October 29, 2010

Along the road to Pokhara

The bus continue to ride forward on a very muched out of date and needed repair highway, it is a highway in Nepal, definately will be called something else in other more developed countries, but, this is only major road to get there. Air is an option but we did not plan the trip with air, besides, even the drive is so slow, we were able to see more and photograph more.
Here is a portrait of a banana vendor, we stopped at the roadside to buy some Nepali banana (highly re-comm-ended - small - but quite tasty). Also with Panasonic GF-1.  Here the careful reader will fins out the focus of the picture is in fact on the bananas, not on the vendor, true, but it does not matter.  The relatively small sensor on GF-1 allow a little extra depth of field so the picture to me, is still useful.  This is a quick snap shot and the small LCD on the back of camera may not be able to tell me right away the exact focus, but I use GF-1 as a fast action camera, and I use a multi-zone focus setting most of the time so I do miss sometimes, but I rather to miss the focus than miss the picture!
The lunch break is nice, food itself is so so. Our tour guide assume this is a Chinese photo-grapher tour group so he centered the selection of food on Chinese, that to me is a mistake. Local food is also preferred, and Chinese food outside China and its populated area is rarely good enough. But we did not travel for food, so this is not un-acceptable.  The area to lunch is a river side, not particular beautiful but it is nature so it is nice. Done with lunch, while waiting for the bus to get us, I saw three Nepali girls on a wooden bench, and took this shot with GF-1 + 20/1.7, because of strong back-lit, I use the pop-up flash on the GF-1, control it manually, and the camera did OK.
After lunch, much of the road is build along a valley, a small river running wild below us.  Suddenly, someone saw the rafting on the river so we all decided to stop to take some pictures.  I picked up my Canon 1Ds III with the EF 70-200/2.8L IS + 1.4 Extender, made this opnly image of the guy rafting on the angry river.
After riding on the road for awhile, we took a break again at a small gas station to refill gas, as well as for us to go toilets. Given the status of Nepali development, this is the area that they are not behind China.  Clean, and reasonable privacy. I saw some kids sit in front of their room, with a nice formation, and snap this image.
Further from this point is the Pokhara, finally, we will be there.  The ride however, took longer than expected so the original plan of arriving Pokhara early and have a chance to shoot the majestic Machapuchare by the Phewa Lake is scrapped, we wil head directly to hotel, and dinner, and an early morning wake up call.
We stay at the Fulbari Resort and Spa, arguable the most luxury hotel in Pokhala and among the best in Nepal, is indeed a nice one, tonight I will have the comfort, and may be run a entire check-up of my gear and manage all the images took and ready for a little climb tomorrow.

Life along the journey to Pokhara

Nepal is considered a less developed country, it was judged as a comparison mostly set by wester standard such as wealth, income, consumption of milk and meat and etc, education, life expectancy, public watrer and road system and so on - all quantitive terms - in order to make out something more abstract such as happiness, quality and spiritual and so on.
I am coming from somewhere in between, educated in Taiwan and live in Thailand, travel to US or Europe for business or tourism often but also reached area of much less developed, and I thought I have a slightly more understanidng of all this.  But I am not quite sure.
If I adapt how the western point of view to judge what I saw in this 6-7 hours trip from Nagarkot to Pokhara, I might conclude that not only that Nepal is less developed, it is also less diversified.  Thet ear all the same of limited variety of good, they live with less material so in a way all Nepali house (or sometimes less than a house) all look quite similar. But if I were to use a different perspective, then perhaps I need to stay longdr in order to make out of it.  So I use the camera to record the images, so anyone sees the image can determine what he or she thinks.
Here, a Nepali woman at work, put loads on her back.  I don't know what it is inside the bag, but I can tell it is heavy. And where is the man?  Or they man needs to work on something a lot heavier?
And this appeared to be a small happy family, and judged from their house, this is much above the average.  Or do I agaion just apply the western value to them?
And as kids all over the world, do they know the difference?  Or we teach them to tell the difference the way we think it is?
As if our tour guide afraid of us feeling the journey is uneventful, we eventually had to stop in a small town for tire repair. Since we have to stop, I then carry my GF-1 and wandered around for some more shots. Just next to the tire shop where our driver got the tire repaired, a small restaurant became my target, and I found some kids playing poker there - and book-keeping their marks - suggesting they are gambling?
Also a short video clip here for the little restaurant and kids playing cards.

