People of Nepal

Page 1

People of Nepal Robert Eckhardt


People of Nepal Robert Eckhardt


Foreword 16

The earthquake on 25 April 2015 17

A journey through Nepal 19

Map of Nepal 24


Kathmandu Valley


Juguda 28 Gola 34 Thakurdwara 46 Megauli 52 Barwa 58

Bodnath 66 Svajambunath 72 Kathmandu 78 Kirtipur and Bungamati 84 Patan 88 Namobuddha and Bhaktapur 96

Bandipur and Tansen 104 Myagdi and Rukum 108 Okhaldhunga 116 Salyan 124


Tibetan Plateau

Dhaulagiri Himal 138 Annapurna Himal 142 Ganesh Himal 156 Tama Koshi Valley 166 Rolwaling Himal 182

Thuli Bheri Khola Valley 190 Barbung Khola Valley 196 Charkabot 204 Nar and Phu 212







Foreword In April 2015, when I wrote the foreword for Robert’s book, we had no way of knowing that Nepal would soon be hit by a terrible earthquake. I now realise that this book has become enormously important, because People of Nepal is probably the last photo book of Nepal just before the earthquake. It includes photos of places that no longer exist. But the book also shows many places that are not destroyed by this catastrophe. With his stunning, sometimes moving portraits, you just feel how significantly Robert is involved with the fate of the Nepalese people. When you open People of Nepal and look at the impressive photos taken by Robert Eckhardt in Nepal of the landscape, the mountains and especially the people, you immediately understand his great love for this incredibly beautiful country and its friendly people. Robert has travelled to Nepal many times, he has lived with the people there and learned their customs. Nepal has become his second homeland. When you read his texts, written with a great depth of knowledge, his considerable respect for Nepalese culture is particularly evident. The land of many eight-thousanders has also become a second home for me. I have travelled to Nepal more than fifty times. The Himalayas and the wonderful villages with their welcoming people, ensured me every time a beautiful trekking. I can still clearly remember the things I experienced during the approach routes to the eight-thousanders I climbed, such as Mount Everest, Cho Oyu and Kangchenjunga. Particularly vivid are of course my memories of the time that Reinhold Messner and I were on the way to Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth. Messner and I were, in 1978, the first to climb the mountain without supplementary oxygen. On route to the eight-thousanders I regularly travelled through striking landscapes. I often thought: ‘Will I ever come back here?’, in the knowledge that fate could quite easily decide that I would lose my life on a steep mountain face or a narrow ridge. My friend Robert understands this perfectly, because two decades ago we travelled to the ‘world’s most beautiful mountain’, the Ama Dablam, in the same region as Mount Everest. 16

Our group consisted of a number of Viennese climbers and friends of mine from Tirol. Robert and I were the only ones able to climb to the summit of this stunning mountain. Other climbers in our group also made an attempt, but were forced to abort when they found the rock passages above camp 2 too difficult and dangerous. I got to know Robert much better on Ama Dablam. He was an excellent, passionate mountain climber who could focus very well on the objective. He reached the top solo, under unfavourable conditions. He was also the first Dutchman on Ama Dablam. With this climb, Robert’s boyhood dream came true. However, it should also be mentioned that his long climbing career has included many famous, often steep and challenging alpine climbs throughout the Alps and beyond. Dear reader, you will see two different sides of Robert Eckhardt. On Ama Dablam he was the ‘hard’ man, a person dedicated to the alpine goal for who no route was too steep or too difficult. But in his book People of Nepal we primarily see his ‘soft’ side, the man who has come to love Nepal and its inhabitants with great warmth and emotion. Look at these photos properly, time and again. Luckily not all of the old Nepal was destroyed and many places were not even touched by the earthquakes. The book also communicates an invitation; travelling to Nepal, especially now, is of great support to the Nepalese people. It may take a while, but from the ruined houses we will eventually hear the laughter of children again and the invitations to come in. We must not forget Nepal, it will need a lot of help in the years to come.

