Terai Nepal Photo Essay

The People and Places of Nepal

The Silk Road, the Himalayas, and the mighty Mount Everest; Nepal is an idyllic country that has something for everyone.

In more recent times, the country has sadly become known for the tragic earthquake of April 2015, and even though it is still recovering, it shouldn’t be missed off anyone’s must-travel list. Nepal is a colourful country with a rich history and the most welcoming people, making each day that I travelled there different.

I got to see the sunrise over the Himalayas, downhill mountain bike in the Annapurna region, explore the temples and stupas of the Kathmandu Valley, and even visited Lord Buddha’s birthplace of Lumbini. I created this collection of photographs to supress the images of past tragedy and to promote Nepal’s charming people, exquisite food, and extraordinary sights.

In the bustling streets of Bhaktapur these two rival fruit sellers lock eyes. From bananas to apples, oranges to mangos, most fruit is sold to people across Nepal by bike based sellers, as they can cover greater distances.

It is a common sight to see these big suspension bridges spanning wide, deep valleys across Nepal. These bridges are a cheap, quick and efficient way to reduce travel time and connect otherwise cut off villages. Unfortunately for me (someone who does not have a head for heights) I had to cross one on a mountain bike ride to the Himalayan foothill town of Dhampus.

During my mountain bike ride to Dhampus, I spent some time here with the local farming community. It was harvest time and this elderly farmer was moving dried long grass into a store room for the coming colder months. In the winter, hay is used to supplement the diet of oxen and other livestock used to farm the steep paddy terraces.

Babas and Shadus can be found across the holy sites of Nepal as well as India. Hindus receive prayers from Babas to burn bad karma. Babas consider themselves dead unto themselves, even attending their own funerals. They live without possessions, surviving only on donations from others.

After a 4:30am start and a short ascent to the hill station of Sarangkot, I was lucky enough to see the sunrise over the Annapurna Massif range, part of the much larger Himalayan Mountain range. The Machapuchare mountain, otherwise known as the ‘Fish Tail,’ is the most popular as it is sacred to the Hindu god Shiva.

This elderly hill lady also made the short ascent to watch the sunrise. She had come from a nearby foothill village and wore her best clothes for the occasion.

A Buddhist monk recites mantras and prayers on a pilgrimage to the famous Boudhanath, or Chorten Chempo. Dating back to the 5th Century, this is the most important Tibetan Buddhist monument outside of Tibet,  a sacred site since the Chinese occupation in 1959. Inside the Boudha are holy relics, such as objects used by Lord Buddha, and maybe even parts of him such as his hair, teeth and bones.

On the outskirts of Pokhara stands the Shanti Stupa, or World Peace Pagoda. Shanti is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning ‘peace,’ which is widely used through Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. This Stupa was built by a Japanese Buddhist sect that has built 80 around the world, two of which are in Nepal.

The Annapurna range is in Nepal’s central region. It’s home to 30 mountains over 6,000 meters tall, spans 34 miles and is home to world class treks.

When biking up the steep gravel paths to get to Dhampus, I passed this lady who was a widow of a subsistence farmer in the foot hills. Having stopped for a water break, she slowly approached me and my Nepali friend Vimal. Using Vimal as a translator, she told us she needed some medical assistance for a cut on her lower leg. After cleaning and dressing the wound we arranged to collect her on our way back and take her to the nearest town. She was deeply touched and let me take her photograph in return.

You can find more of Chris Atkinson‘s photography on his Instagram.

I used to think that life’s most magical times – the ones that stay with us for years after they’ve passed – were only magical in retrospect. That time had to roll by before we would be able to look back and recognise them for being special and life-changing.

I also thought that there was something incredibly poignant about this. Surely it would be better for us to know at the time that what we were going through at that given moment would be life-defining and remembered when we’re old and grey? I also used to wonder – would that mean we’d make the most of every single minute? That we would do things somewhat differently? That we would somehow try to prolong that time?

A little girl who handed me a bouquet of rhododendrons – Nepal’s national flower

That was until now. In my mind, there’s no mistaking the fact that what I’m living here is something life-changing and special. I’m so sure about that. I’m as sure as I was in November that I’d end up coming back to Nepal (and, as you can all see, I did). Does it make the whole experience better? I’d say yes. It means that I wake up every morning knowing that what’s happening to me here will define the rest of my life in some way.

It’s so difficult for me to describe why I feel this way, just as it’s near impossible for me to explain why this place has got under my skin. I’m hoping that it will become clearer with time and that eventually – hopefully – I’ll be able to put this all into some form of writing that does it justice. But, for now, I have decided to write 12 random thoughts from 30 days in Nepal – from the inane to the more profound (perhaps).

I’m finally thankful for my breakup

A few weeks back, I was on a field trip in the Terai region of Nepal. There, we visited various Musahar communities (one of Nepal’s most marginalised groups) in order to talk with people and gather information for a funding application that we’re doing.

It was during this trip – which wasn’t always easy and certainly not a walk in the park – that I remember finally feeling thankful about my breakup. It was the end of the second day and I was sat in the very back of the SUV, looking at the world roll past. I was dusty, smelly, messy and hungry, and I couldn’t have been happier as I was in that moment in time. It was then that I realised that if that horrific breakup had never happened, I most probably would not be here doing this right now. And everything just felt so right all of a sudden.