Continue to wander around - tip: move your legs in travel! So you find something else.  At least this is what I do. With a small camera such as GF-1 + 20/1.7, I can be ultra portable, and will be ready when I stumble on a target. And so I found my little model here, in fact just next door of the restaurant, a well dressed and even nail colored little Nepali girl, gave me a welcome and somewhat shy smile! A rich kid, I supposed.  And another tip:  you can always ask your subject (kindly) to help you with the picture.  Yes, there are situations that you need more spontaneous shot, then you fire away with instinct.  Here, at least it was what I do - ask the little girl to give me a picture, rather than just take a picture.
And just as you treat your subject kind, and of course wiht the help of some candy, she will run and get you another one.  This little girl friend of hers, although less dressed up, equally pretty!  This is what I learned over the years - if you are successful with one, then they bring a lot more for you.  Besides, treating people nice is always the right thing to do, particular in photography, you get instant rewards. What's more is, when you have more than one model, the picture will have a lot more fun!
Picture below is still with the 2 little girls, but then they started to playt with you, so I follow them to play hide and seek!
This is a little shop-keeping girl, perhaps she is looking after the shop for her mom, typical in the developing countries. I was attracted to her not that she is stickingly pretty, but her face is weathered, and much matured beyond her age.
Finally the tire fixed, and we are moving again!

Nagarkot to Pokhara

Pokhara, a very charming town in Nepal, it is a must visit place when one travels to Nepal.   Just about 200km west of Kathmand, or 230km from Nakargot, the journey to there will take the rest of the day, a 6-7 hours bus ride. Talking about travel in Nepal!  So, again, I turned on my iPod, put on ear-phone, prepare for the long ride ahead.
However boring the ride is, the beautiful landscape of Nepal and photogenic Nepali make it up.  Along the road to Pokhara is beautiful, but not breath-taking beautiful, perhaps I have been to a lot of place of dramtic landscapes, but it does make the journey a nice ride - not the road itself, it is decades behind modern standard.  But I am more attracted to by the nice Nepali people, so I took a lot less scenery, a lot more people, with just the Panasonic GF-1 and 20/1.7.
This area, of no particular significance, we stop here just to pee, but I use the GF-1 to snap a series of images for this panoramic picture.  I wish then I have the SONY NEX-5 so I could have made it a lot faster and a lot more.
Just while I was waiting for some fellow travelrs to finish their private business, I was not too far away some kids playing, so I ran over there, and shoot a small video clip of their playing.
Quite interesting, the kids of Nepal, or in general poorer country, never being less happier because they have less? Less material but a lot more nature! And nature freedom, and I often see they are more happier. Shouldn't we all?
Looking around, I also see this simple image, but nice color and interesting window pattern, also a made a quick snap.  The small and powerful GF-1 shows its ability here that regardless its smaller sensor, the image produced is certain of extremely high quality, and for most applications, more than enough.

