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Photographing Cultural Tourism in Nepal
(by Peter Wallack)

Well 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 politics, 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 photography trips… 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 buy 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 Royals.

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 Guide.

You can see more of Peter's work at the following sites:
Click to see Peter's Website
Click to see Peter's Profotos Portfolio

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