Photographer Alexander Cohn documents life near a holy mountain in China
Miacimu in the moonlight; Yunnan, China; September, 2013. As seen from Yubeng village, one night before mid-autumn.
Miacimu 6.034m/ 19, 978 ft.
Tibetan driver in Shanrila after driving us from Xidang Springs (6 hours) for 700RMB, Yunnan, China; September, 2013.
Photographer Alexander Cohn traveled to eastern China last fall to see one of the region’s highest and holiest mountains. The peak was buried in clouds for all but a few moments of Cohn’s visit, but that didn’t stop him from documenting life in the villages at its base.
The mountain shares a name with the warrior god Kawagarbo and is among the most sacred spots for Tibetan Buddhists. It’s illegal to climb to the peak, but the communities in the foothills are a favorite destination for sightseeing tourists and spiritual pilgrims alike. Cohn met monks on their way to a holy waterfall, members of China’s burgeoning middle class and locals hustling to make a living in the countryside.
A collection of photos from Cohn’s trip are on display this month at Concord’s Red River Theatres. Cohn, a former Monitor photo editor now working as a freelancer, provided some background about his trip:
What motivated you to visit this part of China?
I saw a picture of a mountain that was 22, 000 feet and unclimbed and decided that’s pretty cool. I need to go see that. I took a 15-hour plane trip. And then I took another plane. And then I took a train. And then I took a bus. And then I hiked way up into these mountains.
What surprised you the most about the trip?
There’s tourism . . . it’s becoming more and more of a draw. You needed a permit to get to this village 10 or 15 years ago. In 10 years, there’s a good chance that there will be a road to this village. Tourism will change the nature of some of the spots. . . . Tourism is something that the middle class does. Now there is a (Chinese) middle class. The economic ability to do that just wasn’t there 15 or 20 years ago.
Did you face any technical challenges while documenting your travels?
I knew I didn’t want to walk into the mountains with a big pack, so I split it in half and left part of it at a guesthouse. I left behind a big lens. I left behind chargers, so I was very careful about how much I used a camera because I knew I didn’t have a charge. That was the game: how many days could I go without charging anything.
It sounds like the weather was a challenge, too. What happened?
I really wanted to see this crazy mountain, and it was socked in in clouds. Then it was raining. Finally, as we’re hiking out, we could see it way off in the distance. All of this to see this mountain, and I saw it for probably 20 seconds.
(Cohn’s photos will be on display at Red River through the end of January. The theater will host a reception Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. Photos from Cohn trip to China are available for purchase at the theater and online at cohnphoto.com.)