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  • This is the best body of work in infra-red photography that I have seen in India.
      Shri S. Paul
    Photographer, on the infra red exhibition Ladakh Huess
  • I am proud to know this couple- Shamim and Sasmita. This book reflects the labour of their love. We could reach the place because of the power of his lens.
      Janab Arif Mohammed Khan
    Former state minister, at the inauguration of the book
  • Words fail me; outstanding!
      Mr. Rajiv Lochan
    Director NAGMA, on "One Fine Tuesday"
  • At times Delhi looks beautiful but the kind of flavour Shamim has brought about in black and white is not only very beautiful but after this book we all will see these monuments from a fresh perspective.

    ( while unveiling of the book 'Forgotten Dilli - Portrait of an immortal city')

    Extraordinarily taken pictures. Akhtar is someone we are proud of.

    ( on 'Ladakh Hues " )
      Mrs. Sheila Dixit
    Ex-CM Delhi
  • When stones burst into songs

    Qutub Minar must count among the most sketched, painted and photographed monuments of the world. What the Eiffel Tower is to Parisians, the Big Ben to Londoners, the Brandenburg Gate to Berliners and the Statue of Liberty to New Yorkers, the Qutub Minar is to Dilliwallahs. It is older and more spectacular than all the other monuments.

    I have seen hundreds of photographs of Qutub Minar but none to match the cover of Forgotten Dilli, Portrait of an Immortal City by Sasmita S. Akhtar and Shamim Akhtar. Shamim is a Bihari Muslim, now in the IAS, posted in Delhi. Sasmita is an Oriya Brahmin, a sociologist, who is a product of Jawaharlal Nehru University. Between them, they produced a pictorial album on Lakshadweep and now one on the old monuments of Delhi.

    Sasmita has written the text; Shamim has taken the photographs. They have limited their work to the end of the Mughal dynasty in 1857. They have pictures of baolis (step wells), dargahs (Sufi shrines), forts, mosques, and mausoleums. What arrests the readers attention is the interplay of light and shade on trees and clouds to highlight every monument.

    It is a sheer joy to turn over the pages of the book again and again. It reminded me of an old film song, 'Geet gaaya paththaron ne ' 'The stones burst with songs'.
      Mr. Khuswant Singh
    The Telegraph, 6th March 2010
  • 'A stunning exhibition, highlighting the unique beauty of Ladakh...extremely impressed by the quality of his images.'

    (on the exhibition, Rode to Heaven in 2008)

    'I have great pleasure in commending this book to all those who love mountains. Packed with photographs, there are short descriptive notes which are useful.'

    (In the foreword of the book, Rode to heaven: Ladakh in 2009)

    ...I myself have not been able to go to Kailasa nor will I be able to go to in this life; but after reading this book I feel I have also done half parikarma.'

    (At the inauguration of the book, 'Kailasa: A journey within' , at the Shanti Stupa, on the 30th of Jan. 2011)
      Dr. Karan Singh
    At the inauguration of the book, 'Kailasa: A journey within', at the Shanti Stupa, on the 30th of Jan. 2011
January 29, 2013
LADAKH - the womb that produced India and its civilization

Since time immemorial, the Himalayas have been the pulling factor for all “truth” seekers, through meditation or simply by being there in the lap of virgin nature, where elements “talk” to you in a very personal way.

The factor that led to the growth of a very spiritually advanced civilization-the Indus valley civilization, actually originated at the feet of Holy Kailasa thousands of years back. The nomadic Aryans, after seeing Kailasa, decided to settle down at the bank of a river that originated from KailasaManasarovar. The river was Sindhu, called Hindu by the Muslim invaders and Indus by the British. The name India is also derived from the name Indus. 

In this Indus Valley Civilization, the fist holy book Rigveda was bestowed upon mankind. Do we connect that the place where the Rigveda was conceived is in fact today’s’ Ladakh?

The highest point of human dwelling, Ladakh, a part of the Tibetan plateau at an altitude of 4,500 meters above the sea level is not just another hill station! Few thousand years back in this region, flourished a civilization which was not only the first religion of the world but also a spiritual way of life, where mankind had realized that there does exist forces of nature which are beyond the sensory perception of humans.

The entire Vedic culture and religion flourished at the bank of the Sindhu River. It is believed that the first man-made structure was laid near TsoMoriri, at the Karzok monastery, in Ladakh. The nomadic Aryans settled here, became agrarian and started cultivating the land. In those harsh climatic conditions probably their first crop was barley. 

Various enlightened souls of the Aryan community from Ladakh frequented holy Kailasa and Manasarovar and subsequently conceived the Vedas. Slowly the Vedic religion traveled to other parts of the Indian sub- continent and River Ganga, flowing from the head of Shiva, was given the status of a Holy River. But the fact remains that Sindhu was the first holy river that originated from Manasarovar, supposed to be flowing from the southern face of the holy Mount Kailasa. 

The easy and better climate in the Gangatic plains helped the Vedic religion to flourish in the later Vedic period and slowly Ladakh faded from the minds of Hindus.

Then again when Lord Buddha attained his enlightenment under a banyan tree in Bihar, the whole new way of understanding the elements and its relationship with humanity emerged. Today we might perceive Hinduism and Buddhism as two different religions, but in fact Buddha is more Vedic than it appears today. If someone can live the Rig-Veda way of life, then enlightenment is certain. Buddha retreated the Vedic mantra of “AhamBrahmAsmi”. 

The dispute between Buddhism and Hinduism, after the Nirvana of Buddha, is well known to all. Buddhism was almost wiped out of India, till the time the Ashoka the Great revived it and spread the message of peace all over the world.

Sadly, Buddhism and its followers were driven out of India, it continued to survive in its rightful place, that is, Ladakh. It is another debate whether Buddhism and pure Vedic religion are similar or different from each other but Ladakh, with its foundation still deeply rooted in Buddhism, is one of the most peaceful regions in the world.

If one desires to time travel and get a feel of the way of life of our ancestors, the Aryans, one can visit the villages of Ladakh region .The tough road to Ladakh, its remoteness, the surreal landscapes, its people and the serenity that envelops the place, has been a great pull for people from all walks of life. Western travelers, footloose motorist, bikers, monks and adventure tourist, have all been allured towards it. This has increased many folds in the last few years.

I have visited Ladakh on my motorbike a couple of times and am disturbed at the changing face of the region. The place is being polluted at a very fast pace by rowdy bikers, regular and western tourist with no respect for the ancient place.

Since years, Ladakh has survived in its original form due to its geographical isolation. It’s open only for about four months and for the rest of the year due to non accessibility, it heals on its own. But now, the Government is building roads and tunnels from both sides which would make Ladakh accessible for the whole year. Are we doing the right thing? The last place in greater Himalayas that has survived for almost five thousand years in on the verge of extinction.

Ladakh is the window to our past and holds the answer to our future too. If the region is exploited like other hill stations, the loss cannot be measured. The serenity and the spiritual world that exists there should be respected and preserved.

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