Around midnight on the wintry, windswept shores of Ladakh’s salt lake Tsokar (153km from Leh), Bollywood music director Shantanu Moitra awoke to find he couldn’t move. It was -23°C inside the tent. “There was a thick layer of ice on top of my blanket,” he said, “Clearly the tent that was supposed to make me warm enough to sleep in a T-shirt and shorts had malfunctioned.”
Camping on the frozen Tsokar lake in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, can be a chilling experience. The temperature on the watch dial is a degree or so higher than the tent, thanks to the body heat of the photographer. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee
Moitra was camping with Dhritiman Mukherjee, one of the country’s best wildlife photographers, on the first leg of their 10-month-long #100DaysInHimalayas journey. Between February and December 2016, the duo will make a series of trips in the Himalayas covering reaches running from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, and into the neighbouring foothills of Nepal and Bhutan—and they’re taking National Geographic Traveller India along for the ride.
Like pilgrims of other faiths, Buddhists prostrate themselves on the ground as they proceed slowly and prayerfully to a temple. These pilgrims brave the freezing cold en route to a monastery in Leh. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee
Their first stop is Ladakh, in the peak of the icy winter. Moitra, who has created the music for films like PK and 3 Idiots, is deeply interested in the music of the region. “I wanted to record the music of the shepherds, and Dhriti said that to experience their music, you need to experience how they live,” said Moitra. “I heard Kishore Kumar songs and got through the night. And woke up to an incredible view.”
Music does more than keeping spirits high in the Himalayas, Moitra observed. In Matho Monastery (26km from Leh), perched on the ice-crusted slopes of the Indus Valley, the two adventurers listened to monks chanting their prayers and sounding horns that were similar to the blow horn and clarinet.
Monasteries in and around Leh belong to different orders of Himalayan Buddhism. Matho Monastery is the only monastery of the Sakya order. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee
Moitra found the chanting more rhythmic than musical, and most surprisingly—it made him take off his jacket. “It was probably -7°C outside, but as we kept listening, it kept getting hotter. The sound was making me warm. The musical notes resulted in a physiological change in the body. It’s not just entertainment, it’s survival.”
A mosque near Leh shares the Himalayas with Thiksey Monastery, which is pictured in the background. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee
Music also helps the nomadic Changpa shepherds herd their livestock. “A shepherd may not be able to see his yak,” Moitra explained. “since it’s so cold and white outside.” Add to that, there are 3,000ft-drops around every other corner. So they use their voices to lead their yaks and keep them together. If the shepherd can’t carry a note, he might lose his yak. “It changes our concept of why we need music,” Moitra said.
Drass is the coldest inhabited place in the world after Siberia; temperatures drop to -30°C. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee
Shantanu Moitra strums the ukulele against the stark Nubra Valley. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee
Keep posted for updates from Mukherjee and Moitra, as this mountain bromance yields stunning photos of the Himalayas’ stark beauty, and stories of its charming people. Missed the previous dispatches? Read more on #100DaysInHimalayas.
is the former Assistant Editor of NGT India's web team. She loves places by the sea, and travels to shift her own boundaries. She tweets as @Saumya_Ancheri.
is as elusive as the animals he photographs. His photographs have appeared in National Geographic Traveller, The New York Times, Lonely Planet, WWF, UNESCO, Birdlife. He is a RBS Earth Hero award winner for inspiring people for conservation.
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