Tag: Travel

Faces of Nepal

Value the person. Value the image

People always make an impression on me.  I visit a lot of places but it’s always the people that define that place for me.  I’m too much of a people person to not be a portrait photographer at heart.  Don’t get me wrong, but put Mount Everest infront of me and I’m going to be stoked out of my mind to shoot it.  The problem is that I can’t really have a conversation with a chunk of rock, a beautiful view, or an impressive piece of architecture.

Two months ago I was in Nepal finishing up the last three days of our Tibet, Lhasa, Everest Overland Workshop.  The people of Nepal are absolutely beautiful.  One of the most rewarding parts of the tour for me was hearing people tell stories about their images – when someone shows you the picture and then starts in on the conversation they had with the person and how the image was formed through a process of human interaction.

For the most part I vividly remember the stories and conversations behind my portraits.  I love having those conversations because they turn me from a photographer into simply a human being – someone who cares enough to talk to them.  Not to mention that interaction ends up showing favorably in my images.  The images that I know the subjects name, where their from, what we talked about, etc are always my favorite – the ones where I don’t have that interaction mean very little to me.  It’s missing the human component – it’s missing some part of the story.  I get the sense I’m missing out on knowing a part of that persons story and that fact has the capacity to make the image feel hollow for me personally.

This isn’t a rule I always stick to;  some “moral high ground” I’m trying to take and it’s not even possible all the time.  I’m not making a judgement on those who never interact with the subject.  I’m simply saying that the images of people I have interacted with are my most memorable – and why not take a second to value the person just as much as the image, if not more?

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I have to apologize.  I haven’t been around for a few weeks.  The Chinese version of the flu and my firmly American immune system got into a cage match.  The Chinese flu won in what will go down as one of my immune systems weakest performances.  After 17 solid days of being sick and a few interesting visits to a Chinese hospital I’m happy to say I’m mostly alive… and not so happy to say I have piles of emails just waiting for me.

Nonetheless, today we get a glimpse of days six through eight on our last Lhasa, Nepal, Everest Overland tour.

For a quick look at the previous days, check these out:

Days 4 & 5 – On the Friendship Highway
Day 3 – Monk Debates at Sera Monastery
Days 2 – Postcard from the endless alleyways of Lhasa
Days 1 – The art of observation

Days six through eight saw us cover a significant portion of the Friendship Highway and land right outside of Everest – we even got our first glimpses of the giant from some of the highest passes on earth.  We were able to visit the largest stupa in Tibet residing in Gyantse and then travel on to Tashi Lumpo monastery while passing over the Pang La at just over 16,000 ft to get a sweeping view of Makalu, Lhotse, Everest, Gyachung Kang and Cho Oyu – 5 of the worlds highest mountains in one view.  Day eight ended with us staying in a guest house just a few kilometers outside of EBC, now firmly in the Himalaya, watching the sun set over a barely visible Everest – setting the stage for our next days travel to Everest Base Camp.

2011 – Lhasa, Nepal, Everest Tour: Days 7 & 8 – Images by Brian Hirschy


Day 1 on the friendship highway...

“Going to the Mountains Is Going Home” – John Muir

No – I’m not cutting corners.  Not much happened for me on day 4.  Infact, I took less than 100 pictures that day.  Why?  Well, part of leading a tour in central Tibet is the dirty work – the business side. Keeping our workmates happy and going over all sorts of business “stuff”.  The typical trying to keep lot’s of balls in the air while shooting and teaching.  I spent six hours of this day in an office.That was day four.  Fun times. Moving on…

Day 5, however, was a blast.  On day five we headed out of Lhasa to wind our way down to the Nepal board with a 2 day stop over at Mount Everest.  I love leaving Lhasa – not because I dislike Lhasa, but because the excitement of starting any journey into the Himalaya is palatable.  Having done this trip several times, I’m never disappointed.  I love being on the road – the open road and the sense that you are seeing something hidden and mysteries is unmatchable.

Just a few hours out of Lhasa we get our first views of majesty.  Just over the KamBa La pass (~14,700ft) sits Yamdrok Lake – a holy lake – shadowed by Nojin Kangtsang Mountain, elevation 23,593 feet.  For most of the participants, if not all, that was the largest mountain they’d ever seen. Finally we arrive as the sun is setting in Gyantse to see the dzong (Tibetan castle) with the sun setting over it. A great day to say the least.

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Monk debates at Sera Monastery, Lhasa

Who doesn’t like a good debate?

Lhasa’s Sera Monastery is known for it’s debates.  Before I even attempt to describe it to you, try to mentally block out all the “debates” you’ve been to and fallen asleep at in the past, because these debates deviate wildly from what you would imagine a good ol’ fashioned run-of-the-mill debate to look like.  Lot’s of slapping.  Lots of prayer beads flying around.  Lot’s of laughs.

So what’s it like?  For the most part the format consists of one monk addressing a group of peers with some sort of weighty and thought-provoking life question.  What is truth? What is existence?  Does Diet Dr. Pepper really taste like the original? The standing monk will, in closing, try to drive home his points with a loud clap of the hands as if to say “Yeah, that’s right!”  The younger, less experienced monks can be seen awkwardly trying to figure out what pressing issue they could possibly bring to the table while the much older monks – much less flamboyant – simply sit there, just like old men everywhere do, and calmly discuss things.

I have little clue as to what they are saying – don’t really need to.  All the slapping, emotion, raised voices – the performance value is simply great and more than makes up for the lost verbal communication.  However, I did find myself, in my mind, filling in the missed conversations with completely ridiculous yet oddly entertaining discussions.  “Is the first Godfather really the best of the series?”  “Nikon vs. Canon?” “Can HDR really be considered photography?” I’m sure the HDR debate has found it’s way to the Tibetan plateau and these monks are discussing it’s finer points, don’t you think?

If debate club was like this in high school I might have had more motivation to participate.

2011 – Lhasa, Nepal, Everest Tour. Day #3 – Images by Brian Hirschy


Postcard from the endless alleyways of Lhasa

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

I have absolutely no apologies for using one of Tolkien’s most overused and bastardized lines.  This quote couldn’t describe more accurately how I feel when I stepped foot into the alleyways of Lhasa.  The advice I often give to people visiting for the first time: “Get lost and love every minute of it!”.  Pilgrims from every corner of the Tibetan plateau, old men sitting around drinking butter tea and playing cards, street vendors selling old trinkets, temples scattered everywhere,  monks and nuns all combine to make the Lhasa alleyways home to some of the most unique and fascinating culture anywhere in Tibet.

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