Exploring life in Fertile Land torn between two hostile neighbours
~ by Kartiki Gonsalves
I set out for the Baltistani villages at the edge of what used to be Gilgit-Baltistan with great excitement and anticipation. The isolation provided by the Karakoram Mountains ensured that Gilgit-Baltistan, developed and preserved its unique history, cultural values and traditional political identity.
This region is encircled by the beautiful Karakoram mountain range. Glimpses of K2 hover above you, and with the mighty Shyok river cascades down the valley. They were two of four villages captured by Indian forces which was a tactical victory, given the terrain and accessibility of the place. It offered Indian forces new vantage points, and the success would come to drown out the inevitable stories of separation, heartbreak and hardship the villagers endured as a consequence. While India was fighting on its eastern border the locals from the village of Chalungkha fled to the villages of Khaplu and Skardu, in Baltistan (Pakistan) out of fear. But the people of Turtuk decided to stay on with confidence.
I work with natural light which requires a lot of patience and research, but when you use a Sony Alpha camera, it adds that extra “magic” as I call it and it enhances my images in the most beautiful way. I photograph nature in an artistic way, focusing on details, light, textures, colours and moods, and using creative camera techniques to best capture the beauty of a scene. The beauty of nature, emotion and natural light are a great source of inspiration to me. I strive to evoke emotion in the viewer rather than just capturing the Image.
I wished to see beyond the invisible lines of what used to be a different country and was curious to discover the differences and similarities between us. I desired to witness how the people in the village live currently. How are they dealing with the separation from families in these areas? What stories do they have? I could see Pakistan from every spot in Thang. It gave me a glimpse of what it would be like to have your family stuck on the other side with no means of communicating. There was a raging river - the Shyok which divided the two countries. The river separates Thang from Phranu, the last most village in Pakistan, on the other side of the banks. There is something fascinating about borders - what ends here and begins one step away? What is shared in the two separated parts?
Three hours from Leh, I crossed the Khardung La at 5,359 m (17,582 ft). Here even in early-August, I ran into a snow storm. The journey continued for 6 more long hours passing through a barren, stony mountainous landscape. I doubted I was ever going to reach and wondered what I would find when I did. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere I was dropped off and shown a steep path up and was gestured to climb up to the top. At last I reached the top and found agricultural fields, At the first house the inhabitants ushered to me inside. I collapsed into an exhausted slumber. The sun woke me at an early hour and I peered out the window and enjoyed a beautiful scene. Our house was surrounded by fields of buckwheat. There were trees in the distance and the turbulent grey brown Shyok River backed by jagged rocky mountain peaks. I stayed three weeks in the village. I became friends with many of the women and children and learned of many aspects of their life.
The Sony A99II is great to work with in freezing temperatures and in the snow. It allowed me to quickly take a burst of images and having access to a variety of different lenses to choose from I was able to quickly change lens according to my subjects ranging from landscapes to people and birds. The battery life was really good and worked well letting me produce some outstanding work during my trip. My sony allows me to seamlessly translate what I visualize to perfectly exposed, sharp and dynamic images which makes it the best brand for me.
I stayed in the village for three weeks and interacted with the men, women and children of the village. I wanted to experience their life and what it was like to have been secluded from the world and outsiders for a very long time. I wondered how they felt about being exposed to the outside world since 2010 when the village opened its doors to tourism and the public. I wished to understand what the women felt and experienced during the war between the two countries, how it affected their lives and how they were adapting to being in a new country. It turned out to be much harder than I thought to be accepted into a male dominated society. After days of rejection and persistence, I somehow managed to be accepted and was questioned why I was there and what my motives were. Some of them realised that I had a genuine interest in their lives and getting to know them as individuals. Suddenly there was warmth and many women opened up to me about their pasts, they recounted their memories of the night of 15 December 1971, when India won their village over from Pakistan and how it had torn some of their lives apart. They also spoke about how tourism was helping their lives now and spoke of great ambitions for their children and their future.
The sony A99II is a great camera, teamed up with the 70-200mm 2.8 lens. It's great for people photography when the audience are camera shy which enables you to shoot from afar without disturbing the subjects to get more candid images which is very important. It’s a great camera that gives you excellent detail even in the lowest light conditions which is important when you are documenting the lives of people in their setting. I love how light and compact the professional range of Sony Alpha range is. It feels great in my hands and it's extremely easy to operate and handle.
