I’m looking outside my window at 4am and I see a universe of stars, a mountain dusted with snow and a mobile phone tower blinking a red lamp. The altitude at Muktinath is around 3600m and in early November the overnight temperatures routinely fall below zero. The night air is crystal clear but the window pane is beaded with condensation from my breathing.
I grab my camera and open the window. I have a modest little body for this trip, the smallest and lightest of the Fuji’s with the X-trans sensor. It took a few moments to fumble around in my bag to dig out the 18mm, it’s so tiny and it hides under my emergency chocolate bar. Using the timber of the window frame I prop the camera upwards, switch everything to manual and click a few frames into the night sky.
Cold air is rushing inside the room, but I don’t really care. The stars are filling my senses for now. There’s a mountain beyond the town white with snow and illuminated by the moonlight. In the hours before night fall I walked those very mountains and my thoughts wander.
I had taken my group to photograph chorten on the edge of town. At this altitude every walk is a breathless endeavour, but it’s worth a little effort. In the afternoons clouds gather around the Annapurnas and the sunlight disappears then reappears in bands. The photography is inspiring, shooting across the light while presenting unique subjects for composition.
Happy with the chorten my fellow photographers headed back down, while I headed higher up. I wanted to see what lay one saddle further up the hill. I walked slowly but I kept at it, from one hill rise to the next. Before long I was high above the town, so high that I was surrounded by silence. I wondered how the snow leopards survive up here, and if any were watching me standing alone on a mountain.
Approaching the snow line I saw views of distant peaks that were hidden in the township, snow capped mountains from the Mustang Kingdom. The light was dancing with the clouds and spinning out from behind peaks. Not everything in life makes a wonderful photograph, sometimes the experience is better. It occurred to me then that chasing light is an odd way to live your life, but that’s what I do. It’s a quality not quantity thing. I avoid the full light of day as a rule, rather my pursuit goes after those rare and lovely moments that exist on the edges.
That’s where life happens. On the edges. In the margins. The bits in between. Photography is the same, you want to capture those moments that are rare then make them last forever. Or at least last a lifetime.
As I type these words the stars have faded and the sky turned pale blue. Daylight has arrived and it feels cold all of a sudden. Only a photographer can draw warmth from the twinkle of the Milky Way. My 4am snap shot out the window looks less impressive in the daylight, but it holds value for me. I’ll keep it for myself.
I have a bag to pack now, getting ready to head back to Kathmandu. It’s slow journey back with a jeep to get to Jomsom, apple pancakes at another guesthouse and an early morning flight to Pokhara. Slowly slowly, bistari bistari. I’ll enjoy the warm air and chunky oxygen back in the lower valleys, and I have my pocket full of stars when I want to remind myself of the skies above Muktinath.