Cast by deft hands, a freshly washed bed sheet unfurls butterfly-like in a blur or shades and stripes. Once dry, bed covers like those littered around the worker’s feet will be ironed, folded, packed and dispatched across India and the world.
Light streams through a jostle of people and rests on a Changpa woman waiting for the festivities to start
Kasturi arranges cloth to be fed into the ironing machine. She is supposed to be one of the best workers at the unit, and women and men alike say, also the most beautiful. A reason why, perhaps, she agreed for her “work”, but not “herself”, to be photographed.
Painters prettify an elephant at Haathi Gaon, Jaipur. The animals’ workaday involves ferrying tourists to Amer fort, but they are often contracted during the marriage season to serve as the transport for grooms.
A Kumaoni woman has time to smile on the way to collect wood. The bunch of rope on her head will hold about 15kg of wood and grass on her return journey
The process of sorting
Workers separate the cloth — salwar suit pieces, upholstery, etc — bound for the ironing machines. Ironing is one of the few steps in the process that is completely mechanised.
Mahavir stands watch at the ironing machine. Given the exertion, and the lack of breaks in-between, watching over the ironing machine is a task all workers share in 30 minute shifts. “Mostly nothing goes wrong,” says Mahavir. “And we get some rest without the manager complaining.”
A barber’s shop in Jaisalmer
Women at work folding the fabric. Men are a minority in the sorting and folding sections of the workshop. That is partly because women are considered better, and more sincere at the job, and also because they ask for lesser pay than men.
A mixture of soil and sweat cakes the face of a wrestler after a bout of grappling. Mud wrestling, where most of India’s well-known wrestlers, began training, remains a ‘banned sport’.
Waves of colour course through the workshop as people go about their business, sorting, inspecting and folding the fabric
A 70kg stone, called gar nal, is worn the neck by wrestlers as they walk about during training sessions
While it could look like nothing more than uneven batches of folded cloth, every heap is sorted according to the orders placed.
Wrestlers warm-up before sparring in the pit at an akhada in Benaras
Women at work in the folding section of the workshop.
The wall of one of the warehouses where finished goods are stocked. The gaps in the bricks are sealed off using cloth left over from the cutting process to prevent rats from sneaking in and damaging the goods.
Hanifa the Fakirani, Kutch
Jannat loves the way the flour flying during the clean-up session rests on his hair. “It makes me look more like my father,” he says.
Monk at Diskit, Nubra
Monk-chef, Kurzok, Ladakh
Shades of faith, Ladakh
Six-year-old Tsering tries to hide the embarrassment that follows a scolding by busying herself untangling the knotty hair of her family’s herd of goats
Great folds of cloth frame a ladder at one of the many dyeing workshops in Jaipur
VIBGYOR and more brighten up the semi-dark interiors of a screen printing factory. While gaudy colours are the hallmark of Sanganer’s prints, a collective shift in the market’s taste is pulling manufacturers towards more earthy hues.
The calloused hands of a Tibetan refugee tell the rosary at the celebration of the Dalai Lama’s 74th birth anniversary in Leh.
Horse trading, Pushkar
Sonam ajang, Changthang
Yarn spinner, Srinagar
The day begins early for Jannat, a 10-year-old in Turtuk, when it’s his turn to tidy up the village’s watermill.
A byproduct of the craft of screen printing reveals itself as two-finger graffiti on the walls. Such abstract creations are a result of workers cleaning their paint-smeared fingers, and resting the screens against the wall during lunch-time.
For a Rabari elder, walking barefeet is more comfortable than wearing shoes. “You feel the earth without shoes, and only grit and thorns with them”
The full circle – from fabric to upholstery – rubs shoulders in the corner of a workshop. Reams of white cloth hang out to dry after bleaching, a worker folds base-dyed cloth to be transported to the printing units and another runs the finished product through a machine to fix the colours.
Cloth enough to make 170 saris is hauled in for washing, cutting, ironing and folding – before they are sent to showrooms across the country
A bamboo grille high up in the air casts sharp shadows as it waits to be draped with bleached cloth. Studies have shown that exposure to the bleach, and the fact that the workers wear no protective gear, takes a toll on their health.