Day 5 Nagarkot & Miss Nepal

I don't usually travel with an alarm clock since the modern cell-phone all ahve it built-in.  There will be a morning call anyway, especially when travel with a group. But I still like to get up a little earlier, to be sure.  I have lots of gear with me, so it is to be sure.  I set my iPhone to a morning call, and this is something to share about - I always set my iPhone alarm to the actual "alarm" sound - in stread of rings or songs, that does not work!  I heard someone has to use 5 alarm clocks to be sure to get up, I think perhaps there is a more simpler solution.  When I enrolled in this photography tour trip, I asked for a single, non-sharing room, cost a little more but better for me.  Not that I can't stay with strangers, I do often, but for this trip I decided to stay along so I can get better sleep.
When I was woke up from the alarm of my iPhone, I almost jump to the window to check the sky outside, still early, still a little dark, but then I kind of realize that perhaps I have no luck this morning.  Heavy clouds still there, but nonetheless I still set up the camera and lenses, waiting for the day to break.  Anf for the first time in this trip, I started to use the digital back.  I brought along with me a Phase One P65+ digital back mounted on a Hasselblad H2, with a caseful of lenses.  I have a nice room with a small balcany that if weather permits, I could have set up the camera and sipping coffee while taking pictures!
Slowly the first light came, and I am almost certain that I will need some other time to see Himalayan here, not today. Still, I took some pictures with the GF-1 mounted with the Olympus ED Macro 50/2.
This shot, captured with Phase One p65+ on Hasselbald H2,  with HC 50/3.5 lens, although scaled down to small file for this blog, still clearly shows that the image quality from a digital back is still visibly superior than that of a smaller camera.
I did not take much pictures, and I have packed up my bags the night earlier, so I carried my luggages to lobby to load onto the bus, then go for a breakfast, with just the Panasonic Gf-1 on hand.  I was thinking that perhaps this is it, nothing more.
The breakfast place is a nice set up, I have myself a decent meal, and a few cups of coffee.  For coffee, I am not addicited to it, but sometimes I drink cups in succession, and it was what I did this morning.
Finally, time to go.  After making sure that all my bags (gears) are loaded, I jump up to the bus ready to go!  Huangzhen, a Chinese photographer friend met few years ago in a Tibetan trip asked me if have seen a yound lady also in the breakfast area who was former Miss Nepal?   No. While saying that, I jump down the bus with a GF-1 on my hand, found the Miss Nepal, and ask for to pose for me for this image!  A nice lady, pretty, even a little shy.
Tip to the photographers: most beautiful lady like to have nice pictures, but they don't always have them, for many reasons, sometimes they are not comfortable or sometimes the moment is not right, or sometimes it was because the photographer did not make the picture.  My approach is always go straightforward to ask, all you can get is "no", but more often than not, and for myself - almost always a "yes", then you get a more decent image.  Can one snap an image without she is aware?  Of course, but not always nice.  So what I did?  I simply asked that I was told that she was former Miss Nepal?  And she nod with smile.  And I said "If you were Miss Nepal then you are always Miss Nepal!  So Miss Nepal, can I have a picture of yours?"  Then I asked her to stand by the staircase where the light comes in, with a vibrant yellow wall that is a harmony to her skin, and took this picture.

October 28, 2010

Bhaktapur Square to Nagarkot

We are on the bus again, heading to Nagarkot.   Some 2,195 meters above sea level, and just 32km east of Kathmandu, Nagarkot is one of the most popular place to enjoy the scenery of Himalaya range.  And as most places in Nepal, it takes time to get there, the bus runs slow here, even slower on country roads, and even much slower on mountain roads.  It was mid afternoon, a little tired from early wake up, the walks around the Bhaktapur Square, once I settled in my couch on the bus, turned on my iPod and put on my earphone, before I realize it, I was in sleep.
As with all the mountain area, weather is quite un-predictable and very seasonal, in my sleep I somehow felt the car was slowly ascending, stop every once awhile, and kept going.  With full expectation to arrive Nagarkot to really enjoy the Himalayan view, I was disappointed!  Not that Nagarkot is not beautiful, not that the hotel is terrible - in fact, the hotel is great, comfort and with a set up perfect for photography, except one also needs perfect weather to shoot, and today is not the day, and I also realized that I did not miss much the way up!  It was quite a hazy afternoon and you can only photograph clouds.

After settled down in my room and asked for the sunset time and prepare my cameras, I took another small nap!
I have in this trip carried more cameras and lenses than I needed, as always, so sometimes they did take toll on my physic strength so an afternoon nap is not that all bad, I just hate the idea that I took it here in Nagarkot!  However  thanks to the age of internet, I have no picture to share, but here is one that I could have taken given the good weather.  There is always a tomorrow!
It was around 5pm I woke up, took a Canon 5DII and EF 70-200/2.8L IS, i set out to a small hill top hoping somehow the clouds will break and there will be a slightest view to capture!
None, so I just snap a boring sunset picture with my 5DII and called the day off.  And this is a picture I called "desperate picture".  Desperate in a sense that I really don't need to or to have to shoot this picture, this is not even what I called "I was there" picture, just that I took a hike up to a small hill to hope to get something, so I pressed the shutter of the camera to get it work, even just one capture.
Evening was buffet, nothing to write home about but considered this is Nagarkot, I would say this evening is one of the better meals in this trip so far.  For a moment I was thinking about making some time exposure shots but then decided to have a night rest, perhaps working on some of the image data captured during the trip so far, and make some arrangements on the motion data as well.
Hopefully after a night sleep, I will wake up to see the sky cleared, and a full display of Himalayan range. I prepared the tripod, the camera, then good-night for the day.

