Everyone has a place they return to time and again or a thing they simply can’t resist while on vacation. Think beloved mountains or beaches, spas, street food, an 18-hole course or bungee jumping, et cetera. For me, it’s World Heritage Sites*: majestic reminders of a glorious, often mysterious past, scattered all over the globe, to be guided through, explored solo, photographed and cherished.
My search for such sites led me to Lothal — an enigmatic lost port-city, one of the central characters in the mysterious drama of the subcontinent’s origins. Part of a national obsession – the Indus Valley Civilisation: perpetually hiding in plain sight, its broken cities scattered across the north and west. Its script continues undeciphered, its story always tantalisingly beyond reach — confined, until that moment, within the yellowing pages of my schoolboy history books, with their prim descriptions of planned cities, streets meeting at right angles, baked bricks and standardised weights.
At a distance of just 80km from my hotel, Lothal was perfect. Lying forgotten in its ruinous state, Lothal was perfect.
Gujarat’s well-laid roads zipped past as we hurtled towards our destination. Bountiful rains this year, the driver Ratan informed me curtly, as we passed soaked paddy fields that glittered in the morning sun. Unprecedented. Looking out at the gentle, jovial cumulus clouds that glided past, I prayed that they withhold their yield until at least that evening.
Zafar Anjum writes about his Shanghai trip in 2011
Initially I was not sure if I was going to Shanghai at all, but the visa came through. I had tried once before but was not lucky enough to get the visa (in that instance, the paperwork was not complete and so on; it’s a long story). I was totally unprepared for the journey this time. This was one of those rare journeys which I undertook without reading anything about the city that I was visiting. I think there was some innocence about this unpreparedness, this ignorance. I took Shanghai as she revealed herself to me. I didn’t go there with any fixed images, so I was neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed when I stepped into Shanghai.
Before going to Shanghai, one of my colleagues had shown me pictures of his visit to the city nearly ten years ago. In his collection, there were pictures of skyscrapers, the famous Bund, and some Chinese temples. In the pictures, the sky looked muddy, overcast with smog. Only that image of a smog-laden Shanghai stayed with me. Avoid the beggars in Shanghai, my colleague warned me. There will be plenty of them and they will approach foreigners like you, he said. I noted his advice. From my Indian experience I knew how to avoid beggars, so I was not worried about encountering them.
Title: Beyond the Himalayas Journeying through the Silk Route
Text: Goutam Ghose, Michael Haggaig
Photographs: Goutam Ghose
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Date of publication: 2019
Beyond the Himalayas Journeying through the Silk Route is joint collaboration by award-winning Indian filmmaker Gautam Ghose and British writer and producer, Michael Haggiag. Ghose in his introduction has named this venture ‘a film-book’ because it is based on his five-part documentary, a cinematic marvel, also named Beyond The Himalayas.
Made in 1996, his documentary had been screened extensively on Doordarshan (India), Discovery and BBC in the late 1990s. The book, Beyond the Himalayas, commemorates the silver jubilee of the journey he undertook to make the documentary in 1994. Ghose writes in his introduction:“The so-called ‘present’ is a fraction of fractions betweenthe past and the future and hence the present moments are stored in our memory as recent or remote past. …. This book narrates one such vivid memory , a once-in-a-lifetime kind of adventure.”
In his introduction to the book, Ghose reveals how he came across old negatives and slides which featured their journey through the meandering valleys and endless deserts of the fabled Silk Road more than two decades ago in a ‘caravan’ of jeeps. Breath-taking reproductions of these negatives and slides intersperse the narrative which is based on the script of the documentary.