Iranian photographer, painter and video artist, Chayan Khoi explores the world by photographing it.
A great traveller, he evokes his adventures with the sensitivity of a Saint-Exupéry and the inspiration of the great sages. Eager to share true human stories, Chayan Khoi travels thousands of kilometers on his motorbike for several weeks, crossing little-known places in search of a civilisation, a region, a landscape, in order to transmit to us all the emotion that emanates from his unique experiences. For Acumen, Chayan Khoi delivers one of his fabulous journeys.
I have been to India 18 times, and what I like most is the Ladakh region in the Indian Himalayas. This part of India is spiritual and adventurous. Some of the routes are dangerous, as they are not very accessible, but they are worth it. And above all, discovering breathtaking mountain landscapes is something you have to earn! India is simply magical and its people extraordinary.
The period from the end of June to the end of July is ideal, as it is the opportunity to participate in several traditional festivals such as the Hemis festival in the Ladakh region. This festival takes place every year on the anniversary of the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, at the ‘Hemis Gompa’, the largest monastery in Ladakh. For two days, the locals dress in their best traditional clothes and the lamas – teachers of Tibetan Buddhism – perform masked dances known as ‘Chaam’, accompanied by music and the sound of horns and cymbals.
You can also participate in the Yuru Kabgyat festival in Lamayuru, one of Ladakh’s most picturesque villages, or the Phyang Tsedup festival, one of the largest in the region.
I don’t prepare my trips much, as I always leave something to chance and instinct. Instead, I go through local agents to get border passes and rent very good vehicles, like a motorbike in my case.
When I get there, I ask a lot of questions to specialists, as some guides are not aware of the evolution of the road conditions.
I take a supply of petrol and food and plan my route according to the state of the roads and the weather. You should know that when it rains, you can be stuck for quite a long time, as the roads are really not passable in rainy weather. This is the only danger in India.
Concerning the accommodation, during your journey, the ideal is to sleep in guest houses for $10 a night. It is impossible to book, you have to rely on luck or plan ahead of your trip through agencies. You can also find beautiful hotels such as lodges with exceptional views, but in my opinion, you should save this type of hotel for the end of your trip, as it can cut into your rhythm and the adventure aspect of your experience.
On the culinary side, the food in the Ladakh region is very different from the rest of India, mainly due to the geographical location and the predominantly Buddhist population. Ladakhi cuisine is directly influenced by Tibetan culture.
With a cold and extremely harsh climate for more than six months of the year, Ladakh does not have very diverse agricultural crops. In winter, Ladakhis are often on a forced diet as food is limited, quite different from the food available in summer. Roasted barley made into flour is used as the basis for many hearty dishes. Travelers usually come to Ladakh during the summer season and are surprised by the fresh vegetables that flourish in Ladakhi gardens. Thus, organic farmers will be delighted with the delicious and varied food, as they will eat only good things, like spinach salads or apricots with yak cheese.
When it comes to handicrafts, I suggest you shop at the Delhi Bazaar, the largest bazaar in the world, where you will find all the local craftsmanship.
Having started travelling in India over thirty years ago, I have witnessed the environmental impact of tourism on the planet. In my early experiences, I travelled on dirt roads up to 3m wide between the mountains. There were often rock falls that made access to towns and villages difficult. It could take two days to travel 50 km, and only the truly adventurous would go there.
Today, in these same towns and villages, there is the Internet, the majority of people have mobile phones and there are trucks that deliver consumer goods every day that did not exist before. The roads are almost all paved and hotels have replaced houses. Mass tourism is causing a real problem, especially in terms of increasing the amount of waste.
Nowadays, if you want to be an adventurer and find villages that are still untouched by tourism, you have to go further and especially higher in the Himalayas.
I think that in twenty years’ time, adventure travel will no longer exist: there will be airstrips everywhere (there are already airstrips at 4000m and 5000m), access to this beauty will be at a cost, and excursions will be made in luxurious comfort.
I think that my generation has lived through the golden age of adventure travel, even if after 18 experiences in the Indian Himalayas, I am still as passionate about this country as ever.
“The initiatory notebooks of Chayan” – Galerie Joseph Le Palais
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From July 10 to September 2, 2022