Nepal: A Nation of Contrasts

Published in The Independent’s Dhaka Live supplement in October 2011 (online archive unavailable)

Nepal’s temperate climate, breathtaking scenery and ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples have attracted large numbers of tourists for decades.  It is particularly popular amongst budget backpackers, as costs are lower than in many other parts of the region.  However the majority of Nepal’s 30 millions inhabitants fight a daily battle against poverty and hunger, as documented in some of these photographs.  Nepal is therefore a nation of contrasts; a confusing mixture of extreme beauty and heart-rending hardship.  It is a destination that is guaranteed to fascinate any visitor.

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Tough boys and tragedy

These boys were walking home from a school in the outskirts of Kathmandu.  The mural behind them illustrates the chaos and destruction that affects a community during an earthquake.  I’m unsure whether the mural serves as a warning, or if it commemorates past tragedies.  Eleven thousand Nepalese died during earthquakes that took place in the twentieth century alone. Three million people currently live in the densely packed capital, and experts have said its infrastructure is inadequate to deal with such a calamity.

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TIME FOR A SHOWER!

This man was just about to step inside his home in Kathmandu after spending a long day harvesting turmeric.  The brightly coloured spice is grown widely in Nepal, as it is a popular ingredient in local dishes.  Its healing properties are also well recognised; in Nepal, turmeric is used to treat liver problems, wounds, sinusitis coughs, and as an antiseptic for cuts.  As in Bangladesh, turmeric is also used during a ceremony prior to marriage – the bride and bridegroom are covered in it to ward off evil spirits and to promote beauty.

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The Himalayas

Thousands of tourists flock to Nepal every year to visit the Great Himalayan Range.  This photograph was taken in the village of Daman, which offers the best unimpeded view of the Himalayas in the world.  There are eight mountains above 8,000 metres in Nepal or on its border with China, including the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest.

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Waiting for change

A mother anxiously scans for customers to buy the candles she is selling as alms at The Monkey Temple in Kathmandu.  Unemployment is high in Nepal: around two thirds of women and one third of men are without work.  The instability of the political system over the last few years is considered a major factor in the rise of unemployment rates.

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The Monkey Temple

This eye-catching statue rests at the base of Swayambhunath Temple, which is also known as The Monkey Temple, located in Kathmandu Valley.  It is one of the oldest religious sites in Nepal, and for followers of Tibetan Buddhism, it is second in spiritual significance only to Boudhanath, which can be found in the outskirts of Kathmandu.  The name, “The Monkey Temple” arose due to the presence of holy monkeys in its grounds.  Hundreds of monkeys play in the trees that grow beside the temple’s 365 steps.

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The Mighty Sherpas

This impressive display of strength and endurance is common among the Sherpas, who are an ethnic tribe from the Himalayas.  Sherpas are famed for their hardiness and expertise in high altitudes: and in Kathmandu, they are employed as labourers of goods.  Experts speculate that their strength derives from a genetic adaptation to living in high altitudes, which includes lungs that have developed an increased sensitivity to low oxygen levels.  Sherpas are comparably short in height, which accelerates circulation and allows them to extract more oxygen from the air.

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