Ladakh - Land Of The Passes
This photo shows me and some travel buddies surrounded by Buddhist prayer flags over looking Leh, the capital of Ladakh, in northern India.
The photo was made, way back in 1988, with a Canon F-1 camera. That’s a 35 mm film based camera which, back then, was the top of the line in the Canon stable.
What's Your Comfort Zone?
The weather is about to heat up in Melbourne, Australia. It’s going to get to 34C today and, I believe, 37C tomorrow. What's more I’II be suffering through it with a really nasty sinus infection that I’ve had for 9 days.
It’s no wonder that, at times like this, I think of travel.
Travel And Memories of Days Past
This was my very first trip, which took me to Hong Kong, China, Tibet, Nepal, India and Thailand.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the trip was the time I spent in Ladakh (Land Of The Passes) on the Tibetan plateau in the far north of India.
The guesthouse I was staying at cost just a couple bucks a night. An old granny would bake flat bread for breakfast, on an ancient stove, which you'd smear with home made apricot jam.
The jam was made from fruit from the nearby Nubra Valley which borders Pakistan and China. Back then, foreign tourists were not permitted to visit the Nubra Valley. I understand that’s no longer the case.
The Best Bread And Jam You Can Imagine
Prior to breakfast I'd be out and about making photos, most of which were ruined due to both camera and (film) processing related issues.
The photo at the top of this post is one of the few that survived. It features me (I'm the one in green) and some friends I’d met (in Kashmir, I think) during my travels.
A Morning Shower With a Difference
After breakfast we'd line up for a shower. It was rustic to say the least. The water, coming directly from snow melt from the surrounding mountains, was carted by hand by an old granny from an outlet several blocks away.
She was well into her 60's, but was as tough as old boots. She'd carry the water in a large metal jerry can, secured with rope around her shoulders.
You just knew she'd be able to chew you up and spit you out again without raising a sweat. She most certainly had my respect.
As the water was poured into a large 44 gallon drum on top of the shower block the idea was to delay the shower for as long as possible, without waiting for the day's water to run out, in the hope that it would be heated by the sun's rays.
It probably did take the edge off, but boy oh boy was it cold. Talk about a bracing experience. I never got out of that shower without a headache.
It was a little like the one you'd get as a kid after eating ice cream too fast. But rather than a sharp pain in the forehead, this one was concentrated around the skull with the rest of the body encased in a dull ache.
Needless to say I would have forgone my morning shower if I’d known how the water had to be carried, over an old woman’s back, to that rather medieval showering arrangement.
As it was I didn’t discover the facts until near the end of my stay. Though, when I did, the fact that she used to stare through a crack in the door while I took my (quite) long shower started to make sense.
For years afterwards I used to spend the last few minutes of my daily shower, even in winter time, under cold water in the hope that it would help me acclimatize to those horrible Himalayan shower experiences.
It never did, though I'd like to think it was still beneficial. And I returned to Ladakh several times over the following years.
Looking Back At My First Overseas Travels
I have many great memories from my first overseas trip in 1988. It's true to say that it changed my life. After the initial disappointment associated with losing most of my photos I determined to return again next year, which I did. And I've kept travelling, whenever I can, ever since.
Photography hasn't just recorded my travel experiences, it's also informed and enhanced them. I can barely imagine travelling without my camera gear. Life would definitely be easier, but no where need as exciting or creative.