Belgian photographer Yuri Andries spent five weeks traveling through Ladakh in India. The magical region was the opposite to all he had expected from an always colorful, often chaotic country.
This is a region of many names, and this multiplicity grants it a kind of mysticism. In Andries’ series ‘Moonland’ we travel across this vast space — to the highest village in India and through deep valleys and troughs. “I think there are two main reasons why I travel abroad,” Andries explains to us. “On the one hand, I get to immerse myself in the process. Being able to work on my photography day after day without interruption puts me in the right state of mind. At home, I am simply too distracted by daily tasks, and because my time feels more limited when I’m abroad, I tend to make gut decisions. The second reason has to do with the exotic, the unknown. This can trigger our senses much more than everyday monotony. You observe the environment much more consciously, the people and all these little details come to life. I like to compare it with childlike wonder. Like seeing snow for the first time. I decided to use this concept as a core for the series, to create a love-letter to Ladakh.” Andries spells out this love letter to Ladakh in his own words, and his own photographs, which follow below.
When you think of India, you think bright colors, class structure, Hindus, dense population, chaos, pollution. Ladakh is just the opposite of all those things. There was no road connecting it to the outside world until the 1960s. It’s a place where children meditate and people sing as they work the land, sometimes 4500 meters above sea level. A place where people reincarnate and schools function on pure sustainable energy in temperatures of -35° in winter.
It was the Bollywood film ‘Three Idiots’ (2009) that first put Ladakh on the tourist map. Land of the High Passes, Little Tibet, Moonland, the Crown Jewel of India, Roof of the world. Ladakh has many nicknames and they all spoke to my imagination, so after my adventures through the chaos of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh it was the perfect place to stimulate my senses at a slower pace.
During my last week in India, my motorbike took me to the highest village in India (the third highest village in the world), Karzok. It’s located near the Chinese border beside a gigantic lake, TSO Moriri, and is an entirely Buddhist community. At 4570 m above sea level, I was astounded by the idea the temperatures drop to – 40° in winter. Even when I got there in may the lake was still frozen. Being in such a harsh but beautiful place was something I couldn’t quite translate in pictures.
My way back to Leh was provided with the same elements. Uncomfortable, but the most beautiful trip I’ve ever taken. The road along TSO Kar took me about 8 hours though it was only a 232-kilometer journey. For at least 60 kilometers straight I drove at an average speed of 15 kilometers per hour over sharp and pointy rocks.
Without additional petrol or tires, without a telephone connection and without a roadmap, I followed the gestured directions and advice of the villagers… Something like; ‘Just keep going and at Sumdo take one left, I suppose’. But of course, as in every good story, I encountered totally unforeseen splits in the road along my way. Knowing that at night temperatures could still drop to -7° at that time of the year didn’t bring me much comfort. Neither did the idea that a night spent under those Himalayan stars could mean making friends with a snow leopard… so we could keep each other warm during the night, or something. While I worried about these little details the sun dropped a beam of light on the valley to my left. Against the shades of a purple mountain 15 wild asses ran, less than 100 meters from me.
I knew that grabbing my camera could ruin the moment, so I stopped the engine and just observed the magnificent spectacle. After a while, the almost impassable road was replaced by highways and the landscapes continued to amaze. While at the peak of the Taglang La Pass, I made a promise to myself and the golden eagle that was keeping me company; I’ll come back!
All images © Yuri Andries