The Himalayas of India:  Ladakh and Srinagar, Summer 2013
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Wednesday 19 June 2013 - Hemis Festival, 3rd night of night photos - Milky Way, continued:
I was at the Hemis Festival, a festival celebrating Guru Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to the Himalayas centuries ago. I was at the festival in 2008, and couldn't get enough of it, so I had returned, and this time, during a seemingly rare sunny day, as it had been raining for most of my trip so far.

Hemis Festival at Hemis Monastery.

On the first time ever on an overseas trip, I had brought my full arsenal of photographic equipment. I had three lens, two cameras (one backup in case the first one took a dive), a tripod, "light painting" equipment, an assortment of filters, and the usual rechargeable batteries, battery chargers, and that kind of thing. It was a lot of weight, but it enabled me to switch between lens, using the telephoto for shots like this, then to use the wide angle for other shots later. And I could do night sky and long exposure photographs, something I had never done on an overseas trip before. The weight and sheer amount of stuff was obnoxious, of course.

Hemis Festival in Ladakh.

Young monks at Hemis Monastery.

Ladakhi monk at the Hemis Festival in Ladakh.

An ant's eye view of monks and their clattering cymbals. What's interesting is that I never listen to Tibetan Buddhist monastery music - you know, cymbals, giant 3-meter long trumpets, and drums. You know the type. But here, in the courtyard, here in this monastery in the Himalayas, it was enjoyable and otherworldly. It just doesn't sound right in my ear buds or my car.

The second day of the festival over, I immediately headed downhill to catch a bus. In 2008, it was pouring, and I had left late, talking to some nuns. I figured that if I left half an hour later, there would be plenty of buses since there were lots of us still here.


This time, I made haste, getting to the buses good and early, and catching one back to Leh. After all, if the skies remained reasonably clear, I was hoping to do night sky photography for the third night in a row.

The land around the valley up in the mountains by Hemis Monastery are gorgeous. I should stay at Hemis if I return to Ladakh, which I hope to do someday.

Chortens reach for blue skies near Hemis.

When I think of Ladakh, I often think of views like this. And when I woke up the first morning in Ladakh and looked out the window, I saw a view very similar to this that brought a huge smile to my face. This was taken while sticking my head out a window during a traffic jam in a small village on route to Leh from Hemis Monastery.

From the old bus stand, I took a dirt path circling around a cemetery with this view to my right as I approached Leh. It's a great shortcut that cuts many minutes off the walk, and when you've spent a hot day of photographing monks hopping on one foot in giant skull masks, you want to get back quickly. You know how it is.

That night, I ate at Gesmo, hanging out with someone named Chris, whom I had met at the Hemis Festival. We tried a cumin cookie. We had no idea what that was, but it had cumin seeds in it, and it was delicious. Gesmo is a bakery and restaurant that has been in Leh for many years, and it is easily my favorite restaurant there. Everything they prepare is fresh and clean and delicious. It's one place where I feel safe ordering salads, which come with real olive oil and limes and are delicious. I wish there were a Gesmo restaurant here.

Friday 20 June 2013:
The third night of night sky photography!

The third night ended up being very clear, the first night I saw with no clouds in the sky, and only the third night with no rain!!!! I was extremely excited. According to my charts, the moon would disappear around 1:30 am, and I would be able to photograph the Milky Way for the first time.

I began with shots like this, and also photographed some star trails photos while including the chorten and the Palace, did another star trail over the snow-capped Himalayas, and by that time, around 1:30 am, the moon was setting, so I started shooting photos of the chorten with the Milky Way in the background. Seeing the Milky Way, the center of our galaxy, stretch across most of the sky, I was in awe of the heavens and the whole experience. When you consider that I was in the middle of a city, it's all that more remarkable. I shot many photos of the Milky Way, mostly 20 second exposures, carefully bracketing the ISO, as opportunities like this do not come around very often for me. I didn't get back to to the hotel until 4 am. I was so happy to have been able to shoot the Milky Way.


Title: Heavenly Stars of the Himalayas
Info: Nikon D7000, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens. 20 second exposure, f/3.2, ISO 200. 20 June 2013, 12:40 am.
Photographer: Ken Lee
Location: Leh, Ladakh, Indian Himalayas.

I had climbed up to Shanti Stupa last night to photograph it, which you can see in the lower left corner of this photograph, part of the glorious backdrop of the Himalayas and the snow capped peaks.

Title: Heavenly Stars of the Himalayas
Info: Nikon D7000, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens. ISO 500, 20 second exposure, f/2.8 20 June 2013, 12:54 am.
Photographer: Ken Lee
Location: Leh, Ladakh, Indian Himalayas.

Leh Palace seems to grow out of the ground, of this earth, but not of this earth, Milky Way above, snow-capped Himalayan peaks to the left.

If people still don't understand why I've gone to India six times after looking at this photo, no amount of explaining will ever suffice.


Title: Of Stone And Stars
Info: Nikon D7000, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens at 11mm. Light painted Leh Palace combined with ambient light from city below. Two photos blended: stars @ ISO 1600, 20 second exposure f/2.8; building @ same settings but ISO 800. 20 June 2013, 12:48 am
Photographer: Ken Lee
Location: Leh Palace, Leh, Ladakh, Indian Himalayas.

Remember, follow the little forward and backward autorickshaws to navigate.

Ken's photos of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as photos of Peru, Burma, India, Morocco, China, Thailand, Ghana, Ecuador, and elsewhere, have appeared in many books, magazines, websites, and galleries.  Visit the Ken Lee Photography Website. Some of Ken's select photos may be purchased through his Imagekind Store.

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The Himalayas of India: Summer 2013


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