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Carla Grissmann at Ladakh

October 10, 2011

An Incident in the Life of the Celebrated Humanitarian, Carla Grissmann (1928-2011)

Carla and two Tibetan women in Ladakh, 1975

Carla and two Tibetan women in Ladakh, 1975

Carla liked this photo a lot. She carried it with her and I first saw it around 1980.

Ladakh was a prized destination for western travelers when I was first in the Kashmir region in the 1960s. The bus ride from Jammu to Srinigar was long, slow, and arduous, and for outsiders, Ladakh was closed off due to the cross-currents of Pakistan-India-China instability. The Cultural Revolution was raging in China, and the “Tibet situation” was a political flashpoint. Carla Grissmann made the journey from Kabul in 1975, soon after Ladakh was opened to outsiders.

I had attempted the same journey in 1968, dropping down the Khyber Pass to Peshawar, crossing into India at Lahore, and then up into Kashmir. My trail ended at Srinigar. Turned back there, I made my way to the Tibetan enclaves around Kathmandu where tourism had not yet hit. But by 1975, Kathmandu was overrun with Western tourists while Ladakh remained relatively unknown; Carla relished her early exploration of the area. She had a series of photos of what she called the “rainbow hotel“, and if anyone has copies, I hope you’ll post them. The proprietor had painted all the rooms in bright pastels, certain that the colors would make his hotel the destination of choice for the western influx of “hippie” tourists he eagerly anticipated. Carla joined in the fun, helping him with menu items and decorating ideas. Carla always spoke with great enthusiasm about her summer in Ladakh, but to my knowledge, she did not make a return visit.

Carla Grissmann, Ladakh, Kashimir, India, Khyber, Afghanistan



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3 Comments
  1. It seems incredible that almost 40 years have passed since Ladakh opened up. And what a lot has gone down in the region in those years.

  2. Beautiful young women do have great careers:

    Here’s a link to the stunningly beautiful and remarkable humanitarian Carla Grissmann as photographed by the great Walker Evans in the early 1950s:

    And here she is more than 50 years later saving Afghanistan’s ancient gold artifacts from the Taliban:

    Carla Grissmann, Defender of the Kabul Museum

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Walker Evans Photos of Carla Grissmann « Walker Evans & Carla Grissmann

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