11-17 November 2016 #832

An eye for Kathmandu

A Day in the Life of Kathmandu, a photographic portrait of Kathmandu

Kunda Dixit

Being posted to their Embassy in Kathmandu seems to be a great career move for Indian diplomats. Several former Indian ambassadors have gone on to become Foreign Secretaries, or posted to important missions like the High Commission in London.

Diplomats also tend to be keen photographers and trekking aficionados. Former Indian ambassador to Nepal, Deb Mukharji, published a photobook the Magic of Nepal in 2008 and another one Kailash and Mansarovar: Visions of the Infinite which was published by nepa~laya in Kathmandu in 2009.

Jawed Ashraf was posted to Kathmandu 2004-7 during the critical period of the 12-point agreement between the Maoists and the political parties in New Delhi that led to the ceasefire and ultimately Nepal bidding goodbye to its monarchy. Like Mukharji, he hiked the Himalaya and snapped pictures along the way. Just before taking up his assignment as India’s High Commissioner to Singapore, Ashraf was in Kathmandu last week to launch his own photobook, A Day in the Life of Kathmandu. 

Asraf dedicates the book to the victims of the 2015 earthquake, and recounts in the preface how he felt the tremors as far away as New Delhi and watched aghast as news came in about the devastation in his beloved Kathmandu. Because of his knowledge of Nepal, Ashraf was given the responsibility to support India’s rapid response team that rushed air support and relief to Nepal. A week after the earthquake, he came to Kathmandu and took more photographs. ‘I saw the devastation around Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. I saw despair, but also hope. And, the quiet determination and resolve of the people to rebuild their lives,’ Ashraf writes.

A Day in the Life of Kathmandu

by Jawed Ashraf

Wisdom Tree, New Delhi 2016

NPR 2,500

136 pages

This affection for the city is visible in A Day in the Life of Kathmandu, a photographic portrait of Kathmandu, and even in pictures from ten years ago one can see how much more the city is bursting at the seams. Flipping through the pages, it is clear that although the book is about Kathmandu Ashraf’s eyes often dwell on the snow-capped peaks to the north. The silhouettes of Himalchuli, Ganesh Himal, Langtang, Dorje Lakpa, Purbi Ghyachu appear in the many of the photographs like old friends. But there are also alluring images of the Patan temples emerging through the winter mist, pilgrims’ progress at Boudanatha and Swayambhu, the devotional fervour of the chariot pullers of the Machindranath and Indra Jatra festivals. 

Asraf devotes a whole section to the bahals of Patan and Kathmandu, some of which were badly damaged during last year’s earthquake. ‘The soul of Kathmandu lies — for me certainly — in the bahis and bahals, a quintessentially Kathmandu treasure,’ Ashraf explains. 

There have been many picture books on Kathmandu, but this one carries a special perspective of a visitor who has an eye for the urban landscape and the terrain beyond, images that us natives take for granted. We can only wait for Ashraf to bring out another book of photographs taken of Nepal’s landscape from during his numerous treks.

Ashraf’s gift for the written word is almost as perceptive  as his photography, he writes: ‘Here is a tribute in photographs to Kathmandu — as life unfolds through the cycle of day and night, woven into its heritage, lived on streets and in public spaces and played out on a dramatic Himalayan stage.’

Read also:

The Magic of Nepal, Mukunda Acharya

Kailash and Mansarovar: Visions of the Infinite, Kunda Dixit