Lost soles

The broader picture
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The Independent Culture
RICHARD DAVIES took these pictures of shoes while he was trekking in the Himalayas in 1996 with a group that included the writer Charles Allen. Allen recalls in his book The Search for Shangri-La that: "Dick pauses frequently to photograph what I assume to be alpine flowers beside the trail." He discovers that, instead, Davies was taking pictures of discarded old shoes of every description. "He had concluded that these trails are Nepal's motorway. The sad scraps of rubber and canvas are the equivalent of blow-outs ... a point is reached when they can no longer be held together and their owner simply walks on wearing, one presumes, just the surviving shoe. Dick calls it 'sole searching'. There is no answer to this. I find his shoe-photo fetish enormously irritating."

In the spring, when the snow clears on the higher alps of the Himalayas, the mountainous passes between Nepal and Tibet become busy trading routes, trodden by hundreds of Nepalese farmers, who take their sheep, yak and goats on to the higher pastures, so that the animals can graze on the new grass. The livestock are fitted with saddle-packs filled with rice, which is sold on arrival in Tibet.

On the steep and stony Nara Lagna pass (the "Pass of the Blue Sheep"), a shoe's life is short and tough. If walkers ever think they've lost the trail, they only need to cast about for a broken article of footwear, and they'll be on the right track again.

Collectively, the shoes are a sorry sight: twisted and forlorn, cracked across the soles, half-buried in mud, canvas uppers severed from rubber soles. The leather boots fare better, but even they appear withered and mummified - so dark, shrivelled and dense that they could have been dug up from a peat bog.