I’m going to try to describe the landscape I have been travelling through these past 10 days. A great many others have done so before me and I suspect infinitely more eloquently but I want to try…
The Himalayas are comprised of a number of different Ranges; around Leh there are the Ladakh Range running roughly south-east to north-west, north of Leh; the Zanskar and Stok to the south with approximately the same orientation. Each range and indeed each side of each one is quite different. One side will be all jagged and sharp, full of evidence of the tectonic pressures; the other softer, older looking, worn down by time and the elements. One slope will be a dark glossy magenta and the next a lovely Tuscan ochre. There are rock formations which wouldn’t look out of place in the Alberta Badlands, all weathered and sculpted by the winds, snow and rain; and massive boulders hanging suspended overhead just waiting for the slightest excuse to wreck havoc.
The light, especially for a photographer is a constant source of both frustration and sheer unadulterated Joy. One minute there is this achingly blue sky that goes on forever and then literally within minutes a storm front moves in and covers the entire world in a luminous grey blanket. Both lights I may say, are equally hard to do justice to – the human eye can still see far, far better than even the very best camera – but I am trying! The quality of the light also has such an affect on ones mood and energy, my spirit soars and I feel as if I can see all eternity when the sky is open; when the clouds roll in and the mountains disappear under that grey blanket my spirit shrinks as well and it takes a constant effort to maintain my equilibrium.
It can be rather disconcerting how quickly the weather changes; on one drive up to a pass we went from sunshine and big fluffy clouds to a massive hailstorm and shrieking winds in about ten minutes. Another descent found us above the clouds in brilliant sunshine, down into the thick and eerie cotton batting and then out again to driving rain!
Everything becomes a matter of adjusting ones eyes and perspective – what on first glance seems completely barren and incredibly austere, on closer inspection shows vast delicate washes of ethereal colour on vertical slopes. There are all these tiny plants and flowers clinging to bare rock – cheery buttery yellow nodding heads, small bushy plants with upright columns from palest pink blush through to a deep mauve and carpets of the tiniest white buttons so thick in spots it looks like a dusting of snow.
The emerald green meadows fed by glacial steams, turn into fields of treacherous moss covered boulders upon closer inspection. Hanging alpine valleys with expanses of sharp edged shards become the nomad’s dry stone corrals as the eye adjusts and the larger rocks morph into herds of pashmina goats in their long draperies of cream and brown. The shepherds with their goats hair coat/blankets wrapped snuggly around them are barely more visible but the dogs are easily seen and heard as they run around managing everyone.
We drive through, around and over absolutely massive, kilometre long eskers, remnants of long gone glaciers which dam the valleys to create alpine lakes of brilliant but sterile hues. Another valley had sulphur deposits washing everything in yellow and small geysers spouting noisily every few minutes.