My first visit to the Himalayas was way back in 2002 during college days. It was a 20-day trip covering Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri, the Valley of Flowers and Tungnath or Chandrasila trek. I was so mesmerized by the mighty hills, that I decided to come back every year.
I did keep my promise. Now that I don’t have a job, I visit the Himalayas four to five times in a year and do my travel photography or you can say Himalayan photography.
There is so much that attracts me to the hills – the innocent people, their simple lifestyle, how they are so happy with their limited resources. The hills also make me realize, how tiny I am in this universe. They are beautiful yet bold and needless to say the perfect place to do mountain photography.
Travel Photography in the Himalayas
Although you can do travel photography anywhere in the Himalayas. At most places, you can simply point your camera and you will get stunning images of the Himalayas. Some of my favorite places to capture the Himalayas are the following.
Pangong Lake, Ladakh
The Pangong Lake is undoubtedly my favorite place for travel photography. Having traveled there more than 10 times, I have seen the lake in different moods, and each time it looks new to me.
Most of the tourists do this as a day trip from Leh but the real experience is in the morning and evening when you see the dramatic sky and changing colors of the lake. Every morning and evening has its own palette of colors.
The Pangong Lake is only one third in India, that makes me wonder how the other two-thirds will be.
Make sure you drink a lot of water when you are there. Headaches and dizziness are common here due to less oxygen. Drinking alcohol can make things worse.
Read more about the lake and see pictures here.
Chitkul Village, Kinnaur
Chitkul village is in Kinnaur valley in Himachal Pradesh. It is the last Indian village on this route, after which is the China border.
Chitkul is one of the most scenic villages I have seen with the traditional houses, the innocence of the kids and the Baspa river which flows beside the village. It’s a small village and you can take a walk through the whole length of the village in 1 hour. The temple in the village is worth visiting. The intricate wooden carvings are quite interesting.
Read More – Chitkul – The Charming Village of Sangla Valley
I generally go to the riverside early morning to shoot long exposures of the flowing river as the sun rises. During the day, you can walk around the village. If you are there at a time when the moon is not visible, this is one great place to shoot the Milky Way.
Turtuk village, Ladakh
Turtuk is one of the most scenic villages I have seen. Located in the northernmost tip in India, to me, it looks quite close to how I imagine heaven to be. Trees are laden with apricots and you can have as many as possible without anyone shouting at you. A typical scene of the village would be ladies working in the fields, kids playing around and the elderly folks chatting in the village center.
The interesting thing about the village is that it was a part of Pakistan till 1971. It became a part of Indian territory after the 1971 Ondo-Pak war. Historically, it was a part of the kingdom of Baltistan.
If you want to take pictures at Turtuk, please ask for permission. Most people do not want to get photographed as it is forbidden by their religion. Shooting young kids playing in the ground or old womenfolk is usually fine.
Since I had been to the place several times, I have collected portraits of people from here. The last time I visited Turtuk, I carried about 50 prints of the pictures I took there, found the houses and distributed them. It was a great experience.
More about Turtuk here.
Sani Village, Zanskar
Sani is a village in Zanskar region of Ladakh. At the center of the village is its small but very old monastery. Emperor Kanishka constructed 108 Chortens in the 1st CE, one of them being the Sani Gompa. It is regarded to be the oldest religious site in the whole region of Ladakh and Zanskar.
Sani gompa hosts an annual Gustor or festival during July. The monks perform Tsechu or masked dances and hundreds of people from the nearby villages join in the festivities.
Though the village is small, it is worth going around and watching the people working in the fields. They grow rice and mustard depending on the season.
Nearby is a big statue of Padmasambhava in the middle of a lake.
Drang-Drung Glacier, Ladakh (15,680 feet/4,780 m)
Drang-Drung is the second largest glacier in India after the Siachen. It is located on the Kargil-Zanskar road, on the way while going to Padum – the capital of the Zanskar region after descending from Penzi La. Penzi la is the highest pass in this region and two beautiful lakes.
This place looks absolutely heavenly during the day. To me, it actually looks like a highway to heaven.
At night you can witness an amazing show of the stars and the milky way. Great place for night sky photography.
The whole of the Zanskar region has few facilities. The nearest place to stay from here is more than 50 kilometers but stay in camps is possible. As this place is at a high altitude of 15680 feet, temperatures at night during the summers can do as low as zero degrees. Low oxygen levels can also pose challenges. The roads to these areas and really bad; in fact, most of it is off-roading.
