I know I usually say these are long. But this one is LONG. I’ve culled this blog so hard already and I can’t take out any more. So my adoring fans, I give you: Nepal!
Back in March of this year, I had the most amazing honour of travelling to Nepal to watch two of my very good friends tie the knot. Full Nepali styles. This involved chilling in Kathmandu, 4 whole wedding days (all at different venues might I add), a very fancy stay in Chitwan and a relaxing end to it all in Pokhara.
I really challenged myself on this trip to try to capture the locals. While I have a passion for nature, I love people. But I’ve always been too afraid to capture strangers. I always feel too intrusive and like I’m taking advantage of them. Thankfully with the help of our personal guide (AKA the bride: Ayesha Giri), I was able to get heeaapps of practice in. So the below might not be what you’re used to from me, but some of the included portraits are my most favourite images I’ve ever taken.
The end of two long-haul flights saw us flying pretty much parallel to the Himalayan Mountains. They are scary big. This turned out to be one of the handful of times we actually got to see them during our stay – #thankssmog. I had no idea what to expect here. I assumed it would be busy, but not on the level of chaos we were met with when we arrived. Bustling, dusty, smoggy and colourful. A complete cultural smack to the face the second we got off the plane. A fun game of bag Tetris in a tiny taxi at the airport was then followed by speeding, dodging and weaving through the bustling streets of Kathmandu. Imagine instant dust to the back of your throat, dust in your eyes, cars, motorbikes and people everywhere. Tangles of power cables, rubble covered streets, toppled buildings, tiny ramshackle shops, cooking in the streets, and in the middle of it all; random cows dotted throughout the chaos. Just chillin’ on the road. As with Indian culture, they are sacred in Nepal. So sacred in fact, it’s considered rude to shoo them. So they literally just go where they please and the world just whizzes around them.
We were stationed in Thamel during our time in Kathmandu, which is known as the most popular tourist area. As a result, the whole suburb is a car-free zone and very clean in comparison to the rest of the city. Lots of shops and lots of good food. Hit up BK’s for the best fries and momo’s (Nepali dumplings). I was amazed at how safe I felt in Kathmandu. You trust the people and I never felt uncomfortable once. In a country where they really believe in karma, crime is unsurprisingly quite low!
During our stay here we were super lucky to be part of the Holi Festival. The streets get filled with people throwing brightly coloured powder and water bombs on you every 2 steps. If you don’t want to get colour on you, you just don’t leave the house. The Nepali believe it to be good luck to put powder on fair skin, so fair to say (lel) we got nailed. Definitely a highlight of my life so far.
The wedding was made up of several days, with the main wedding day being the biggest of them all. My beautiful friend Ayesha (the bride) is a twin and her and her sister were married off on the same day. As a result, there were hundreds of people in attendance. The ceremony itself went on for hours, so you just kind of eat and drink all day while the bride and groom do their thing. Then suddenly they are married and they leave in a horse & carriage. It was a whirlwind of colour and a multitude of traditions that had to be done in an exact order and way. So that was really fun watching my kiwi mate Jack stumble through a few of those while a Nepali priest yelled at him in an ancient language he didn’t understand.
Highlights of the wedding included: my mum teaching our Kiwi group how to do the ‘bus stop’ (an old-school line dance from the 70’s) then proceed to perform said dance to “Slice Of Heaven” to a crowd of bewildered Nepali.
“Where do I go from here? I think I may have peaked. Does it get any better than doing The Bus Stop to Slice of Heaven in Kathmandu at a traditional Nepal wedding? I think not!” – My mum.
We also had to also play a sort of crazy rugby game with Jacks wedding shoes. Tradition calls for the grooms’ shoes to be stolen by the brides family and stolen back by the grooms family. A hilarious game of this shoe rugby erupted in the middle of the wedding. Needless to say, the kiwi boys nailed this part of the celebrations!
The next series of images are from an ancient city called Bhaktapur. The delicate brickwork of this historic city suffered mercilessly to the earthquakes in April 2015. Effects of this damage are still very apparent, but a lot of rebuilding and repair has gone on in the past 3 years. This was my favourite place to photograph the people. They are so kind and open. I was really fascinated with their day to day lives and loved capturing it all.
