On the Road to Baltistan, continuing from
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Before we reach Turtuk, Baltistan; it was important to dedicate an essay only to the journey. My travels that saw me traversing through these dangerous, rough and meditative landscapes that over the years helped changing me, even my cells.
For many years this road has been my road to inner work and of the outside world, and i imagine one which taught me best how to discern.
This National Highway that runs from Srinagar, Kashmir to Leh is called the NH Delta- 1 and is the most important road that joins the valley of Kashmir to Laddakh. La that is ‘a mountain pass’, and ddakh is the ‘King’- this land that is the king of the mountain passes, running along the mighty river Indus, parallel to the most active, volatile border in the world, the Line of Control with Pakistan.
Ever since the partition of India between the Islamic state of Pakistan and Democratic state of India/Bharat in 1947, this Line of Control has taken innumerable lives, blood that only the river Indus is a witness of. It has seen five gruesome wars and one in 1999, Kargil war where the Pakistani army had captured the tiger hill, overlooking this highway, on the other side of the Indus, targeting civilian cars, passenger buses and army posts et all for ten days stalling all activity and mostly cutting the supply lines and connection between Kashmir and Laddakh.
It was in 2011 when i was assigned to teach social science in Baltistan. Upon reaching the village deep in the foothills of Siachin, through the then highest motorable road in the world, that was opened just a few months ago for the first time. We heard that hundreds of Balti students were coming back to their villages from Kashmir and other regions; once they learnt that some teachers from the Indian mainland have come to teach in their own village for the gruesome winters. It had never happened before, as there was no road, and to cross the mighty highest pass was unheard of till then. It was a very big deal for the villagers elders and likewise they gave us so much love that we have not known till then.
But that night the weather worsened overnight, just a day after we reached. The highest passes and roads were blocked, a passenger bus went down the mountain slipping due to heavy snow, killing four students and other people of the village who were coming back from Jammu, 800 kilometres away, stranding hundreds of others midway on the road under severe climate.
And because of such conditions, almost every child in these far flung villages could never finish their education, never went again out of their village once they stopped going to school. Generations upon generations only worked as farmers or informers of the army, carriers of weapons and other supplies on their ponies on the highest posts in the Siachen Glacier.
There has never been no university in whole laddakh region and each student if he or she wanted to pursue higher education, if ever- they had to travel under severe and dangerous conditions along this highway.
It was in 2012 when i started working on this 737 kilometres of life threatening, nerve-wrecking, dangerous and frightening journey following students and labourers, interviewing local school authorities and children, making images along the border areas and villages. I photographed people travelling in local buses, drivers, trucks carrying goods, trenches and high passes under harsh conditions, and above all documenting the tension that looms over people while on this journey of the within and outside.
With more stretches coming under the firing range of the Pakistani artillery and air defence guns, it has been a highway of terror as one bus driver called it out. There are more bunkers than houses here. The narrow winding road is littered with memorials of those killed by shelling in the past. At night, travelling with head lights on is a sure invitation for potshots from across the Line Of Control.
Having spent acknowledgable time myself as a teacher in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, “The Gun Mountains and other gods” is an ongoing project highlighting the severe conditions that people live under constantly, the hardships that children go through to learn, to even have a basic right to education, and generations who have grown under the shadows of a war always looming over them.
I wished to document this work as a proof of the lived experiences of the young students and the elderly, who for years have been putting their lives at risk coming from the far flung areas to study, work or in between getting killed.
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The Gun Mountains and the other Gods, a work of almost a decade that i continued on while teaching, and on my way to many a villages by road transport and few times on my motorbike.
I am happy that i could share a very small portion of this extensive body of work.
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As these chapters are dedicated to Save Rasool and his bird park; these images, If anyone loved them and might think that they would like to see any photograph shared in these chapters up and framed in their homes, in their living room inspiring one and all to be on the road for once; there will be no one more happier than I.
Photographs will be printed in fine art Hahnemuehle studio enhanced archival paper. For Queries regarding print size and shipping, please write.
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