Day 13 Ganden Monastery, photography paradise, a mad man and my cover shot
We leave for Ganden monastery at 10:00 AM in a luxurious Toyota bus with a hybrid engine. It al sounds very smooth and quit. Ganden is about 30 miles from Lhasa and at 4.800 meters. Ganden has suffered quite a bit from the Cultural Revolution, Google it and you know. It is a steep climb. I’m sitting next to Marleen and time flies chatting. The low rising sun sent gigantic beams of light through the valley. It’s a magnificent sight.
(above: praying Tibetan monk)
There are lots of steep turns but about 11:00 AM we pass the main gate. Ganden appears to be the right choice… it’s a photography heaven here, lots of colors, lines, textures and all in service for the monks in their red robes.
I walk to one of the open squares and there she is… A young and pretty Chinese girl with an orange coat. Out of the blue she makes a peace sign with her eyes closed, I’m half prepared but fast and within half a second the moment is gone. I have the front cover of my book. At his peaceful but also violent place, this photo… it’s a miracle.
(above: the Chinese girl, seconds after my cover shot)
The monks can be easily approached. The intense and hard light works very well. I change rolls like a mad man. On the second floor I see a monk going out to the roof. I follow him as he goes down again in one of the buildings. I’m outside now and from the rooftop I can oversee the whole valley. I also see that the only way out of the building is that same door. It would be a fabulous shot and I just have to wait. He returns after 5 minutes and the timing is perfect. A real winner (page 1 J) ! I walk along to a small building. It appears to be the art studio of the monastery. They make impressive art and I’m free to shoot whatever I like.
(above: a small part of Ganden)
Next: Lhasa market, mount Everest and back to Kathmandu
Day 11 Walking on the moon, magical light, Yaks and a bit of the Dalai Lama
Today we’ll drive from Gyantse to Lhasa, about 250km. We leave at 9:30 and ETA is about 16:30. Our first stop is at a huge lake. Its quite cold outside and about two thirds of the lake is frozen.
We all take photos, throw stones on the water and enjoy the unique scenery: An icy blue lake at the top of the world, silverfish reflection of the sun and at the horizon the snow topped Himalayas.
(Harry Abee at the lake wrapped in the hardest of lights)
The second stop is at the foot of a mountain about 6200 meters high with a gigantic old glacier. Photography opportunities are everywhere here. I walk to the glacier away from the group and after climbing two hills I loose my breath and have to stop because of the height… I think of The Police here “Giant steps are what you take, Walking on the moon, I hope my legs don’t break… There’s still one hill to go. I’ll take it and there’s my gift: A herd of Yak’s, a shepherd and his son. What a sight at the bottom of that glacier! I take my pics, but it’s very difficult: never did I see so much photons packed on so few m2… It’s what you see in movies picturing heaven… It’s a light that fills my body, a great feeling and a strange experience. I than hear the claxon of the cars and return, but I have a unique, magical experience in my pocket.
The third stop is close to a mountain of 7500 meters, we see in the distance a horse and carriage at the foot of the mountain. The juxtaposition tells you something about the enormous mountain and how tiny a human being is: a magnificent sight.
(above the fourth stop…)
As we drive into Lhasa we all realize that this is the pinnacle of our trip: This ancient city of Tibetan Buddhism. Our hotel appears to be the old house of the former teacher of … the Dalai Lama. I enjoy the luxury of it, great rooms, wonderful terrace and an Internet café…wow.
(above a Tibetan who lives in his caravan at 4.800 meters…)
Oh boy, my alarm is going crazy at 5:15 AM… Fortunately I’ve packed everything the night before. Living out of a backpack is liberating. You realise you don’t need that much to embrace life as it is presented. The right mindset for Buddhist Tibet. Ram, the name of my local travel agent arrives at the hotel at 5:50, he wears a helmet ! Does he expect that I ride at his bike with a 10kg backpack? Apparently not, I walk next to him to the meeting point where a small bus awaits us. A young French guy walks along to the same bus his name is Benjamin Verot. There is a power cut in Kathmandu, so no electricity and it’s all dark, my iPhone acts as a flash light. When we arrive at the bus there is no water, I run back to my hotel to get 2 liter of that precious stuff. Here you can’t live without bottled drinking water. When I return the bus leaves. The driver listens to the Nepali news on the radio. There are 8 other people in the bus, all very quit. These 8 (followed by 2 more later on) will become good friends over the coming days. I guess if you’re interested in Tibet, there’s a kind of an interesting selection of people upfront. At 7:45 we arrive at a restaurant to have breakfast. The restaurant is located at a beautiful site, it reminds me of Spain.
