When I visited Nepal all those years ago, I returned home with a sense that I had just met a very special people. Nepal was the crossroads of Asia. Everyone met there, Tibetans, Chinese, Indian, and this is reflected in the faces of the people today. Since the death of the last Shah king, Nepal has been officially secular, but her official religion was Hindu, but a large part of the population is Buddhist, and very often it’s difficult to separate the two in Nepali culture. They seem to work hand-in-hand in a way that is unheard of in other parts of the world and often, it’s difficult to know who is Hindu and who Buddhist. There is no rivalry, no sense that one is more than the other to the people. They celebrate religious holidays in common, the same cultural traditions, with religion being merely a part of who they are as human beings, instead of being something that sets them apart from one another. However, in Nepal you also find Muslims, Christians and people who practice Kirat, an indigenous religion surrounding nature and the ancestors, and Bon, an animist Tibetan religion that some argue is a precursor form of Buddhism.
The result is people who are warm and accepting. Many live in what we in the West would call abject poverty, but there is no sense that they begrudge or envy those with more. Life is life. You live your life as best you can according, to the circumstances in which you find yourself. And perhaps, in the next life, things will be easier if you’ve lived well in this one. I learned a lot from them while I was there.
Not all of the people in these photos are from Nepal, but all of them touched me in some way during that trip.
I had a stopover in Hong Kong on my way to Kathmandu, and took the Star Ferry from Kowloon to explore the island a little. Having been up to the Peak on the Tram and explored a bit, I was on my way back to Kowloon for a bit of affordable shopping and dinner. The contrast of the man’s blue uniform against the green caught my eye, but it was his cheeky grin that captured me.
I saw him while waiting for transport to our first camp in the Himalayan Hills. The bus had left us by the side of the road with our belongings and we had a few minutes to explore. There he was, all eyes. I asked permission first and the men watching over him happily agreed. It’s the looks on their faces as they gauge his reaction to me that delights me as much as he does.
As the sun set on our camp, the villagers running the tree plantation we were on began to visit. This little girl captured my heart. She’s so solemn as she carries her little brother, peering at me through the grasses as I sit with my tea. Every time I look at this photo, I get the sense that she is much older than her years.
That night, to raise money for their tree plantation, the older kids of the village performed for us. It was a marvelous couple of hours that began with some of the boys pounding poles into the ground to string up a curtain. They literally pounded these poles into the dirt until they stood on their own. These children are so completely engrossed in their friends’ performances, it’s a lovely thing.
He’s portraying the story of a man in a village who’s had too much to drink. The dance follows his path through the village, the people he meets, the scrape he gets into. He had everyone laughing throughout, as his expressive hands and vivid face wove the tale.
We’d stopped in her village for a break that morning. Children played in the sun as the elders gathered under a tree. Her husband worked in the shop, selling us orange pop from a bin of cool river water. My travelling companions and I wandered a little, taking pictures and chatting. She was there in her kitchen, so beautiful. My companions pulled their cameras out and immediately trained them on her. She shrunk back into the shadows, consternation on her face. When they finally gave up and wandered off to find more friendly subjects, I caught her eye, raised my camera and asked silently for her permission. This photograph is the result. A gift of trust and friendship.
And these are her husband and son, sitting on a bench in front of their path-side shop. He is so proud of his shop, and took such joy in his son. This is the last photo I took that day, as I became extremely ill later. For years, I thought that I’d inadvertently taken in some river water off the lip of my bottle of orange pop. We’d been warned off drinking the river water, as it’s not safe. Then, about ten years later, I travelled to the same altitude in Colorado and the same symptoms hit me. I’d had altitude sickness. I hallucinated from it, actually, and have very few memories of that day of trekking. But this man and his family are vivid even today.
After the day of no memory, we came down to a lower level in the hills. My illness began to ease and my mind cleared. I met these two girls, the one so proper, the other with a streak of mischief, while waiting for a bus to Pokhara, our next destination. We played peak-a-boo and hide and seek. Told stories with our faces and hands. The three of us had a ball, actually. It was a lovely hour.
We’d been rafting for a couple of days, when we stopped here for refreshment while our camp was set up. She chased this little goat, wrestled with him, played with him and, finally, just hugged him. I’m not sure if he appreciated it for the love it was, but it was clear that he was her best friend forever.
I love this shot. He’s one of my travelling companions and this made me think of pictures I’ve seen of safari. I had to take the picture for that alone.
In the jungle, our main transportation was elephant. They are astounding creatures, loyal, steadfast and ever patient with the tiny beings that they interact with. Meaning us, of course. The look on this boy’s face pretty much says it all. There’s nothing like it, as I found out myself the next day when it was my turn to sit bareback on an elephant. Amazing amazing creatures.
And back in the Kathmandu Valley, I spent a day exploring. This photo was taken in Bakhtapur. He’s so beautiful, as he concentrates.
The Dali Lama has said that true intimacy is not in physical sensation, but in meeting another human being’s eyes in true communication. Twenty years ago, I met these people. I looked into their eyes and each of them touched my life in some way.