I never feel like a stranger here

Nepali people are hands down the nicest people I’ve come across during my travels. Everywhere I go – from the shop where I buy my bread to the boutique where I buy my kurtis – I seem to make genuine connections with people. I never feel like I’m a stranger here and it’s truly nice to feel like you belong somewhere – especially when that place isn’t your country.

Cows are boss

Much like in India, the real bosses here are the cows. They own this place and they know it. Just watch how they casually sit their butts down in the middle of oncoming traffic and you’ll see what I mean.

Bossing it like a cow in Kathmandu

You can find peace in the most chaotic of places

I never imagined that after what have undoubtedly been the two most nonsensical and confusing years of my life, that I’d finally find peace on the chaotic streets of Kathmandu. Maybe it’s the city’s energy. Maybe it’s the people. Maybe it’s the snippets of spirituality that can be found on every street corner. Maybe it’s the maze of streets and the way they grab my imagination and make it whir all night long. But it’s here that I’ve finally lain the past to rest. It’s here that I’ve finally begun to truly look forward.

There are so many people doing so many incredible things here

Whether that is the myriad people I’ve met who are working for various NGOs and social enterprises (the university students who have a business model for building houses with plastic bottles are one example that comes to mind), to the various locals leading social initiatives (the owners of the guest house that I’m staying in are the guys behind the Solo Woman Travel Challenge), there are so many people doing incredible things here. In fact, they make me want to find something equally incredible to do with my life.

Ladies enter the Janaki Mandir in Janakpur

I love the absence of global brands

There’s no Starbucks. There’s no Zara. There’s no Cheesecake Factory. I buy my bread from a bakery, flowers from a flower shop, and milk from a Farmer’s Market store. I love supporting local brands!

I’ve become a total and utter klutz

I’m not too sure how to word this as I don’t want to tempt fate, but here goes: I’ve never been an accident-prone person. While growing up, all my brothers had some form of stitches or casts, and it seemed like my poor mum was at the hospital on a weekly basis, ferrying them back and forth. I, on the other hand, had never had anything of the sort. That’s until now. The other week, in the space of three days, I sliced my hand open on a broken glass (I can faint at the sight of blood, so you can imagine…), almost fell flat on my face after tripping on a pavement stone (thankfully for me, a friend caught me otherwise I’m sure I would now have a broken nose), and almost got chased by some scary-looking street dogs.

I have attributed this new found klutziness to the fact that I, on the whole, am always in my own world and that just won’t work in a city where you really need to pay attention to what you’re doing at ALL times. Less daydreaming is taking place these days, I can tell you…

A buffalo takes a dip in the Dhanusha district of Nepal

I’ve struggled to put why I love this place so much into words…

I’m frequently asked – by both locals and fellow travellers – why I love Nepal, and more specifically, Kathmandu, so much. For the longest time I could not put the reasons why into words. I now realise that I can, instead, talk about how it makes me feel. It makes me feel at peace. It makes me feel content. It makes me feel at home. It makes me feel inspired. And when a place makes you feel all these things, you know it’s a keeper.

I’m definitely considering a change of career

…or less of a total change and more of an adaptation of what I’m already doing. Being here has given me a lot of food for thought and I definitely know things cannot go back to the way they were before. For one, I need to be doing something where I feel like I’m contributing to the greater good of the world. I also want to learn something new, so I could end up going back to university (I’m surrounded by people with Masters and PhDs here – it’s making me miss learning!).

One thing I know for sure is that I’m going to pursue photography more. I bought a great 50mm lens before I left Dubai and I had the chance to take loads of photos when I visited the Terai. I’m really pleased with the results and it’s reminded me how much I enjoy it. So I’m looking into upgrading my gear and taking more classes.

Three Musahar girls whom I met on our trip to the Terai. Don’t let the serious expressions fool you – they were very cheeky!

I want a nose piercing…but I’m too much of a wuss to get one

I’ve always toyed with the idea of getting a nose piercing but a) never knew whether I could pull it off and b) knew I was too much of a wuss to get one anyway (my pain threshold is ridiculously low – my family are right, I’m a wimp). I’m now surrounded by people who have piercings and they’ve all told me that they think a nose piercing would look good on me, so I started to seriously consider it. Then I made the mistake of Googling how painful it is… so yeah, in short, I guess that’s not happening.

Nepal makes me want to trek

I’ve only attempted to do any form of trekking or hiking (erm, hang on, what’s the difference?!) while I was in Vietnam and I hated it. So for me to now find myself thinking of how nice it would be to trek is a testament to how stunning this place is. I’ve recently seen photos from the Annapurna Circuit – a popular trekking route here – and it’s made me want to attempt it. I don’t think I’ll have the time to do a big trek while I’m here, but I definitely want to do a smaller one and return in October to try and do Annapurna.

One of the many portraits I took in the Terai. I think this is my favourite.

I will be back…

Just how I knew I’d be back when I visited last November, I also know that this isn’t the end for Nepal and I. Watch this space…

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