We were tracking this elusive ghost of the mountains alongside our team of local leopard trackers. Khenrab, our lead tracker, grew up in Hemis National Park and knows the area like the back of his hand. With over 17 years of services as a forest guard, he is also a pioneer in the field of snow leopard conservation. Recently, he was the lead tracker for the BBC’s filming crew as they shot the incredible scenes of snow leopards featured in Planet Earth II. As the bharal made their way towards the couloir, Khenrab switched between his spotting scope, which was trained on the snow leopard, and his binoculars, which he used to determine where the sheep were headed.
The leading bharal leapt onto one of the couloirs rock faces and nimbly jumped from one side to the other in a graceful descent to the bottom. The rest of the herd began to follow. As the last ones made their way towards the descent, the snow leopard pounced into action, sending the stragglers into a stampede. They ran down the couloir with the predator at their heels. It was over in a split second. The snow leopard had bounced through the couloir with great agility, but the bharal were much faster.
Tucked away in this remote corner of the world, far from the rapid urbanisation and hot crowds of Indian cities, there’s an ancient way of living that still continues into the 21st century.
My father, from whom I get my love of photography, had a pretty impressive collection of large format photography books. Of those, my favourite was a huge book on Himalayan landscapes by Japanese photographer Yoshikazu Shirakawa. Over the years, I’ve flipped the pages of this book many a time, never getting tired of the magnificence of these incredible mountains.
Today, I’m privileged to spend over eight months of the year shooting in my favourite landscape, often at the intersection of two of the greatest mountain ranges on earth, the Himalayas and the Karakoram. Known as the Trans-Himalaya, this is one of the most spectacular regions of our planet. My neck of the woods falls in the far North of India at the crossroads of India, China, and Pakistan, in the Trans-Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh.
Tucked away in this remote corner of the world, far from the rapid urbanisation and hot crowds of Indian cities, there’s an ancient way of living that still continues into the 21st century. The rich cultural treasures of a glorious Trans-Himalayan past are only a conversation away. On photo expeditions to remote villages and to the nomadic Changpa people, we get immersive experiences into a traditional way of life. People are tied to the fertility of the land, dependent on a regular water cycle that provides snowfall, then snowmelt, which then recharges their nourishing pasturelands. They are connected to this cycle.
I have long been fascinated by nomadic pastoralists, their cultures, their transitory way of life, and the rugged harshness of their existence. Over the last three years, I’ve gotten quite a few opportunities to visit the Changpa people of the Changthang region of Ladakh.
Over the course of these visits, I was often requested to return with copies of the images I took so that the subjects would have something to be remembered with after they died.
While my usual shots with the Changpa were more documentary and travel oriented, I realised that these weren’t the prints they wanted. So I started taking formal portraits, lit with a softbox, and with dark backgrounds. Everyone I shot wanted to dress up and look good for their picture.
Invariably, everyone also got out their mani, the prayer wheels that are an important part of Tibetan Buddhist life, because they wanted to be remembered as pious.
Come join us to experience this exceptional part of the world as we search for the elusive snow leopards and experience the warmth of the Ladakhi people. More information about our Ladakh photography tour can be found here.
About the Author
Indian-American photographer Behzad Larry spends 8 months a year photographing the Trans-Himalaya and Central Asia. His work is based in some of the most remote regions of the planet documenting ways of life that are being lost to modernization and exploring the incredible landscapes of the roof of the world.