Travel blogger and photographer Pooja Kochar shares some beautiful portraits from the Himalayas with stories of hope, dreams and happiness from the region.
What did my MBA teach me? Race – do not look around, just run. Run for placements, run for promotions, run against time… keep running.
What did travelling teach me? Breathe, look around, feel, listen to your surroundings, smile, observe, trust.
Travel is liberating, no doubt. But there are times when you pick a new destination to rebel. Trust strangers, scream in the mountains, jump in the ocean, pay attention to the unknown and live like a nomad. There is a charm in being rebellious about your existence and living deeply. When people ask me how I fund my travel, I always say that the logic is simple – I invest in experiences and not on things. It is much more comforting for me.
Once I hit the 30ish mark, the social pressure of conforming seemed to kill my vibe. I was expected to be perfect at home, job, vacations, and even on Instagram – but once tI started flirting with the idea of imperfections, everything started falling into place. I started sharing my travel stories on my blog and the response was tremendous. I also wanted to explore human connections with the people I meet on the way, and wanted and narrate their life stories through a photo journal. This was the reason why I travelled to North Himachal and foothills of the Himalayan range and came up with a series called Portraits From Himalayas.
It celebrates life in the Himalayan range of ordinary people whose stories are beautifully layered with simplicity and hope.
It deals with everything ‘non-touristy’ like exploring home-stays’, trekking for hours to capture the perfect sunset, camping, meeting locals and knowing their stories and dreams. The uncertainty of a new world is thrilling and the most exciting for me and the foothills of Himalayas turned out to be the perfect canvas for me to wander and find home in the mountains. Have a look:
Rekha – “I am going to be a grandma at 36”:
Rekha works in one of the lodges in Khajiar. She was married at the age of 13 and had a daughter when she was 15. Her daughter is expecting her first child this monsoon and Rekha cannot hold her excitement. I asked her if she was unhappy about being married so early and she said, “In our community, your parents make sure that you are sent to your ‘real house’ once you are 12. I lost my husband when I was 20 and since then it has been me and my two daughters. We are like pahadi sisters, always laughing and loving each other. Life is not always perfect though. There were times when I could feed only one of my children, but the fact that I work and support my family makes me feel very strong.”
Tayyab – “I have never seen the world. I have lived in the mountains my whole life”:
Tayyab has seen life very differently. We spoke for long about Mumbai and how he always wanted to leave everything behind and run to the city like in the movies, but the mountains never let him. He has never been anywhere except the village he grew up in. I asked him if he regrets this and he replied, “I watch the world through the eyes of the tourists who visit Himalayas. The only thing I do not like about them is that they are so restless. They are always looking for network for their phones. I am happy in the mountains. There is so much peace.”
Kaku – “Winters are terrible. I need to make all the money during summers and monsoon”:
Kaku’s Cottage is the name of her home-stay and she must be around 65 years old. Kaku provides tourists with food, basic accommodation and a bucket of steaming hot water for a bath every day. She lost her son who was in the Gorkha Regiment in the Indian Army. She had no means of earning after his death, so she started this home-stay for her survival. Kaku borrows happiness from the tourists who stay with her, but winters are lonely and scary, she says.
Devi – “For me all children are precious”:
Devi is a village midwife. Surprisingly, there are almost negligible medical facilities around North Himachal and foothills of Himalayas. Devi has helped in the deliveries of a countless number of kids in the last 30 years. “In our village, all the women of the family are present in the room during child birth. My hands are very stable and they trust me with the delivery. Most of the villagers seem happier when it’s a boy, but for me all children are equal. I take care of them with the same love.”
Sona – “I prepare almost 50 plates of Maggie a day”:
If you have been to the mountains, you know that every food stall has Maggie. Sona works with her father and they serve only Maggie and tea. She is amazed at how tourists relish this dish. It was surprising to watch her mix local herbs and spices to cook this ‘two-minute urban addiction’ with a twist. I told her that she looks like Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met, but she had no clue about who she was. That’s when it struck me that we belong to two different worlds. Sona represents a generation that is capable of so much more. I wish the youth in the region had more opportunities of occupation and growth.
– Pooja Kochar