Peter Habeler, Finkenberg, 25 June 2015

The earthquake on 25 April 2015 On Saturday 25 April 2015, at 11:56 am, the earth in Nepal shook with a force of 7.8 on the Richter Scale. The epicentre was in the district of Gorkha. The earthquake mainly hit the Kathmandu Valley, the surrounding hills and the Himalayan districts from Gorkha to Solu Khumbu. On 12 May, Nepal was once again hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3. The epicentre this time was in the district of Dolakha. The earthquakes claimed more than 9000 victims, the biggest humanitarian disaster ever to hit a Himalayan country. In the monsoon – the wet season – this number has increased due to dangerous infectious diseases and landslides. In some districts, dozens of people are still missing. On June 29 a new aftershock measuring 5.1 on the Richter Scale was felt in the Ramechhap district. This takes the number of aftershocks measuring 4 or more to a total of 332. Only the affected Nepalese people can describe what happened. I therefore quote several authors from the

Nepali Times of 1-7 May 2015, which was dedicated to the earthquake. sahina shrestha The avalanche of ice and rocks fell on the village of Langtang just after the ground started shaking. Before the debris had engulfed them, the family of Dawa Tamang could run for safety. This family was lucky; nearly all the 200 inhabitants of this tiny village are presumed to have perished. ‘The entire village is gone, our house is gone, where can I go once this is over?’, asks Dawa. min ratna bajracharya When the earth started shaking, the family of the Living Goddess of Patan started screaming and wanted to run out in panic. But the Living Goddess, Yunika Bajracharya told them to calm down and not to rush out of the building. ‘She had her eyes closed as if she was in a trance, told us nothing would happen to us,’ the Goddess’ father Ramesh Bajracharya

After the first earthquake. Photo Nepali Times. 17


In the flat landscape of the Terai live the Tharu. Ethnically speaking, the Tharu are an Indian people with a Hindu culture. The caste system is strictly adhered to, but their pantheon of gods is also animistic. Before the Tharu venture into the woods, they ask the ‘forest gods’ for help. These people lived an isolated existence for centuries, because marshes kept outsiders away and the Terai was full of tigers and snakes. Furthermore, the Tharu developed a resistance to malaria, which meant that their unique culture was able to survive for so long, and they never looked for work outside their own land. This isolation ended in the fifties when many marshes were drained. This, together with the intensive use of ddt, meant that malaria could successfully be combatted. There was also large-scale deforestation. Half of the Nepalese population now live in the Terai. For a long time the Tharu lived in a position of ‘slavery’, landless peasants working as land-based labourers. They were freed from this servitude in 2000 by the Nepalese government – but many still have neither land, work, nor income. Selling their daughters as kamalari, ‘hard working women’, is common practice – especially in western Terai, although it has been forbidden since 2000. In the Kathmandu Post I read that more and more farmers in the Terai (mainly in the Bara district) are growing the opium poppies. The harvest, pure opium, is sold mainly to Indian dealers. Open borders and widespread police corruption make this easy for the farmers. In the far west of the Terai many Tharu still live in longhouses with large families. All share equally in the work, income and expenses, and one kitchen is sometimes shared by 40 to 50 people. Among the most striking aspects of the Tharu culture are the beautifully decorated rice containers in their houses. It is funny to see that the traditional symbols they depict are sometimes interspersed with modern decorations, such as the image of a helicopter. The walls of the houses are constructed by setting up two rows of bamboo stakes. Elephant grass is put in between the bamboo and then the gaps are filled with a mixture of clay and manure. Tharu houses are warm in winter and – enormously important in the semi-tropical summer climate – cool in summer. This traditional style

