Photojournalist Mayank Soni guides you through some of the remotest, most culturally-rich corners of the country through his company, Caribou Drift, which organises exploratory tours, photo walks and culinary trails
If you’ve heard of the lush green paradise-on-earth town of Ziro, it’s probably because of their three-year-old outdoor music festival. But Mumbai-based Mayank Soni is keen that the ancient Arunachal Pradesh town be visited for its more traditional, culturally rich Myoko Festival of the Apatani tribe.
Tourists get their hands dirty with locals while working on a pea farm in Spiti Valley. Pic/ Mayank Soni
“It’s one of the longest festivals in the country. Festivities start in October and continue until April. In October, the Apatanis begin with the hunting of monkeys and every month sees the performance of different ceremonies of purification and sacrifice. In April, it all ends with the sacrifice of a pig,” reveals Soni.
His travels as a photojournalist have taken him to some of the remotest parts of India. In January, he set up Caribou Drift, named after the North American migratory animal that doesn’t stay in one place too long, to organise trips for people who’d like to explore some of these treasures.
Vales and glades
The Myoko festival is part of Soni’s itinerary for the Northeast, which includes a stay at a river island in Assam and a trek in Arunachal’s Talley Valley. His focus is also currently on Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh’s Spiti Valley. “Although I’m familiar with the northeast, where I’ve spent a lot of time documenting the lives of the various tribes, I wasn’t as well versed with the Kashmir Valley. For a year before I finally set up Caribou Drift, I conducted a few recce trips and identified locations that would truly reflect the culture of Kashmir as well as its untouched beauty,” says the 31-year-old.
Mayank Soni, founder of Caribou Drift
His itinerary takes you to Srinagar to explore its historical facets, street food and quintessential bakeries. The action continues not at the usual Sonmarg, Pehalgam or Gulmarg but at Lake Manas Bal, where he takes you fishing with the locals. “The highlight is the visit to Kalaroos Cave. The story goes that a secret passage to Russia once led through the cave. That’s where it gets its name from,” explains Soni.
Food is an essential part of Soni’s sojourns. In Kashmir, he makes sure you sample the varieties of breads, teas and local specialities such as their lotus stem preparation. Chukpas and momos are served in the homestays at Spiti Valley, where you help farmers harvest their peas in August.
The blind tour
Perhaps his most intriguing itinerary is going to be his upcoming blind tour. “There is an island off the coast of Maharashtra, which is currently inhabited by about 30 families. My friends knew someone who lived on the island and we visited it a few years ago during a road trip,” says Soni.
Although he wants more people to enjoy the island’s pristine beauty, he is reluctant about having the place crowded with tourists. “I’m trying to work out a way to take people there without revealing its exact location. I’m considering blindfolding everyone who joins the tour,” he adds.
For registration, call Mayank Soni on 9892170395