16-22 September 2016 #826

Himalayan humanscape

Lisa Choegyal has teamed up with photographer Sujoy Das to bring out a unique picture book on Nepal
Kunda Dixit

Pics: Sujoy Das
Walking the stairway to heaven near the pass of Mong La

Longtime Nepal resident Lisa Choegyal has teamed up with noted Indian outdoor photographer Sujoy Das to bring out a unique picture book on Nepal that is a deeply personal account of the country, and how it has changed their lives. Nepal Himalaya: A Journey through Time is exactly that — a story told in text and pictures of the lives and travels of two people through a country they have grown to love and cherish.

Choegyal first came to Nepal in 1974 when she was 23 years old at a time when young westerners disillusioned with materialism and war came to seek nirvana. Kathmandu was the end of the road, and many found their spiritual selves here. Choegyal describes herself in the book as ‘not a successful hippie’. That is because she decided to stay on, get a job and get married, raise a family and make a career out of tourism development and conservation in Nepal.

Trekkers walk along the Kali Gandaki river bed near Chuksang in upper Mustang

Forty years later, Choegyal writes: ‘Something about this place makes me feel deeply at home.’ The text part of the book is a shortish memoir of her life in Nepal, the Nepalis she made friends with (the book is dedicated to the people of Nepal), the expats she met (everyone from Edmund Hillary, Boris Lissanevitch, Jimmy Roberts, etc) and the places she visited.

‘My respect for the schicksalsergeben (resigned to one’s fate) and strength of the Nepali people is infinite,’ writes Reinhold Messner in the foreword to the book. Indeed, Choegyal returns time and again in the following pages to the dignity and legendary ability of Nepalis to overcome hardships.

A balcony at Tamudhi Tole in Bhaktapur

Sujoy Das’ stark black-and-white photographs are a visual testimony to this resilience. The photographs are divided by themes: into the landscape, the humanscape, the natural and urban heritage as well as the culture of Nepal. We have seen many coffee table books with superb colour photographs of the Himalaya, and yet the monochrome of Das’ images heighten the topographical extremes of Nepal, and juxtapose them against portraits of Nepalis who have to live and make a living in such breathtakingly difficult terrain.

A boy from the Terai carries loads for a lodge owner in Namche Bazaar

The black-and-white images accentuate the ramparts of rock-ice, the texture of clouds, wrinkles on the faces of villagers, terrace farms clinging to shoulders of mountains. There is a series of photographs of porters on trekking trails, and one striking double spread of them carrying long timber beams walking sideways up the mountains. Das explains in his own Photographer's Note how he was initiated into mountain photography after watching Machapuchre from Pokhara 30 years ago, and how there has been no looking back. He had fallen hopelessly in love with Nepal.

Yak in the snow near Pangboche village in the Everest region

Because of her involvement with tourism ever since her work with Mountain Travel and Tiger Tops, Choegyal devotes much of her text to tourism. The setting up of the Chitwan National Park to rescue tigers and rhinos from the brink of extinction and the Annapurna Conservation Project that ploughed trekking fees directly to lift living standards, were models for eco-tourism that have now been copied elsewhere in the world.

‘Nepal was ahead of its time in appreciating and adopting what have become widely recognised core ecotourism values ... but seems to have lost its way,’ Choegyal writes pointing out that militant unionism has pushed away investors and led to a deterioration of service standards and affected tourism promotion.

Nepal Himalaya: A Journey through Time

Photographs by Sujoy Das,

Text by Lisa Choegyal

Vajra Books, Kathmandu 2016

164 pages

www.vajrabooks.com.np

But, reflecting the strength we see in Sujoy Das’ photography, she ends with a positive outlook: ‘Considering the country’s unparalleled combination of natural and cultural resources, I believe Nepal’s best hope still remains with tourism – an industry that creates many jobs, has the ability to reach far into these beautiful mountains, and can tangibly improve the lives of the admirably resilient people of Nepal.’

Read also

Making eco-tourism work for the people, Sraddha Basnyat

Tourism for the people, by the people, Kunda Dixit

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