of housing is not only better, but also much more healthy than the concrete houses that are now being built. In the winter of 2014 my wife Noes and I visited a special group of the Tharu, the Rana Tharu. From an ethnically point of view they belong to the Rajput, members of a high caste in Rajasthan (India). They originate from the Thar Desert. Some say that their descendants can be traced back to the Shakya, the royal caste to which Gautama Buddha belonged. Rana means ‘royal’. People say that, when the Islamic Mogul emperors conquered the Indian subcontinent in the 16th century, one of them wanted to marry a Rajput woman. The women and children fled and settled in the forested lowlands, close to the Nepalese mountains. Their men stayed behind to fight the Mogul. When the women heard that all their men had been killed, they married their humble servants and slaves, who had accompanied them. They settled permanently in the western part of the Terai, in the area now known as the districts of Kailali and Kanchanpur. And so it was that the Rana Tharu women founded a community that would continue to exist for 400 years. They have never forgotten their origins; their selfawareness is clearly palpable in the photos I have taken of them. Only the Rana Tharu women are permitted to wear jewellery, not the men. And there are also stories that some of these proud women still use their feet to slide plates of food over to their husbands, a great humiliation in Nepal. There are hardly any men there, as many of them work in India, or – under even more difficult circumstances – in the Gulf States. Also situated in the west of Nepal, close to Bardiya National Park, are the Dangaura Tharu villages of Gola and Thakurdwara. The women there have a natural grace equal to that of the Rana Tharu. In Mid-Nepal lies the district Chitwan with Nepal’s most famous national park. Other sub-groups of the Tharu live here, such as the Mahato Tharu in Barwa. Just like the other Tharu people in the Terai, they call themselves the ‘people of the forest’, because they have lived in the forest for hundreds of years. ◂ Sita Kumari Rana Tharu, 20 years old, Juguda.


Juguda | Gola | Thakurdwara | Megauli | Barwa



Cold December morning in the village of Juguda. | 29

98 | Namobuddha.


In front of the Muni Vihar, the principal Buddhist monastery in Bhaktapur.

Monk in the Muni Vihar monastery.


The Siwaliks rise first from the Terai, then the hills of the Mahabharat Lekh. These long chains of hills are followed by the Nepalese Midlands, hills that ultimately lead to the Himalayas. These three zones together form the Foothills. The Midlands are intensively exploited by the people who live there. The climate is sub-tropical to moderate and the risk of earthquake is greater here than elsewhere in Nepal. It is the transition zone between the Indian and Tibetan cultures. Mainly Magar, Pahari, Rai and Limbu people live here, but you can also find Tamang and Sherpa. In the Mahabharat Lekh are two interesting cities, Tansen and Bandipur. They lie like ethnic enclaves in the hills, because just here Newari have settled as traders and craftsmen. In contrast to all other ethnic groups in Nepal, the Newari live almost exclusively in several urban areas and in the Kathmandu Valley from where they originate. In 2009 we trekked through the villages of Ratodhunga and Dharapani in the Myagdi district, and through Yamakhar in Rukum. These districts, south of the Dhaulagiri Himal, are predominantly inhabited by the Magar. In one of the houses in Yamakhar I was able to take both traditional family photos and portrait shots. They provide a lovely insight into the way of life within such a community. Okhaldhunga and the southern part of Solu Khumbu form the homeland of the Rai. Rai means ‘royal’, which term perfectly describes this people’s strong desire for independence and the remarkable fact that the majority of the Rai have never accepted the caste system. Since 2001 Ram Kumar Rai has been sirdar on all our treks and on two of my expeditions, ‘leader of the porters’ or ‘trekking leader’ you could say. The word sirdar makes you think of a Sherpa, but that is not necessarily the case. Kumar is a Rai. He lives in Salyan, a village in the district Solu Khumbu, a three day-walk from the Everest Trek. There had never been a westerner there until we arrived in 2006. In the evenings Kumar likes to tell stories about his life as a farmer and porter, cook and sirdar. It takes a hard apprenticeship, to become a sirdar. Kumar completed the whole process, from porter, kitchen boy, assistant