Bred to run, Marwari horses need all the exercise they can get. Here a handler walks a horse through a stream to “cool it down” after a short gallop
Ajitabh makes his way up a rickety bamboo ladder to unfasten the dyed cloth laid out to dry 12 metres up in the air. Having been doing it more more than a decade, he does not complain about the lack of safety. “Knowing that you could die from a fall is a good enough safety net.”
Steam stares back at the work of a Pashmina dyer in one of the few dyeing workshops on the outskirts of Srinagar
The owner of one of the workshops, Raj, whose name translates to ‘king’, supervises his workers from his makeshift throne. “It is better than anything they would get at their home,” he says about the working conditions. Almost all the workers at Sanganer are migrants from the state of Bihar.
A network of canals ensures clean water at the doorstep of every house in Turtuk village. The ritualistic evening cleansing offers a great opportunity for children and grown-ups alike to indulge in chit-chat at the end of each day
Braving steam and stench, workers bleach fabric. While most are given trousers made of rubber, gum boots and gloves, they rarely wear them. At the most, some put on their gloves during work.
A woman only slightly less ancient than her surroundings makes her way up to her house after morning prayers at the mosque in Turtuk
Bunti, 14, has been working since his father passed away three years ago. Having never attended school, he says he is indebted to Ajmal, who convinced the workshop’s owner to employ him, even though “it is not allowed any more”.
Creased, calloused and flaking, the hands of a Rabari woman describe the toll work and weather takes after a lifetime as a nomad.
Ajmal, 30, has been working since he was 12. He says it was common to kids at workshops when he began. Today, though, almost all parents opt for education for their children.
Light filters through a screen that will be used to pattern the next set of colour. Depending on the intricacy of patterns, anything between 4 and 20 screens are used to complete a single piece of bed linen.
An older screen-printing setup. As businesses fare better, most owners have built permanent structures that are better suited to let work continue through bouts of slight rain
A block printer at work. This art is being killed by the low wages the artists are offered. Unlike screen printing, where colours remain independent of each other, block printers use a combination of overlapping colours to bring out nuanced shades. Jaipuri Pink, for instance, calls for six layers of different hues, and the final colour emerges only after the second wash.
At a block-printer’s studio. Racks full of blocks, made from teak wood and carved by hand, share space with the non-work clothes of the artists.
Women collect printed bed sheets laid out to dry on the grounds outside a workshop. The waiting vehicles will transport as many as 12,000 sheets to the ironing and packing units a short distance away.
An employee at the ironing and packing plant scampers to deposit a bundle of cloth at the ironing machine. Each unit employs as many as 70 workers, and each of them works 10 hours every single day of the year.
Women dressed in their finest attire abandon caution as they make a mad scramble hoping to be able to meet a high monk visiting a local monastery in Nubra
A pair of horses stand as the insignia for the art created by shuffling hooves, joining the dots on a pointillist canvas
At ease with her handler, an elephant enjoys an early morning bath and scrub down that will rid her of the fading paint that coats her head and trunk
Tashi makes his way across a section of marbled ice with streaks of white for frozen rapids and emerald greens for more placid waters
A missing slat in a near-forgotten home sheds light on the only surviving witnesses of the home’s heyday – wooden casks brimming with chhang, the time-tested drink over which people bonded and swapped stories
Knowing neither rest nor haste in the Nubra valley, the River Shyok forks and fuses as it makes its way past a bed of silt and sand on its journey towards the Indus
Pumice stone, coconut shells, pleasingly warm water and four hours is what it takes for a complete bath
Acho crosses a waterfall in winter’s clasp. The ice where cascade meets river is more slippery than oiled glass, and harder than the rocks that make up the gorge
Mud bricks weathering the elements mirror the rigours novice monks endure as part of the rituals that make them part of the monastery.
Sky and clouds imprint themselves on water cupped by sated sand in Nubra valley’s Hundar. Spells of rain or spillover from the river running beside it create these temporary oases.
Lakshmi and other elephants revel in spraying themselves with water at a man-made pond on their days off. Here, though, Lakshmi contents herself with Kaalu doing it for her
The chadar thaws at temperatures above -18C. As the ice opens up, travellers have to climb gorge walls polished smooth by millennia of summer erosion
Seen from between the constricting walls of Leh Fort, colourful lungta entrust their blessings to the wind, which carries them to the lands it visits.
Shy yet curious a 3-year-old Changpa child greets a new day and a photographer on the Changthang, a cold desert at an average altitude of 15,000 feet above sea level in Ladakh.
