The Himalayas have been a dominant presence in the history and landscape of the subcontinent, both as an object of awe and as an influence on the lifestyle. Human expeditions have sought to explore the mountain range for a long time, with reasonable success, it must be said. The Silk Route passed through the Himalayas, and Alexander famously had to traverse through the range to enter the subcontinent, a journey which is said to have demoralized his army. Apart from such high-profile journeys, numerous tribes and immigrants, even from as far away as Afghanistan and Iran, have inhabited the slopes and foothills of the range, developing diverse languages and lifestyles – the porous nature of the Himalayas, in terms of cultural exchange, most definitely had a role to play in this.
The mystery and grandeur of the Himalayas have inspired a sense of spirituality for long. In the major religions, Hinduism and Buddhism in particular have attached different kinds of spiritual importance to the Himalayas, mainly as an abode for ascetics. Leh is, in fact, a Buddhist-majority settlement. The solitude and the spectacle of the region seem to assist meditative sojourns.
High altitude locations are well-suited for photography, mainly due to two reasons – the geography, which can vary from rocky blacks to lush greens and, at higher altitudes, to snow; and the quality of light, with a naturally high contrast visual created by the lesser degree of atmospheric scattering. The skies are richer blues than at lower altitudes, and the clouds are brighter. On the other side, the UV radiation is also higher at such places, which may damage the eyes, skin or the camera.
The Himalayas pass through 5 countries – India, Pakistan, China, Nepal and Tibet.Many of the rivers that enrich the north Indian plains come from the mountain range. It must be a combination of all these factors that makes the Himalayas a central figure in the histories of the region. The spiritual connotations are various, extending to superstition many times.
Given this abundance of human activity on and around it, it is of no surprise that the many of the world’s highest motorable roads lie on this mountain range – and one of them is the Khardung La pass at 5,359 metres above sea level. It is until here that our bicyclists intend to ride; one of them having already reached the destination.
Jinu, joined by two other cyclists from Manali, reached Khardung La last week, and has since returned to Kerala. His solo journey to Manali was itself filled with happenings, but he was able to reach Manali without any setbacks. He took time off at Manali to go for a trek, which turned out to be one of the most cherishable experiences of his life. The journey from Manali to Leh was also efficiently completed, albeit with its own stories and happenings.
Meanwhile, the other three cyclists from our group – Sooryanarayanan, Jerin and Anto – have reached Manali, after having their journey delayed by an accident, and subsequently by the riots in Haryana.
In this issue, Photo Mail features images taken between Manali and Leh by Jinu.