You only get one shot

There is something about landing in Leh that feels surreal. Maybe it is the stark landscape. Or the blue skies that we city dwellers hardly get to see. Or the thrill of embarking on a journey in this high-altitude desert. Or the breathlessness and the feeling of light-headedness caused by oxygen deprivation. Whatever the reasons maybe, it is something that one should experience this atleast once.

The landing itself is breathtaking. I remember the time that I experienced a landing in Leh sitting inside the cockpit on a ‘proving’ flight and that was an unforgettable event. As the aircraft makes a sharp left turn to line up on the runway, I felt that the wing-tips would actually touch the mountains (though they were quite some distance away). As a passenger, it is still an exhilarating experience to see the clouds just above and the rugged mountainous terrain just below.

But this post is not above that. As soon as we checked into the hotel we were told that His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, was slated to drive past the hotel in a little while on his way to the airport. While I am definitely not a religious person, it was still an intriguing prospect to try and catch a glimpse. So we all decided to wait at the road and see him and his cavalcade pass by. Needless to say, there were a lot of locals dressed in their finery who were already there hoping to get a glimpse of the revered figure.

A ladakhi lady dressed in her traditional attire and finery waiting for His Holiness with a bouquet of flowers

All that we knew was the direction that he would be coming from – no information was forthcoming on the vehicle he would be travelling in, where he would be sitting, etc.  We were also on a downslope which meant that the vehicles would be at a fair clip despite the narrow roads (which had been cleared up in any case). Finally, there was a shout and some jostling for space as his vehicle was spotted coming down and his convoy passed us by quite quickly.

One shot is all I had and I managed to make the most of it. Thankfully, His Holiness was sitting in the front seat of a vehicle and though it wasn’t really an open vehicle and I had the windscreen (and the sunlight reflecting from it) to deal with, it ended up being a passable shot. I was also ready to go with a vertical framing given the conditions and that choice definitely did seem to be the right one, in hindsight. And the Nikon 70-200mm is a really sharp and quick piece of glass and perfectly suited for this situation.

Getting a glimpse of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, on our first day in Leh did leave us with the feeling that the “land of high passes” had welcomed us unconditionally.

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