(Friendship Bridge: Crossing the Nepal-Tibet border)
We get a nice breakfast an omelette, potatoes, tea, toast and coffee. Eating together always breaks the ice. There’s Bernie and Mim from Melbourne, Francesco from Spain, Ben(jamin) and Baptiste from France and Harry, Remco and Marleen from the Netherlands. Quite a coincidence that 4/8 are Dutch. We drive along and get out at a bungee jump site, 160 meters high… After this we drive straight to the friendship bridge (the Nepal-Tibet border) and that is an adventure to tell hereafter.
(above my Tibet group, at the border, Claire and Nathan joined us here to complete the group, third one the right… me)
Next: The crossing to Nepal, about keeping or not keeping your books, the Chinese border, my films and more
At 14:00 to Pashupatinath, the most sacred place for Hindu’s in Nepal. I’m a bit prepared for the Buddhist culture, but not for the Hindu culture so I take a guide.
Pashupatinath is above all a cremation site like Varanasi in India. The one sentence I do remember vividly from the guide is: ‘why show birth and hide death ?’ Well death is all around here, but strangely enough such is life as well. Light becomes very nice at 16:00, sunset today is at 17:40. I start making pictures and take my first one of the guy above, one a the sadhu’s at Pashupatinath. He gets furious, very furious. Pay first than shoot is the motto here. I apologise sincerely, pay and watch him from a distance. He sits on a heightened plateau of 3x3 meters, with two of his friends. After 10 minutes he invites me at “HIS” place.
He is ready for a good conversation and a pipe of Marijuana. Soon about 20-25 people have gathered around us. I become the talk of the day “the white guy who made it to the plateau kinda thing”. Now I have an interpreter next to me and I start chatting with the Sadhu. I can take pictures now and as many as I need. He urges me to smoke but I politely refuse, not because of the pot but it all looks not that hygienic. After half an hour I salute him with a polite ‘Namaste’.
Lots of sales woman selling jewellery and stuff. Difficult to pass and to wave off. One has a very interesting face and I take her portrait. After that I have an appointment with 4 Sadhu’s up on the hill, now in the setting sunlight. It becomes a real sitting and a lot of fun.
At the end of the day I watch one cremation very close. It’s quite a sight and in some way I feel very privileged to watch it. I than leave in a taxi heading home. I learned a little trick on my iPhone by accident which now comes in handy. I loaded the Google Map of Kathmandu in the cache memory and with GPS without any connection I tell the driver how to get to the hotel.
I get up at 5:45… at last no problems, also my mind has now arrived at Kathmandu. Feel fresh, feel energised. I’ve got high expectations watching Tibetan Buddhism closer, especially because of my trip next week to Tibet. It all starts with heavy negotiations about the taxi price. It takes about 10 minutes and eventually I step out the car, the price is reduced by half. After that it’s all wine and roses, nice chap, nice ride.
Once I arrive at the temple over a about 700 people heave already gathered to pray. I take pictures everywhere, without being obtrusive. Getting a good picture on the street must be quick and invisible. All of a sudden I am very lucky, a woman is praying on a bench with her eyes closed. I frame her left and at that moment a dove flies through my frame to the right just at the moment of exposure. I shoot film so I can’t preview it, but I know it’s a winner.
After an hour or so I move to the North and encounter potato sales man ahead of me. The still low sun is to my right and further up the road there are big yellow walls, perfect shadows, perfect colours & subject. I run and pass the guy and await him, after 2 minutes he’s there, he stays very natural, the shadow of his bike is just perfect. My shooting starts to become a flow and I take my best pictures yet.
