Photographs by Sujoy Das. Text by Lisa Choegyal.
The silver thread of the sacred Kali Gandaki river winds beneath me, and the unimaginably high snow and rock buttresses of the Nepal Himalaya soar towards the Tibet border to meet the pure cobalt dome of the spring sky. Above me lammergeiers wheel through the thermals and the crows circle and scream, that evocative signature call of the Nepal mountains. Pale wild roses with yellow stamens bloom beneath the multi-coloured prayer flags, fluttering their pleas to the gods.
It is 1974 and the trail from Pokhara to Jomsom has just reopened for trekkers. I have arrived in Nepal wide-eyed and entranced, 23 years old, one of 90,000 tourists this year eager to embrace the adventures offered by a still-fledgling Nepal tourism industry.
My feet ache with blisters, formed before a kindly ex-Gurkha teashop owner forced some good woollen socks on me, and I have a large bruise on my thigh from a water buffalo at Ghorepani who did not appreciate my friendly pat. But nothing diminishes the intensity of this moment. I cannot believe my good fortune to be here in this remote and extraordinarily beautiful wild country. Despite my own casual approach to my first trek, walking alone through the deepest valley in the world, I have experienced only hospitality and warmth in Nepal – something about this place makes me feel deeply at home.
And so it is that, although I never meant to stay, I am still here. Trekking in the mountains and then hanging out in Kathmandu on a tight budget – although I never was a very successful hippie – was my first experience of Nepal in 1974. I avidly explored the Kathmandu Valley’s temples, palaces and medieval bazaars, frequented the Om Restaurant run by the brothers of my future Tibetan husband, and cycled through the terraced paddy fields to discover outlying corners and remote shrines.
But now this is my home and family base. It is where I married and raised my two sons, Sangjay and Rinchen.
Now, over 40 years later, I write sitting in the garden of the yellow Nepali-style house with traditional terracotta roof tiles that my husband Tenzin and I built, overlooking Kathmandu Valley. The afternoon light filters through the trees and bamboo, insects are busy amidst the flowers, doves call from among the rocks, and the stream that becomes the Vishnumati River gurgles through the adjacent wood.
Over my personal journey through time much in Nepal has changed, but that strong sense of privilege and connection that overcame me in 1974 still remains. In the course of my work in tourism, conservation and development, I have seen this same bond resonate with many visitors, inspired not only by the spectacular scenery but more often by the people of Nepal, bringing them back again and again.
Sujoy Das is one of these enthusiasts, a veteran trekker, photographer and blogger with over 50 trips into the Nepal Himalaya to his credit. The purity of his black-and-white images captures the magic of Nepal’s mountains and its people – I have long admired his work. The sheer scale and height of the Himalaya expand the limits of human imagination; it is no surprise that they inspire artists like Sujoy, and are considered by billions to be the home of gods.
The ancient clash of tectonic plates thrusts the peaks upward towards the heavens, driven by the relentless pressure of the subcontinent. The geological youth of the tallest mountain range on earth is manifest in the dramatic dynamics of shifting glaciers, plunging rivers and eroding valleys. The devastating earthquakes of 2015 reminded us of this inexorable power.
But Sujoy’s photographs also encapsulate the essence of the mountain people of the Himalaya. While the arid northern rain shadow permits only the hardiest to survive in marginal summer grazing pastures, the high snowline and comparative clemency of Nepal's midland valleys have supported farmers and traders for centuries. Waves of settlers have infiltrated these hills from the east, west and south, while others, such as the people of Mustang and the famous Sherpas of the Sagarmatha (Everest) region, reflect their northern origins in their reliance on yaks, Tibetan Buddhism and the hospitable traditions of mountain life.
Excerpted with permission from Nepal Himalaya: A Journey Through Time, Photographs by Sujoy Das, Text by Lisa Choegyal, Foreword by Reinhold Messner, Vajra Books, Kathmandu, Nepal.