A Changpa children are sometimes left in front of open fires while their mothers go to fetch water. Younger children though, are kept in the corrals with the goats, where they are not only warmed by the animals’ body heat.
Windspeeds exceed 80kph on the Changthang in the winter, making sandstorms a routine no one complains about. With almost no cover, the only way to deal with them is to wait them out – as this trio of women does.
The winter cold ensures nothing remains liquid on the Changthang. The nomads have to collect ice and melt it for water.
The Changpas traditionally lived in yak-hair tents called rebo, but are increasingly opting to use canvas tents bought from markets, or given to them at subsidized rates by the government. While these tents are much lighter, they are not as warm as the hand-woven rebos.
A Changpa woman roasts barley for the sheep and goat. Perhaps because of the changing climate, the valleys in the Changthang are receiving a lot more snow each year, making it almost impossible for the sheep and goat to get to the grass.
Treating animals as equals is part of every pastoralist’s lifestyle. Horses and people share the same source of water in winter; the only rule in such situations is to ensure the drinking water for people come from upstream of the animals.
A horse race in progress
The hunt for the perfect white steed begins as preparation for the welcome of a monk. Each summer, Buddhist monks travel to all the Changpa communities to bless the people, the animals, and the pasture that sustains them.
A Changpa tent, no matter how small, has a corner dedicated to the gods. Despite roads and the advantages it brings with them, the Changpas’ lives continue to be dictated by factors much beyond their control, in the realm of blessings and prayer.
Until roads connected the Changthang with Leh, Ladakh’s capital, horses and feet were the only modes of transportation for the nomadic Changpa. Even as more and more of them buy SUVs now, the status of the horses remain undiminished. Here, a group of Changpas gather with their steeds for a race.
A Changpa races sunset to get his flock to the safety of their corral. These nomadic pastoralists are the guardians of pashmina goats, which provide the world with the much-sought-after cashmere.
A lamb exits the warmth of the womb to find warmth yet again in the heavy overcoat of a nomad. The Changpa time the birthing of their livestock to the deepest months of winter, which allows the lambs to be weaned just as the first shoots of summer grass emerge in the desert.
Among the last true nomads, the Changpa migrate as many as 8 times a year following rain and clouds to new pasture. Every movement is led by women and children. The men follow with all the possessions loaded on horses and yak. They are also responsible for herding the livestock safely across the mountain passes.
A Changpa leads his horses under skies the raise false hopes of rain. Most pastures on the Changthang are nursed either by glacial streams – a reason why the nomads pray for bitter, snowy winters and blazing summers.
A Changpa woman helps a newborn goat finds its way to its mother’s udders. The nomads count their wealth in heads of goat and sheep, but that is not the only reason why they love them as much as they do their own children. Buddhists by faith, they consider it a sin to be the cause of suffering for any living being.
Surviving winter is a full-time job that the nomads take seriously. With temperatures regularly dropping to below – 40C, the changpas spend almost all summer, and their free time in winter, collecting dung and droppings of their animals and the roots of a shrub to use as fuel. The Changpas’ hearth burns for about 18 hours every day through the five months of winter.
Changpa men let their yak roam free, and check on them about once every fortnight. Here, a father takes his children along for the inspection. Changpa children are inducted into the nomadic way of life from an early age. Boys as young as 7 are often given the responsibility of taking the livestock out to graze.
Days begin early at Changpa camps, which are chosen not for their proximity to water, but pasture. Tasks at camp are well sorted, with men and boys responsible for taking the animals to graze, and the women tasked with taking care of home and hearth.
Four-year-old Trinley’s face bears proof of the fierceness of weather on the Changthang. Legend has it that, on the Changthang, people can suffer sunrun and frostbite within a span of 24 hours. Temperatures can fluctuate by as much as 30C every day.
Tsering, now 6, takes a break from milking goats, a job she has been training for since she was 3. The task is much more than tugging at udders, and involves head as heart. The women need to not only identify goats tht can be milked, but also how much each animal is willing to spare for them.
