During his tenure as the Indian ambassador to Nepal from 2000-2001, Deb Mukharji trekked several peaks, but visiting the rugged and culturally-rich region of Dolpo in mid-western Nepal remained an unfulfilled desire. “There was no possibility of getting away for two or three weeks, that a trip to Dolpo required,” says Mukharji. Last year, he finally trekked through the region with a group of friends. “It is beautiful,” he says. The hardest part, at the age of 78, he quips, “was to climb in and out of tents”.
Photographs from the recent expedition, along with 74 more photographs clicked by Mukharji in the last six decades, comprise the exhibition “Tall Tales from the Himalaya” that is on at India International Centre in Delhi. The showcase introduces us to the mighty Himalayan peaks right from 1959, when Mukharji first climbed them at 18, when he was a student at St Stephen’s College in Delhi. The view from the Valley of Flowers shows a rocky picturesque terrain and snow peaked mountains. “We got a magnificent view of the Himalayas, and you really can’t forget that. The routes were different back then. We were carrying a discarded tent from the second World War, something we picked up in Chandni Chowk. When it rained, we all got very wet. I remember the bed bugs,” recalls Mukharji of the journey.
Back then, he owned a Voigtlander Bessa, a camera that he bought from a festival for Rs 300. He resisted the digital format till a decade ago but now uses a Canon 5D Mark II. “I was extremely heartbroken when Kodak stopped the production of Kodachrome. I am happy with my current camera but it’s not the same tonal quality and colours of the film camera,” says Mukharji.
While his hectic schedule during his professional career as a member of the Indian Foreign Service did not allow him to venture out on long treks, Mukharji did take every opportunity that came, including photographing the Alps and the natural beauty of California. The Himalayas, though, he insists, have a charm of their own. “Some things hit you, and the Himalayas really hit you,” he says.
The display ranges from a photograph that gives a view of Hemkunth Saheb to the Siniolchu peak at the time of dawn and the Ladakh mountains. Looking at a photograph of plants that have sprouted on an ancient tree trunk in a forest en route to Khera Tal in Garhwal, Mukharji notes how it is perhaps about finding the magical in the ordinary. “You tend to pass a lot of things as ordinary but it is important to understand if your camera will find it striking. One has to see things from the eyes of the lens,” notes Mukharji, who has authored three books: The Magic of Nepal (Rupa, 2005), Visions of the Infinite (2009) and Kailash And Manasarovar: A Quest Beyond the Himalaya (2013).
Concerned about the delicate ecosystem of the Himalayas being destroyed by constant development, he notes, “In the name of promoting religious tourism, highways are being built through the mountains. I love the Himalayas but when I can’t go because of my age or infirmities, I won’t. It is not essential to have the facilities that will enable me to. What is happening is devastating.”
The exhibition is on at India International Centre, 40, Max Mueller Marg, till February 19