Tourism: Documenting Ethiopia’s Omo Valley in Africa
Ethiopia is least likely to be on your wishlist for a holiday but when you happen to be one of India’s first female wildlife biologists, the African nation could be your favourite destination, especially if you are looking forward to capturing the rarest of the rare wolf in the world through your lens.
It was around three years back that Dr Latika Nath planned a trip to Ethiopia to study wolves, of which only 400 are alive, in their natural habitat. Soon, her list of must-dos on the tour increased. After all, there were hyenas of Harar, the Gelada baboons, the Abyssinian owl and the Rock Churches of Lalibela and Lucy.
She then chanced upon some information on the tribes of the Omo Valley which left her completely stunned. The more she read about it all, the more her inquisitiveness grew. Dr Nath wanted to know more about these people who lived around Mago and Omo National Parks — their cultures, their customs, and their lifestyles. And all this culminated into a trip to Ethiopia. The result was over 60,000 images that documented the life of these tribal people and the breathtaking natural beauty of the region. A coffee table book was surely in the making!
“When I spent time with the people of the Omo Valley and saw how they were on the brink of a tumultuous change that could affect their lifestyles and cultural identity, I decided that it was essential that I record as much of this as I can and document this incredible heritage for future,” says Latika.
But the going wasn’t easy. It required loads of work as at some of these locations there are no places to stay or eat while to photograph the tribes, she not only needed to live in those regions for several days but also travel to villages in the interior.
How did she manage? “I had to transport mobile camps to these areas from Addis Ababa. It took many months to organise the camp and also the private charters to these remote areas,” she says.
“Ethiopia is still opening up to tourism. Many areas of the country are remote and not well connected to the outside world. The people are not used to tourism. In some of the regions, the tribes were antagonistic, however, for the most part, the people were friendly,” she informs.
“Though many tribal communities across the world, including the communities in Asia and Africa and the aboriginal communities from Australia, are fabulous artists and dancers, the people of the Omo Valley are masters when it comes to the art of body painting and decoration,” she says.
In multiple visits over two years, Latika took over 60,000 photographs. Clicking was perhaps not that difficult, but selecting which ones to include in the coffee table book was!
She examined close to 60,000 photographs to select the 230 that would be in this book. “The composition, subject and appeal of the photograph is important for me. Plus the photograph also has to be technically perfect. But in the end I go with my gut instinct,” she says.
What came out was a breathtaking coffee table book (CTB) titled Omo: Where Time Stood Still. It was launched at the Jaipur Literature Festival in January this year. And what about that rare wolf who triggered the trip? “Oh. I managed to click him as well. It is an incredible animal. I spent some time in the Bale mountains where they are found and managed to get some beautiful shots,” she says adding that she besides the wolves she also managed to click endemic and rare species of birds and animals on the trip.
By Rajkumari Sharma Tankha