“Gar firdaus ae baruhe zamin ast. Hamin astu hamin astu hamin ast." This immortal quote by Jahangir, has been much used by travelers to describe heavenly places on earth. Jahangir said it on the Dal Lake at Srinagar, but he might as well have said that on Pangong Tso, a mesmerizing strip of sparkling azure in Ladakh situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft). Pangong Tso is the largest Himalayan lake in India.
Ladakh's gigantic scale is highlighted as vehicles travel in convoy along a road connecting the Ladakh Valley with the Nubra Valley, crossing en route Khardung La, the highest motorbike road in India.
A truck makes its way along National Highway 1D from Kargil to Leh traversing a fantastic moonscape landscape at Lamayuru.
A tiny raft struggles against the current on the waters of the Indus, the river after which India gets its name. The greener water of the Indus merges with the browner water of the Zanskar River, the difference in colors a result of the different minerals dissolved in the waters of the two rivers from two different valleys. Ladakh is the only place in India where the Indus now flows, before it flows into Azad Kashmir and the Punjab plains in Pakistan.
The old and the new co-exist on the streets of Leh. Women from villages around Ladakh assemble on Leh's main thoroughfare to sell their daily farm produces. In the background souvenir shops sell one of Kashmir's most famous crafts, Pashmina Shawls.
Camel Talk. Two Bactrian Camels await tourists at Hundar in the Nubra Valley. The camels are a relic of trade routes Ladakh once had with Central Asia, Baltistan and Tibet. This is the only population of Bactrian Camels anywhere in India.
Surely, India's most spectacular road is the one connecting Leh with Manali, passing through some of the most spectacular Himalayan geography. The highway crosses some of the highest mountain passes in the world, including Rohtang La 3,978 m (13,051 ft) in Pir Panjal range and three passes in Zanskar range that separate Zanskar valley from Leh valley, namely, Baralacha La 4,892 m (16,050 ft), Lachulung La 5,059 m (16,598 ft) and Taglang La 5,328 m (17,480 ft).
Sunrise at Keylong. Keylong is the night-stop for most vehicles traveling between Leh and Manali. It is also the headquarters of Lahaul District, and located at an altitude of 3,080 m (10,100 ft) and cut off from the outside world from October-end to mid-May due to heavy snowfall at Rohtang La that closes the pass during the winters.
Dramatic Rohtang La means "pile of corpses", due to people dying in bad weather trying to cross the 3,978 m high pass in the past. A favorite visiting point for tourists from Manali, it connects the Kullu Valley with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh, India. The pass is open from May to November.
Passing through dramatic snow covered peaks in a barren landscape, a Sumo braves its way along the Kunzum La, a 4,590 mt high Himalayan pass, connecting the Spiti Valley with the Kullu and Lahaul Valleys in Himachal Pradesh. Stunningly beautiful and still largely isolated, the Spiti Valley is one of the last unexplored regions in the Indian Himalayas.
Like the impregnable citadel of Minas Tirith from J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Ki monastery grows organically around a hill overlooking the serpentine Spiti River flanked by green patches of farmlands. Located at an altitude of 4,166 mts, Ki is the biggest monastery of Spiti Valley.
A piece of Mongolia in India. Visible from far away, the whitewashed Chichum village is India's highest village with a road and electricity, at a mind blowing height of 14,500 ft above sea level. Chichum and its neighbouring village of Kibber, lies in the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary, a sourcing place for traditional Tibetan medicinal herbs.
Fantastic multicolored canyons soar skywards in the Pin Valley, as the Himalayas wrenches its way up from the Earth's crust. Declared a National Park in 1987, with its snow laden unexplored higher reaches and slopes, the Park forms a natural habitat for a number of endangered animals including the elusive Snow Leopard and Siberian Ibex.
A Ibex skull is placed to ward off the evil eye on a mountain peak at Dhankar. Below the Dhankar Monastery clings itself precipitously on a cliff overlooking the Spiti River in the Spiti Valley.
The Vishnu Temple of Badrinarayan is flanked by the thundering Alakananda River in Badrinath, Uttaranchal. The temple is one of the Hindu Char Dham (four divine sites) sites, comprising Rameswaram, Badrinath, Puri and Dwarka. The temple is open only six months every year (between the end of April and the beginning of November), due to extreme weather conditions in the Himalayan region.
Visited by Nepal's only ropeway service, the Manakamana Temple in the Gorkha District of Nepal is the sacred place of the Hindu Goddess Bhagwati, an incarnation of Parvati. The name Manakamana originates from two words, “mana” meaning heart and “kamana” meaning wish. Venerated since the 17th century, it is believed that Goddess Bhagwati grants the wishes of all those who make the pilgrimage to her shrine to worship her.
Nepal is a melting pot of many faiths, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, which have both peacefully co-existed for thousands of years. It is normal to see Buddhist Prayer flags adorning Hindu temples, and lamps being lit in Buddhist stupas, like here in Bodhnath Stupa near Kathmandu.
The Terai is a belt of marshy grasslands, savannas, and forests located south of the outer foothills of the Himalaya, the Siwalik Hills, and north of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The Terai was heavily forested with Sal before heavy logging began in the 19th century, particularly for use as railroad sleepers. Here an elephant lumbers across the Rapti River in Chitwan National Park in Nepal. Chitwan is an UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the one horned Indian Rhinoceros.
Sunrise at Sarangkot. Sarangkot is located on a mountainside ridge at an altitude of 1600 m with panoramic Himalayan views overlooking the city of Pokhara and its lake on the outskirts of the city.Three out of the ten highest mountains in the world — Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I and Manaslu — are situated within 30 miles (linear distance) of Pokhara, making Sarangkot a popular sunrise spot for tourists hoping to catch the first rays of the sun striking the Himalayan peaks.
