LADAKH, LAND OF HIGH PASSES
Images & Text by Jenny Zarins
Ladakh, You Beauty,
The highest plateau in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, much of it over 3000m.
The Great Himalayas in the south, the Karakoram in the north and Tibet in the East.
Thousands of square kilometres of high altitude desert with snow capped mountains and deep turquoise lakes, lush green valleys where the rivers run.
The largest concentration of high peaks on the planet.
I’m a photographer and was commissioned by Conde Nast Traveller UK to do a story in Ladakh few years ago. It’s truly one of those places that gets under your skin and firmly stays in your heart.
I’ve got so much more to discover from this beautiful part of the world and truly hope to be back one day.
Our trip was based around Leh. Jigmet Wangchuk, our local guide, was extraordinary. Apart from showing us the incredible landscape he introduced us to wonderful locals and characters of the community which without him I very much doubt we would have connected with.
Pulling out my favourite shots from this trip it’s clear that no matter how breathtaking the landscape, the people grabbed my heart. One portrait after the other gets selected.
We had a wonderful stay at a family’s house in Nimmu Village, The Chirpon Family, who used to be the water-keepers. True sense of village life, the food, culture and day to day life.
The area is dense with beautiful Buddhist Monasteries and Temples. Thiksey, Lekir, Spituk, Shey Palace seen from afar and you think you’ve landed on Middle Earth. One day we were lucky to pass a local Archery Festival and were welcomed to join the party. Robin Hood who?
Watching a fierce, dusty weekend game of Polo in Leh was unforgettable. Also referred to as the ‘Sport of Kings’, enjoyed in the country since the 16th Century. All major villages of Ladakh have their own Polo Ground.
Still, the highlight of our trip was the morning of our departure from Nimmu. Jigmet asked if we would like to stay a few extra hours in order to attend the morning ceremony with the Oracle?
This happens once a year.
Ladakhis believe in the influence of Gods and Spirits on the Material World. Taking this influence into consideration in any major decisions they make, they ask the Oracle for guidance and advice on auspicious dates etc.
I was welcomed to join them in the ceremony and take photographs, however I was clearly told once the Oracle arrived I had to make sure not to be seen by him and under no circumstances to photograph him. As a spirit, his image can not be captured.
As the Oracle eventually arrived, walking up the hill in trance, drums beating loud, I hid firmly behind a rock and stayed there.
Ladakh – ‘Land of high Passes’ til next time we meet.
After leaving school and a year assisting in her native Sweden, Jenny ventured to London in 1996 with a plan to stay 6 months. Twenty years on she’s still there.
As a regular contributor to Conde Nast Traveller UK she travels the world, photographing people and places. Recent trips have included Japan, the Maldives, Mozambique and Amorgos in Greece.
Her latest projects include a commission in Istanbul, a continuation in the series of imagery she has created for the Raffles Hotel group and the photography for ‘The Ivy Now’ – a book celebrating the iconic London restaurant’s centenary, just published by Quadrille.
When she isn’t working in the worlds of travel, food or fashion, she’s likely to be found roaming around on a horse in the countryside where she lives outside London.