It’s however quite cold. I’m only wearing my Billingham vest and it’s close to 10C. I get a tea uphill to warm myself. A moment later the potato guys take some tea as well. I take a walk through the area at the North side and the houses I see are very luxurious, there are also more Tibetan temples where you can take workshops and stay for a period of time.
At 10:00 I take my breakfast at Dorjce, according to the Planet “the” backpacker’s restaurant for a 1 euro breakfast. I leave Bodhnat and don’t know yet that on my last day I will have a special encounter with a Tibetan monk.
Up to the Indian Embassy to request my Indian visa. I walk through the street where more embassies are located. Lots of military, I suddenly realise that I must look like a kinda suicide bomber with my vest full of Leica steel. I pass the guard asking if I can enter the premise. Without searching ANYTHING he let’s me in. Once I’m immediately eye-balling 6 guys behind a table in the garden who panic and look really frightened. I keep my cool walk to the table and ask with a calm voice where I can get my visa. Well not at this address, and I’m forced out… I apply for my Visa 50 meters back to the left. Weird closure of the morning…
Next: Day 4 afternoon: Pashupatinath, holiest place of Nepal
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. …You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask.” Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors”—
(above: men and woman sitting near the market in Bakthapur)
After my breakfast around 10:30 my mind still has to arrive in Kathmandu so I’ll take a nap until 14:00.
It’s only 16km but it takes you about an hour. The road is quite bad and it’s quite a rollercoaster ride. I have to pay 700 NPR to get in (that’s about 7 euro’s). According to the Lonely Planet guide “ridiculously high”. I’ll come back to that assumption later on. I go through the main gate and after minutes I encounter my first Hindu sacrifice ritual. A goat is beheaded shortly followed by two chicken. Blood everywhere. I take a portrait of a beautiful young boy dressed in traditional Nepali clothing, no doubt a book shot. His mother is very proud. I don’t know exactly what’s going on and the English language is completely irrelevant here. It’s some kind of ritual of boys in their puberty reaching their manhood. What’s interesting here that the boys disctinct themselves by their clothing. I later learn that each clothing stands for a certain tribe.
Half an hour later on a small square I encounter an evil spirit. It chases all the kids in town and it’s quite a loud and colourful spectacle. Everybody enjoys it, especially when one of the kids is grabbed and put in a kind of sack. Every culture has its boogie man.
From every window people look down to watch it. Afterwards I have an interesting conversation with some boys in the main square. Their English is remarkable. They know all kind of detailed facts about the Netherlands (and every other country in Europe). Our capital, the height of highest “mountain”, number of inhabitants etcetera.
Smart kids are everywhere, this is unfortunately not the same for education.
The sun sets already and the afternoon clearly has been too short. I’ll come back to this mediaeval town. Two guys await me with a reasonable priced taxi. 19:00 back in Kathmandu.
(kids watching if the evil spirit will catch one of them)
Next stop: Bodhnat temple, the number one Buddhist site of Nepal
(above Kathmandu from the air, a minute before touchdown)
The runway is a bit close. It could also be that the pilot had the wrong angle. Whatever the cause is the pilot has to hit the brakes big time. My photo-vest (a Billingham, come back to that wonder a little later) almost start to fly from the chair next to me. The plane turns towards the tower and start to cross the other runways. I hope traffic control is the right job today… We get out and a bus takes us to the terminal building. It’s very quite inside. My Nepali visa takes about 20 minutes: perfect! (I still don’t have my Indian visa as well, waited for fourteen days ! *sigh* back home, hopefully not solving a problem there, will solve a problem here…). I can avoid both massive x-ray scans. I’m almost outside the terminal building and than I get the overwhelming experience of 20 or so taxi drivers trying to get me in one of their cars. I see a guy who LOOKS reliable, I jump in his car and start to negotiate about the price, 200 NPR, a fair price. Than all of a sudden another guy steps in. Well, if I don’t arrive at my hotel, at least I had a fair price.
Until the release date of ”Colorful Connections” Hans will share here his diary from Nepal, Tibet and India and how he made his book. Photography tips on street photography, Leica and what has influenced his work will shared as well. The posting starts Monday April 5.