We travel, most people are just extremely vocal about it (guilty!). Back in the days when there were no social media, one had to travel; click photos on a film camera and then get them developed and printed before putting them in Albums so people who come over can see them and give you a thumbs up. With Instagram, this long process takes ten seconds. As I scrolled through my Instagram feed I noticed how off late, too many people going to Ladakh. With nature striking the best selfie backdrops, you don’t need to be a photographer to get a good picture. I’ve noticed a trend, everyone with a DSLR who goes to the mountains, always come back with an iconic photo of a Buddhist monk or a monk child. Usually clicked with a super shallow depth of feed. Feels as if, appearing candid for a camera is part of the Buddhist monk’s training in the monastery. It was time for me to get those likes. I pack my bags and my Nikon5100 with a 35MM Prime lens with a f/1.8 aperture so I get the best monk photo ever.
*Cut to Bir, Himachal 2017*
I understand that the best photo of a monk can be clicked against the clean air and the unreal backdrops of Ladakh, I picked a different approach. I was in Bir, Himachal; the paragliding capital of India, a Tibetan colony. I was staying at a backpacker hostel here. Late at night, I asked my cook at the hostel where he recommends I go for my perfect monk photo. The cook asked me if I was mentally unstable to have come this far, from Bangalore to Bir to take a photo of a Monk. I told him it’s not about the journey, its the destination. He said, “I’m absolutely sure it’s the other way around, sir!”. I told him I’m a man on a mission and I hope to get this photo the next day between 6 am and 8 am when the light is just perfect. Everything I had learned from: “Here are 10 tips to make you a kick-ass photographer” undoubtedly impressed him and he had a new found sense of respect for me. He tells me to go to a Monastery on the top of Bhattu forest and make my attempts. I asked him how I could get there. He said you can either take a cab for 120 bucks or rent a cycle for 500 bucks, but the hills are steep. The 120 buck taxi ride sounded logical… so I took the cycle. I assumed if I don’t succeed in getting that photo, maybe I’ll just get a few selfies with the cycle and get likes for that instead.
The next morning I did not wake up early, solely because I got no sleep all night. I pack my camera bag and a bottle of energy drink, then hop on my cycle and paddle away. I cycle for a mind blowing 1.26Kms before I stop the bike by the side of the road huffing and puffing. I realized I was so unfit, I was going to fail. I sat breathless by the side of the road and closed my eyes, I see colors! I started to see saffron color, it was not the Hindu saffron, it was the saffron the monks wrapped around themselves. I stood up motivated and cycled to the top of the hill. I made on pit stop in between to take a selfie in the forest against the rising sun.
As I enter the monastery the monks were walking in for their morning prayer. The sun was just on the horizon and the air was perfectly lit to my photographic requirement. I put my lens on and start to plan my shoot. I found it hard to decide what the backdrop to the monks must be. The Monastery? The sky? The forest? I took a few shots of the monks, but monks kept moving. It felt like they were trying really hard to mess up my photo. They seem less candid than I imaged. I started to panic and run around trying to find more Monks, just like Bear Grills would while looking for insects on an island. Every monk I found was either in the wrong light or walking too fast or just not looking “monk enough”. I found a bunch of kid-monks and asked them to smile, this was going to be my perfect Instagram photo. I clicked the photo and the kids got called by an older monk and they ran away waving me goodbye. I was really really happy. I had got the perfect image. As I waved back at them and brought my attention to the camera screen, I notice the image was dark. NOOOOOOOO! I had forgotten to fix the settings. It was too late, the sun was blazing brightly in the sky and all I could do was give up and go back to my hostel.
I reached my hostel and the cook came out to greet me. He asked me if I got the photo… I just nodded my head in disappointment and went to my room. He could sense the defeat on my face. In a while, the room door swung open and he walks in with a cup of hot chocolate. He told me something that changed my life: “Sir, Life is not about capturing the perfect photo, It’s about living in the moment”. That put a smile on my face.
I came back home and went on Facebook to put a status update. And guess what? I got my likes!