In Shiva's wondrous abode , Tribune

September 19, 2010

This can only be called a paradise. Mountains, lakes and thick oak and pine forests will wrap you in their silence.

A few months ago photographer-cum-civil servant Shamim Akhtar embarked on a journey along with his camera. His mission: To visit Lord Shiva’s abode in Kailash Mansarovar at the dizzying height of 6,750 metres in western Tibet.

His journey resulted in a stunning exhibition titled One Fine Tuesday At Kailash Mansarovar, which recently concluded at Delhi’s Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and will travel to other Indian cities.

His pictures have captured depth, detail and the eerie stillness and the unsullied purity of the Himalayas.

Shamim Akhtar

"I’ve tried to capture the Himalayas’ divine beauty on camera. The scenery is so stark and breathtaking that you don’t have to be a great photographer to take great picture. Nature does the job for you. In all these pictures, there’s no digital manipulation. They are all untouched and none has been airbrushed," says Akhtar, who is working on a pictorial book titled Kailash — A Journey Within.

Two of the most difficult pictures to take were of the sunrise and moonrise over Kailash Mansarovar. Says he, "These simple natural phenomena were the most difficult to shoot. The mornings were extremely windy and it was difficult controlling the camera and the tripod. In the night it would get colder with every passing second. But the results were divine. Despite having travelled extensively in the Himalayas, this was the most exotic experience. I felt I was truly in the abode of Lord Shiva."

And then comes the obvious question — as a Muslim was he comfortable travelling to a Hindu spiritual destination? "What is a Hindu, Muslim or Christian spiritual destination? We humans see God through the prism of our different faiths. But He is neither a Hindu nor a Muslim nor a Christian. For me He is one."

Before visiting Kailash Mansarovar, one of his most important pilgrimages was to Ladakh. His two successful solo biking trips to the mountainous region resulted in his coffee table book Road To Ladakh.

Akhtar’s eye for photography was first noticed when he was just 14. Though everyone applauded his talent, he realised that this was an expensive hobby, which his government servant father could ill afford. Later, when he went to study at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, he started doing fashion photography to finance his passion for outdoor pictures that have now resulted in some fascinating pictorial books.

His first book Forgotten Dilli-Portrait of an Immortal City, which he co-authored with his wife Sasmita, did exceedingly well. It was a photo-essay on medieval monuments of Delhi and the need to preserve them.

But it is the third book on Kailash Mansarovar that he is really looking forward to. It will contain some of his most awe-inspiring pictures that capture the Himalayas in all their lofty glory