It’s great for my style of work and lets you focus on what you need to do best!
About Kartiki Gonsalves
Kartiki Gonsalves’s work has two foci. One is environment, nature and wildlife, where she seeks to raise awareness about marvelous diversity of nature and wildlife and the importance of conservation. The other is cultures, communities and their connections. She is photographer, director and filmmaker currently based out of Mumbai. An avid traveller & explorer, her work primarily revolves around nature, cultures, communities, animals, and the environment and how they are all intertwined. Primarily focusing on stories, photos and videos to raise awareness about conservation of biodiversity. She is currently working on a two long term projects: a project on wild cats that inhabit the mountainous higher altitudes of the western ghats and another documenting the life of an orphaned baby elephant in the foothills of Southern India. She just finished an assignment in a remote village in central India, photographing and documenting the lives, stories and art of local traditional artists of the Adivasi and the Biel communities. She is presently traveling and working on a photo feature and footage documenting the life in the cold high deserts of the Indo-Chinese border in the Greater Himalayas. She continues to document our natural world to better understand the profound connection that we share with it. She wants to bring awareness to the challenges we face, but also focus on solutions with her projects and show success stories where conservation is working. She uses the media of photography and film to connect people to the natural world. Her work has been published in various national and international photography, travel and wildlife magazines, books. She has also filmed several advertisements, documentaries and a reality series. She travels extensively searching for photos, stories and videos to raise awareness about cultures, communities, animals, and the environment. Capturing unique aspects of different cultures around the world is something that she loves. Though she also seeks capture the oneness of mankind. Her primary focus is on the photograph and filming of wildlife and diverse cultures. She seeks to make a direct impact on the environmental and cultural issues that define our times. She grew up in the beautiful mountains in south India in a small hill station called Ooty. Growing up right next door to three national reserves, one of the most diverse biodiversity hotspots in the world, her love for animals and natural biodiversity, people and above all photography is what brought her to do what she loves doing the most. She has traveled extensively to numerous places around the world including remote Scotland, South Africa, Nepal, parts of Europe, Canada, England, Namibia, and numerous places in the United States and India. She works with natural light which requires a lot of patience and research, but when you learn how to use it the right way it adds that extra “magic” as she calls it and enhances the images in the most beautiful way. She photographs nature in an artistic way, focusing on details, light, textures, colours and moods, and using creative camera techniques to best capture the beauty of a scene. The beauty of nature, emotion and natural light are a great source of inspiration to her. She strives to evoke emotion in the viewer rather than just capturing the Image. Working with animals, one of the biggest challenges is reminding yourself that your subject is wild. They have teeth and claws and are very dangerous if surprised. It requires a patience and tolerance to gain their trust and respect and to gain insights into their world.but is extremely rewarding. It requires patience, a lot of patience and tolerance but is extremely rewarding. The process is long and tedious, with the moment last only a few minutes. These moments are quite rare, making for great photography, which is all part of being in the right place at the right time. According to her “A huge part of my area of photography is doing research on my subject and getting it to accept my presence, after that its easy and the images just flow seamlessly. That is the beauty of it. I want my images to make a difference and have the power to change peoples’ opinions on subjects. Being a woman photographer in India, a country which has a conservative culture has surprised her many times. In most cases many doors have opened due to the fact that she is a woman. In these cases the direct connection, especially with women and children is genuine. Other times there is a struggle to cross the glass ceiling in this patriarchal society. After all her traveling, the people she has met, her experiences along the way, she strongly believes that there are no borders. As she says “We all live under the same sun and sleep under the same moon and walk on the same soil.” and all are part of the same gigantic intricate web of life. It is very clear that all living things around us are connected whether we understand it or not. Does it matter what you’re wearing, what you look like, where you come from and what you do or how much money one has? No, it does not. The connections, happiness, laughter, love, pain, struggle and loss are all universal. She says "There is such intense beauty in diversity" and after a lot of thought, traveling to remote places and meeting people from all walks of life, she has come to the conclusion that it is empathy that connects us all together. There is a oneness and that she seeks to portray in her work as a photographer and filmmaker. She conveys a sense of her experiences and emotions, drawing the viewer much deeper into her work. Her ultimate goal is to create a lifetime body of beautiful work that has deep meaning and that carries a message of hope for preserving what we do have which will make a difference for the generations to come.