A pilgrimage with a camera | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 06, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 06, 2008

A pilgrimage with a camera

Photographs by Tenzing Paljor


Clockwise: Red & Blue, Phodong-Sikkim , Bardo, The Intermediate State and Lamayuru, Ladakh-1

Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kinnaur, Spiti, Ladakh and Zanskar. Armed only with his camera and backpack, Tibetan exile Tenzing Paljor has put together a photography exhibition aptly titled, “A Tibetan Pilgrim -- Travel through the Vanishing Himalayas.” The recent exhibition at India International Centre in New Delhi is a nostalgic look at the Indian Himalayas through the eyes of an exile who has never seen his homeland.
As Paljor says, “The region provides a passageway that allows a person to understand one's roots, despite the distance from the place of origin. Trying to understand the mysteries of this land, many outsiders continue to travel and document this area, but there are fewer accounts from the people of the area itself, something that makes ‘A Tibetan Pilgrim’ a unique exhibition.”
There are other reasons for the term ‘pilgrimage’. The Tibetan word for pilgrimage is neykhor and it means to circumnavigate around the sacred places. As Paljor explains philosophically, “The intention is less to reach an ultimate destination, but rather to transcend one's mind through inspired travel.”
Paljor's photographs capture the struggles, joys and the drastic changes of the Himalayan landscape with increasing globalisation and urbanisation. Thus you have a photo titled “Sweet Amala,” taken in Alchi, Ladakh. The subject's weather beaten face makes her look much older than her 70 years -- a phenomenon common enough in the harsh environs where winter stretches for five long months. “In winter there is nothing much to do and they have to farm and store whatever they can in the spring and summer,” points out Paljor. Life is a struggle for the aging woman, as she has to traverse a considerable distance to fetch water from a spring. However, the brilliant smile remains. “When you look at her face you just see this beautiful smile. You can see her contentment with life and her simplicity.”
“How Bizarre,” with a curious boy looking at a camera, is another eye catcher. This photograph is taken at a very remote monastery in Karsha, Zanskar. The boy had come to attend the ritual festival of Cham, a monastic ritual dance with masks. As tourists flocked to the venue to catch a glimpse of the festival, they put up a camera. The boy is both intrigued and fearful about this alien object.
You also have “Karma Kola” from Goom, Darjeeling. Here you see a society in transition: up front is a wandering mendicant, complete with prayer beads. Paradoxically, at the backdrop is an ad for Coca Cola. Here Paljor zooms in on the changing face of the Indian Himalayas where tourism and global warming have altered the landscape forever. “In some of the areas the houses are made out of traditional mud, brick and straw. Now with global warming, you are getting more rain. How then can you sustain a mud house? So people are putting up modern, concrete, ugly buildings in the name of modernity.”
Then you have several paintings of the monasteries in the region, including Phuktal in Zanskar. The remote monastery tests many a visitor's stamina -- it is a 12 hour walk from the nearest road -- and is believed to date back 1,200 years.
The spectator cannot cease to wonder at the painting-like qualities of the works on display -- which include a superb photograph of The Dalai Lama. Also the messages of globalisation and environmental degradation are presented subtly unlike many other such works which hit the viewer on the head with stills of denuded mountains and the havoc wrought by tourism and modernity.
This year Paljor has continued on his ambitious journey with a visit to the once forbidden city of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang, Nepal. Next year he plans to take this project to Bhutan, thus covering the entire Himalayan belt bordering Tibet.

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