Is it a travel book or a comic?

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It is both – a comic travel book. Ladakh: A Photo Travelogue is a fresh attempt at travel books. Here, Varsha Verma finds out what goes in making of this book, in conversation with the author Sohini Sen. Unlike any other book so far published on Ladakh — and quite possibly unlike any other travel book published till date Ladakh: A Photo Travelogue — is a travel story told through high-resolution colour photographs laid out in a comic-strip format. Two lady travellers arrive in Leh one local summer morning. In the course of their journey through Ladakh, they get to know about the war between ‘Nanak Lama’ and a demon and watch masked lamas offer a comic interlude amid serious rituals at the Phyang Monastery festival. On their way to Nubra Valley via Khardung Pass (altitude: 18,380 ft), the travellers meet animals with an identity crisis, and a donkey who will never lend its owner an ear again.

In the valley, a 32-metre tall statue of Maitreya Buddha shares the limelight with double-humped camels. The ladies are bowled over by their names. Readers can enjoy the journey to Pangong Lake (altitude: 13,900 ft) and back, which has quite a few highpoints — Shey Palace, Thiksey and Hemis monasteries, the Chang Pass, and the curious case of the frozen marmot. Also, one can find the Tso Moriri lake (altitude: 15,075 ft), which is visited by very few tourists. The book is written by Sohini Sen, who has enjoyed two successful careers as an assistant editor with The Telegraph newspaper and a senior manager with Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. Now a full-time travel writer and photographer, instead of chasing deadlines, she is chased by camera-shy yaks and was once ceremoniously kissed by a dolphin. She has been a freelance travel columnist with the Financial Chronicle newspaper, New Delhi. Her other books are The Talking Table and Other Stories, a book of short stories for children, and Yatra Pathe Rabi—a collection of photographs taken by her; matched with Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s autograph-poems.

Ladakh: A Photo Travelogue has over 400 crisp photos, and the easy, humorous writing style. So, how did this new concept of travelogue came up? “Will, I have been very fond of comic strip Asterix from my young age. And I believe that people do not read much as they have short attention spans. So, I was looking for a medium which can hold their attention and what better than a graphic novel. So, this book will appeal to casual tourists, serious travellers, and even those keen on armchair travelling,” tells Sohini.

“Since it is a travel book, pictures form an integral part of the book. But, a picture is incomplete without words and so it is a mix of both, making it a harmonious whole,” she shares. Sohini spent 20 days in Ladakh and took thousands of pictures on her travel. “I was charmed with the beauty of Ladakh and when I came back and saw the pictures, I thought of putting it together in the form of a book. So, for six months, I worked on the text, design and layout of the book. When I submitted my book to Niyogi Books, it was finalised in just 10 days of submission,” she shares.

As an advice to young aspiring travel writers, Sohini shares, “Be prepared for lots of hardships as travelling is not easy. Mingle with a lot of locals and blend with the atmosphere to bring the true spirit of place. Be ready to live with basic facilities.” And Sohini, being an avid traveller, is now working on a photo travelogue on Bhutan. “I may look at a series of similar travelogues,” she concludes.

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