A fishing net and the river it sits on are transformed into a painterly scene by rising mist and the shades of sunrise
Supple yet sinewey the famed sand dunes of Nubra valley await winds to crease them afresh through the night
An elephant readies for her massage. Though mahouts parade their elephants as “white” some say the discolouration of skin around the forehead, trunk, chest and ears are caused by the work — hauling logs, from the ropes used to keep chains in place, and the constant prods mahauts deliver behind their ears to give them directions
The frozen river saves hours in travel time between villages, but means more work when animals are involved. For hooved livestock, their handlers lay a trail of soil and dust so they get more traction on the ice
Slender stalks heavy with buds waiting to bloom take the edge off the rough-hewn texture of a monastery wall in Ladakh
For a desert, Ladakh puts up a spectacular show after a good spell of rain
A gliding shikhara marks the beginning of another day in Srinagar, cutting short the quiet conversation between the Zabarwan mountains and the Dal lake
The designs on elephants vary wildly — from mundane lotus and leaves for most of the year to lavish designs involving leaping lions, fleeing deer and silent peacock witnesses. The more fantastic designs are usually commissioned by people who hire the animals for weddings or special occasions.
The greatest irony on the chadar is the lack of water to drink. Here, Rinchen lays himself down on a sheet of ice to make the most of the thaw
A block of ochre from afar, Namgyal Tsemo gompa transforms at close quarters into a dedication to symmetry, detail and the Matitryea Buddha it shelters
The steady advance of a storm makes the colour drain out of the face of jagged cliffs of the Zanskar Range in Ladakh
I bathe my son and he bathes his daughter, Sabina says of how the couple divides duties. Such daily interactive sessions also help the animals recognise new arrivals as part of the family, the mahaut, Afsal, says
Zanskaris say the chadar provides them everything they need. Caves for shelter, sandy banks for rest, and firewood, which the river deposits on its banks throughout summer
The lack of reverence gives reams of mantras and sheaves of hand-written prayers no reason to fall from grace even as they languish an old room in a monastery in Ladakh.
Surrounded by a landscape that screams desolation, a farmer lets his patch of green offer proof of what treasures lie for those willing to scratch its surface
The light of a flash lends a glacier table at the foot of Auden’s col in Uttarakhand the power of levitation
With trees in short supply, an elephant decides to use a pillar as a scratching post midway through a bath. Kaalu waits for her to return. Mahauts say they almost always allow the elephants liberties. Why? Only when you let them have their way will they agree to listen to you when you want them to
Rinchen looks for the next hand-hold as he climbs the near-vertical gorge wall. His aim? To check whether the cave at the top is occupied
Afternoon sunlight bounces off gorge walls to light up the ice. Such beautiful sights rarely find admirers in those walking this treacherous route
Lichens and out-of-season snow turn a rock below Kalihani Pass in Himachal Pradesh into the all-seeing eye of Shiva, whose domain it is said to be
Drying an elephant calls not for a towel but the sun. Mahauts mostly park their animals outside their homes for this purpose
After four hours of walking, Tashi faces water and gorge walls not worthy of climbing. It is rare for Zanskaris to abandon hope, but on this day, Tashi came within inches of it
Life in an colourless stone house makes it a natural choice for its inhabitants to seek a living that compensates for both. These are lengths of woven pashmina, dyed by hands that know no other craft
Their job done, wildflowers continue to add character to the tree line in Garhwal Himal while awaiting the storm that will bring with it deliverance
A trio of zhom, a hybrid of yak and cow, ploughs through snow on the outskirts of Padum in Ladakh’s Zanskar region. The pickings are slim outdoors and almost all livestock depend on fodder they get every evening in their sheds.
