During a recent trip to a second-hand bookshop Elizabeth came away with a large pile of cheap issues of The National Geographic Magazine. It was a random selection from the 1950s and the intention was to use some of the pages in various art projects. Serendipity, however, has intervened as volume XCIX number five from May 1951 contains an article on a journey undertaken by Mrs Enakshi Bhavani, her movie-producer husband and their son across Northan India from Srinagar to Leh: an area we’ll be travelling around later this year.
Below are a selection of pages from the substantial article. The coloured plates were taken by Volkmar Wentzel, who worked as a photographer for the National Geographic for 48 years (his obituary from the Washington Post makes fascinating reading). The black and white photographs are not credited but from the text it is apparent that these were taken by Mrs Bhavani’s husband. My descriptions are adapted from Mrs Bhavani’s text.
Pages 606 and 607
These show a map of the journey, drawn by Irvine E. Alleman, and a photograph of the Lamayuru library which stacks sacred books like shoe boxes with the end tags bearing the titles. The volumes were hand printed in Lhasa from wood blocks carved by Tibetan monks.
Pages 632 and 633
The top picture is of Himis devil dancers wearing death’s-head hats and shields and the bottom one of the same dancers this time described as with “fiendish howls, masqueraders chase souls in purgatory”.
Pages 628 and 629
The plate on the left is of Pituk monastery in the Indus valley which at the time was the headquarters of the Yellow Hat or reformed lamas. The women at the base of the hill are winnowing barley. On the top right is a chorten (sepulchral monument) near Leh with each cavity containing the ashes and relics of holy lamas.
As we travel around the area in July, we’ll be curious to see how much these places have changed in the intervening 58 years.
— Words and pictures by Paul