Maksym Balandiukh: Nepalese Villages Remind Me of Taras Shevchenko’ Plots
With his camera over his shoulder, Ukrainian photographer Maksym Balandiukh has traveled around half the world. He’s been to the world’s conflict areas, he’s climbed the highest summits, and he’s showed to the world the life of people in the remote corners of civilization. A few years ago, he opened a photography school, which he named after the Argentinian football player Diego Maradona. In addition to teaching his profession to students, he also takes them on trips because he believes that it is only on the road that a person’s outlook can change radically. Maksym talked about what he saw and experienced in an interview for Bulba NEWS.
On Nepalese villages and Shevchenko’s plots
What does traveling mean to me? It expands my worldview and my outlook. When you go to the West, you see one thing, but if you just turn to the East, the picture is drastically different. I have already been in Nepal six times. When I walked from one village to another, I thought I found myself in Taras Shevchenko’s poems: imagine a straw-roofed hut and people in the field harvesting wheat with their sickles. When was the last time we had anything like that? A century or even two centuries ago! I think we should take there everyone who’s so fond of complaining about their lives. So that they can return and say: “My God, how well we live!” We often don’t value what we have.
On Maradona’s dreams
As a little boy, Diego Maradona dreamed of becoming a photographer but he did not have enough money to buy a camera. He became a footballer to earn money and stayed in sports. His dream was never realized. I thought that his place remained vacant and there should be a person willing to occupy it. That is why I decided to name my photography school after Diego Maradona.
On Babel in miniature
We are so used when traveling or watching movies that the world is mostly associated with the US or Europe, but it’s far from that. The world is much bigger and brighter. I once flew to Nepal with a layover in the Arabian airport of Sharjah. It’s a meeting hub for people from Sudan, Kenya, Oman, Yemen, Pakistan, India. They all come in their national clothing, they speak their own language. Men take showers right in the bathroom sinks, while their women, wrapped in national clothing, wait for them outside. It is like Babel in miniature. You come to realize that we are so numerous and we are so different.
Five summits in two weeks
I often guide people on trekking trips. When we hike in the mountains I always look up to the summits and I get the impression I am being mocked by them. I feel like abandoning everything this very moment and climbing one of them. This summer, I decided to go to the Caucasus. In two weeks’ time my friends and I climbed the highest peaks in Georgia: Tikanadze, Orzveri, Kazbegi, Tetnuldi and the legendary Ushba. We only took lightweight and portable equipment with us and we moved all the time. We did not follow traditional routes, we selected the hardest ones. This is how we decided to climb an ice wall of Orzveri with a steep climb of 60-70 degrees. When you look at it from the side it seems almost vertical. It took us five hours to get to the top, but we did it. The climbers who watched us greeted us with a round of applause. It was quite a “sprint” trip.
On dreams on the edge of a cliff
On our last trip we spent a couple of nights on the edges of cliffs – on very steep mountains. We had to tie ourselves with ropes to the mountain not to slide down. It’s an unforgettable feeling when you wake up at night and feel that your sleeping bag is slowly moving down. But we weren’t afraid. On the contrary, we were curious. When you wake in the morning you can see mountain tops, clouds and fresh crisp air around you. What could be more beautiful?
Caucasian hospitality and wine in canisters
People in the Caucasus are so warm and welcoming that we couldn’t stop wondering. Once, our trip took us unexpectedly long and we were in a hurry to get to the airport. The guy who agreed to give us a ride was driving past his house and invited us to come over. We thanked him and refused saying that we were in a hurry. But he wouldn’t listen! He asked us to stop for at least five minutes… And so we were treated to a delicious lunch. Most of all I liked the matsoni – a home-made yogurt – it’s so yummy! Wine culture is also very popular there. It’s low in alcohol and so can be enjoyed for a very long time. When Georgians are having a cook-out, they bring wine in canisters so that each person gets at least a few liters of it.
Glaciers and a hot summer
This year’s hot summer could be felt even in the Caucasus. There have probably never been so many cracks in the glaciers as this year. When I went to Kazbegi Mountain a few years ago in the summer I remember that we were walking in deep snow with no cracks visible. When we were hiking down from the same mountain this year, we had to bypass about half a hundred of ice cracks. All the yellow rocks surfaced from under the snow and it looked like we were hiking in Texas. These rocks would again and again fall down with a deafening noise because the sun was melting the glacier and the rocks were detaching. We had to hide behind other rocks not to be hit by them. It’s very dangerous, because a small stone half a finger in size, after flying down fifty meters accumulates the same speed as a bullet.
On a dream country
I dream to find a country where I would feel most comfortable. I feel quite good in Nepal and in Georgia. But if you take Peru, for example, it was interesting but I felt it wasn’t my kind of place. Even though I had dreamed about going there a lot. I like places not touched by the civilization – with pristine nature and untouched traditions.