October 26, 2010

Bhaktapur and the surroundings

Looking at the bright side of Nepal, it is not just animal sacrifices.  And this is how I learn to see Nepal: one needs to see Nepal as Nepali sees their own country, or more specifically, their own culture and life.  The concept of country appeared late in human history and sure not going to last longer than the human history.  What makes Nepal is not the country, certainly not their monarchy (which ended 28 May 2008 - with the establishment of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal).  It is the people, their culture that makes Nepal the Nepal.  Animal activist may see the animal sacrifice an evil act, to the local, it is part of their tradition and culture.  So I learn to see things the local sees.  And still, you can't deny the fact that Nepal is a peaceful country (because of peaceful people) and lots of charm.  By that, you see peace in Nepal.
Here is Bhaktapur, and as much as I hate to shoot postcard pictures as millions already have been taken, to make a mark of being there, I have one here, taken with the mighty Panasonic GF-1 and 20/1.7.  This is a typical "I was there!" picture, I don't suggest one to have to take not not have to take it.
But this one, is a little different.  Here I get a lot closer so although I cannot over the entire building but I do able to capture more detail of the texture, color, and art carving of the building, and more interestingly, one napping on the building that reminds people that the building is still alive.  There are many different kinds of photography, all can be good, and one has to decide his own style and develop from there.
And this one a simple portrait of a beautiful Nepali girl, her tanned skin blend into the ancient temple well, I came around her to get the angle that the direction of light defines the profile her lovely face.  As already covered many times in this blog, particular in Nepal - take your time with you subject!  Don't just fire away pictures.  This one is captured with Canon 5D II.
However interestingly, the last image of the Nepali girl was in fact taken with this temple - Yaksheswor Mahadev Temple - this two-storied pagoda is widely noted for its wooden struts full of erotic carvings, 24 totally.  The temple was named after its builder - the King Yasksha Malla (1428-82).
And as most developing countries, there are always people of has no.  The one here, picking up the small rice grains on the ground to slowly fill up her bag. I don't know how long will take to make a bagful but it strikes me to see how little is in fact needed to survive.  There are also poor people who gives the god, and those even poorer taking those from god, here the god is a transition, a transition of a peaceful channel for those who has a little more to those has a little less.  My suggestion to those travel for photography: center around a story than to center around the idea of taking more pictures.  I too take a lot of pictures, but I will always remind myself to look beyond the image in the viewfinder (or sometime just the rear screen of the camera), otherwise, a picture may not worth a thousand words.
The image here is an elderly woman in front of a hindu temple, her weathered face is almost became wax like, and under the sun, gives an interesting color and reflection.  I slowly walked to the direction so I can use the sun, as well as to use the stone carving as background for this image.
The tourist shirt is also a nice subject, and quite interestingly, it usually gives you some most significant motifs of a culture.
And a nice Nepali girl working on her Tangka painting.  I also shot a short video using Panasonic GF-1 with the shop owner explain his collection, and this is how video-able camera can do their magic for travel - don't leave home without one.

Here is the future of Nepal, and I have to say, this is one of my most impressive finding in Nepal, they are just good students!  Polite, eager to learn and just happy being in their school and care about what they are learning.  Already 3pm, this image was taken when we finally will leave Bhaktapur square, the school is off, and we are heading to Nagakot.

