Gompa And Pangong Tso, Ladakh, India
Here’s a favorite image from long ago. I’m not sure exactly when I made this image, but it was made with a Hasselblad camera and Hasselblad Carl Zeiss 150 mm f4 Sonnar lens in the early to mid 90’s. The image depicts a gompa (i.e., monastery or other religious building in the Tibetan regions of the Himalaya) in northern India on the western border of Tibet.
The Road To Pangong Tso
It was my third trip to Ladakh, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and my trip to Pangong Tso (i.e., Pangong Lake) involved a grueling 4-wheel drive drip, with numerous break downs along the way. At 4,250 meters (13,900 feet) above sea level the lake is 134 km long and 5 km across at its widest point. Despite being salt water the entire lake freezes over in winter.
After a breathless climb up a steep hillside I paused, with labored breathing in the rarefied air, to look down onto this glorious scene. I made the image just after arriving but, soon after, the late afternoon light passed below the mountains behind me plunging the scene into cold, flat light.
The building in the foreground is the local gompa. Cultivated fields run down to the lake, dwarfed by the view across to the mountain range in the background.
The drive from Leh, the capital city of Ladakh, to Pangong Tso traverses the Changla pass, the third highest pass in the world. Spanmik, the tiny village on either side of the gompa, seemed to be almost deserted the night I stayed.
Nevertheless my traveling companion and I were treated to a bonfire on which a sheep was cooked. It was quite an experience eating freshly slaughtered meat by a raging fire under a star laden sky.
These days there’s a tent city for tourists during the season but, back then, we ate in the grounds of the single room school and slept, under the stars, on the ground outside.
I exhibited this image as part of a Masters in Photography I completed at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in the mid 90’s. Many of the images from that exhibition were displayed with accompanying text. The text for this particular image read as follows:
Juxtaposing the image with the text was designed to produce a somewhat ambiguous result. It causes folks to think about the image in a way far removed from how they otherwise would. In this case the objective was to illicit memory and imaginings, my own and that of my audience.
The Function Of Art
I believe that the function of art is not so much to provide answers, but to ask questions and provoke thoughtful response.
I hope that folks will extract their own meanings and interpretations from my photos. By placing more poetic, non caption-based text alongside the image at the top of this post I hoped to intensify their interaction and response beyond what they would otherwise expect by looking at the image in isolation.
For Those Seeking To Better Understand
The he in the text is me, while the she refers to my dear old mum. Mares is now 91 years of age.
It’s amazing how our mind is often concentrated on the most important aspects of life by emersion in foreign cultures and exotic locales. Mix physical activity, stress, fatigue, exhilaration and beauty and such insights are likely to be quite intense.
I guess I was experiencing all of the above and that’s what brought my sub-conscious to the fore when I made this image. Pangong Tso is a spectacular location and I'm grateful for the opportunity to have photographed there. But it's the deep connection I felt with my mum, while photographing that particular landscape, that's most important to me.
What a wonderful thing to be amidst such awesome natural beauty and to be reminded of what is most important in one’s life: love and family.
And amazing experience and a resulting image with which, after all these years, I’m still very happy.
Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru