Photographer's Note

The Himalayas are an interesting range. After many undulations in the so-called 'lesser' himalayas, the range abruptly rises from a mere 2000m in the valleys to over 7000m peaks, occasionally in one slope. Of course, the Kali Gandaki valley is particularly famous for this style of topography - but it's all over the range. Here, the Choukhamba-Neelkanth range rises from the river valleys beneath.

I'm not sure if others have noticed it as well, but I've found a very convenient rule of thumb for elevation geography in the Himalayas. Most villages are found from 1000m and 2000m elevation - often surrounding river valleys that are well-populated with huts and terraced fields between them. The fields usually end at 2000m, and thick jungles extend in the next km of elevation. These jungles are incredibly thick with wildlife and flora - usually crossed in daytime by villagers, the paths are used by larger animals at other times. The upper reaches of this jungle can be seen at the lower right corner of this picture. Right around 3000m, the forest gives way to wide grass meadows and the most exotic alpine flora imaginable. This part of the landscape is usually like an extended sloping rock garden (see the green lower part of the picture). At the edge of this 'bugyal' or meadow band are extreme alpine flora that extend into a rocky landscape. This is the 4000m region - right around the center of the picture here. Usually, the permanent snow and glaciers start at 5000m - in this rocky band lie alpine lakes and tarns, and usually no vegetation. Snow cover in the summer recedes to 5000m only in the months of August and September - at other times, the rocks are covered with snow. On this fine day of June, early storms had brought the snowline down to 4000m. Although the sun was melting the snow quickly, the shadows were still piled with hailstones and snow. In the background left, a large glacier rises from 4500m to over 5500m. I believe the tallest peak in the frame is nearly 7000m.

This easy scaling of vegetation that changes every kilometer makes SI units much more meaningful than feet and miles in Himalayan terms of elevation. Not to mention that the imperial system is (or should be) abolished.

Unfortunately, this photograph doesn't have much by way of scale - it's hard to tell how large the features are. The only human object visible was a shephard's tent far away on the foreground meadow - which, if it had been in the frame, would have been a tiny speck.

Interestingly, the lack of scale is more dangerous than merely bad photography. When I was day hiking from camp up there, I noticed two beautiful lakes far down. Thinking that the route was small, I started out - hoping to easily walk over the tiny rocks on the way. After spending an hour rolling down the grass slope, I ended up in the middle of a three-kilometer-wide field full of boulders the size of small elephants, and caves that could house families of angry bears. Due to inclement weather by 1pm, I had to abort my little trip, and I continued to clamber out of the rock field. My days of bouldering training at school came to good use - for I escaped the rather daunting landscape before the hailstorm. If the slopes had been populated by people like the rest of India, I might not have bothered to risk my life - just due to the change in perceptive scale.

Of course I was hauling my tripod along - and as a result, I was at liberty to take HDR and panoramic pictures. Although I realize most people find HDR irritating (I am one of these people), I do find it useful on occasion. Here, I took two exposures and combined them in Photomatix. The result seemed minimally better than a manual exposure blend from PS - so I chose the HDR. The crucial difference is in the icy blue shadows - which are brighter in the HDR.

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Additional Photos by Biswaroop Mukherjee (bmukherjee) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 218 W: 72 N: 211] (1516)
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