Nepali Times
"Not just taking pictures, but giving them back"

In the fall of 1979, when the Czech photographer Zdenek Thoma reached Manang, the valley had just been opened to tourism. Its stunning location on the north side of the Annapurnas and its hospitable inhabitants tempted Thoma to linger there to take pictures. He held many exhibitions in Prague and across Europe.

Thirty years later, Thoma's son Michal travelled to Manang with his father and re-took pictures of the same places photographed in 1979. He met the people whose portraits his father had taken and documented the changes in the architecture and lives of the people of Manang.

Locals from Manang thronged the exhibition, excitedly pointing to relatives and friends they recognised
Earlier this month, father and son returned to Manang once more for a before-and-after exhibition at the Manang Culture Museum. The opening ceremony on 4 April was attended by 100 locals and trekkers.

Visitors were excited to recognise themselves and compare pictures of their valley as it was in 1979 and see the changes. Although Manang has been transformed in the past 30 years, this is nothing compared to the changes that will come in the next few years as the Marsyangdi road reaches the once-pristine trans-Himalayan valley.

When Zdenek Thoma first came to Manang, there was only one house providing accommodation run by Tsering Dolma. Today, she is a prosperous tourism entrepreneur with several hotels. Dolma is happy about the changes, but adds: "I just wish people were a little less selfish." Today, everyone has mobile phones, the houses have electricity, and the sound of the internal-combustion engine has arrived in the valley with three motorcycles and tractors.

Locals are looking forward to the road, they think it will be better for trade. But not everyone is sure whether the road is good for tourism. Already, despite it being the peak trekking season, lodge-owners said there were many fewer tourists than before.

"Tourists want virgin places to visit, the road will be a negative unless you are smart about it," says Zdenek, who has seen how the road has affected trekking in Mustang, on the other side of Thorung La.

For Michal, the exhibition was a sort of homecoming because he grew up in Prague seeing his father's pictures from Manang. "I was six months old in 1979 when my father came here, and the images are so familiar to me that the exhibition took me back to my childhood," he says.

"Although people have taken many pictures of Manang and Manangis, nobody had yet brought the pictures back to them," says Michal, "we wanted to share our work by giving pictures, not just taking them."

Manang village as Zdenek Thoma saw it after descending from Thorung La in 1979.
Today, Manang has developed into the popular tourist stop where trekkers outnumber locals during the peak season.
The field where the Bade festival was held in 1979..
...has been transformed into Manang's tourist quarter.

Zdenek Thoma with a trekking companion, in 1979 in Manang, and (below) with his son, Michal, at the same spot earlier this month.

This young girl carrying her sibling in 1979 is now a woman but retains her familiar smile.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)