It takes a rare mind to voluntarily plunge into subzero waters. But that’s exactly what propelled Dhritiman Mukherjee, one of the country’s top wildlife photographers, to dream up #100DaysInHimalayas, a project he’s undertaking with his friend and Bollywood music director Shantanu Moitra. Between February and December 2016, the duo will make a series of trips in the Himalayas covering reaches running from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, and into the neighbouring foothills of Nepal and Bhutan—and they’re taking National Geographic Traveller India along for the ride. Stay posted for breathtaking photos and heart-warming stories of the planet’s most majestic mountain range, as Mukherjee and Moitra immerse themselves in the sweep of the Himalayas over the next 10 months.
First up: Ladakh, where they navigated icy mountain ridges, windswept terrain, and shimmering rivers in the peak of the Kashmiri winter. Most travellers steer clear of Ladakh at this time of year, since temperatures in the far reaches hover around -20°C. Mukherjee on the other hand, donned a dry suit with thermals, gloves, a hood and boots, and grabbed his underwater camera to dive into the freezing Zanskar River. At Chilling (about 2.5 hr from Leh), the water is shallow—five feet at most—but beneath the ice, the river flows powerfully and fast, making it tricky to find a spot with water stagnant enough to take pictures. As for the temperature, as Mukherjee says, “If you think it’s difficult, it will be.” On this trip to Ladakh, he also dived into the Indus River, and has submerged himself in Pangong Lake a few years ago. He’s hoping this project will push him even more as a photographer.
For Moitra, who was the music director for films such as Parineeta, PK and 3 Idiots, the trip is a chance to rediscover his relationship with music and reconnect with the natural world. “In the world of Bollywood, you’re supposed to deliver but that’s not how life functions,” he says, “Who knows when the snow leopard will come or if a flower will bloom? How is it that in my craft, it’s become so predictable?”
The duo, who met years ago while diving in Andaman and Nicobar’s Havelock Island, hope that #100DaysInHimalayas will challenge their perceptions of the world and their craft. It’s definitely pushing Mukherjee as a traveller. A solo traveller by rule, the wildlife photographer has always preferred the wilderness over humanity on most days. Before his career in photography, he spent years mountaineering and pursued a masters in ecology and the environment. A long-term project with the impassive mountain range was a natural decision, but partnering up meant breaking pattern. “Shantanu is from mainstream Bollywood and I’m a bit silent,” the photographer says laconically. “I find him very nice and philosophical.”
For Moitra, the companionship adds just the right zing—it’s an irresistible opportunity to observe the famously elusive photographer in his element: “You learn the most from the person you know the least, which is why I decided to do the journey with him.” Keep posted for updates as this mountain bromance yields stunning photos of the Himalayas’ stark beauty, and stories of its charming people. Read more on #100DaysInHimalayas.