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[100 Strangers Project] Stranger #9

Stranger #9

The driver who was always high!

The epic journey from Manali to Leh needs no introduction! Words fall short to explain the magic of this route.

Twenty of us (four Indians and rest foreigners) started from Manali early in the morning in a Tempo Traveler. Our driver seemed to be an enthusiastic guy, at least initially. It was only after we crossed Rohtang that we realized the danger of that enthusiasm! He would disappear at most of the pit-stops along the way, only to reappear after a while looking more happy and energetic! We kept wondering what he was up to all the time!

This journey is not the most comfortable drive in the world – spectacular, yes, comfortable, no way. This is not helped by the fact that some of the roads have drops to the side of a good few hundred metres. And yes, you can find those unlucky crashed vehicles covered with rust down the slope somewhere. To top all of this we had a rash driver who scared the hell out of us!

I somehow managed to make friends with him and tried chatting with him through the whole journey, nudging him to drive more carefully and preventing him from falling asleep!

I clearly remember a moment when his drooping eyelids closed while we were at a dangerous curve on the road! I was lucky enough to wake him up at the nick of the moment.

During our casual talks on the road I learnt that he was originally from Mandi village in Himachal. He had a loving family back at home and was making a living out of driving between Manali and Leh in summers, only to be jobless for the rest of the year. He would drive on these dangerous roads every day for four months!

At one of the pit-stops he opened up and shared with us the reason which kept him going – ‘smoking up’. He needed the constant stimulation to be on the road, enduring the treacherous journey-day after day!

Our crazy driver - Manohar!
Our crazy driver – Manohar!

Meet Manohar from Mandi, Himachal, our crazy driver during the epic trip.

Find more posts on 100 strangers project here.

[100 Strangers Project] Strangers #6, #7 and #8

Strangers #6 & #7

The pretty damsels by the lake

After the mind-blowing bike ride from Leh to Pangong we checked into a cozy homestay by the lake, refreshed ourselves and went for a stroll along the lake. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful places in India. I’ve never seen a more peaceful and heavenly lake!
I left VJ with some of our new found friends and started walking by the lake all by myself, enjoying the peace and solitude. I was suddenly brought back from the trance by a pleasant voice asking me if I could take a picture of her by the lake. The photographer in me woke up with a startle! And for the next couple of minutes I took some of her portrait shots with the beautiful backdrop!
We chatted for a while, most of the time talking about the pristine beauty of the place! I found her to be a cheerful and happy person who wants to live her life to the fullest. A budding fashion designer, she is a free-spirited person.

Mallika from Chandigarh
Mallika from Chandigarh

Meet Mallika from Chandigarh whom I met while walking along Pangong.

The blissful walk along the lake continued after bidding Mallika a goodbye. I saw three kids immersed in a stone skipping game. I was reminded of 3 idiots 😉
Suddenly my attention was caught by a young lady who was sitting by the lake on a rock with a diary in her hand on which she was occasionally writing something. She looked like a poetess from the modern period and had a calm and serene expression on her face. I couldn’t resist talking to her though I didn’t want to disturb her work. She responded with a sweet smile. It turned out that she was indeed writing a poem about the surreal place in front of us! Writing was her hobby and it was mostly for her own self. When I told her about the 100 strangers project she got excited and readily agreed to be one of my strangers!

Saachi from Chandigarh
Saachi from Chandigarh

Meet Saachi Dhillon, a marketer by profession and a budding writer from Chandigarh.

Stranger #8

The lady who made the most delicious thukpa

The last pit-stop for the day arrived and we stumbled out of our cab. It was at an altitude of whopping 4500 metres(~15,280 feet)! We had arrived at Pang, the world’s highest transit camp.
At such an altitude and very low oxygen levels, walking for even a few metres can be a herculean task! Such is altitude sickness!
Needless to say, our bodies were tired and minds numb with mountain sickness but we were also constantly mesmerised by the surreal landscape. Being suckers for a good cup of chai (tea) we decided to enter a small, dingy hotel by the road. It was named after its owner. After having an amazing cup of chai and relaxing on the beds provided we decided to order a thukpa. It’s a Tibetan noodle soup, inspired from China. After about ten minutes, the owner of the hotel herself came out with a bowl of steaming hot thukpa in her hands. And it was one of the most delicious soups we have had till now! The taste still lingers in our mouths 🙂
The lady seemed to be satisfied looking at us enjoying her simple dish. We thanked her immensely for rejuvenating our taste buds!
After a short conversation with her, I realised what a hard-working lady she was! She was originally from a village near Leh called Choglamsar which is around 100 kms from Pang. She travels to Pang during the summers to set up her hotel for the travellers. With an ever-smiling face she serves the tired and wasted travellers! She has a son who studies in Delhi and is proud of him. She says life in the mountains is not easy. Still, people have found a way to live in these harsh surroundings.

Sonam Pangri from Pang
Sonam Pangri from Pang

Meet Sonam Pangri who runs a small and cozy hotel in Pang.

