February 19, 2015


Kaptani Photo Studio: Le monde de Asmita Ghale and her friends

The last time I was in Nepal I was driving my big bus back from Europe to Korea.

The crossing of the Himalayas from Nepal to Tibet left me the very strong impression of an amazing border area.Not only the landscape changing in a few kilometers from sub tropical  forest to arid highlands,but also the faces from a valley  to  hilltop and a high pass change from round indo-european, delicate burmese and  angular tibetan. 

This time I came as humble pedestrian  offering my services as a portrait photographer in small villages perched high on hill ridges, at the edge between the subcontinent and east Asia. 

I choose the Arun river valley because the river itself, which  is one of the few making it through  the main Himalaya chain from the tibetan plateau down to the indian plains, symbolize the passage between these worlds.

It is also a remote area relatively untouched by trekkers offering the ethnic diversity I was after.

This little series features the daughter of my host with her friends and neighbors  in a small community (Kaptani/Hururu) where everyone knows each other.

The village is since a few years accessible  by a dirt road and there is valuable cardamon in the jungle,  there a school, a few solar panels to charge their mobiles phones and my camera battery.

The motivations of the different generations featured in theses images, in getting their portraits taken are as varied as their attitudes in front of the lens.

My studio had to be light enough including the lights, the backdrop and the printer to fit in a backpack and  be taken around alone, on foot and  local transport.

Saturday is the holiday, as there is no school Asmita Ghale  as more time time for other things. Here she brings back leaves for the goats to the village with her best friends Tchiring Khandu Sherpa (left)and Nisha Rai (right)
Asmita Ghale had been gathering the leaves in the nearby jungle…taking it by storm.
Asmita Ghale posing with Paslamu Sherpa the daughter of Lakpa Sherpa. Paslamu's father seems to be an important man in the village of Kaptani, his name is engraved on the school wall as donor of half the land of the playground. She recently returned to the village after studying in a boarding school in the town of  Khandbari .Her father said it is not easy for girls to find a job and waiting for a husband takes a while.Meanwhile she helps at her grand-mum house.
The mother of Asmita Ghale, she declined to have her photo taken, runs a tea house and shop by the road (center)This road is fairly new. Before the cardamon had to be carried by walking down a fews days as the slopes are too steep for any kind  of horses and donkeys. People walk from as far as the Rai villages on the other side of the Arun valley to buy salt in the shop. Naturaly they also stop for some dhal bhat and home made millet wine the the down down down cross the river and up up up journey back. The school is just above the tea house with its large playground, barely shaded on the west side by the tallest rondondendron trees growing on the slope, sitting right on the ridge of the hill.
People told me that the Rai live on the slopes were they grow rice, while the sherpas live on the hill top were they grow potatoes. So what is Asmita's Ghale Gurung family growing in this mainly sherpa village? Here with her second best friend Tchiring Khandu Sherpa who lives across the road from the tea house just a bit down the slope.
Small nevertheless fierce Tchiring Khandu Sherpa in the jungle.
Tchiring Khandu Sherpa dropping by the teahouse  before a school exam. On exam days they only write their compositions during 2 hours then go home. On other days the school is from 10am to 4pm. The girls wake up at 5 so they have time to clean the house, then have dahl baht before going to school.
Tanka Shaunan, a Brahman looking teacher at the school, I am not sure what the Shaunan cast is sorry, here like me above his natural kind of altitude,  insisted that I took a picture of school. He said the rebuild was financed by the dutch people.Indeed the name of two dutch donors are engraved on the marble plate after Lapka Sherpa'name.
Votre serviteur sipping millet wine, the famous Arun Valley dongba, with the two school teachers Tanka Schaunan and Pastemba Sherpa.
Tchiring Butish Sherpa, the grand mum of Paslamu Sherpa, hesitated  a long time before accepting to pose for her portrait in the out of my backpack Kaptani-Hururu photo studio. Last time she was photographed was with her late husband a former Grurkha soldier and this time would probably be the last. It's not like for the girls about playing teen idol poses it is about producing an icon for post mortem usage. After quite a few shots of quasi morbid rigidity she finally bursted into laughter and that is the image I want to keep. I am not sure if she really liked the print of the photo she choose, directly printed out the camera, it could have been a bit too raw, unlike the very bleached images of ghost like ancestors an relatives  hanging over the doors in some houses. But she still decreted that I must take a portrait of Lakpa Sherpa with his wife when he return from Khandbari. I was flattered.
Lakpa Sherpa with Kipa Sherpa his wife and their last son. They have 3 daughters and two sons. He actually travelled to Molsheim in Aslace  to learn how to plant vines. But the vineyard project failed because of frequent Hail . He started instead a baby cardamon nursing farm to replace the old ones in the jungle. Some pretty serious looking guys from the Asia Development Bank came by the other day to inspect his project among others.
The road by the tea house. Most goods seem to come up the bumpy road  by jeep or tractor. Tuborg  beer, Red Bull and ChowChow instant noddles are thus available here. But apparently it is still cheaper or safer  to carry tin pots and basins all the way up.
Asmita Ghale loves Her Brother Subas Ghale. Their Mother is often away on business  of her own, at Khandbari saturday bazaar or somewhere else so the two run the tea house with the help of Tanka Shaunan the teacher and Nisha Rai.
Asmita Ghale and Nisha Rai snacking on ChowChow instant noodles while preparing Dhal Bhat. Nisha is boarding here because  her Rai village is too remote to commute to school. She shares Asmitas's tiny room.
Nisha Rai gathering leaves in the Jungle. Since the leaves are mostly on tree tops the girls actually falls small trees to get the leaves.I guess that they come back later to pick the left over wood as firewood. It seems that the forest is despite the frequent attacks of the girls still dense enough here to hold the soil on the slopes. More south were more people live I saw many landslides though.
Nisha Rai carrying her load.
Asmita Ghale and Nisha Rai, best friends knows no cast….
Looking east from the tea a house, on a cold cloudy day. A bit higher it snows.
The next day looking west across the  Arun valley,  from the school playground. Le petit monde de Asmita Ghale is big. Here is Mt Makalu in the wind!