Back in November, we went hiking in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), a mountainous area about 100 miles northwest of Kathmandu that borders China. We spent four days hiking through the mountain region, completing about 40 km.
We flew into Pokhara and took a van to the entrance of the ACAP, and began our hike.
The village at the entrance, Nayapool, is filled with guest houses, tea houses, and restaurants, and there are many more such businesses throughout the park. Because of COVID, however, nearly all of them were empty while we were there. Sadly, the government had launched a “Visit Nepal 2020” campaign which incentivized a lot of proprietors to sink all of their assets into their businesses right before the country closed down …
After walking about 8 km or so—the guide went easy on us for the first day—we spent the night in a village called Tikhe Dhunga. It was very quiet, given that most of the buildings there are guest houses. On the other side of the river, our guide told us, there had been a late-night landslide in 2006, in which 28 people were killed. The next morning’s trek out of the village was very steep—up 4,000 stone stairs to the next village—and the first part was dotted with memorials where houses had been.
In the evening, after about 11 km of hiking, we arrived at our next stop, Ghorepani. We settled into a mostly empty hotel to spend the night in anticipation of waking at 5:00 AM the next morning to watch the sun rise—from Poon Hill, 1,150 feet up.
Next: Trudging 1,150 feet up Poon Hill to watch the sun rise, and what we saw after that.
The sadhus recently came to Pashupatinath to prepare for the Maha Shivratri festival. Maha Shivratri celebrates the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, and it is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar. According to Wikipedia, “unlike most Hindu festivals which include expression of cultural revelry, the Maha Shivaratri is a solemn event notable for its introspective focus, fasting, meditation on Shiva, self study, social harmony and an all night vigil at Shiva temples.”
In the days leading up to the festival, the sadhus and their entourages pose for photographs in exchange for tips. And, this being a Shaivite festival, many sadhus also spend their time smoking very strong hash.
There in a festival in Bhaktapur called Madhav Narayan which celebrates one of the avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu. It is famous for the sight of male devotees rolling from the center of town down to the Hanuman River to show their devotion to Vishnu. The festival was nearing its close, so I went to Bhaktapur the day before to be at the riverside early in the morning.
It turned out that the city also is in the middle of its Navadurga festival. Navadurga is a mask dance ritual/street carnival. To celebrate Navadurga, dancers representing nine demonic avatars (durgas) of the goddess Parvati run around the city. I wasn’t aware of this until I wandered across a performance in one of the smaller squares of the city. The one in the red mask is one of the durgas; I assume the other is Shiva, since this appeared to be some kind of courtship dance.
After the show, I walked around the city for a few hours, and then returned to the same neighborhood on my way to dinner. As I passed, there was a loud commotion as young men rushed Shiva back into the square. They ran up and down, and then scampered off.
I continued up the road to a large square which I hadn’t visited before—Bhaktapur is much larger than I’d realized. At the main temple, there was a group of old men were singing and playing devotional songs, so I checked them out before finding some dinner.
After my meal, I was returning to my hotel when I heard another commotion. The street parade of durgas, drums and cymbals was heading toward me.
Naturally, I followed them. The revelers wound through some alleys and eventually ended at a temple where the musicians started pounding even louder. The dancers took off their masks and went inside, where they received offerings and more tips.
I recently started developing my own color film. Color film development is tricky because you have to maintain the chemicals at a specific temperature, otherwise the film gets ruined. And when I sent my film out to a lab here in town, it did get ruined—albeit in sometimes interesting ways—so I’ll do my own development from now on.
Here we have the world’s largest Lord Shiva statue, the Kailashnath Mahadev Statue. It stands at 143 feet high. (The next largest, in Karnataka, India, is only 123 feet high.) The day we went, the park was fairly crowded, with lots of people posing for photos and generally enjoying the day.
At the opposite end of the scale, we have an admittedly out of focus portrait of the Living Goddess, or Kumari, of Patan. Among Newari Buddhists (the Newaris are one of the major ethnic groups here), there is a belief that Taleju, one of the manifestations of the goddess Durga, incarnates herself as a young girl of the Shakya caste. A set of priests selects the incarnation based on a number of signs, and then puts her through a series of tests to be sure she is Taleju; it is not unlike the selection of the Panchen Lama. Once she has passed the tests, she becomes the Kumari until she reaches maturity.
Unlike the Royal Kumari in Kathmandu, the Kumari of Patan lives with her family in a humble apartment in one of the temples. When visitors come, her father fetches her, dresses her in her gown, and puts her on the throne where she blesses the visitors in exchange for a small donation. At least during my visit, it seemed like a pretty joyless experience.
A few weeks ago, we went on safari at Chitwan National Park. Chitwan has a good population of rhinoceroses and tigers, among other animals, and we were hopeful of some sightings. Normally, I’d take a digital camera for a trip like this, but my only long lens at the moment is a Nikon 70-210 mm, so I took the FM2,
It didn’t work out as planned. Besides the dust marks on the negative scanner, which can be fixed in easily in post, many of the negatives were marked with streaks and bizarre colors. It’s possible that the problem was with my film, but it’s just as likely that the developer’s technique and/or chemicals were off. In the future, I’ll develop my own color film. In the meantime, here are some images corrected as best as I can do.
I love film photography. An analog, all metal camera just feels different in the hands. The loading of the film is like a little dance. The shutter’s click tells you that you’ve captured an image, with no way to erase it, and the film winder tells you that you’re ready to do it again.
The downside, of course, is that you don’t know what you’ve captured; and once you’re done, you are at the mercy of the film processor. That’s when you discover whether your lenses are really sharp at the corners; whether you’ve stored your film properly all this time to maintain its quality; and whether the processor’s chemicals and equipment are all they should be. If any of these go wrong, you can try to “fix it in post,” but that will only get you so far.
Recently, I went shooting with my Nikon FM2 (not my D700) at Boudhanath, an enormous stupa dating from the 8th century. With my iPhone camera, it looked like this:
Out of my Nikon FM2, however, it looked like this:
The images have character, sure, but I can’t say that I’m going to stick with film for the next three years.
Bhaktapur also is known as a pottery center, which was exciting to us as we’re both into pottery—Abby has been throwing and hand-building for years, and I started right before we left Bangkok. A lot of the production we saw is standardized, however—not quite the stuff of The Great British Throw Down.
After leaving the kilns, we came across some guys working the clay in a courtyard. You literally can see the handiwork in the clay.
We visited Bhaktapur in 2012, three years before the earthquake that damaged or destroyed much of the old architecture. We had the opportunity to return this past weekend. Fortunately, the historic areas looked much as they did before …
… with some obvious work underway, on historic buildings and residences alike.
We saw a lot of people doing puja (worship) at various parts of the square.
A German shepherd appeared in our neighborhood yesterday—skin and bones, mangy, with infected eyes, and terrified of everything. I felt terrible about her condition, so I gave her a bowl of water which she drank down greedily, and that was that. Today she was back, so I bought some dog food and a bowl, and gave her food and water. She ate gingerly at first, but then grazed steadily.
The transformation was immediate. She begin to start off after cars, bark at some men and sniff at some others, and then she followed me up the street. I hope this act does not come back to bite me in the ass, figuratively or literally.