Chandratal Lake, Spiti Valley (14100ft/4300m)
Chandratal lake is located in the Lahaul valley of Lahaul & Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh. The road to Chandratal is considered to be one of the most treacherous roads in the world.
The narrow road beside the Chandra river takes you to the campsite. Thankfully, there is a designated site for the camps, so the lake is safe. I wish they do something similar for Pangong lake in Ladakh.
Read More – Chandratal – the blue lake of Lahaul & Spiti
Going there early in the morning is challenging but rewarding. You will get to see the amazing play of light and shadows. As the water is generally very still, you can compose great shots with blue water surrounded by snow-laden naked mountains.
Apart from shooting the lake, Chandratal is also great for astrophotography.
Tso Moriri, Ladakh (14,836 ft/4,522 m)
Tso Moriri is one of the most scenic places in Ladakh. Though less popular than its close cousin – the Pangong Tso, it is an experience to spend an evening here.
We waited till late at night to experience the Milky Way and what an experience it was!
The only challenge of spending a night here is the altitude & extremely low oxygen levels leading to breathing problems and headaches.
Additional permits are required to visit Tso Morriri for both Indians and Foreigners.
Hanle is a small village in a remote corner of India close to the China border. It is known for the 17th CE Hanle Monastery of the “Red Hat” Tibetan order of Buddhism. The village is famous for the Indian Astronomical Observatory, the highest in India. It is remotely controlled from Bangalore. If Hanle is a good place for an observatory, it has to be a great place for travel photography.
Taking a walk around the quaint village is a great experience. Most of the houses have a small enclosure for the sheep. It is interesting to see how they milk them.
Indians require a special permit to go there. Foreigners are not allowed.
Malana village, Himachal Pradesh
Malana is a village about 50kms from Manali. The fascinating part of the village is its people who believe themselves to be descendants of Alexander’s army. You can see the difference in their facial features. They also speak a dialect that is very different from the local Himachali language spoken in the nearby villages.
At one time, all the houses were built with wood with very beautiful carvings engraved on the walls. After a fire, most of the old houses were destroyed. Now they are building modern houses of brick and mortar.
The people of Malana are not very friendly for some reason. You can’t enter houses of people or touch any objects. Any non-Malani is considered to be an untouchable here. Travel photography is not easy in Malana.
Roopkund trek, Uttarakhand
I believe that the most beautiful places in the Himalayas are also the most inaccessible ones. To reach Roopkund lake, you have to do a moderate trek for 5 days.
The whole route is quite scenic. We cross a few villages which are later replaced by spotless meadows and subsequently by a layer of snow. The lake is called mysterious as there were lots of human skeletons found here and they can still be seen there.
Sangti Valley, Arunachal Pradesh
Sangti Valley in Eastern Himalayas is another heaven on earth for travel photography. Anywhere you look around, there are stunning landscapes with cows grazing in the green grasslands spread over vast areas, surrounded by huge mountains from all sides and the river flowing across it.
The best activity in the village is to take a walk through the villages. The more adventurous people go further into the mountains around. There are some small trek routes and can be explored with the help of the locals.
This is place is very less visited by tourists and that’s why I like it a lot. There are only a few homestays providing basic accommodation.
My Travel Photography Gear for the Himalayas
I carry different sets of equipment when I am traveling by car and when I am trekking.
When traveling by car
Telephoto – Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VRII
Others – Nikon 50mm 1.4G.
Tripod is a must have for landscape and astrophotography. I use a basic tripod, strong enough to carry the weight of my lens.
When trekking, I have to be very careful about what I’m carrying, every gram counts then.
I carry the Body Nikon D750
Lenses – Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D, Nikon 24-120 VR and a Manfrotto Pixi mini tripod.
Read more – Travel Photography – DSLR Vs Point & Shoot Cameras
Traveling across the Himalayas, it is very disappointing to see how the places are changing, due to insensitive tourists and uncontrolled tourism. While I encourage you to travel to the hills, I request you to do so in a way that there is minimal impact on the environment and culture of the places. Simple things like avoiding bottled water and not buying packed stuff like wafers, avoiding drinking alcohol, etc. If you are traveling in your own car, please carry back your garbage back with you.
Let us leave the Himalayas for the future generations as photogenic as we received them.
This is a guest post by our friend & renowned photographer Saurabh Chatterjee
Saurabh is a Travel Photographer, Travel Photography Trainer, and a Photo-tour leader. He dreams to ‘See India and Around’ and the make every camera owner, a great photographer. He is the founder and owner of SIA Photography, where he conducts classes and workshops.