An end by evaporation awaits seasonal pools on Tso Kar’s banks. The earth, baked dry and crusted with salt, allows almost no absorption
Laado is special because he was born to Lakshmi, not bought from Sonepur. At seven years, his favourite game is “stomping on footballs and bursting them like ballons”, says Abdul, the owner. He claims he loves Laado enough to buy balls in bulk
Rinchen surveys the way forward from high above the river. 2005 was a bad year on the chadar. It took us 16 days and several close calls to finally make it to Zanskar’s Padum
At a small weavers’ village outside the town of Benaras, a craftsman points me to the loom as his answer to what the future holds for art and the artisan
A fiery sunset over Tso Kar is mellowed by gathered rainclouds that shed their moisture to soothe the thirsting hills
A helper kneads dough and flattens them to make rotis that weigh one kilogram each. Elephants begin their breakfast with 10 rotis each, followed by balls of gram flour and sugar cane for dessert
Frozen bubbles under the surface of the Zanskar River
Bacchus has left the building
With a wicker basket borrowed from an old man in Nyerak, Acho sets out to collect firewood. With the trek gaining popularity, the old man’s house has now become a paid homestay
Neither eroded nor cast aside, a solitary boulder stands steadfast in the path of the churning Rudragairah nullah in Uttarakhand’s Garhwal region
The jumbo kitchen is a sparse, soot-stained room. Straw fuels the hearth and a flat sheet of iron serves as the base on which the rotis are made. Kaalu keeps the flame alive while also ensuring the rotis don’t burn
Multicoloured mountains offer up a flash of blue as a teaser to the grand vision that is Pangong Tso – a 134-km lake that stretches out like an apparition in an otherwise desert setting
The tip of a painted trunk lightly clasps at a piece of roti, a sign of the regimental routine of discipline mahauts practice at meal times. A greedy elephant is a dangerous elephant, they say. The outstretched hand offers an added precaution, just in case things get ‘out of hand’
In deepset winter, a legend says, ice as slender as a goat’s rib can hold the weight of a yak. Beyond it, ice thicker than a yak’s rib won’t support even a mouse. The legend holds good for Acho in January, the coldest of the winter months
Acho rests after making a precarious crossing even as a band of trekkers heads towards the danger zone
The shadow of a fin of ice, and the light split by it, add shape, scale and colour to an otherwise bleak and featureless lake
Snow piled by wind mimic the surroundings of Kyun Tso. This valley goes by the name “lung mein” in winter — the valley of death, calamity or misfortune
An oasis of honeyed light drains into restless ripples stunned by cold. In the deepest months of winter, the sun offers light and little else
Manic winds that sweep the Changthang play reaper on the Pangong Tso, plucking waves from its surface and hoarding them on a bend far away
The first signs of summer’s approach find reflection in a band of cloudless sky and granite peaks shorn of snow
The fight for fodder means animals bother little about weather. The marshes around this lake, unreachable in summer, miraculously transform in winter into a sure stash of food, at a time when they need it the most
The Changpas’ eternal winter dilemma. Cold stimulates growth of finer pashm on goats but too much cold is fatal. Here, an especially harsh winter forces a Changpa family near Tso Kar to move with their herd to more merciful valleys
When crossing a frozen lake, it pays to be last in line. A Changpa legend claims this lake’s name is one of caution, a reminder of an accident long ago — when a tsomo (woman) was swallowed by the ice. They say she was leading yak, which are driven by making the sound “ri”, twice, in quick succession
A snowstorm swoops down on Tsomo-riri. Winters are changing in Ladakh. A spike in snowfall in the past few years has seen a rise in fatalities among livestock and wild herbivores. The snowfall that followed this storm lasted a full three days. 2013 has been the worst in living memory, or so the wise old Changpa say
Tsomo-riri reveals its true colours only during snowless winters, its creased and pimpled surface catching, soaking and bouncing light to complement the dazzling display the mountains around it put up
The combination of wet snow and slick ice on the Tsomo-riri outdoes the brilliance of the sunset overhead
A sunny day at Tsomo-riri offers an chance for exploration. For a Changpa, it means checking on his free-roaming yaks. For me, it means an education on the true grandeur of Ladakh’s terrain
Ice floes lifted by choppy waters and cemented by snow are polished to a shine by wind. Their colours change all day, depending on the slant and intensity of light
Light filtering through clear ice and blocked by its opaque edges casts a diamond shadow on the surface of Yaye Tso, a volcanic lake
A rare moment of winter’s grace presents itself as a seamless ballet of science, art, and poetry in a shard of ice
A rock carved in the shape of a Jurassic beast, seems to haul itself out from the dark depths of the earth
High noon kills shadows, turning the muddy waters of a pond into a perfect surface for reflection
A boatman rows me across a River Ken streaked in the shades of sunset. This river, among India’s least polluted, lies on the edge of Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh
For all the love mahauts claim to shower on their animals, the life of a working elephant is difficult in more ways than one. Here, the trunk feels for the offensive piece of stone wedged under the elephant’s foot. It was removed by the mahaut
