In 2000, crossing over from Afghanistan to travel to Central Asia brought the “unknown” countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan alive for Delhi-based photojournalist Dilip Banerjee.
“Earlier these seemed like mythical destinations to us. The people were so warm and hospitable — like one of the customs officials who helped us jump the queue — that I’ve gone back many times in the last decade to explore their culture,” he says.
Banerjee formed a ‘friendship tour’ with his motley group of friends — two doctors, a railway officer, a zoology professor and a corporate honcho — and raised funds for their road trip. “We got five lakhs from a Hyderabad-based businessman and covered nearly 3,000 kms, touring villages, sightseeing...” Post 9/11, there have been several changes he says.
“More fundamentalist groups and make-shift mosques have come up. More people are going to pray.”
Banerjee also found Indian influences to be strong there. “Though language is a barrier, one of the villages welcomed us with a spontaneous namaste and started singing mera joota hai japani! They love our films and songs — a Hindi film dubbed in the local language is a staple part of television programmes.”
A Date With Central Asia is on till June 22 2011 at Azad Bhavan Art Gallery, New Delhi, 011-23379310.