In 2010 I traveled over 7,000 miles from New York City to Kathmandu, Nepal. It took nearly three days of travel, with a layover in Hong Kong. Upon arriving, an overwhelming feeling came over me that I had returned home. Despite planning on being there for only three months, I stayed for seven, and have returned five times since then.
When I first arrived in Kathmandu, I stayed in a simple mud home with a Nepali family. Despite them speaking no English and me, at the time, no Nepali, we quickly developed a sweet bond that has lasted for years. The environment and way of life that I found there was unlike anything I had ever experienced, but that was what I loved about it. It challenged all my preconceptions, all of my ideas of how things should be, and it brought me into a space of openness, excitement, and ceaseless exploration. When I felt like sitting in a café and sipping on a delicious espresso, I went to Café Soma in Patan. When I felt like a wood fired pizza and salad, I went to one of the many Road House Café’s scattered throughout Kathmandu. And, one of the best traditional Nepali restaurants I found was Pokhara Thakali Kitchen in Pokhara.
I traveled all around the country of Nepal, to the ancient temples and pottery squares of Bhaktapur, to the remote high Himalayan regions on Mt. Kanchenjunga and Mt. Manaslu. I watched the sun rise over the Annapurna range from a villager’s rooftop in Sarangkot, I spent ten days meditating in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Kathmandu valley, and I watched elephants roam the dirt roads of Chitwan National Park. The colors, scents and scenes of life in Nepal were captivating and inspired my art in many ways. With my camera and my journal constantly by my side, I fell in love with photographing and experiencing such a rich cultural tapestry and landscape.
One of the most amazing experiences I had while photographing in Nepal took place in a remote village in the Kanchenjunga Himalaya region. It took nearly two weeks of walking to arrive at a certain village, and when I did, I learned that many of the villagers had ever seen a camera before. There was one elderly man that was particularly fascinated with this small little machine I was carrying with me. He had not only ever seen a camera before, but he had rarely even seen his own reflection, perhaps only on the surface of the river that flowed beside his village. Not quite knowing what to do in front of the camera, he simply bowed his head and pressed his hands together in the common Nepali greeting of “Namaste.” It was then that I took the first photograph of this man that had ever been taken. When I showed him the result of the picture on my small screen, he burst into laughter and began dancing. This went on for a long time – me taking a photo of him, showing him the result, and him dancing and clapping his hands in amusement. When it was time to depart from the village and continue our day’s journey, I asked the man how old he was … He replied, “I am 123 years old.”
Places to see:
Take the short plane ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara, where you’ll spend quiet and peaceful days beside beautiful Phewa Tal lake. You can hire boats to go out onto the lake in the morning, then visit the many beautiful temples in the afternoon, and finally dine at one of the many Western-friendly restaurants. A great boutique hotel there where I highly recommend staying is Temple Tree Resort.
The ancient Hindu temple, Pashupatinath. This is one of the most important Hindu temples in the world, the oldest in Kathmandu, and it is said to be the place where Lord Shiva and Ma Parvati dwelt. The temple grounds are huge and beautiful; and you can sit along the banks of the Bagmati River beside holy men and women.
Swayambunath (or the monkey temple). It is so beautiful and once you climb the 365 stairs to the stupa there are beautiful views overlooking the Kathmandu valley. I suggest going early morning or evening to catch the sunset.
Boudhanath Stupa is also one of my favorite places to hang out, grab lunch and watch the world go by. It is "Little Tibet," and you can watch as hundreds of Tibetans circumambulate the stupa and recite mantras on their prayer beads countless times. There are many monasteries surrounding the Stupa that you can walk into and if you're feeling hungry just ask someone for directions to the restaurants Toast (go there for a traditional Nepali 'dal bhaat' - its delicious) or Road House Cafe (this is a more western menu, the hummus and pita and pizzas are delicious!)
I highly recommend hiring a taxi or car and going to visit the ancient city of Bhaktapur, which is just about an hour outside of Kathmandu. You can spend the whole day wandering the ancient alleyways there, take a tour of the old square, check out Pottery square, etc. It is stunning and you feel like you've stepped back in time by thousands of years.
Emory Hall’s journey as a travel photographer and visual journalist began over six years ago when she first traveled to Nepal. It was there her life’s passion was ignited, which would ultimately lead her and her camera around the world to countries such as India, Turkey, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia and Indonesia. Emory Hall’s work has been featured in galleries in Los Angeles, CA and New York City, as well as published in a variety of online and in-print magazines both in the U.S. and internationally.