the incompleteness of the photo record

My photo record is incomplete. For example, this photo:

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is of a house outside of Phodong in Sikkim. Ross and I were sitting in the front lawn, apparently. Right next to the clothesline. A man came out of the house carrying a small baby; he was talking to the baby in Nepali, the only words distinguishable to us being “Aunty” and “Uncle” which is the sort of affectionate and also somewhat respectful designation for strangers. He squatted down with the baby and said “Why are you here?”

We were hoping to flag a share jeep back to Gantok. He put the baby down and disappeared. The baby stared at us somewhat skeptically. She had a respiratory problem that made her sound like she was purring. The man came back with two chairs for which we thanked him profusely and then disappeared again still without taking the baby. He came back with a hat and when we had gotten all settled the baby had a hat and a blanket and we had plastic chairs out of which to jump every time a jeep drove by that was full and wouldn’t stop for us. Fortunately the baby was taken back inside before a large goods carriage came very close to running over the blanket to avoid oncoming traffic. I never took a picture of the baby, which it didn’t occur to me to do at the time. I was too busy being in that particular moment and there is a certain way that the camera ruins moments, reduces them from an experience to an image.

There are also those photos that I took, knowing that looking at the picture without having the experience of everything that led to that moment, would be just a picture of a mountain. So sometimes I put away the camera, those moments being just for me.

We ended up walking back to Phodong rather than overstay their hospitality, ultimately getting a ride from an Israeli couple that thought we were hitchhiking. It was beautiful out there.

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The jeep ride to Phodong that morning had been eventful as well. I rode most of the way next to a monk in his saffron robe, a baby threw up in the front seat, we were delayed for forty five minutes waiting for blasting on the road. I watched the women working–grandma in her sari with the baby on her back patiently shoveling small piles of dirt onto a burlap sack and then carrying the sack to the growing larger pile a few feet away. The baby played with a green pop bottle until he dropped it and started to cry. His mother, who carried buckets of water back and forth from somewhere, who wore dangly gold earrings and was chewing gum came and took him to breast feed on one of the jagged rocks that had been blasted from the hillside. Then the jeep wouldn’t shift into first gear.

We had gone up there to see a gompa and the ruins of a former capital. At the time we thought the ruins were like five hundred years old. They were crumbling and with tree roots growing around the stones. To get to that house at the bottom of the hill where we waited in the front lawn with the baby, we had to walk down the longest staircase of my life and my knee which I had injured in Darjeeling was not at all pleased. Here’s me in pain but struck by the beauty of my surroundings (although you might not think so based on my expression). I never smile in self portraits.

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When the Isrealis dropped us off I could barely walk and stayed in Gangtok alone the next day to recuperate. It was then that I found out the ruins were only a hundred some odd years old and merely neglected, which should have been obvious from the size of the trees. So perhaps it wasn’t worth all that agony to see, but I still can’t regret going.

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