cook, cook, assistant sirdar to sirdar. His stories paint an interesting picture of the relationships within a team that accompanies a trek. Our small community was subject to a strict hierarchy, which was not always reasonable in our eyes, and which was accepted as established by the ‘boys’. As a westerner you really shouldn’t try – no matter how well-meaning – to change anything about these relationships. There are two trekking seasons, spring and autumn. Outside these seasons Kumar is a farmer. He has two water buffalos, two oxen for ploughing, a pig and chickens. He makes a living by cultivating buckwheat, rice and millet, a grain that is used, among other things, to make rakshi, a strong alcoholic beverage. Kumar’s marriage was arranged; his sister and parents chose his bride. Some Nepalese marry for love but most have arranged marriages. When asked whether the Nepalese practice family planning, Kumar answered that he is home only in the winter months and during the monsoon. What a diplomatic answer! In one swift blow he dodged this delicate subject and you can even indeed call it family planning. In 2006 we set out on a journey of discovery in Nepal. With 10 ‘boys’ – cook, kitchen boys and porters – we departed from Jiri, the starting point of the classic Everest Trek, but on the second day we entered unfamiliar territory on the way to Kumar’s village. The most wonderful moment during the journey was our welcome in Kumar’s village. The whole area was full of people dressed in their finest clothes, who adorned us with garlands of fragrant, bright orange marigolds. There was singing and dancing. Villagers had walked an hour and a half just to see us. The tents were a great source of wonder and teenage girls giggled at a demonstration of deodorant. Kumar’s respect within the village increased ten-fold. In November 2014 we returned to Salyan. Mainly Sherpa and Rai live in Kumar’s surroundings and a small number of Magar. All Rai in Salyan appeared to be related to Kumar; it was through them that we truly learned about the way of life here. ◂ Kamala Basnet Rai, Salyan.


Bandipur and Tansen | Myagdi and Rukum | Okhaldhunga | Salyan


Bandipur and Tansen

Bandipur is one of the loveliest towns in Nepal. The old Newari centre is beautifully paved and only accessible for pedestrians. | 105


Brahmin wedding in the Shivalaya temple, Tansen.

Lal Bahadur Chhetri from Bandipur is a 92-year-old Ghurkha. He fought in Burma during the Second World War. 107

Myagdi and Rukum

Between Ratodhunga and Dharapani, in the district of Myagdi. | 109






Thiri Sherpa and Chhokee Sherpa with their daughter Chhokee, Mamkha. | 117

126 | Sabitra Basnat Rai, 93 years old, Salyan.

people of nepal Nepal has the most remarkable mosaic of ethnic groups in all of the Himalayan countries. It is home to more than 60 different peoples with their own culture and often their own language. Their lifestyle, their economy and the construction styles of their houses are tailored to suit the altitude and the climate zone. People of Nepal is a cross-section of Nepal. In photographing the people, Robert Eckhardt follows the geography and the vegetation zones from low to high: from the semi-tropical Terai to the cold Tibetan Plateau that lies to the north of the main range of the Himalayas. From the Tharu people, originally from India, to the Tibetan Bothiya in the northern regions – from Hinduism to Buddhism. It is with deep respect that Eckhardt has portrayed the many faces of all these different communities. The result is a stunning, sometimes moving book. from the foreword by peter habeler ‘In April 2015, when I wrote the foreword for Robert’s book, we had no way of knowing that Nepal would soon be hit by a terrible earthquake. I now realise that this book has become enormously important, because People of Nepal is probably the last photo book of Nepal just before the earthquake. It includes photos of places that no longer exist. But the book also shows many places that were not destroyed by this catastrophe. With his stunning, sometimes moving portraits, you just feel how significantly Robert is involved with the fate of the Nepalese people’. robert eckhardt is a photographer and one of the most experienced alpinists in the Netherlands. He climbed more than a thousand mountain peaks; nine of which can be found in the Himalayan range. During his travels and trekkings through Nepal he quickly discovered that the Himalayas are more than just mountains. The region is also home to many people. Eckhardt gradually became captivated by a world from which he could no longer escape. Every time he goes back to Nepal, he returns to areas where he can still photograph the authentic people, with their roots in the distant past. He has published four books. The most important are Passie voor een Berg (Passion for a Mountain), his alpine biography, and Grenzeloos Verlangen – tweehonderd jaar alpinisme (Limitless Longing – two hundred years of alpinism; with co-author Mark van Hattem), a research into the history of two centuries of alpinism. Eckhardt also writes for national and international magazines and gives multimedia presentations. I S B N 978-94-62261-594


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