Moving on from Ladakh I made my way west towards Kashmir along the indus river. I made a stop over in Lamaryuru which was only meant to be for one day while I paid a visit to the Yungdrung Monastery. However I had the worst toothache ever that left me in bloody agony with a swollen face and unable to eat anything. Luckily I still had an ample supply of Tremodol so for the next 3 days I spent my time in a doped up sleepy state while the pain passed. The monastery was a little bit disappointing as it did not meet the expectations I had read about, but this may of been due to the fact that I was doped up on opiates and felling feverish.
When I was back on the mend I headed for Sonamarg, a place I had visited in 2011 and loved so much I knew I had to come see it again. It is known as the Switzerland of Kashmir and with the snowy pine forested mountains that surround the place you can see why. I had however forgotten that the beautiful paved road that was a joy to ride on becomes a horrific bone shaking mess when it meets these picturesque mountains, making the journey painfully slow. Soon night was drawing in and the cold and rain came with it.
I Spotted a grassy plateau near to the side of the road with shepherds tents pitched up. I decided this was going to be the place I would spend the night as traversing the mountain road in the dark with rain would not be a wise choice. I managed to get pitched up before the sun completely disappeared, I set up my stove and got some instant noodles on the go to warm and fill me up. It was going to be a cold night. I had set up camp just the other side of a town called Drass which holds the record for the second coldest inhabitants on the planet as they once measured a freak temperature of – 60 ºC. Luckily the thermometer didn’t drop this low.
After a very restless night I tried to get some sleep when the sun came up and warmed the tent up a bit. This became short lived as me and my tent had now become the focus of attention for the shepherds who were camped around me. They were all right nosey bastards all wanting to snoop around and see what I had, some of them were definitely a bit inbred too. I suppose thats to expected when you marry your cousin. By the time I left I had lost my toothpaste half of my first aid kit and a pair of socks to the shepherds, I suppose they needed it more than me.
With the bike now loaded up I made my way up the mountain road. I made it all of 15 kilometres before I was met with a landslide. The road was completely blocked where a huge portion of the mountain had collapsed, the indian army were already there with a monster of bulldozer doing their best to shift it. But soon the rain came and the whole operation to clear the road became a nightmare as every time the rocks and earth were moved it caused another landslide. With no shelter on the mountain I was getting absolutely soaked and so was all of my luggage.
After 5 hours. Yes 5 long uncomfortable freezing and wet fucking hours! The landslide was cleared and I was able to very slowly make my way across the mountain. My hands were so cold I could not feel my fingers and the cold air passing over my completely saturated clothes was making me shiver like a shitting dog. I was definitely not enjoying myself. Then I spotted a road sign that said Sonamarg was 15 kilometres away and soon I would be warm and dry.
I arrived in the little village of Sonamarg and pulled into the Hotel Snow View. Inside I was met by Sahil who remembered me from last time. It was nice to see a familiar face and have a chat, plus the food here is amazing so after my previous day of dining on instant noodles I had myself a delicious chicken curry. After dinner I was ready for bed and after trying to sleep in a tent the super comfy bed was pure luxury.
During my time in Sonamarg I was able to go to some amazing locations with awe-inspiring scenery where I found some of the most intriguing subjects to photograph thanks to Sahil and his brother Shahid. They knew the surrounding mountains and when I explained to them the sort of photographs I wanted to capture they were more than eager to help me. With there help I was able to capture what are quite possibly the best portraits I have ever photographed. Without them I would not of been able to find and capture the illusive Gojar people that originate from Pakistan and live high up in the mountains of Kashmir. So guys if by any chance you are reading this thank you for your help and being such a joy to hang out with.