A few weeks ago, during my Fluent City workshop on Starting a Travel Blog, I was lucky to connect with talented photojournalist, Darren Ornitz. After the earthquake in Nepal, Darren decided to do something to help the country he had fallen in love with on his travels. He is currently donating 50% of the sale of some of his prints to the Chokgyur Lingpa Foundation, a local foundation in Nepal, for earthquake relief. Since Nepal has always been a country I’ve longed to visit, I offered him a chance to tell his story here.
As an international photojournalist, I’ve had the chance to learn about and document many people and places throughout the world. Whether it’s been photographing the streets of Sana’a, Yemen, or parades and protests of all sorts in my own hometown of New York, or gangs in Panama, my camera has served as a bridge to understand, learn from, and connect with people in situations that I, otherwise, would not have had the opportunity to do so.
While I welcome any opportunity to explore new places near or far, I often find myself seeking adventure off the beaten path to remote places where I have the chance to be thrown into a culture and way of life seemingly in contrast to my own. It is during these experiences with people that I become most in admiration of our common humanity and fundamental sameness, as well as the beautiful diversity of ways in which that manifests externally in the ways we live.
I had the opportunity to travel to one of the most remote places on earth when I ventured to Mustang, Nepal, known to many as the “Lost Kingdom of Tibet.” Situated amongst the Himalayas and bordering Tibet to the North, Mustang is one of the last places in the world where traditional Tibetan culture remains relatively isolated from the outside world. Due to China’s ever increasing presence in the region, especially their building of a road connecting Lower Mustang to the walled city of Lo Manthang, the region is quickly changing.
The region was closed to outsiders until the 1990’s, and today only a handful of people are given permits to travel there. But for those seeking an adventure and a rare culturally immersive experience, you can pay a hefty permit fee of $500 per person (for 10 days – $50 per day after) and hire a guide to take you on a trek through some of the world’s most ancient villages.
I am writing this post in hopes of bringing attention to Nepal, the country that has left me with the greatest sense of awe and enchantment and that is closest to my heart. I’d like to share a little bit of the beauty that can be found there to inspire people to one day go and see all that Nepal has to offer for themselves. I also will be selling prints to anyone interested in hopes of doing what little I can in helping them rebuild from the devastation of the recent earthquake. Thank you for taking the time to look and to anyone who would like to support this cause.
Boudhanath Stupa is a must-see for anyone visiting Nepal. It’s been an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists for centuries and home to a large influx of refugees fleeing Tibet. With the sounds of ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ mantras ringing out from shops, the smells of incense, and the blur of colors and people walking around the stupa, Boudhanath is a peaceful and calming place.
With over fifty monasteries in Boudhanath, the air is constantly filled with sounds of horns, bells, and prayers. Here is a photograph taken of monks carrying a Guru Rinpoche statue during a ceremony.
Young monks line up next to Boudhanath Stupa with offering bowls for donations.
All treks to Mustang start off in the city of Pokhra, which is a twenty-five minute flight from Kathmandu, or a 5 to 7 hour journey by bus or car. Once in Pokhra, I met the guide and fellow trekkers and then took a twenty-minute flight to the Lower Mustang town of Jomsom, which serves as an entry point for those entering Mustang.
A few hour wind delay had us waiting in Pokhra before we were rushed onto the runway and into the plane to take off before high winds returned. Emerging from the clouds shortly after takeoff to blue sky and the tallest mountains in the world is humbling to say the least.
Throughout the trek, we passed a lot of locals riding ponies, the preferred method of transportation in the region. It made me think about all of the people who have ridden through these mountains for thousands of years.
One of the memorable parts of the trek was visiting Guru Rinpoche cave. In the Buddhist tradition, Guru Rinpoche, the “Lotus Born,” was said to have spent three years in private retreat here on his journey from India to introduce Buddhism into Tibet, Bhutan, and other neighboring countries in the 8th century AD.
The caretaker, seen in this photograph, could not communicate with me at all, but he had an overwhelming presence of kindness and calm. I wondered how long it had been since he had seen anyone.
This one is one of my favorite photographs from my time in Nepal, the rich blue mala beads contrasting with his worn and chalky hands.
In this photo, a Stupa can be see along a road deep into Mustang, the Himalayan mountains looming the background. The magnitude of the never-ending mountain landscape certainly put things into perspective and gave me an overwhelming sense of adventure.
I came across this herder just outside the village of Ghiling. He was most likely heading into the mountains for days, or perhaps weeks, to let his goats graze.
Kunga Sangpo, the monk at Choling Monastery was kind enough to let me into his monastery. A lot of the kids in Mustang, many of whom are trained as monks, are choosing to leave the mountains for a more modern life in Kathmandu. The majority of people in Mustang leave during the harsh winter months.
Mustang does not get the Indian monsoon rains that most of Nepal gets, so the people have designed a web of irrigation canals which catch water from the melting mountain snow and bring water to the arid landscape. This man has just picked Yam Bhadur, a commonly grown vegetable in Mustang, and was preparing it for sale. Two pounds sells for about 50 cents.
In all my travels, one consistency that I always enjoy are kids and their willingness to engage me and especially my camera. These twins were especially curious and kept on asking me to take more and more photos of them. Their red wind burned cheeks were a sign of the conditions they endure living amongst the Himalayas.
After hiking nearly 20k through steep inclines and declines, the village of Syangboche was a very welcomed site. I’ve experienced high altitude hiking before when I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, but in Mustang with the altitude reaching 15,000 feet, it was definitely a new and challenging experience.
A mother and her daughter pose inside of their home, which is also an inn and restaurant, in the village of Syangboche. The food along the trek was one of the highlights and included dishes such as fried rice, noodles, pancakes, eggs, and, of course, the more popular local dish “Dhal Bhat Tarkari,” which consists of rice, curried vegetables, and lentil soup.
I spent a lot of time walking around the streets of the walled city of Lo Manthang, which is only 50km from the border of Tibet. Lo Manthang was founded in 1380 and was the capital of the former Kingdom of Lo. It was very clear to see how devoted the people are to their Buddhist practice. Photographing was hard in Lo Manthang, as the people, for the most part, did not really want their pictures taken.
On my last day in Lo Manthang, I came across a group of women walking out from a monastery. A lot of them can be seen holding their malas, which they use to recite mantras.
After all the trekking by foot, I was excited to do some exploring by pony. I took the pony North from Lo Manthang and in this photograph you can see a local pointing to the border of Tibet.
If you’re interested in purchasing some of the photos above, as well as others, be sure to check out Darren’s earthquake relief gallery. You can also follow his work and travels on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.