Keylong is buzzing with activity. There's a lively red-light district, famous for its pole-dancers imported all the way from Pattaya, a bar selling 247 different kinds of beer, and a famous wellness spa with hammam, sauna and a heated swimming pool around a floating cocktail bar.
At least in my wet dreams. Actually there's nothing to do in Keylong except a hike to the 800 years old Khardang gompa (monastery) across the river. The way to the gompa is long but the views over the valley are superb.
On the way up we passed a camp of road workers from Jodhpur, Rajasthan. The women happily flirted with the camera and their children performed a show of incredible misbehavior.
It was here that Soni, the always cheerful, polite and tactful Soni almost got us beaten up. When he asked one of the women (the colorful lady wielding the hammer on the image above) chalo Jodhpur? the mood suddenly froze and the women were not friendly anymore. As a matter of fact, they became angry.
"What happened, Mr Soni?"
"I asked lady if she wants come to Jodhpur."
"I guess she didn't like the idea, did she?"
"No sir, she was thinking we mistake her for prostitute, and the other ladies called their husbands."
"In this case, maybe it would be a good idea to get the hell out of here?"
In the end we made it up safely to the monastery on a long but beautiful road. It was very peaceful up there with a rewarding panorama of Keylong and the Bhaga valley.
Interestingly, the monastery was inhabitated by both monks and nuns, I must say very camera-happy nuns. They were grea fun to photograph and to talk with. Language didn't mean anything - they talked to me in Ladakhi (I guess), I replied in Hungarian, again making me aware of the two layers of communication - talk is important to exchange information but understanding is built by mimics and gestures. For example: I don't ask "can I take your photo please?", only approach the "model" with a face that has the question written on it. Approaching strangers with the intent of capturing their soul is a precarious thing; on the photographer's side there's the hunter-gatherer instinct, on the model's side it's a mix of vanity, pride and sometimes honour but distrust and pride too, and what a photographer has to do is to approach the model carefully and respectfully enough to strengthen the model's vanity and dispel the distrust. Like dealing with a butterfly - holding it for a moment but not too tightly, without removing that fine powder from its wings that makes it so beautiful.
There must be something to Buddhism. Just like last year, the Buddhists I photographed had a much more relaxed attitude than Hindus or Muslims (Sikhs are in general very vain and love to pose, and are therefore a different matter). They love to have fun and are easy to joke around with. And as usually, the polaroid does the rest. Look how the stern and mysterious lady from the above picture transformed into pure fun (she's the nun in the middle holding the polaroid).
I wanted to enjoy the beautiful views on my own and told Soni to drive back to town without me.
Walking down the path I saw something interesting - it was a lonely figure sitting on a hill, and I immediately got attracted to the juxtaposition. Quietly, I sneaked up behind and tried to capture the feeling I sensed when I saw this lonely human, his small silhouette in such strong contrast to the impressive mountain.
It was tempting to keep this encounter as it was, just to capture the human vs mountain juxtaposition without knowing the face, the name, without actually meeting the person, keeping him unknown. But then my curiosity prevailed (and maybe guilty conscience for sneaking up him behind, too) and I said, "hello".
And then the man looked at me and he turned out to be a woman, a nun, and with a smile on her face that said "I knew you've been sneaking around me the whole time" she replied, "hello!"
I was immediately stunned by a strange feeling, as if confronted with unexpected beauty and calmness, staring at her face that reminded me a little bit to the girl with a pearl earring, of course with a face scarred by cold winters and whatever; I couldn't even guess her age but there was such a beauty emanating from her features that overwhelmed me.
Her name was Padma and for a moment I wished I could stay on that hill with her forever, living off for the rest of my life from that stream of beauty that could have only come from her soul, but then on the one hand I could not and on the other, she was a nun. However, if she had told me "stay, I'll teach you all you need to know about tantra" I would have done so with pleasure, but she didn't say and I didn't ask; maybe it was a mistake. I took one photo after the other, she even removed her cap when I asked her to, and hoped that at least the photographs can mirror a fraction of her most beautiful soul.
Later on I was lucky enough to photograph many girls of great beauty, ranging from innocent village girls to outrageously flirtatious and sexy starlets, but none had made such a deep impression on me than Padma the nun with her shaved head and winter-scarred face. And already when I walked away from her with a futile sigh, I was longing for the moment when I will meet her again in this or another life.