Better known as the Himalayan Firefly, Anshul’s photography is embedded with elements of optimism and life lessons. Born in Utrala, a small village near Palampur, she has grown up in the laps of the Himalayas. This is probably one of the reasons why when Anshul portrays the mountains through her photography and writing, she instills a connection which few others are able to establish. Although thousands of people follow her on Instagram, no-one really knows her story. We at Twisted Shanti were more than happy when she agreed to have a conversation with us.
Besides your photography, we actually know very little about you. Can you give us a small brief about yourself, right from the very beginning: I was born in a small countryside village in Himachal Pradesh called Utrala. The beauty of the village is such that the roads end to a view of the massive Dhauladhar range. I very often hear that Anshul is a boy’s name. I resented it initially as I was always mocked for it at school and other places. But my Dad always said to me that “you are both a son and daughter to me, so never bother about what people say” and I abide by his words. This is how things started for me.
Growing up I lived in lots of places and I changed ten schools till secondary education. I experienced all kinds of cultural diversity, lived among all communities: Christians, Muslims, Gorkhas, Gaddis, and Sikhs. I celebrated Eid, visited mosques and tried imitating people around to learn how to perform Namaz. I also went to Gurudwaras, sat there for hours and ate langar. I remember asking my mom to stitch me suits with dupattas especially for it. Since I went to a convent school, I read the Bible, prayed to Jesus every morning and celebrated Christmas. In school, I also learnt Gorkhali and created a Gorkha Gang with my friends and practiced all Hindu, Himachali customs by default.
All this was possible because of my Dad’s occupation, we were always shifting. But in my opinion, the best part was that I got to live in the interiors of Himachal, some places which are still not on Google.
When did you get your first camera? What else do you do in your free time: My dad bought me my first reel camera when I was in 2nd Standard. I always clicked landscapes, but my mom never liked my photos, because there were never any people in them. Over time, I kept clicking and observing and improved my skills. I never took any course. Besides photography, I love to read, write poetry, and meditate. My hobbies include birding, playing video games, cooking, skating, hiking, dancing, and collecting stones.
Your perception of the Himalayas sets you and your work apart. Has this perception evolved since your childhood versus now: In my childhood, the Himalayas were like the sky to me, forever around. Maybe that’s the reason I took them for granted earlier. It was only when I had to shift to the plains for my higher studies, I realized how much the mountains mean to me. I even got depressed initially. I missed my window view of the mighty snow-clad Himalayas. I missed the snowfall, the waterfalls, the rivers, the cold, the sweet warm sunshine, the people, the food, the clouds, the air with fragrance of pines and deodars. I missed it all. There was a time when I never bothered to realize their importance but not anymore.
Now that you have also traveled a lot in the mountains, do you remember any particular trip which remains very special to you: Yes, there is this one trip which I profoundly remember. Me and dad trekked to a temple in Haripurdhar in Sirmour, Himachal Pradesh. It was quite a tough trail. On the way Dad acquainted me with varied flora and flauna from the area. We took two days to complete it. I still have reel images of the trip, it was a memorable one. I have trekked numerous times with my dad since childhood, and I wish I had a digital camera back then.
You go on a number of solo trips. What would you say about most women not wanting to travel alone in India: Women should definitely travel alone. It promotes self-discovery, stretches your comfort zone and feeds your passion. You have the freedom to create your own schedule and you are not tied to others. Relax when you want to, eat whenever whatever you like, have your own to do list.
Safety is indeed a big concern. In my opinion whether you are home, traveling with others or traveling alone you need to be aware of your surroundings. There should be a balance of caution and trust. There are two things I would like to recommend to women travelling alone. First, at least one person, friend or family member should always know about your whereabouts, keep them updated. Second, always have the number of the place (hotel / homestay/ guest house) where you are staying. Also try to get the number of a local shop or family. In case of any trouble they will be the nearest to help.
Name three places in the Himalayas which have a special place in your heart and why: Kinnaur for its virgin raw beauty, Ladakh for its spell bound mystery, and Uttarakhand for being a personal source of happy energy.
Now for the slightly tricky part, places which are not in the Himalayas but you would like to visit soon: I would love to visit Bhutan, Nepal and North East India soon. I want to visit a volcano and see it up close and I want to see the Northern lights and explore Iceland. Finally, I would want to go to Disneyland. Have been to the one in Hong Kong but would like to visit the others too.
You really seem to admire the moon. If you had one phrase to describe the moon, what would it be: A Silver Disc Singing Me a Lullaby.
What equipment do you use for photography: Sony Alpha Series- A6000. Its a lightweight and handy interchangeable lens mirrorless camera. It gives you amazing resolution and superb image quality.
What are the small joys of life for you: Smile on the faces of people who enjoy the food cooked by me. (I love to cook and can cook almost -every cuisine). I like to gift, makes me very happy. Correctly guessing a password on an account that I have not used in along time. A beautiful sunrise or sunset. Animals and Flowers. Clothes that have perfume on and smell like home. The smell of books. A smile from a stranger, give one and you may get one. Nature in all its glory.
What would be an essential life tips from you: Take care of your body. Spare at least half an hour for yourself daily. Eat good, do any kind of physical activity that you like (maybe just free dance on your favorite song) and always go to sleep without any anger, grudges or regrets. Stay away from negativity. Also, live in the moment.