with the same story line but in the middle of a -10 degree C January winter day – full of life, vitality and cheer: full of the promise of a brilliant future nestled within the distant mountains; And look at those brilliant playful clouds! This is a painting but one in which the art, the science, the history and the geography all make sense to me – it’s not just a pretty photograph; Photo: sanjay mukherjee
This is Kaza town on the banks of the sprawling Spiti on a resplendent and clear summer evening – view towards Mane Dhank and Tabo; (the previous set of photos were shot from around this point but looking towards the other direction of the river towards Lossar; Photo: sanjay mukherjee.
Same view, different year, same season – what a magnificent river this must have been in ages gone by, how powerful its flow to have carved such a wide swath; Photo: sanjay mukherjee
Kaza along the Spiti from the same vantage point, different year, same season – one can clearly feel the importance of the weather and the elements in the life of the village and its people and culture; Photo: sanjay mukherjee.
And that is the same view of Kaza and the Spiti, this time just before a snow-storm on a freezing -12 degrees C winter afternoon; What do you see? I see a people and a land and a river living in harmony in the same conditions under the same undiscriminating sky; Photo: sanjay mukherjee
What is beauty if not life itself? The morning sky bathes Kaza, Spiti and the land in hues that defy the clinical concept of beauty that drives modern visual sensibilities in the digital age; This image was shot three days after the snow-storm; Photo: sanjay mukherjee.