He has captured dramatic sunsets, danced with the locals and dived deep into the sea. The pandemic may have stopped this cinematographer in his tracks for now, but scenes from his faraway travels play back in a flash. Kartik Vijay - who shot the award-winning Malaysian film The Garden of Evening Mists - picks his most wanderlust-worthy destinations.
For its vibrant local colour
"It’s my dream setting for a shoot. Old Havana is a visual feast, with its bold colours and vintage feel. Walking through its cigar-scented alleys, you can virtually inhale the music in the air," says Vijay, adding, "I shot a bike commercial there, and the natural light was gorgeous; with sunshine spilling like butter on the reds and blues."
An avid diver, he fell in love with the Gardens of the Queen, a pristine archipelago dotted with hundreds of cays and small islands, located some 60 miles off the southern coast of Cuba. The water here is gin-clear and the marine life underneath is an explosion of colour. "A zesty diving session here was like a spa for my senses after an intense shoot," he recalls.
For seekers of the adrenaline rush, he recommends The Isle of Youth, where RL Stevenson's Treasure Island was set. A one-hour boat tour, he believes, it is the perfect way to explore the island - you dive, cook on the boat and get to have the beach to yourself for a while.
His one takeaway from the Cuba trip? Learning to relax. "We frenzied film industry folks were constantly glancing at our watches, while the locals just sat around smiling. It puts things in perspective, reminding you to stop and breathe," he says.
For its amazing art and architecture
In the two weeks that he spent there, Vijay was blown away by the beauty and discipline that is Japan. "It's like there is Planet Earth and there is Japan. The Japanese are hugely regimental in their lifestyle, formal and polite to a fault. And they simply have to excel in whatever they do. I find that very inspiring," says the cinematographer.
He recommends making a trip to Japan during the Setouchi Triennale, a contemporary festival where one discovers "just how far ahead the Japanese are in art, craft and design". The work of award-winning architect Tadau Ando, who creates simple, 'haiku-style' structures using exposed cement, left him fascinated.
Perhaps the most impressive of Japan's art museums is the one in Tashima. Shaped like a water droplet, it stuns with its out-of-the-box creativity. The city of Takamatsu on the island of Shikoku is home to one of Japan’s most enchanting outdoor museums, set inside a lush bamboo forest.
Travelling to Kyoto to shoot a drinks commercial, Vijay was struck by the elegance of the city. "Walk through Old Kyoto, and you will come across 100-year-old townhouses, beautifully preserved to this day," he reminisces.
For letting Nature be your teacher
Vijay’s shoots often take him to Ladakh. "The Himalayas humble you - 15 days among the mountains and you realise you are but an ant on the landscape. My advice would be to just drive your way along the cold desert and you will discover places that are probably not even blips on the map. Be sure to stop at the many monasteries sprinkled among the mountains; they are an essential part of the Himalayan experience,” he shares.
Book yourself into a Casa Particular. It’s like an Airbnb and gives you a truly local experience.
Head over to El Canal del Cerro in the heart of Havana, where the rum flows freely and locals perform rumba until dawn
Baracoa is Cuba’s oldest and remotest city, and a hidden gem for nature lovers. The food here will remind you of Kerala; expect lots of coconut.
Naoshima Island in the Seto Inland Sea: a treasury of modern-art museums
The exquisite matcha and green tea "Nama" chocolates
A traditional tea ceremony - and the legendary whisky bars