The village of Hanupata. Even seasoned chadar walkers stumble blindly on this stretch in their eagerness to enjoy momentarily the comforts of home
With bamboo brushes and bowls full of colour, a painter summons his canvas — the elephant
Having drawn the white outlines on the elephant, Nathu takes a break while his apprentices step in to colour their subject pretty. Baths are light after painting sessions, because they are expensive. For this elephant, a scrubbing is a distant month away
With most men in Pishu village working as porters on the chadar trek, tending to livestock becomes the responsibility of boys. Herding goat is easy. Not so with a reluctant yak
As the elephants leave for work, a calm descends on the colony, with the women free to complete household chores
Past Zangla, the Zanskar river enters flatter, more open territory. It’s an easier walk, and less taxing even when evening sets in rapidly
For elephants heading to Amer Fort in Jaipur, the day begins as early as school. While the work is thankless, these animals know little else. Some close shaves and accidents in the past has ensured strict laws that have reduced the working hours for the elephants, with a break for a quick bite in between
A monk at Karsha tries to understand why I would brave the winter and risk walking the chadar alone. “For the adventure,” made no sense to him
The Pagal Nallah lies still in the grip of winter. The grass on the mounds of earth bears proof the other extreme around the corner – the singeing summer heat
Pine trees punctuate to perfection the exclamatory scene unfolding around them
Lionhearted water snarls defiantly into winter, daring it to annex its lair of warmth. At temperatures as low as minus 20C, the pools within the ice formations bubble at 80C, close to the boiling point at such altitudes
For herbivores, billowing steam from a thermal vent rises like a smoke signal promising respite from cold. For carnivores, the message is about easy pickings.
With tokens for each animal, both master and mount wait their turn to pick tourists and head up to the fort. While many want this aspect of tourism to end, no one seems to have an answer to what the animals, or their handlers, would do after that. And the mahauts are quick to point out that they bond with their animals for life
Pipiting village signals the end of the walk on ice. As the valley opens up, lifestyles change. Yaks roam free, trees line homes and residents are more than willing to give travellers company on the last stretch to Padum
Pipiting monastery, as seen from near Sani, a village three hours’ walk from Padum
Rabari 12: As with all communities I have lived and worked with, the women never understand why anyone would be interested in photographing them. Yet they are ever-willing to become subjects, even if it means a delay in completing their chores — in this case, making butter
The plans to settle rabaris are a double-edged sword in some villages. Keeping livestock makes it mandatory for the men to be on the move. For most women and elders, it means an annual eight-month wait for the young men to return.
Giving up the nomadic life comes with bonuses. With their son employed in a hotel, 70-year-old Gomti no longer has to worry if he does not call. Now, she says, she can do whatever she wanted “but could not as a child”.
Rabari 12: As with all communities I have lived and worked with, the women never understand why anyone would be interested in photographing them. Yet they are ever-willing to become subjects, even if it means a delay in completing their chores — in this case, making butter
Rabari 12a: A striking feature among rabari women is the tattoos they wear. A dying tradition, the tattoos say much about the wearer, from her marital and social status to any skills she may have acquired. The pigment used to make them comes from either lamp soot or the bright green juice from the leaves of golibad creepers.
Rabari 13a: Four-year-old Gopal’s education begins much before he is sent to the village school — with a little tour of areas his father takes his livestock to. The path Gopal walks will be his to choose, say his father. “I can only teach him what I know.”
Rabari 13d: A child suffering from indigestion is ‘cleansed’ by a priest ‘possessed by benevolent spirits’. While the rabari have access to, and consult, doctors, they continue to fall back on such shamanistic rituals for peace of mind.
Rabari 14: The rabari at a ceremony to celebrate their homecoming. These events take place during the monsoon, and apart from the usual song and dance, and opium drinking and smoking, this is where marriages for young people are arranged.
Rabari 15: While mobile phones have made life a whole lot simpler for these travellers, communication continues the old-fashioned way. A rabari writes a letter dictated to him by his daughter-in-law.
Rabari 19: Animals that can’t take the strain of the long migrations are nowadays left back in the villages. With little option for grazing, it is left to the men to collect fodder for the animals to feed on.
A rabari guides his flock to water. The arid terrain of Gujarat and Rajasthan do not have enough pasture to support the livestock through the year; a reason why the men wander eight months, returning home only during the monsoon.
Rabari 20:Like the clothes they wear, rabari homes, too, are mostly painted white. The drawings on the walls are made only for celebratory events, such as a marriage or when a child is born. Here elders inspect an axe in the courtyard of a house.