And this is VJ enjoying the thukpa!

VJ enjoying thukpa - definitely not a stranger! ;)
VJ enjoying thukpa – definitely not a stranger! 😉

Find more posts on 100 strangers project here.

[100 strangers project] Strangers #4 and #5

Stranger #4

The ever-smiling nurse from Italy

I was entering our home-stay after a blissful walk along the Pangong lake when a loud and cheerful voice greeted me saying she knew who I was and that she was happy to meet me! I was taken aback. I’d neither seen this smiling stranger before, nor was I a world-famous personality! Perplexed as I was, I greeted her back and tried not to sound thoroughly surprised and asked her how she knew me. For a while she kept me waiting and then she revealed that it was VJ who had met her earlier and told her about me! She knew that I was a doctor. And for the next couple of hours we chatted endlessly. She told me of the health-care system back at her place in Italy and that she was a nurse in a psychiatric care unit. It’s indeed a challenging job!
She was traveling across India with her husband.
What surprised me even more was the facts she revealed about her husband. He was an avid cyclist and had cycled across north India extensively. He was actually cycling from Manali to Leh right then and was expected to join her soon!
The following morning we bid adieu to her and the beautiful Pangong!

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Franca from Italy.

Meet Franca, the cheerful and bold nurse from Italy.

Stranger #5

The horseman from Beas nala

It was our first pit stop en route Manali to Leh. We got out of our cab and were mesmerised by the beautiful landscape around us. Beas (Read as Byas) nala is the place before Rohtang pass where the river Beas flows in the form of a stream and forms a gorge. We were busy having a yummy bread omlette by the river when this man approached us with a hesitant but innocent smile and a horse bridle in his hand. He asked us if we wanted a horse ride around the place. I’m generally not an animal friendly person and wasn’t keen on the ride. He lingered around us for sometime and I started making a conversation with him.
He was born and raised in the same place(Beas nala) and has never stepped out of it all his life! I was astonished to realize that some people end up never leaving their home all their life and grow up to being more and more comfortable and losing the sense of exploration. But again it’s the circumstances which dictate these things most often. And of course, people are different. During the conversation I realised that he was a contented and simple man who earns his living by offering joyful horse-rides to tourists in Beas nala.

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Life here is simple and quiet….but very tough!
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Kabal Ram

Meet Kabal Ram whom we met during that epic journey of Manali-Leh!

Find more posts on 100 strangers project here.

100 Strangers Project

I was introduced to this project a few months ago by Neelima’s blog on the same topic. Since then I’ve been wanting to start my own and so here I am.

Being bitten by photography bug recently, I’ve been experimenting with various genres of this art and I’ve come to realise that I really enjoy capturing portraits. I also like meeting new people. Most of my bus/train journeys are never a bore as I try and strike a conversation with the fellow passengers soon enough. I must say I’ve met very interesting people.

So, What is this 100 Strangers Project?

The project is a challenge to take hundred photographs of at least hundred people you don’t know. Approach a person or group of people and ask for permission to take a photo of them. And more importantly, get to know your subjects. Who are they? What is their life like? Tell their story.

Taking portraits of hundred people may seem to be easy as there are thousands of strangers on the street. However, it’s not just about the photos. Every portrait has to have a short story with it. Be it about the stranger or the whole encounter. A story has to be there. So it’s not that easy, eh?

I think it’s going to be fun! It might even expand my everyday living experience. Moreover, who knows I might even make a couple of new friends in the process!

So, here I start a series on my encounters with 100 strangers!

Stranger #1: The lady from the house of the tiger god!

Stranger 1

The cute little fingers were trying to grab my phone. I started changing wallpapers on it and she was all smiles to watch the colours change with the swipe of a finger. Sometimes it’s just that one pure innocent smile that takes your heart away! After playing with me for a while her sleepy eyelids started drooping and she drifted into a peaceful sleep.

“Where are you travelling to?”, the most common question asked during bus journeys was exchanged. Hulidevaramane was her reply and Sigandur was mine.

She had a sweet smile on her face throughout. During the course of conversation that followed, she told me a lot about her life. Originally from a town, she now stays in a remote village which doesn’t even have direct access to a bus. The last five kilometres to the village has to be on foot. Helping her husband with farming, she also milks the cows everyday to extract around thirty litres of milk!

I was filled with respect for her and other similar women in our rural communities who have great physical endurance and stamina which most of us – urban dwellers don’t seem to possess.

Meet Ranjitha and her baby Rakshitha from Hulidevaramane, a remote village in Sagar taluk of Shimoga district. I met her on my way to a lovely village called Sigandur which is surrounded by the Sharavathi backwaters.

As I chatted with her I suddenly felt that she has to be the first stranger of my project! I didn’t have my DSLR but somehow I wanted her to be my first stranger. I immediately took her permission to take a picture of both of them which she readily gave. But since it was a moving bus and I only had a mobile phone, the photo quality is not that great. Nevertheless, I’m just so happy to kick start my project!

[Update] Find more posts on 100 strangers project here.