I have two problems with the word idyllic. Firstly, I can never remember whether it has one ‘l’ or two and secondly, like awesome, it is used all too often to exaggerate experiences or places which are essentially “very nice”. However, our holiday Through Himalayan Foothills
, which my wife, Sarah, and I enjoyed in March 2019, was truly idyllic – with three ‘l’s. No roads, cars, shops, Wi-Fi or tourists (except for us); just guides and village hosts who tended to our every need, and comfortable accommodation, excellent local food and beautiful walking trails with views to the Himalayas.
I said that there were no shops, but there was in fact one – and it features in the photograph. We came across it on our second day of walking in Kolachhina, a small town on the edge of the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. Our path led us down there after leaving our first village stay in Dalar and before climbing back into the forest and on to Raisal village. It had been a beautiful sunny morning for the walk down, passing various smallholdings and villagers moving their livestock along the way. After about an hour we reached the brilliant green wheat fields on the edge of town and made our way to the shop. “Cup of tea?”, asked our guide Hemu and the obvious answer was “yes”. We sat on a bench next to the lady reading her paper. The bright fluorescent colours of the sari and her intense concentration as she screwed up her eyes to read in the bright sunlight meant that I just had to get a photograph. Having first checked that she did not mind, I took several pictures.
Afterwards as I was drinking my tea, I realised that there was a bigger picture to be taken. This small shop, come tea and snack bar, was obviously the hub of the village where everyone came to catch up on the news; so I turned my attention to trying to capture this. It took several attempts as the newspaper went up and down and people looked this way and that. In the end I think that I managed to get the news theme with the lady absorbed in her newspaper, the two men chatting and Hemu’s assistant, Puran, checking the messages on his phone. By the way, the chained-up dog in the background was his and had accompanied us on the first day. Puran decided to leave her (Kali, the dog) at the shop, which belonged to his brother. This is probably why she is looking a bit miffed.
In all, we spent an enthralling half hour under the lean-to of this shop enjoying our tea, watching people come and go and listening to the local chatter. It did not matter that we could not understand any of it. In the end, the lady put down her paper and told us that she knew some English people who used to live nearby and wished us well as we set off through the village and back into the forest to our next village stay at Raisal.
What the judges said...
Owain's photo was chosen as the winning Slow Moment by internationally acclaimed author and Slow guru, Carl Honoré. Carl explains what makes Owain's image his winner:
"I love this photo. It starts, obviously, with the colours, which are shocking, even unreal, in their electric intensity. I want to stop and stare, and bask in the kaleidoscope of hues washing over me. But there’s so much more here than just a visual thrill. To me, the best Slow Moments are about being a fly on the wall, taking the time to peer into other lives and lift the lid on a world unlike my own. This photo delivers that in spades. Part of its charm is that it poses more questions than it answers: What news story has captured the woman’s attention like that? What is the man behind the paper doing? What are the two men on the bench chatting about? Is the guy on the far left enjoying a moment of quiet reflection or is he scrolling through Instagram on his phone? What’s up with the dog? With its canny mix of colour, composition and culture, this photograph pulls me right into the scene, making me feel like just another villager stopping by to pick up my groceries with a side order of gossip. To be honest, I want to travel to the Himalayas right now!"