I could see them, dressed up in their finest clothes, as we approached the entrance to Ditrul Phuk Gompa, a monastery on the north side of the sacred kora, or circumambulation, of holy Mount Kailash (AKA Kang Rinpoche). A group of drokpa, or Tibetan nomads, sadly a rapidly disappearing group on the high plains of the Tibetan Plateau.
I approached cautiously, not wanting to scare them off with my camera. A polite clasping of hands in the prayer position coupled with a soft greeting of tashi delek eased any tension that was there. They were beautiful people, tall and proud with wide smiles splashing across high cheekbones. After chatting a bit with my extremely limited Tibetan language skills and hand signals, I asked, in rudimentary Tibetan, if I could take a picture of them: Para gyabna digi-rebay?
They nodded a polite yes, the men posing austerely and the woman grinning sheepishly. I snapped about 20 photos on my Nikon D200, bracketing exposures in the knowledge that this scene might not present itself again. When they seemed to have had enough, I spun the camera around, went into review mode, and showed them their picture on the monitor. Smiles again...surprise...disbelief. They most likely had never had their picture taken, let alone actually seen it in front of them.
We zoomed in, zoomed out, and went through the various pictures still stored on my memory card. Then, it was time to go - to dinner for me, and to continue the sacred kora for them. As I always like to do, I gave them a small bit of money to say thanks - as a professional photographer, I feel it is only right to compensate my "models" in some way.
And, with that, two worlds, joined together for a brief moment, went their separate ways...