Indian music composer, Shantanu Moitra, and wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee have found themselves in an unlikely but seemingly natural jugalbandi. They are on a 100-day-exploration of the Himalayas. The duo is surging on undauntedly across the expanse of the mountain range in a unique adventure, which they have hash-tagged #100DaysinHimalayas.
Their journey began in February 2016, with an itinerary that would be traversing the Himalayas from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, also foraying into Nepal and Bhutan. In July, this year, Mukherjee and Moitra completed 50 days during an enchanting but taxing road trip through the Himachal.
Before Mukherjee began his ten-year-long career in wildlife photography, he spent quite a few years in mountaineering in the Himalayas. While for Mukherjee the journey is a quest to intimately know the richness and the diversity of the Himalayas and mountain cultures, for Moitra the adventure is a means to answer the overawing question: “What is life like above 17,000 feet?”
According to the two adventurers, the biggest difference between urban life and Himalayan cultures was the harmony in which the pahari communities coexist and survive in the highest of the hills. If you were to go back to the Christopher Monger dir. Film The Englishman who Went up a Hill but came Down a Mountain (1995), and the Anglo-Welsh question of “what is a mountain and a hill?” you would find that the former was defined on all of His Majesty’s Ordnance maps as that which was over 1,000 ft. Anything that was less than the stipulated height qualified as a mountain. In the Himalayas, however, the heights of Alpine mountains become foothills, and many communities of people often live above such heights.
During one of their camping stints, near Lake Tsokar—which is about 150 kilometres from Leh—the duo met a nomadic family of Changpa shepherds. Many of their sheep had been taken away the previous night by a snow leopard. Moitra and Mukherjee were moved by the stoicism with which the family acceded to the loss as though it was a natural repercussion of the ecosystem that was their home. And then, hundreds of miles away, a modest tea-vendor in Darjeeling was passionately involved in the conservation efforts for the rare species of the red panda.
Mukherjee’s photographs for the National Geographic and the BBC are well-known. So are Moitra’s lilting musical compositions for top-grosser Bollywood films. While the instinct for wildlife is expected of Mukherjee, for Moitra music and adventure are not mutually exclusive. “It is my inquisitive mind,” he says “that helps me create music. Without this curiosity, I would not be open to discovering new sounds.” And with that musical faculty, he is out to explore the voices and the whispers of the hills. His partner, Mukherjee, is the laconic one, who lets his images do the talking, while he himself remains absent even from social media, which is the haunt of his fans from all around the world.
The inspiration for #100Days came from Motorcycle Diaries (2004), the bildungsroman biopic, based on the life of Ernesto (Che) Guevara, who with his friend Alberto Granado travelled across Latin America. Like the South American saga of Guevara—which later led him to a life of activism. Moitra and Mukherjee also hope to bring back several untold tales of the Himalayas, which lie buried deep like the pugmarks of the elusive snow leopards—a creature with which Mukherjee has already spent eight days of his life, being the only one in his profession to have done so.