Photo feature

Ten recent photographs from Nepal that could have been taken any time in the past 100 years

An excerpt from a new book of breathtaking images of ancient mountains and people.

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.

The chorten at Bodhnath, Kathmandu valley
The chorten at Bodhnath, Kathmandu valley

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.

Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling monastery in Kagbeni. Image credit: Sujoy Das
Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling monastery in Kagbeni. Image credit: Sujoy Das

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.

Lighting juniper at dawn in Kyanjuma
Lighting juniper at dawn in Kyanjuma

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.

Machhapuchare seen from the lodges of Annapurna Base Camp
Machhapuchare seen from the lodges of Annapurna Base Camp

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.

Mingma Chopel Gurung from the village of Nar
Mingma Chopel Gurung from the village of Nar
The base camp of Lobuche East
The base camp of Lobuche East
The massive mani wall above Namche Bazaar
The massive mani wall above Namche Bazaar
The serrated ridges of Thamserku seen after a clearing winter storm
The serrated ridges of Thamserku seen after a clearing winter storm
The setting moon over Huinchuli
The setting moon over Huinchuli
Walking along the Kali Gandaki between Chuksang and Chele in Upper Mustang
Walking along the Kali Gandaki between Chuksang and Chele in Upper Mustang

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.

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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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