Mountains, Stars, and People

A Wandering Imagination Leads to a Trip to Nepal

Mountains, Stars, and People

I continued to look out the window to my left at the beautiful landscapes below. The green hills terraced into stair steps as far as I could see. I was captivated until I noticed the plane’s propeller directly beside me. It wobbled with a gait unsteady enough that I tried to divert my eyes (and my mind) to the front of the plane. I strained to the center of the plane to catch a glimpse out the cockpit. The sight of Lukla, a short, slanted stent of asphalt notched into a cliff and called an airport, diverted my attention easily.


The Dhudh Kosi River runs powerfully through the lower parts of the Khumbu Valley. It is pictured here south of Namche Bazaar. The bridge in the background was erected last year after flooding knocked out the main part of the path


It was a trip that had been three years in the making. Late one night, as three of us distracted ourselves from homework for a class, we found our imagination wandering as we browsed pictures of the night sky in the Himalayas. We committed that evening to take a break from our graduate work and visit the Mount Everest Base Camp to take our own versions of those pictures. Now that our trip had become a reality, the next stop after Kathmandu was the Lukla Airport, which effectively served as a trailhead for the base camp.


The peaks of the Himalayas become more pronounced as you ascend the valley. This picture, taken just outside of Gorak Shep, shows Mount Pumori on the left, which stands at 7,161m.


We headed out of Lukla, and started on the trail up the Khumbu Valley. As we continued to hike up the valley we could feel the landscape shift. It went from green trees punctuated by waterfalls to long flat sections with snow-capped peaks in the distance. We finally got to the base camp five days later, and early the next morning we were able to take the night shots that had inspired the trip. The starlit sky, broken by the shadows of the peaks looming in the distance, was mesmerizing. With this in our memories, we began the trek back down the valley.


Hikers’ headlamps illuminate the trail up to Kalapathar (whose peak is not visible). Kalapathar, at 5,643m, stands in the shadow of Pumori shown in the center.


As we trekked back, I found my eye being drawn to the people who lived and worked in the area. I have almost always focused on landscape photography, so this was a new development for me.


A man spins a clay pot on a pottery wheel in the historic city center of Bhaktapur. Behind him, underneath the plastic, sits all of his clay stores.


It took me until I reached Kathmandu again to get a sense of what I was trying to capture with the people whose lives I was stepping into. It was their interaction with their history and their architecture that truly fascinated me. On one of our last days in Nepal, this idea finally came together as we visited Pashupatinath, the most holy Hindu temple in the country. The people were in the midst of celebrating Dashain, one of the most important festivals of the year, when I found a man resting in a smaller shrine outside of the main temple complex.


Even though that image sticks with me, another part of the Dashain festival is all of the children flying square paper kites every where across the city. What has stuck with me so vividly to this day is the sheer joy on their faces as they pulled their kites through the air, chased them as they fell, and occasionally made faces for the camera passing by.


A child takes a break from flying kites in Bhaktapur to make a face for the camera. 


Story by: David Freese

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