17th Annual Smithsonian.com Photo Contest
I am crane karma (Black neck crane)
A symbol of peace, black-necked cranes have been revered by Tibetan Buddhists for centuries. This bird accorded highest order bird hierarchy in Tibetan Buddhist culture. The spirituality associated with the black-necked crane is not just because of its impressive beauty and its call, but also because of its very elusiveness and the anticipation built around its appearance, ideas that seem to be a metaphor for the wonders of nature. Legend has it that previous incarnations of the Dalai Lama were carried from monastery to monastery on the backs of these holy birds.
I wanted to photograph this bird for very long. unlike other cranes, these birds can only be found in higher altitudes of Tibet. In India, they only found in Tso morari, Jammu and Kashmir. last year June I planned a wildlife trip in Ladakh and I choose October is the best time to photograph bird because the weather will be pleasant and it is the ideal condition for photographing black neck crane in its habitat and less number of tourist. unlike other cranes, this bird is very shy and it needs to be approached very cautiously.
when I landed in Ladakh locals to told me that its difficult to find the birds in October because they have already migrated to Tibet. and some suggest that if I take Pangong Tso to Tso morari route ( which is one of the difficult routes to reach Tso morari ) I might be able to find one or two pairs. so I bet on my luck decided to take that route. it takes 12 hours to reach Pangong Tso from Leh city through khardung la, highest motorable road in the world (5,359 m (17,582 ft))
From Pangong lake, its another 350km from Pangong Tso to Tso morari and I started early in the morning and cover possible feeding areas of Black neck crane and reach Tso morari (Lake) before sunset. so we started around 7 am in the morning and after driving about 50 km I reached a place called Chusul valley (altitude 4360 meters or 14305 feet), and which is roughly 3 -4 km in width. This is the border area between India and Tibet (China) so special Inner Line Permit is required to visit this region. and this one this the very place where India and China have fought the bloodiest battle in 1962 ( battle of Rezang la). Its a salt marshy and frozen land and this is the last feeding ground in their migratory path and this last place in Indian side where I can possibly find Black neck crane in this season. so as I was carefully searching these cranes I found two birds feeding at the distance 200mts. These birds are very shy, unlike other cranes in the world they don't tolerate human presence. but I was very excited I took my camera out and started walking down the valley. but these cranes started walking into deep marshy land. The valley is full of salt and frozen water every and I was carrying Nikon d810+500mm f4 lens, I was barely able to walk on this land and on the top of it temp was -1°C and the bone cracking wind. Due to high altitude, my lungs were dying for more oxygen. but it was my only chance to photograph these birds after all these hardships, so I carefully zigzagging marshy field use to take a few steps and sit there for few minutes so that bird can tolerate my presence.
I wanted to capture the image of these birds with the mighty Himalayas in the background and bird in its natural habitat, I wanted to capture this giant beautiful crane with a contrasting band of different colors of the marshy field, blue sky, and the ice-capped Himalayas in one frame. as I was sitting on once the bloodiest battleground, recomposing and taking images and thinking about the battle, which was fought here, while we are preparing for next Chinese invasion of India, these birds spreading their wings of peace and prosperity between India and China and the need for the conservation of nature and wildlife.
After a few minutes, birds flew away from that area and its time for me to get back to my vehicle, which was just 700 meters away. when I started walking, I was very happy the fact that I was finally able to click Black neck crane and in that moment of happiness, I ran a few steps and That was a mistake, i wasn't properly acclimatized to that altitude so ran out my breath. it felt like somebody punctured my lungs with a dagger. I was so difficult for me to walk that after taking a few steps i had to sit down and take some rest and start walking and start walking again . it took me more than an hour to get back to my vehicle but still it worth it.
© Shashi Dhar.
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||April 14, 2019, 4:42 p.m.