Photographing Cultural Tourism in Nepal
(by Peter Wallack)
you want to make a living as a photographer. You have all the
skills and now you ask yourself: "Self. How am I going to
make a living at photography and enjoy making a living at photography?
Oh, by the way self what jobs photographing are there going to
be more of in the future so I can get gainful employment?"
I am glad you asked these questions. Now I have a reasonable
premise for writing this article.
The sector of our economy that has been predicted to increase
the most is Tourism. It seems most of us have as about as much
as we can consume in terms of material wealth and it just isn't
satisfying those needs for relief from stressful jobs, office
competition. Almost everyone everywhere can be found complaining
as they sit in the lap of luxury, overeat, get bored after tens
of thousands of hours of television or even reading good material,
and just plain want to escape from it all for a while.
For the commercial photographers the self-contained fantasy adult
camps will need to create images. Then there are those far away
places that will come within the reach of many. There is the just
plain tourism that will take people to see sites, cities, museums,
restaurants, and all that repeat luxury just somewhere else. There
are many photographs and photographers working these places already.
There is adventure tourism with ever increasing numbers involved
in serious trekking, biking, climbing, canyoning, ballooning,
bird watching, and
Can you name the one business that can
make its own images for its own advertising? These companies may
provide you assignments. Look these companies up in a magazine
like Outdoor Photography and contact them.
The images in this article were taken when I joined a group of
British people on a tour of Mt. Annapurna, Nepal. There were all
levels of difficulty in different treks on Annapurna. I choose
to climb hardily up to the mid levels of the mountain in a route
that would put me in contact with many of the Gurung Peoples of
Nepal. The trip itself was climbing oriented but many campsites
below 10,000 feet placed us near villages who often, to raise
money for their schools, sent a troop of people to dance and sing
for us at night. This wasn't enough for me for I wanted to find
out about their culture.
The English group guide arranged for one of the sherpas to help
me visit, interview, photograph, and make friends with people
in villages on a few days when the group was simply climbing up
6,000 to 8,000 feet to a high ridge and descending to the same
point. The sherpa is a climber guide as opposed to the Sherpa
who are another of the 27 different language groups and cultures
in a country of about 27 million people.
Today, the personal tour my sherpa and I took to a village like
Siklis on Mt. Annapurna is becoming an increasing part of the
tourism business. Read up on where these cultural tourism businesses
are going, prepare yourself with knowledge about what you can
make visuals of for these companies, and make a pitch and you
just my become
a specialist photographer in the growing field of cultural tourism.
I learned that the Gurung people make charming hosts. They are
poor in Siklis, have no electricity, motor vehicles, or much variety
of foods or entertainment to consume; but these people are not
miserable. They are cooperative, gentle, very strong people who
seem to have peace of mind.
They only live to an average of 50 years but that was the statistics
for the U.S.A. in 1900. Their biggest problem is staying warm
at 7,000 feet during the cool nights of the high 40 degree Fahrenheit.
In this way life is worse than 100 years ago. Just a bit over
200 years ago, most of Nepal was a trading route between China
and India with mostly Buddhist in the highlands and Hindus from
India in the southern lowlands. There was plenty of timber then
but over time after the fields were cleared to raise
rice in the rainy areas and other grains where it rains less,
the fields were emptied of trees and stones. The stones were used
to build houses and the walkways, which are the only form of transportation
in most of Nepal and make trekking/climbing in Nepal fairly safe
compared to hiking in Olympic Park or Hawaii on wet clay. Asia's
population started to explode. Then village people started going
up above their villages to get wood for heating. When avalanches
resulted in the last 70 years, conservation and replanting became
an issue and then a set of laws and programs. The Gurung stopped
putting chimney's in their houses because too much heat was lost
and fuel is precious; this led to the Gurung suffering from chronic
respiratory and eye inflammation
In Siklis, I had a delightful welcome from the Gurung mayor and
the headmaster of the school. They showed me their shack of a
school with its picnic table desks, chalkboards
instead of writing paper, and limited books written in Gurung.
Most of their books are in English, which is the only common language
amongst the few educated people of Nepal's 27 different peoples.
There is an English town with a Rotary Club that gives them aid,
but they need more. I spent much of my day we these people and
then was invited to eat at the home of Gehendra Gurung who is
well educated and works for the Lumle Agriculture Center. Grain,
milk from cows, and potatoes are supplemented with things purchased
from outside the village and carried in bundles with knots across
the far heads by stooped over Gurung who can carry almost their
own body wait up and down ten thousand plus feet on their 20 mile
trek from the lowland town of Pokhara to home. The money to buy
outside goods is earned by hiring themselves out as porters and
sherpas for trekking companies and by the famous brave Gorkhas
who fight as Special Forces for the British Army
still till this day. You can hear in this article's descriptions,
cultural ways that need to have photographs taken to create better
portraits of the Gurung life in Nepal. Since I was busy making
friends and learning much, I only have these photographs of their
lives. Your assignment, if you choose to take it, is to photograph
all the aspects of their lives described in this article.
If you get a company assignment to photograph for their brochure
you will go to Katmandu, the city and valley of entrance into
Nepal. You can buy all that you need for trekking except your
boots. Used tents, backpacks, woolen gloves, down jackets, and
four season sleeping bags originally over $400 can all be rented
for $40 for a month since people circling the globe left their
gear behind for almost nothing before traveling to warmer climates.
You will fall in love with Katmandu. I met globe trotters who
slowed down to a slow walk and were still in Katmandu 6 months
after arriving. Durbar Square has my favorite
commercial Baba; he is a holy man who charges 40 cents for his
portrait. There are many small temples with Hindus praying. Do
not leave your Nikes and leather belt unattended when you enter
these places. Simply put those animal objects not allowed into
a Hindu temple in your canvas backpack before you get there if
you aim to photograph there. Know the rules of the culture but
know your own strategies for keeping your gear. You can actually
wonderful small rugs made by refugee Tibetans, sculptures of dancing
Hindu Gods, and Buddhists meditation tanka paintings that role
up in silk all in Katmandu.
There are incredible temple complexes: Swayambinath, Bodinath,
and others where there is a form of Hinduism that tolerates Buddhist
practices mixed in as historical blending took place here. Pashpatinath
is the Varanasi of Nepal; it is where the cremated dead get a
pass to a better life on reincarnation. There are devout holy
men there plus pilgrims waiting to die in adjoining buildings
that have people who care for them.
Katmandu has modern conveniences and it is the home of Nepal's
About the Author: Peter started
taking photographs for academic slide shows in the early 70s and
ended up in Soho Photo Gallery by the late 70s. Cooperative Galleries
and Art Shows were his forums for landscapes with man, landscapes,
and world cultures images. By the 90s so much of his work was
world cultures in developing lands that he called his business
"Ends of The Earth Photography". In 1999, after contracting
to buy his retirement house in Sanibel Island, Florida, a paradise
for bird photographers, he transformed himself into a bird photography
with a little help from other professional bird photographers.
Peter will have his writings and images in
Nature Photographer, Winter 2002, and regularly in Sanibel's Nature
You can see more of Peter's work at the following sites:
to see Peter's Website
Click to see Peter's Profotos Portfolio