History says, soon after conquering Persia and further expanding his enormous kingdom, Macedonian king, Alexander the Great, had his sights set on India, and charted his course to the country. He advanced into Punjab, where he defeated king Porus in 326 BC. It is said, during this time, a group of the king’s soldiers lost their way, and ended up settling in the fertile mountains in the north, becoming the Brokpas tribe. The Brokpas have settled in villages Dha, Hanu, Darchik, and Garkon, nearly 130 kms north-east of Kargil, on the Line of Control on the India-Pakistan border. They had maintained their isolation for thousands of years, until 1999, when the Indian army started making roads in that region, due to the Kargil war.

The Brokpas have kept genetic pollution at bay, and maintain that they are untainted. However, the tribe has culturally morphed over the ages via the influence of the surrounding territory. This photography series was their first real exposure to modernisation. Their mixing of ideology, amplified by genetic and geographic isolation, helped produced a unique culture. Their current religion is a mix of animalism, shamanism, and Buddhism, which has formed a beautiful display of dressing and grooming rituals that incorporate flowers, metal jewellery, as well as animal skin and hair. While the Brokpas have only recently opened themselves to the modern world, they welcomed photographer Trupal Pandya to their community, and let him capture their unique lives in the high mountains. “Buried in historical documents, taught in classrooms around the globe, or explored in documentaries; these kinds of tribes have been a subject of world interest for long. As a documentary photographer, I was elated at the possibility of capturing a Himalayan tribe that claims to be the descendants of Alexander the Great,” said Pandya.

Trupal Pandya is a photographer who blurs the lines between portraiture, fine arts, and documentary photography. Pandya kickstarted his career by working with some of the biggest names in the business. He has participated in the prestigious Eddie Adams Workshop, and interned with Magnum photographer Steve McCurry, wellknown for his iconic photograph ‘Afghan Girl’. He is one of the few Indian photographers who has worked with National Geographic, CNN, Huffington Post, and with the United Nations on a special assignment to photograph refugee camps in Iraq. Pandya travels to various continents and spends close, intimate periods of time with tribals and locals, respectfully ingraining himself in their lives and documenting their attire, habits, and culture. His portfolio includes pictures of the Huaorani Community of the Amazon Rainforest, Nagaland’s last surviving Headhunters, the Aghoris, and the tribes of Omo Valley in Ethiopia. But Pandya’s standout work from the mountains of India has undoubtedly been his documentation of the Brokpas — the secret, ancient tribe of the Himalayas. Pandya describes a selection of his photos in detail.

“The Brokpas have different headdresses for different occasions. On a normal day, the tribe will adorn a single flower. In this picture, he is wearing a flower from the Chinese Lantern plant, which is a resilient species found in the region”
“They believe the special ribbons they wear ward off minor illnesses caused by the sun or an eclipse. The coins also have a medical property. They believe the reaction caused by the metal coming in contact with the skin and sweat, helps them medically”
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“The Brokpas live in the villages of Dha, Hanu, Darchik, and Garkon. The treacherous location and seclusion of the village allowed the tribe to live in isolation for thousands of years. As you can see in this image, some of these villages are still inaccessible by a vehicle”
Brokpas practice Buddhism, and believe in a cycle of death and rebirth called samsara. Through karma and eventual enlightenment, they hope to escape samsara and achieve nirvana, an end to suffering
“The accessories they wear are mostly metal jewellery that they believe ward off evil spirits and keep them safe. The flowers and feathers also serve the same purpose, but are also considered to be a symbol of unity and respect”
“One thing I do is focus on change, and how cultures and people evolve and adapt with time and modernisation, especially remote tribes like this. Not that I am anyone to judge, but I am just someone who wants to document those changes. A very big indicator to that in the Brokpas, was that some men have now started to wear fake, synthetic flowers. It’s heavily symbolic of changing times”
“The Brokpa men are known to climb steep hills and travel long distances to pick certain flowers to gift to the women”
“They are very strict and protective about their bloodline, but are a very welcoming community. It is a jolly tribe. I was welcomed, and I was surrounded by a sense of love and prosperity”
“Brokpas don’t have a written history, and their culture is passed on in the form of songs. I visited an interesting Brokpa household, where the basement had been converted into a museum to showcase important artefacts. The Brokpa photographed here is a singer, and believes in preserving their unique culture by singing and running the museum”
“The attire of the Brokpas are usually made from animals to save them from the cold. The skin of the animals are beaten for long periods of time till they can be used as clothing”