The magnificent Himalayas is home to diverse flora and fauna and primeval cultures. The photographer-scientist duo of Sandesh Kadur and Dr. Kamal Bawa have brought to light varied aspects of the Eastern Himalayas in their recent book Himalaya — Mountains Of Life , which was recently launched in Bangalore.
Through breathtaking images and nuggets of useful information, Himalaya — Mountains Of Life will take the reader on a journey through diverse landscapes, from the plains of the Brahmaputra River, the great canyon of Yarlung Tsangpo to the Siang Gorge in the east and the Kali Gandaki gorge in the West.
“There’s a lot of mystery surrounding that mountain range and a lot of biodiversity. There are a lot of things people in the mainstream didn’t really know about and very few people were doing work up there,” explained Sandesh, an award-winning photographer and filmmaker and director of Felis Creations. Sandesh’s expedition to the Eastern Himalayas was a “process of discovery.” Having worked with Dr. Bawa before for Sahyadris — India’s Western Ghats — A Vanishing Heritage , Sandesh admits that making a book saps one’s energy. But when Bawa approached him to work on another book, Sandesh had to say yes. “In 2007 when I visited Gurudongmar Lake with Dr. Bawa, it was an eye-opening experience. The Lake was a beautiful placid reflection of the mountain range. So in a high-elevation, low-oxygen state of mind, I said ‘why not?’”
The effort behind every photograph requires patience and tenacity, explains Sandesh.
“I had to deploy camera traps to capture particular things. We created expeditions to photograph those places that were difficult to get to. Waiting paid dividends as well,” says Sandesh as he displays one stunning image after another.
Given Dr. Bawa’s erudition, why did the duo choose to author a coffee- table book? “That’s a great part of the collaboration between a scientist and a photographer,” Sandesh says and continues, “Dr. Bawa is aware that not many people read scientific papers; only a small section do. But how do you get your message out to a bigger audience and bring the conservation angle onto a greater platform? You marry them with beautiful images, synthesise the information as much as possible and provide scientific content with images arranged in nuggets. Then everyone can appreciate it.”
The Eastern Himalayas was a completely different experience for Sandesh. “Everything about that landscape was new, including the language and the people. At times, getting from one place to another was incredibly difficult.” The most trying obstacle Sandesh encountered, however, was militancy. He tided over it nonetheless, travelling to Kaziranga National Park, Arunchal Pradesh and many other fascinating areas.
During his sojourns, he came across exquisite creatures, such as the twin spotted frog, the green rat snake, an atlas moth with a 12-inch wing span, golden langurs, the Arunachal Macaque that was discovered fairly recently. Sandesh also discovered new species such as the Japalura lizard, its neck coloured in hints of turquoise blue and light red. “Karthik Vasudevan, a herpetologist with the Wildlife Institute of India, has got his students to carry out the taxonomic work,” informs Sandesh. It wasn’t just animals that Sandesh photographed, but the inhabitants too, such as the lesser-known Milang tribe of Nagaland and the Apatani tribal women, among others.
When he returned in 2012, Sandesh worked for 16 hours a day, with his “head buried in books.” He adds that it took the effort of an entire team to design the book. “Sandesh is partial to animals, and I am partial to plants,” said Dr. Kamal Bawa following Sandesh’s presentation.
“My first introduction to the Himalayas was 52 years ago when I went there to do my masters in Orchids. I understood the diversity of the Himalayas. Life on earth is spectacular and very fragile. And I think we are blessed in India to have so much diversity,” explained Dr. Bawa, the recipient of the Gunnerus Sustainability Award last year. “Biologists have identified about 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world. India has four of these hotspots. Sikkim is almost 1/20 of the size of the Western Ghats, yet it has almost the same richness of life as the Western Ghats. There are more than 100 species each of primulas and of rhododendrons and over 900 species of orchids in the Eastern Himalayas. Diversity sustains millions of people,” explained Dr. Bawa, a distinguished professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and President of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE). Dr. Bawa also spoke about the threats to biodiversity, from land use to hydropower projects. “There needs to be a more nuanced understanding of animals. Conservation is not only about tigers and elephants,” Dr. Bawa stressed.
As to photography playing an essential role in conservation, Sandesh makes a compelling point.
“The first National park, the Yellowstone National Park, was declared on the basis of photographs. It’s about how you use the images to bring about change. I believe a powerful image can bring about change.”
(Himalaya: Mountains Of Life has been published by ATREE and is priced at Rs. 3,500.)