Rabari 21: Milk still dripping from its mouth, a buffalo calf is dragged away from its mother. Calves and kids are allowed to suckle first — ensuring not just their health, but also an easier time for the people who milk the animals after that.
Rabari 22:The milk collected every day is dispatched to collection centres, which too are run by rabaris. Not surprisingly, almost every centre has a cat on it premises.
Rabari 23: The milk delivered at the centres are tested for purity and fat content, which is the basis on which payments are made to the families. The rabari use computers for the purpose, not the cat.
For a travelling community, safety often lies in numbers. The nomads rarely graze their sheep alone, especially when they are on the outskirts of villages. Cases of sheep being stolen or people being beaten up by cattle rustlers are not rare.
The nomads who keep cows and buffalo rank higher in Rabari society. For one, the cows produce more milk, which means more money. For the other, the cows are fiercely protective of their human families, meaning more safety while travelling.
Rajeev and Budhan freeze in horror as they find me in the thick of the herd at during milking time. The cattle never suffer strangers in their midst, especially in their corals, when they are with their calves.
Doing their best to keep off the roads and traffic, a group makes its way through a thick acacia “forest”. Being stabbed by thorns is just an irritant, considering that bitten by snakes or stung by scorpions are a real possibility.
Goats aren’t picky about what they eat, a reason why farmers happily allow the rabari to take over their land after harvest. Not only do the goats clear the area of weeds, they droppings also help recharge the soil.
The ability to think on your feet and live off the land are a big part of travelling light, and Santosh does it well, fashioning a fireplace from a couple of stones to make tea, and drinking it from a waxy leaf folded into a cup.
Each day of travel ends with a thankless but important task – counting sheep. In real life, this is a task that kills sleep rather than inducing it.
At acho’s house in Sani village. 2005. Acho plays with his son while achi cooks us a meal of rotis and lots of vegetables and weeds, a welcome change from boiled meat and ground barley mixed with tea
A Rabari elder in Narlai, Rajasthan
Light leaks through the thatched roof of a morung in Nagaland, illuminating the most pressing problem faced by tribals — an unhealthy addiction to opium
Taking cue from autumn’s red-carpet welcome for winter, a Brokpa family begins their winter march to lower hills. Arunachal Pradesh
Headlamps offer the gift of sight after sundown, revealing secrets of the night. A geyser shoots boiling water skywards, the -23C cold freezing it almost instantly
Iqbal labours his way across an elephant pen, carrying the 16kg cushioning that is placed as the base for the iron frame on the elephant’s back. Each elephant on duty at Amber Fort carries 3 people, apart from the mahaut. The sum total of weight? About 330kg, if the weight of the cushioning and seat are added to it
Iqbal coils the rope that keeps in place the cushioning and seat atop the elephant. A sheath made from the tube of a motorcycle tyre prevents the rope from chaffing the elephant’s skin. Like every day, Maya spends the first 10 minutes of her after-work time ridding herself of the rubber itch.
Bela, an old hand, at a rag paper workshop in Jaipur. Her experience also makes her one of the most productive people there. “I can work with my eyes closed,” she says, “or even when looking the other way”.
Family, neighbours, and a photographer, listen in on a serious conversation between village elders
Jaipur, at a handmade-paper factory
Rajasthani dyers cut block-printed cloth to the size of bed covers
A worker at siesta time
His bath done and prayers complete, a monk waits as tea brews on a wood-fired hearth
In a scene as ancient as agriculture itself, farmers call it a day after setting alight grass, weeds and straw they have raked all day. The ashes will revitalise the soil, readying it for the next crop
On the way to Tawang, in Arunachal Pradesh, it rains rainbows every sunny afternoon
Lost in thought
A vixen with a heart. Five minutes after playing hard to get, she calls off the game to offer her sympathies — and a pose to remember her by
News of my run-in with the vixen must have spread by the time I spotted the hare, which couldn’t be bothered to cut short its sunbathing
Blending in is not high priority for the kyang, wild asses that are said to be always alert and which can accelerate from sleep to gallop in the blink of an eye
Fluffed up for insulation, a pair of Tibetan partridges suns themselves early in the morning. These birds stay close to Changpa camps in winter, foraging in the wake of the nomads’ livestock
A pair of Tibetan wolves sets out to hunt under a full moon. The wolf’s Ladakhi name is Shanku, but they are often spoken of as “Tipkyak”, shadows, referring to their ability to stay invisible to humans