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Capture the World

These images are the work of Ewen Bell, one of Food and Travel’s favourite travel photographers. When not behind the lens for the magazine, Bell runs a series of specialist photography tours. Here, he shares some of his most beloved destinations and experiences while on the road

Australia The Northern Terrirotr

Welcome to the Red Centre, Australia’s geographical and spiritual heart. In the south of the Northern Territory and almost slap bang in the middle of the country, this rust-coloured landscape of desert plains, epic gorges and sprawling sandstone domes in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park hold awe-inspiring significance. ‘I’ve been coming here for decades and it never fails to stop me in my tracks,’ says Bell. ‘It offers the opportunity to shoot at dawn and dusk and capture vastly different images. Birds and wallabies are ever present, and ancient, indigenous rock art never fails to move those who see it.’ The sacred Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is the monolith that brings it all together. It bleeds out of the horizon like an eternal rising sun and has been tended by the Anangu Pitjantjatjara, the local Aboriginal people, for some 40,000 years. Winter in Australia (June-September) marks the best time to see it, outside of summer’s searing temperatures.

Stay at the Prairie Hotel, on the edge of the Flinders Ranges. It’s perfectly in keeping with its surrounds and has made an art form of Australia’s coat of arms, which sets the tone for a hotel that’s completely in tune with its surroundings. The walls are adorned with works of art from indigenous outback communities – a beautiful touch that preludes a casual dining experience. Kangaroo and emu feature on the menu, prepared with skill and served in the context of the old sandstone hotel. ‘I order the feral mixed grill,’ says Bell. ‘It’s a plate of camel, goat, emu and kangaroo that satisfies the most demanding hunger after a day’s exploration.’

Travel Details

Ewen Bell runs photographic tours to all of the destinations in this feature. His small-group trips include everything from the moment you step off the plane, from meals and accommodation to extras such as park fees and access to expert guides. Individual photographic tuition is available throughout the day and Bell brings additional specialist photographers for their advice and expertise. For more information on what’s included
and for pricing and other assistance, see http://www.ewenbell.com

Bhutan Punakha

Shrouded in equal parts mist and mystery, the Kingdom of Bhutan remains one of the world’s last adventures. The country only opened its borders to foreigners some 45 years ago, and has never been colonised, all the while maintaining relationships both east and west of its setting in the foothills of the Himalayas. ‘I come here at least once a year,’ says Bell. ‘For me, it is one of the most comfortable countries in the world to travel. The Bhutanese government set a minimum price for travellers per day, which helps fund education across the country and means it has avoided the budget end of the travel market. The result is wonderful hotels and local guides who make a very good living from sharing their culture.’

The teachings of Buddhism drive life and, since 1971, the country has measured its success by Gross National Happiness, rejecting GDP as a measure to model progress. Social, spiritual, physical and environmental wellbeing are the factors that hold day-to-day value. ‘The photography is centred around the colourful festivals at temples and dzongs, though quiet moments bring just as much pleasure. Afternoons spent with potato farmers or visiting local markets are the experiences that define the real joy in the Land of the Thunder Dragon.’

Chilli and yak cheese are two dominant ingredients in Bhutanese cooking. Western travellers are often subjected to a bland alternative to protect them from the fearsome chilli heat the locals adore. ‘To get the real flavour of the country, it means sitting down with farmers as they prepare buckwheat noodles and finding the local momo shop where taxi drivers hang out,’ says Bell. Stay in Punakha at COMO Uma Punakha for its access to the surrounding temples and eat at Raven Restaurant, where its ginger- and coriander-heavy chicken curry is the stuff of local legend.


Travel Details

Kenya The Masai Mara

Meet the people of the Masai tribe from Maji Moto in Kenya’s Narok County. The dance performed here is a traditional show of strength by young warriors in an attempt to win a girl’s affection. The men begin with a rhythmic hum as a group that moves into singing, reaching a crescendo as each man takes his turn to leap into the air. He who jumps highest is said to get the woman. ‘Watching it unfold gives you a sense of their togetherness; how they work together as a tribe and come together so they are stronger as a team. It's not about the individual – it's about belonging to something greater than themselves.’

The Maji Moto camp is located at the heart of the vast savannah at the base of the Loita Hills. The tribe live at one with nature while listening to their ancestors, maintaining a way
of life that has been ever present for a thousand years. The bird life is equally spectacular. Weaver birds, sunbirds, barbets and flamingos add colour to the landscape. The mud huts here have sinks, while the small tents are pitched amid the aloe vera, acacia and euphorbia trees. ‘On my last visit, the chief killed a goat to say thank you for coming the previous year. We watched him skin it in front of us, before cuts were cooked over an open fire. It’s a visceral, moving experience that anyone would feel honoured to witness.’


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Nepal Kathmandu and the Annapurnas

Nepal embodies one of the purest expressions of tolerance on Earth. It’s a
place where Hinduism and Buddhism sit side by side and religions share the same place of worship. Hindu temples attract Sadhu holy men, Tibetan stupas express age-old traditions and Newari villages are graced by nomadic artists. ‘It’s one of the most rewarding places for photography,’ says Bell. ‘Expressions of day-to-day devotion are commonplace, from the artists of the Kathmandu Valley to the people you meet on the dusty trails of the Annapurnas. It’s one of the best places to capture the cultural traditions alongside intimate moments. On one day, you’ll be invited in to see the lighting of a butter lamp and on the next, join the locals in the spinning of a prayer wheel.’

Early winter (November-December) is a great time to travel, when the air is cool in the mountains and the landscape yields a meeting of snow-capped mountains, dusty valleys and eerily still lakes.

You’ll find the staple meal of dal bhat (lentils and rice) at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Each kitchen produces their own twists on the theme. Mustard greens and masala potato usually accompany the rice and lentil soup, plus some form of pickled vegetables and crispy papad. The curry component can be vegetarian or meat-based, ranging from chicken to goat or, at higher altitudes, yak. Based in Thamel, Kathmandu, the ideal boutique hotel for forays into the region is the Hotel Mulberry. Intimate and modern, it makes a perfect staging post.

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Northern Sweden Gunnarsbyn

Swedish Lapland is a tableau of remote wilderness, dazzling, Colgate-white snow and hidden cabins that rise out of the forest like an icy mirage. This image depicts the remote outpost of Gunnarsbyn, population 169. It may not have a luxury hotel, but it does have some rather spectacular lodges with people so friendly that a cinnamon roll fresh from the oven is never too far away. ‘Everyone thinks the Arctic in winter is about surviving the elements, but I’d say it’s more a case of surviving in style,’ laughs Bell. ‘Before taking this shot we were in the middle of a snowmobile ride across 100km of trails that start near Gunnarsbyn and finish at the Bay of Finland at Brändön Lodge. This cabin on the banks of the Råneå River was our view as we stopped for a hot drink. The trail is easy to navigate, though if you flip your ride, it’s a soft landing. Everything here is under a tonne of snow so it’s always beautifully soft.’

It might seem incongruous, but this remote town has one of the best Thai restaurants in Sweden. Daw Thaimat’s bright and spicy green curry promises to warm even the coldest fingers.

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