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Poignant Pelling

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

Our country, India, is in many ways a confluence of different cultures and religions.

India's rich soil, exotic fauna and the proximity to the Middle East had directly resulted in the Mughal invasions, which in turn impacts the way we live in many unseen ways.

Being surrounded by the Indian Ocean and the Arabian sea on the East and West respectively, India's position was also seen as a very lucrative trade route. This led traders and merchants from all over the world to India, hoping to jump start their businesses from this important strategic position.

To the North East, however, lies the incredible Himalayas: a vast swath of snow covered peaks which separates the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan plateau.

Here in the Himalayas, at a height of eight thousand five hundred meters, lies the majestic Kangchenjunga. Photographed for over a century, it is considered to be a rockstar for the Bengali community, who swarm to Darjeeling every year, and brave the morning cold at Tiger Hill just to catch a glimpse of the snow covered peak bathed in golden light.

At the foothills of the Kangchenjunga, you will find the tiny town of Pelling.

Known for the Pemayangtse monastery, Pelling is as peaceful a town as it gets. It feels as if the town has cowered down to the stares of the mighty mountain ranges which surrounds it.

As fate would have it, I had the fortune of visiting this abode at Christmas Eve, a while back.

Pelling is divided by a small patch of forest into two parts, Lower and Upper Pelling. From both of these regions, however, you would get clear and unobstructed views of the towering mountains around. Pelling also houses a helipad at the outskirts of the town, from where the mountains looked like they had been photoshopped in the middle of the sky.

Being such an incredible place, you, dear reader, will not be wrong in assuming that it offers incredible photo opportunities as well. To be honest, it did not.

For maybe the lack of my creativity, or perhaps opportunity, I could not seem to get the grand image which I had in my mind: something which inspires emotion in the viewer. On Christmas night, while the town was up celebrating, and Kolkata, hundreds of miles away, was alit with a thousand different colours, I was up at the helipad: shivering in the speeding winds, struggling to keep my flimsy tripod standing. The shot of the Milky Way which I was trying to get never came, as the clouds did not clear up. An hour or so later, I walked back to my hotel through the forest, terribly disappointed.

Morning dawned and I was up with new hope.

Our driver wanted to take us to some local sightseeing, and one of those spots was an Orange garden.

Post lunch, our car took off through the winding mountain roads and we reached the spot.

For all the trees and colourful flowers around, the place did not look like it housed the picture I was looking for. Still, with some time to kill, I trekked down the garden and reached a stream.

The speeding waters were running downhill, twisting and turning around the rocks. As it went down, its speed looked to be slowing down as well. I looked around, and as expected, it looked like the stream was much more animated upstream.

Packing up my bags and tripod, I headed upstream.

It was not a place where tourists would generally go. But I wasn't a tourist then, I was a photographer!

I walked atop the rocks for fifteen minutes, through the gradually speeding torrent, careful not to wet my shoes, and reached a spot which was incredible to watch.

The water sped down a huge slab of rock with ferocious force, smashing everything around ruthlessly. The scene just screamed 'long exposure'.

Very carefully, I mounted my tripod and the camera. I had some cheap Hoya ND Filters with me, which was enough to get my exposure up to seconds. The ND8 and ND16 screwed into my lens, and I was all set.

The gashing rapids and the warm afternoon light made the image which I have captured here that much more interesting.

I left Pelling for NJP the next day, with memories of the towering mountains and gushing rapids firmly embedded in my cameras memory card.

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