DISCLAIMER: There are graphic images below of a goat being BBQ’d with a blowtorch in a town square. This may be disturbing for some.
Then back to Kathmandu for the wedding reception! We had handmade saris to wear which we had to get help putting on because they are so complicated. Then to top off Kathmandu, we visited a couple more stupas including The Monkey Temple – the most ancient religious site in Nepal. True to its name, there were monkies everywhere!
A welcome dose of nature after a full on 9 days in Kathmandu. We stayed at the beautiful Kasara Resort. It was stunning and included heaps of activities. One of which being an elephant-back safari. Going into this, I knew I was going to be torn whether or not to partake. Elephant tourism obviously involves some strong opinions thanks to countries like Thailand and Bali. It’s not something that I want to get into too deeply but would like to quickly explain why I decided not to ride one here.
Chitwan is one of the only National Parks in the world where elephant, rhino and tiger populations are increasing. While elephant tourism plays a very different role in Nepal, I couldn’t imagine any situation where I would feel good getting on or off one. It is true that elephant tourism actually has a positive effect on the conservation of many animals in Nepal, but I think the main point I learnt is not to confuse government-owned elephants with privately-owned resort elephants.
The government use the elephants to patrol the park for poachers and recording important data, and a small amount of tourism. The park rangers ride them through the park to blend in and be safe from predators. No rhinos have been poached in Chitwan National Park in over 3 years. These elephants are kept mostly unchained in large open fields and make a real positive difference to the increasing populations of endangered animals. I believe there are options to go on government-owned elephants safaris where the profit goes directly back into the park.
Privately owned elephants: These are mainly for tourism purposes. There are resorts that are truly dedicated to giving these elephants the most natural possible life in captivity they can, so just do your research. While I am aware that although the particular elephants I interacted with were rescued from India and were treated with love and care by their Mahouts, I wasn’t satisfied enough to justify climbing onto one. The resort keeps most of the profits from these privately owned elephants. The only amount that went to the park is a small entrance fee. So in my eyes, it was pretty heavily weighted toward financial gain. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but this is based on my discussions with the resort manager and a lot of my own research, including this article on Responsible Travel. I also went to see where the elephants lived when they weren’t interacting with guests to make up my own mind.
It’s a bit of a grey area really. It helps but it doesn’t. The elephants are cared for and have a better life than they did before and better than they would elsewhere – noting here you can’t just introduce an elephant into the wild when it was raised in captivity. It isn’t like most of the abuse you see in Bali or Thailand, but privately owned elephants are still chained up on small concrete pads for long periods when they aren’t being used (otherwise they will literally go on a rampage and mow down the whole village). Moral of it all is to just make your own informed and ethical decision. Not one just for a photo to share with your friends on social media. There are other ways your money can help in the protection of the park and its animals. At the end of the day, it’s every traveller’s right to avoid activities that they disagree with, but Chitwan should also be given the credit they deserve for helping with the conservation of several beautiful endangered animals.
(Nowwww I’m scared because I know what it’s like to share opinions on the internet these days. I’m keen to hear your views if you have any, but take it easy!)
That aside, I completely loved the village, the river cruise, the jeep safari and the bush walk. Except for the part where the guide said if we see a tiger we were pretty much doomed. Keep an eye out for the snap of a tiger print in the dirt and a monkey print going in the opposite direction.
Last stop of the trip. This lakeside town was accurately described as ‘the Queenstown of Nepal”. We were only lucky to see the Himalayas for a very brief 15 minutes and it legitimately scared me because of their sheer size! Pokhara was the most incredible place to shop for sterling silver jewellery, precious stones and cashmere. I highly recommend buying your cashmere products from Helping Hand – an organisation that hires deaf and blind staff.
And with that, I surgically removed my camera from my hand and couldn’t bring myself to pick it up again for the rest of the trip. Instead, I replaced photo-taking with massages, shopping and eating.