Expat Spotlight: Prabu Mohan - A Self-Taught Photographer of Vietnam's Remote Wilderness
In the predawn hours, a single man marches along the cresting peak of Ta Xua Mountain. Clutching his Nikon DSLR, he waits for the sun to rise over a sea of clouds that floods the valley below in a stark, misty whiteness. While many would find an early morning trek to be absolutely dreadful, Prabu Mohan presses on, excited to capture another gorgeous Vietnamese sunrise with his brilliant photography.
As the skies begin to pinken, the clapping of Prabu’s camera can be heard, celebrating the start of a beautiful day.
|A sunrise in northern Vietnam. Photo by Prabu Mohan.|
|Cloud hunting on Ta Xua Mountain. Photo by Prabu Mohan.|
Hailing from Tamil Nadu, India, Prabu’s life in Vietnam is divided into two distinct contrasts; the great outdoors and the inside of a college lecture hall. As a distinguished mathematics lecturer at the British University of Vietnam (BUV), Prabu has enjoyed living in Hanoi since 2012.
“When I decided to move here, I didn’t know anyone from Vietnam,” said Prabu. “I thought I would be here for a year of two, never thought I would be here this long.”
|With his skilled eyes, Prabu scans the city streets of Hanoi for the perfect shot. Photo by Zoey Nguyen.|
After receiving his Ph.D in Spain and working in Malaysia, Prabu believes he can adapt to any country and live comfortably. However, the reason he continues to stay in Vietnam is because of the friendliness of the Vietnamese people.
With an adequate command of Vietnamese, Prabu often sits in small coffee shops and converses with locals. Most often, after speaking a few words to them, he finds himself in a friendly conversation.
“When you go to the countryside, they aren’t used to brown skin that much,” said Prabu, recounting his travels in Vietnam. “They are a little bit surprised and smile and sometimes laugh at you. The moment you speak one or two words of Vietnamese, everything becomes normal. You aren’t a stranger anymore!”
Additionally, he bonds with his students and Vietnamese peers over mathematics. According to Prabu, Vietnamese and Indian education systems have very similar approaches to math, making teaching in Vietnam very easy, despite a few cultural differences.
During semester breaks, another passion takes him far away from the BUV campus. Since coming to Vietnam, Prabu has gotten into photography, inspired by the epic landscapes found throughout the country. While only an amateur, Prabu produces quality photos, documenting Vietnam’s natural beauty.
During his first trips in 2012, Prabu admits there were plenty of “disasters.” For example, when trekking in Sapa, the novice photographer hurt his leg. Prabu worried it was a sprain or a broken bone but his travel companions good-naturedly chided him. The pair started calling him “Prabster,” thinking Prabu was only pranking them.
|Prabu, enjoying the view in Sapa. Photo by Prabu Mohan.|
Prabu continued down the muddy backroads of Sapa, ignoring the mounting pain in his leg. After completing the lengthy trek, Prabu immediately sought medical attention who confirmed he did, in fact, sprain his leg.
The Indian expat did not let the negative experience keep him from exploring the wilds of Vietnam. Over the years, Prabu challenged himself by going even further into more remote areas across the nation, looking for sights seen by only a few lucky people. All the while, he studied photography via Youtube videos and online forums, refining his skills.
Since posting his photographs to social media, Prabu has gained quite a following. His Instagram currently boasts over six thousand followers. In a cheeky nod to his “disastrous” Sapa trek, he is known online as “The Prabster.”
Although he works in a visual medium, Prabu is most enchanted by the sound of nature. As he shares his spectacular views with those online, the calming symphonies of Vietnam’s mountains, forests, and beaches is for his own, personal enjoyment.
“If I had my choice, I would sit in a beautiful, quiet place and do nothing,” said Prabu.
|Mu Cang Chai is one of Prabu's favorite regions in Vietnam. Photo by Prabu Mohan.|
|Prabu's aerial photo of bathing buffaloes was featured in National Geographic. Photo by Prabu Mohan.|
Primarily interested in the solace of nature, Prabu has very few photos of cities. However, in 2020, Prabu’s travels would be temporarily put on hold due to Vietnam’s strict Covid lockdown. Stuck in Hanoi, Prabu’s passions for photography didn’t diminish. In fact, he was amazed by Hanoian’s discipline and community spirit during the weeks of the pandemic, in addition to the bizarre tranquility found throughout the deserted city streets.
“I never seen Hanoi so quiet before. Empty roads and quiet corners - I never thought I would see it again!” said Prabu, referring to the capital city’s chaotic atmosphere.
One of the most striking photos of this quiet period in Hanoi’s history was taken by Prabu in April of 2020. With everyone stuck at home, patriotic Hanoians in a giant apartment block began hanging the Vietnamese flag from their balconies, as a sign of support for the anti-Covid frontline workers. The red flags stand out against the white walls of the apartment, showing within every home is at least one patriotic citizen, cheering on Vietnam’s healthcare professionals.
|Solidarity among Vietnamese citizens. Photo by Prabu Mohan.|
The photo went viral on Vietnamese social media and earned Prabu lots of praise. In fact, his famous lockdown photo won two important awards, on the national and international level.
Presented by Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, Prabu won the “A Award” in a photo contest to celebrate Vietnamese solidarity during the pandemic. In the very same week, Prabu won the 2020 Aerial Photography Award in the “World in Lockdown” category.
“I’m really glad that I was able to share the picture about Vietnam’s fight against [the novel] coronavirus to a bigger audience,” said Prabu in an interview with Tuoi Tre News, after accepting both awards.
Now that tourism and travel has returned to Vietnam, Prabu is eager to return to the open road and take new photos of Vietnam’s pristine wilderness. When he first started pursuing photography, Prabu was just following his own bliss. Now, with his experience, accolades, and massive internet following, Prabu’s work now has a new mission.
“Mainly, I want my friends in India to know about these places in Vietnam,” said Prabu. “After I post photos of my travels, a lot of my friends want to come here.”
Just as new Vietnamese friends warmly welcomed him to Vietnam, Prabu wants to do the same for his fellow Indians, encouraging further tourism between the two Asian nations.
|The end to another magical day in Vietnam. Photo by Prabu Mohan.|
In the post-Covid era, new adventures await for the acclaimed Indian photographer. While camping in the rolling hills of Long Coc, a solo Prabu emerges from his tiny tent. A heavy sun sinks into the horizon, illuminating the far off tea fields in a heavenly glow. Once again, Prabu captures a dazzling sun over a remarkable Vietnamese landscape. After sunset, he points his trusty camera upwards, at a magnificent sky full of stars.
|The Milky Way galaxy over Long Coc. Photo by Prabu Mohan.|
To see more of Prabu's photography, check out his Instagram; @the_prabster.
And for even more photos of Vietnam, have a look at VNT's most recent Photo Series.
|As a monthly series for the Vietnam Times, the Expat Spotlight aims to highlight interesting members from Vietnam's diverse expat community. Be it through travel, charity, business, art, or diplomatic works, these expats have a deep love for Vietnam and wish to see it progress. Stay tuned to learn about the other expats and their various projects. If you would like to nominate someone for a future feature, please message the Vietnam Times via Facebook.|
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