My passion has always been pushing the boundaries of human endurance, coming as I did from the bylines of Mumbai to the Big Apple and exploring the harshest extremes of nature. The lure of Alaska had beckoned, but now I wanted to push the envelope beyond that to the rugged terrain of the icy arctic snow to Grise Ford, in the northernmost part of Canada, pop:132. The planning for such a journey has to be meticulous and took 7 months with someone finally willing to take me to space where no USA photographer had gone before & tracked the Arctic Wolf at the North Pole.
The desolate location found me sitting in a tiny 6seater aircraft, which took 5 days to reach Grier Ford, due to harsh conditions. The tiny aircraft was forced to land midway in a swirling snow blizzard, with no one around, & no connectivity to normal life as we know it. I was hit by a panic attack, scared of the isolation & fearful of dying alone & anonymous in the cold Arctic snow, I broke into cold sweat despite the sub Artic temperatures. Finally, I reached the tiny town of Grise Ford and met a sprightly 72-year-old man called Raymond who was to be my wolf tracker! I went into another bout of shock looking at the elderly man, whom I thought would need help himself, let alone be able to support my quest for the Arctic Wolf. Nevertheless, we left the one-horse town, on a snowmobile ride for 8 hours. The destination was a desolate wilderness, which had no trees, no grass, no signs of life other than the two on the snow.
No roads, no paths to follow, just oceans of snow and my tracker and me. We pitched our tent in the cold of -56 Celsius, and that was to become our home for the next nine days. The artic could just as well have been the land of the midnight sun, since the Daylight shone even up to midnight on a clear night, and yet it felt like it was only 4 pm. Since we were two of us on a snowmobile, there was a weight restriction & so we carried limited supplies. We awoke the next morning to search for wildlife so we could eat for the next nine days. The biting arctic cold was oppressive & hostile, and even six layers of warm clothing could not protect me from the elements of nature. Covered in polar bear skin pants, I began to understand how the animal felt, in its natural habitat
Our hunt began for food, and that proved to be one of the highlights of my trip. Once our search had ended, we pitched the third tent as a base camp which was more than a mile away, from where I would stalk my arctic wolf prey to shoot on celluloid. Few people can relate to the isolation of being alone with yourself, the elements and your maker, and it holds a mirror up to your soul when you spend 15-18 hours alone in nature. The wilderness offers you no second chances and no toilets, no showers, and no bedrooms. Dinner each night is frozen air cured slices of wild Musk Ox served cold, and sleep in a basic sleeping bag deep within the snow. Sitting in mounds of snow for hours on end in total isolation brings home the stark reality of who you are & how insignificant a being the human is, amongst Gods Creations.
The frailty of humanity is best expressed when confronted with solitude & battling the elements of nature’s fury - be it snowstorms, blizzards, hurricanes, tidal waves or earthquakes, making you one with your maker, brings reality to the forefront. I became delusional, like the protagonist Pi Patel in Yann Mattel’s “Life of Pi”, seeing things in the -50 sub-zero temperatures and freezing cold & loneliness, the only solace is that I could meet my aged tracker at nights when I returned for the day. Less than 7 days into the expedition, my delusions became more vivid and I began to see artic snow wolves in the moving blizzards of snow. My fingers numbed without sensation, my feet frostbitten and my personal organs that had developed a mind of their own. From Mahim to Manhattan, the cacophony of human chaos presents a symphony of sound when compared to the high pitch of silence in the Arctic circle, and at times I prayed for the cacophony to return. Having faced all the adversities one could think of in one week, I decided to call off the expedition on the 7th day, frustrated and broken within, that I was defeated, not by the elements of nature alone, but by the gremlins within my mind.
Once the snowmobile was packed and on its way, en route the nearest town, 8 hours away, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks - the elusive Arctic Wolves appeared on the horizon, almost to bid me goodbye, as I was giving up my expedition into their native territory. Divine intervention or poetic justice, it was the highlight of a week of adversity and terrifying loneliness, facing nature’s elements, yet meeting the beauty of the Wolves in their pristine natural habitat, untouched by a human hand or even a cell phone tower. There are times that one marvels at the magnificence of a solitary existence, this was one of those times. I have been fortunate to learn to make myself one with my nature and surroundings and have shot the magnificent Musk Ox in Norway, the Puma in The Chilean Andes, the Arctic wolves in the arctic circle, the Alaskan Bear in Alaska and the magnificent Arabian Horses in the beautiful valleys of France.
My journey and travels now bring me to my motherland, India, where I will dare to confront the greatest Mountain range on earth and picture the magnificent Himalayan Snow Leopard, one of nature’s enigmatic animals, almost extinct and reclusive. Half of the image proceeds received will be donated to the Snow Leopard trust, so that they may be taken care of.
With Global warming and the snow receding, the Himalayan snow leopard is forced to lower altitudes for its food. The cattle of hill tribes & natives play a great role here and their livestock is easy prey. It is time that we educate our natives to care for these precious animals like their own family.
Human beings are the most efficient predators on earth and the snow leopards will lose this battle, like many of the great beasts that went before. Educating natives & humans to co-exist with the snow leopard will help in elongating their lifespan into the next century.
Our world needs to recognize these beautiful beasts and rescue them, so future generations of our children can admire God’s creations for what they are.