A family sits and watches a cremation taking place along the banks of the River Bagmati in Kathmandu. The Bagmati is considered a holy river both by Hindus and Buddhists. The dead body must be dipped three times into the Bagmati river before cremation. The chief mourner (usually the first son) who lights the funeral pyre must take a holy river-water bath immediately after cremation. Many relatives who join the funeral procession also take a bath in the Bagmati River or sprinkle the holy water on their bodies at the end of cremation.
Once believed to be the highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga is now the third highest with an elevation of 8,586 m (28,169 ft), and is shared between India and Nepal. Kangchenjunga means "The Five Treasures of Snows", as it contains five peaks, four of them over 8,450 mts. The treasures represent the five repositories of God, which are gold, silver, gems, grain, and holy books.
Extensive terrace cultivation in Sikkim. An independent kingdom for most of its history, Sikkim was surrounded by four countries, India to the South, Bhutan to the East, Tibet to the North and Nepal to the West, and has significant cultural influences from all of them. Sikkim is the only state in India with an ethnic Nepali majority.
A Nepali man stands at the doorway of his house at Sardung, Sikkim. Long-term population influx from Nepal has resulted in the majority of Sikkim's residents being of Nepali ethnic origin. Extremely proud of their ethnicity, the hardy and tenacious Nepalis prospered in agriculture on the Himalayan slopes. Nepali women display their wealth by wearing a lot of gold jewelry, even when they work in the fields.
A majestic spotted leopard in the Himalayan Zoo in Gangtok, Sikkim. The spotted leopard is one of the five 'big cats' in India, along with the Tiger, the Lion, the Clouded leopard and the Snow Leopard. The species may soon qualify for vulnerable status due to habitat loss and heavy poaching for the illegal trade of skins and body parts in Asia.
A gigantic statue of Shiva lights up against the evening sky at Solophuk, South Sikkim.
A screen printing workshop in Kalimpong, West Bengal churns out Buddhist prayer flags to be sent to monasteries and markets around the North Bengal Hills, Sikkim and even Bhutan. Kalimpong used to be a gateway in the trade between Tibet and India prior to China's annexation of Tibet and the Sino-Indian War. Kalimpong still is one of the largest markets in the Himalayas and is also known for its educational institutes.
Tea pluckers work in a tea estate at Nampong, Changlang district, Arunachal Pradesh. Unknown to many, it was in Arunachal Pradesh that the British discovered the habit of tea drinking that was prevalent amongst the Khampti and Singpho tribes since the 13th century. In 1837, the first English tea garden was established at Chabua in Upper Assam and by the turn of the century, Assam became the leading tea producing region in the world.
A Mishmi woman collects firewood at her house in Hawai, Anjaw district, Arunachal Pradesh. The Mishmi or Deng people of Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh are an ethnic group comprising mainly three tribes: Idu Mishmi, Digaru Mishmi and Miju Mishmi. The Mishmi's are one of the last tribes in the North East which still practice their traditional religion. The religious rituals are carried out by priests (Kambring) and Mishmis spend much time and substance offering sacrifices of appeasement on their instructions.
A suspension bridge in Anjaw District, Arunachal Pradesh. Traversed by waterfalls, gushing streams, and thundering rivers, the tropical rainforets of the Himalayas is extremely challenging, and suspension bridges form the primary means of transport in some of the remotest corners in Eastern Arunachal, where roads still haven't reached.
Traders unpack goods from elephants on the Indo-Burma border at Nampong market in Changlang district, Arunachal Pradesh. India and Burma share a long international border but it is heavily forested and there are only a few official border crossings, including one at the strategic Pangsa Pass, through which the Ahom's invaded Assam in the 13th century. Burmese people are allowed 12 kms inside Indian territory to buy from Nampong market, and Indians can go 2 km inside Burma to the nearest village of Pangsa, with necessary paperwork approved by the armies on both sides.
The Himalayas have been largely free of any global conflict, except in Siachen and the Indo-Sino War in 1962. However, it saw action during the Second World War when the Allied forces faced Japanese invasion from Burma. A major engineering undertaking during this period was the construction of the Ledo Road from Ledo in Assam to Kunming in Yunnan, China. Many men lost their lives working in the malaria infested tropical jungles and some of their graves still stand, like this one of a Chinese soldier in Jairampur, Arunachal Pradesh.
The Himalayas taper off from Arunachal Pradesh into the Naga hills, reaching a maximum altitude no more than 3,800 mts. The Naga Hills are shared by India and Burma and are home to the Naga tribes. The Nagas have several similarities with South-East Asian cultural practices including slash-and-burn cultivation, also called Jhoom. Entire mountain tracts were cleared on a periodic cycle and has a devastating effect on the flora and fauna of the hills.
Looking out towards Burma from Longwa village, Nagaland. Another border crossing between India and Burma exists at Longwa Village in Mon district, Nagaland. Mon is the land of the Konyak tribe, once fierce headhunters. The Konyaks had a political system based on kingship. The kings, called Ang, had jurisdiction over several villages and the Ang of Longwa still has his rights over villages in India and Burma. The International Border passes right through the center of his home.
Naga women collect running stream water in hollowed out bamboo containers. In the villages of Nagaland this remains the only way of collecting drinking water. Women gather around the village well twice in the day, once early morning and in the evening, to do this daily task, along with some washing of clothes.
Konyak women dressed up in all their finery. The Konyaks are a proud warrior tribe and the largest of the Naga tribes. Ferocious headhunters once, the Konyaks were renowned for their skilled use of muskets and extensive tattooing and beadwork. The Konyaks had access to the plains of Assam and through trade with them developed sophisticated beaded jewelry. Rank and status is associated with beads and is highly valued amongst Konyak women.