Animal sacrifice in Nepal

Walking around Bhaktapur, it was March 23, a Tuesday, but as a tourist traveling for photography, you lost the sense of the day of a week.  And particular in Nepal, the fact that it is not an industrial country makes such sense even more vague.
Then I saw lots of people gathering, so much that I thought it is a Sunday!  Some soldiers are preparing what looks like to be a ceremony, except I really have no idea.  Slowly the picture became clear, someone just join the army, and the people are celebrating the event with animal sacrifice.  For a moment, I tried to make sense out of the fact that this is a buddha nation, a hindu culture, but the fresh memory of just a few months earlier here in Nepal (to be exact, Bariyapu, south Nepal) witnessed the largest animal sacrifice festival - Gadhimai Festival.  A not exact festival to be held every 5 years with animal sacrifices for the Hindu goddess Gadhimai will end evil and bring prosperity.  It is reported that in 2 days, around 200,000 (read TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND) buffaloes, goats, chickens and pigeons killed, more on here.  Today will not have such scale, but it is still a crudity, consider it is a nation eat meat quite rarely.  But on another angle, what the public saw was animal been killed for sacrifice for goddess while in many other country, for example America, with so many meats consumed in one way or another, may be it is also not too difficult to imagine how many animal got killed for their meat, but not went on public.  So the evil is about been seen or not?  Here is a piece of article defending the animal sacrifice not the Nepali mainstream culture, which is also a good read.  There are different opinions and I have my opinion, but I'd better stop here and go on the travel and photography (and video) part.
This image shows the red column on the square, with the spectators on the background, is where the animal will be killed.  This will be the focal point when the sacrifice taking place.  The shape of the red column made similar to sex organ is a coincident or not, I have no idea.  My hunch is that it is intentional, but I could be wrong.  Many culture, Hindu is not an exception, has worship on male sex organ, and right here in Bhaktapur also located the Yaksheswor Mahadev Temple - widely noted for its wooden struts full of erotic carvings, 24 that is, to be covered later.
People of all ages are here, waiting for the ceremony, to witness the sacrifice, include the very young ones.
Some may argue over if sacrifice is part of main stream culture?  Here in Kathmandu, considered the most developed city in Nepal and assuming with the population that are best educated, people of all ages come to gather and witness what is to happen, it is hard to argue that it is not an important part of the culture, at least this is what I thought.  But I don't think either is necessary wrong, after all, this is part of religion and part of culture, they did not invent it, they just followed.  Hindu may sacrifice lots of animals, but in the history of mankind, they perhaps caused fewest wars and lost fewest people in man to man battle, so their culture is not necessary behind some others.
And here is the image of the Nepali women with their colorful dress also witness the sacrifice ceremony.
In this short ceremony I witness 5 animal sacrificed, photographed and video recorded some.  I don't promote animal sacrifice, but I have to say honestly that there is also no sad air that I can feel in the square where the ceremony were held, it seemed to me this is taken as a religious practice, and for the biggest part of it, the people believed the animal itself is willing to sacrifice.  The still image is taken with Canon 1Ds III while the video was captured from Panasonic GF-1 + 20/1.7 and Canon 5DII + EF 24-105/4L.
And this is where the sacrifice ceremony story ends. Snap with Panasonic GF-1 and 20/1.7.

October 23, 2010

Around Bhaktapur, the Nepalese

Eventually one will find out what made of a country is not its land, scenery, certainly not its king or government, it is the people. And Nepal is such a charming country owes every bit of it to its people.  Coming to Bhaktapur, you are surrounded by all the locals and often the visitors, but you get the undeniable sense that you are in Nepal. The local have lived here for hundreds or thousands of years, their live their particular way of life, although there are some western impact, it is still very much Nepalese, and seemed not bothered by the flood of tourists, in fact, the visitors may find themselves quite welcome here. Certainly a good thing.
This image of some young Nepali girls, carrying their water jars to get water, with the kind of acceptance to their fate and true happiness, you are not likely to find in other country.  Image taken with Canon 5D II.

And these pair of sisters, with their nature beautiful tanned skin, innocent eyes, somewhat reserved smile, and seemed to be perfectly happy to be living here, that. considered by many developed countries a poorly developed area with not even a moderate plumping system.  One may wondered, if a country is  gauged by the happiness of its people rather than just wealth, Nepal might well ahead in the world.
And here another young Nepali girl, calm and patiently waiting for the picture to be taken. This one taken with Canon 1Ds III with EF 85/1.2L.
And a Nepali woman, much weathered, with the powerful Renminbi - from my fellow traveler, from China.  These days, in all the tourist hot spots, the "new green bill" is everywhere, more so by the way the Chinese spent it.  But this is a common sign, perhaps decent from a century ago when rich western came to poor east, or the Japanese who once thought to buy the world...... common, it is Chinese turn now! I am just happy for the locals.
And here an elderly Nepali man, sitting on his heels, enjoying the sun and his cigarette.   The Canon 1Ds III I use here with EF 35/1.4L captured the fine detail in this image, a bit pity for the small blog space to share with readers the high resolution image.
Some Nepali women work on their knitting. The Nepali are used to work in relatively poor light, and you see something like this all over Nepal. May be they just work when it is visible, and rest when it is no longer visible. This is perfect nature, come to think of that!
And this one, a mother and her baby son, scared by his brother playing around.
Here another Nepali girl working on pumping the water from a well on street.  She is one of the very few shy girls I met the entire trip in Nepal, avoiding eye contact with me (the camera), keep her smile to herself, but still let me take pictures while her work, I took it as a silent approval.

And another baby boy enjoying his fingers.
A Nepali boy! Shy, and less com-fortable in front of camera than girls, but a character!
To remark how tough the water situation is: a shot into the water well.  This is March, monsoon is still more than a month away, snow of the Himalaya just started to melt, not much water available.