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Seeing the detail

Cathy Cooper, 06 February, 2018
Leopard paw prints, intricate wood carvings and a flying squirrel – just some of the things photographer Cathy Cooper spotted when she took the time to look more closely at India's Saryu and Pindar Valleys.
 

This is the India we often neglect in pursuit of the bigger picture. When there is beauty all around, adjust your eyes to see the detail.

When I travelled to Uttarakhand with Village Ways to the remote Saryu and Pindar valleys, I was full of anticipation to see the Himalayan mountain ranges and stay close to them. I wanted to watch the sun going down behind them and wake up to glorious dawns.

I also wondered what the locals would think of four UK ladies of a certain age invading their homesteads.

What I didn’t expect was the relaxed atmosphere walking between the villages. We took our time to look at flowers and birds, lizards and butterflies. Our guides always had a reference book at hand to help. There was no rush, no route march. We may have taken twice as long as other folk but at the end of each day I had a notebook filled with information and a camera loaded with photographs.

Besides spotting unusual features in the countryside, the villages themselves were full of interesting elements. You just had to stop and look.

The houses had a medieval appearance with their stone walls and brightly painted carved window frames. All around it was a feast for the eyes. And how nice for the local people that we noticed these things and delighted in them. They may have been amused at our excitement, but I think we showed a genuine respect for their country and their culture.

As a photographer, I had to cover a lot of subject matter, the wide vistas, the journey itself, the people and the detail.

Typical wooden window frame in Supi with carved posts and floral design.

A red painted panel from a door in Supi with carved horse and stylised human who looks like he is in battle costume.

I thought at first this gorgeous tiny carved flower was simply a window panel but then I saw the bees coming in and out. All the houses have barrel-shaped bee hives under the eaves, but this was quite different. This again was in the village of Supi.

A clever use of recycling. Discarded oil cans have been cut up and patched together to reinforce the door of an outhouse.

Horseshoes mean luck all over the world. I was double lucky to have spotted these two at the bottom of a door while wandering through the village of Jhuni.

Another intriguing hand-painted symbol on a house in Jhuni.

I have always been interested in textiles and India is the place to come to see them. This was a lovely woven cotton curtain. Nothing is dull here.

A bedspread made of recycled silk saris airing in the mountain breeze from an upper window. The women wore saris with exotic patterns and colours, even for working and harvesting in the terraces. Such a practical garment and so elegant compared to our walking outfits.

Another kind of fabric – mud bricks. These are hand-made and left to dry in the hot sun. They were being used to build a new school in Lower Supi. It was interesting to watch both men and women involved in the construction process.

The local post office and shop in Supi means there is communication with the outside world. Though nowadays most villagers use mobile phones like the rest of us. Still it is always special to send and receive a postcard.

As a supporter of animal conservation, I was pleased to see this notice stuck to a wall. I didn’t realise that cheetahs once had a habitat in India. We think we are so knowledgeable in the West but sometimes you must travel to the other side of the world to learn these things.

It was just a rusting metal sign that caught my eye but then I read it and realised the importance of it. When electricity was first introduced up here in the mountains, it must have changed the lives of all the hilltribes.

The myna is one of the most common birds of India. I saw plenty of more unusual species but this one sat still long enough for a photo.

Butterflies were abundant but always on the move. I caught this Common Mormon while trekking between Supi and Jhuni. Common to India but exotic to us.

It would have been nice to see one of the wild cats that roam the mountains but then maybe it is best that they are left alone. I saw these paw prints in the snow near the Tented Camp and our guide said they could belong to a leopard.

On the long downhill from Tented Camp to Dhur and into the Pindar Valley, we passed through deep dark forests. Something caught my eye coming down from a tree and I saw this creature seeking refuge in a hole in the trunk. We must have startled it. I took a few photos and then left it in peace. The guides had never seen one before. I later found out that it was a Flying Squirrel.

I like lizards especially the big ones. They always pose for a snap. This beauty with its blue legs was sunbathing on the trail between Dhur and Karmi.

The main crops are wheat and barley. When we left Supi, we walked along narrow footpaths between fields the colour of bright lime green. It was a joyous way to start another day and another adventure.

In comparison to the sunny crop terraces, the ridge up at the Tented Camp was thick with snow but now and again a little oasis of lichen and mosses would appear.

As you climb higher and higher alpine plants become more dominant. These tiny Himalayan Gentians were growing close to the ground. It would have been easy to miss them except for their brilliant blue colouring.

One of my travelling companions worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. She was very excited to see these primulas growing in their natural habitat. They are known as Primula Whitei or the common name is Snow Flower. Very beautiful and delicate, again in a gorgeous shade of blue.

I saw this plant growing in one of the villages. It was protected by a layer of straw against cold frosts. Somehow it seemed very familiar but for the life of me I couldn’t recall the name! We had a soup made from it one evening – delicious.
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