There’s a beauty to Nepal that has proved difficult for me to capture with the camera. But I keep trying. As I begin yet another journey through Nepal I find myself marvelling at the harmony of this country, and how despite the immense and unrelenting chaos the thing that always leaves me breathless is their ability to simply tolerate each other. They are such a diverse people in Nepal, and yet they make the best of every moment. They posses a beauty that is so simple and yet elusive through the lens.
I describe their tolerance like a fluidity. They are able to move from one expression to another without getting caught up on what is past, or what might be future. They live in the now. They waiver in the breeze like a candle, ready to strike a light for the next wick that comes within reach. They greet absurdity and adversity with a smile. They have faith in their gods and disdain for their politicians.
I have done my best to capture Nepal’s beauty, or at least small pieces of it. Each year I come back and have another go. I try to see it from a different angle each time, but over the years I have formed a few old habits. I love the traditional aspects of Nepal, from wood carvers to curd makers. Despite my extensive experience in this country there are still things that astound me, like the ability of a single motorcycle to trigger gridlock across several city blocks. Or the unconscious kindness of complete strangers when walking through villages in the mountains.
I’ve been lucky enough to photograph many of it’s highest mountain peaks as the first light hits the snow. To visit with over a dozen ethnic groups in the valleys and mountains. I’ve chase the elusive tigers through jungles of Bardiya in far western Nepal, and step cautiously out of the way for yaks en-route to Everest Base Camp. I’ve watched chai ladies dazzle their customers with their ballet of tea, sugar and spices. I’ve sat in wonder at a young boy in Thamel who has mastered the tandoori oven like it was a grand piano. I’ve received blessings from priests on hilltops, listened to the parables of monks in the pre-dawn light, and steered away street sellers offering me their cheap tin singing bowls. I grudgingly admit, they did sound quite lovely.
I’ve been awoken at 4am by drums in the streets of Bhaktapur. And again at 5am. I’ve spotted rose-finches in the Annapurna Ranges and Grosbeaks in Sagarmatha National Park. I’ve gone back for seconds at my favourite juju dhau shop. I’ve held out for the pancakes at a guesthouse in Jomsom. I’ve ascended the trail to a chorten at Tiri, and spent an entire morning photographing pilgrims by the shores of the Kali Ghandaki. I’ve watched the sun go down through prayer flags behind Tilicho, and awoken to snow falling on the goat trail the very next day. I’ve eaten enough rice to fill a cricket stadium and yet I still go back for more.
I’ve had mothers insist I photograph their children, and children insist I photograph their mothers. This week in Bhaktapur we stopped to watch clouds create crepuscular rays across the sky, while locals flew kites from the tops of ancient shrines. When the sun broke through we found we had company; some school girls who wanted very much to have a “professional” photo of themselves. We took turns to capture their joy – seemingly enough to last a lifetime. From the butter lamps at a shrine to the last drops of golden sunshine across the rice harvest, Nepal is rich in warm hues and friendly smiles.
You just have to be ready to embrace the rough edges. They are numerous, but they are outnumbered. The solution to any problem in Nepal is to simply slow down. Bistari bistari. Slowing down gives everyone a chance to make room, and then move forward. It's the same for photographers. Slow down and look carefully – maybe there's a new path for you too. Maybe there's even more inspiration awaiting for you. Maybe there's beauty hiding in the chaos and it was there all along. We have to slow down and give ourselves a chance to see it.
– Ewen (Bistari bistari)
See more pics from my Nepal travels over the past decade here: