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Exploring the Otherworldly Beauty of Ladakh by Motorcycle

By Sarita Santoshini

Apr 8, 2022

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Photographer Yuri Andries spent five weeks photographing Ladakh’s landscapes and inhabitants.

Photo by Yuri Andries

Photographer Yuri Andries spent five weeks photographing Ladakh’s landscapes and inhabitants.

Situated between China, Tibet, and Pakistan in the northern tip of India, the Ladakh region offers travelers a fascinating mix of cultures, sparsely populated landscapes, and the world’s highest road.

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The Belgium-based photographer Yuri Andries visited Ladakh, India, in 2017. He spent five weeks traveling the region on a motorcycle without a fixed itinerary, photographing people and landscapes. He discovered extremes everywhere he turned: May temperatures ranged from 86 degrees during the day to 20 degrees at night; apricot trees bloomed pink against stark gray hills; and warm, generous people brightened the lonely, sometimes inaccessible roads. 

For Andries, traveling around Ladakh was an escape from his own fast-paced life. He was able to experience a place where locals share values of self-sufficiency and a strong relationship with nature. “There is the time and space to just be,” he says. “The experience was meditative.”

Starting at an altitude of about 8,400 feet, the union territory of Ladakh—which opened to foreign travelers in 1974—retains characteristics of centuries past, when it became a flourishing site of Tibetan Buddhism and an important stop on the ancient Silk Road. Gompas, or Buddhist monasteries, jut out of hilltops in their red and white shades.

Left: This colorful truck passes through Himalayan terrain on the Chisumle-Demchok  Road. Exceeding 19,000 feet in altitude, it is  the highest motorable road in the world. Right: A woman walks through a small town.

It is hard to look away from the harsh realities the region faces today. Its sensitive location, alongside China, Tibet, and Pakistan, has meant the constant presence of the Indian army. Himalayan glaciers, a major source of water for Ladakhis, are melting at a significant rate.

Despite these challenges, Andries says he intends for his pictures to “translate the calmness and tranquility of the place” that he experienced: “This is a love letter to Ladakh.”

Students play outside at the Lamdon Model  School in Leh. While there, Andries saw three children helping  each other climb a  concrete block. He  remembers how strong they were, and how, after falling, instead of crying or getting upset, they simply tried again.
Throughout Ladakh, vast stretches of valleys cut through mountains.
Left: Exploring Ladakh on a motorcycle meant that Andries was often alone on the road for hours at a time. “It  felt uncomfortable at first, but [then] it was liberating,” he says. Right: “In Ladakh, I had to embrace the idea of not being able to understand everything,” Andries says. Due to the language barrier, “I had many encounters where I was sharing the same roof, food, and time with people, and that was it. It was enough to have a connection with each other.”
At the Druk White Lotus School in Shey, children meditate as part of their daily routine.
Throughout Ladakh, green oases punctuate the arid landscape.
For Andries, traveling to Ladakh enabled him to experience a place where locals share values of self-sufficiency and a strong relationship with nature.
The living quarters for the Karma Dupgyud Choeling Monastery are located about five miles from Leh, Ladakh’s largest city (population: 30,000).
Left: The Nubra Valley lies to the north of Leh, across Khardung Pass. Andries walked for about three hours there alongside the Shyok River to the sand dunes of Hunder, where he met this man and a rare double-humped camel. Right: Ladakh is home to a thriving Tibetan Buddhist community.

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