Two years. That’s half of a college education. A long time. Yet sometimes the earthquake feels like only days ago. I jump when someone slams the door. Did you know that airports, more than other buildings, shake and move constantly? I know this. It won’t go away.
I have the luxury of condensing time thus. The landscape of rural Nepal, once muted and sublime with cozy mud and stone homes, is now repainted with bright sheets of zinc roofing tin, cobbled together like junkyard fences. Loud in the rain. Cold. Dark. Sooty. Leaky. Homes worn like a ragged uniform of poverty. The type of home that slows time, lengthens nights, a constant reminder of all that is lost. This type of home turns two years into a lifetime. Or two.
Two years ago, international donors poured pledges of $4 billion into Nepal’s leaky hands. Divided into two years, that comes out to $3,800 a minute. Every minute enough to build a new home. For two years.
If you believe the Nepal Government statistics, which many do not, only 3.5% of homes have been rebuilt. 3.5 percent. Two years on. #nepalquake
During a serendipitous stopover in Edinburgh, I met with friends from the #royalbotanicalgardens to investigate how certain Rhododendron species contribute to the toxic honey we've been chasing in #thelasthoneyhunter project.
It turns out that, completely contrary to popular knowledge, the toxins might come from another plant entirely. The science is murky to say the least, but now I'm obsessed with finding the answer.
In the process of creating films, there are times when everything comes together seamlessly. Sometimes the story almost tells itself, leaving our job to simply document and experience. ~
But more often, making films is like trying to run uphill at altitude - slow, arduous, miserable, and pretty damn forced. ~
During our recent shoot in the wilds outside of Manang, Nepal we were searching for strong female characters who relate to climbing and mountains differently than most western climbing films portray. But we needed them to shine, to stick out. Enter motorcycles. Add borderline unsafe altitude gain. Have the punk rocker (@sodapopchamling) bring her guitar to 17,500ft for good measure. ~
Admittedly, it all was a bit contrived. ~
But the one thing we did right was to choose two incredible women to work with. Sareena and Pasang (@pasang_lhamu_sherpa_akita) patiently tolerated, then ignored, our bad ideas and instead created their own narrative which was more important, hilarious, and meaningful than anything we could have dreamed up. Stay tuned. ~
New Roads, Hard Roads.
While driving the road to Manang, I couldn't stop thinking about the courage of those who built it. At times dug out from sheer cliff faces or propped up with rough hewn wooden supports, it is a temple to our need to be connected - at nearly any cost. Driving the road is disconcerting in that one is constant, and often simultaneous, witness to tremendous feats of human engineering and human neglect. ~
For a few days, we climbed along the thinning Marshyangdi river and into the very heart of the Himalayas themselves. The road grew dusty and then even dustier. We watched as Annapurna 3, Gangapurna and Nilgiri - some of the tallest peaks on the planet - were backlit to our south as storms gathered and flashed against them. ~
The road to Manang has only been open for a few years - the flap of a crow's wing when compared to the deep history and culture of the place and the people there. This is a place where time bends somehow. It bends with the rough jeeps clattering past the rows of ancient prayer wheels, with the fear and focus it takes to simply stay on the motorcycle and out of the snarling river, and with the inevitable gravity of the Himalayas dying pink in the alpenglow.
At least the first 150 kilometers went well enough. Granted, the roads were paved for the most part and the greatest risk was finding the flat grill of a massive TATA truck squarely in your lane on a blind corner. ~
Then the road got rough, it got dark, and things got very real, very quickly. To describe the next 40 kilometers using the term 'road' would be dishonest. The rough-hewn path is wide enough for a vehicle to pass, but strewn with massive boulders and ruts. At one point @renan_ozturk put on a motorcycle helmet to protect his head during the impromptu rodeo happening inside the jeep. ~
The bikes fell over and broke down. It was pitch black, not even stars visible. We lashed the wounded motorcycle into the short bed of a passing pickup. We limped into a small town, ate, and passed out in a local lodge. Spent. Exhausted. Dreaming already of the relative pleasures of Kathmandu - only a day behind, but a universe away. ~
Today, the road got rougher and cut a thin path across sheer cliff faces with the Marshyangdi river coaxing us a thousand feet below. The injured bike struggled, then died completely. It started to rain, thin at first then in sheets. ~ I guess this is what we signed up for. Working together, suffering, taking turns navigating northward. Tomorrow, after another ten hours of riding, we will leave the bike and the jeeps and the lodges behind and walk. Our own feet stepping onto the snows and deeper into the stories of the two amazing women who have inspired the trip. Stay tuned. @royalenfield
With: @sodapopchamling@firstname.lastname@example.org@rudy.le@yeti@irish_goodbye #MotheredByMountains
Hitting the road. Pasang Lhamu (@pasang_lhamu_sherpa_akita) and Sareena Rai (@sodapopchamling) are an unlikely but formidable duo. Pasang is Nepal's leading female mountain guide, and Sareena is the powerhouse lead singer of Nepal's preeminent punk band. ~
But they both have a few things in common. They are unconventional and groundbreaking women - both pushing and expanding boundaries for women and girls in Nepal. They are both climbers, nurtured by the Himalayas and adventure. And neither of them are terribly comfortable on the big @royalenfield motorcycle, but are game to give it a try. ~
We're off on what might not be our most well thought out adventure - ten days of road rage and dust, then high altitude, glaciers and snow. We're riding into the hills as far as we can, then ditching the bikes to pick off an unclimbed 19,000 foot peak together. It's ambitious, maybe a touch foolish, but with these two it's more than possible. ~
Photo: @renan_ozturk ~~
Been back in the dust and decadence of Kathmandu for a few days, and am on the cusp of another adventure back into the thin and cold air. ~~
Much gratitude for @yeti@bennyob301 and @nomadic49ak for allowing us to tag along and for being so open and direct about what it means to be a hunter.
Given our history as predators, it's surprising how controversial hunting can be. Given our present disconnect with our food sources, it isn't.
What I didn't expect was the degree to which this adventure would make me think about myself and my own relationship to nature, to mountains, and to meat. ~~
When all is said and done --after all the Instagram and all the trophies and all the stories retold over warm meals in sheltered places, this is why we set out. To understand ourselves.
Photo by @renan_ozturk ~
Raju Gurung crosses an obscure 15,000 ft pass in Nepal's remote Rukum district, heading back to camp carrying the skin of a Himalayan Blue Sheep after a successful hunt. ~
Just coming back into spotty contact today after a surprisingly tough expedition deep into the rugged mountains of Western Nepal, and into the lives and spirits of the men and the animals that live there. ~
To study hunting is to study what it means to be human -- equal parts crucial and cruel, laden with stereotypes and deep passions. Hunting gives us a view into our relationship with the natural world, which ultimately is about our relationship with ourselves. ~
Flying out this morning early - the usual scrum of luggage and caffeine and the wide eyed energy of rugged men new to the dust and the dharma of Nepal.
We're off chasing snow leopards and blue sheep for a few weeks. Hoping to come back with stories of what it means to live, to take life, to understand a place on a more primal level. Death, power, spirit are all connected. Tantra. @renan_ozturk@nomadic49ak@bennyob301
Image shared from @nomadic49ak - who is en route to KTM and about to embark on what promises to be another epic with myself and @renan_ozturk.
Heading West this time, in to the ultra-remote crags and mountains of Dorpatan. We'll be searching for some thin air and an exploration of that deep space between the hunters and the hunted. Stay tuned.
One time I picked up this guy hitchhiking outside of Waterbury, VT. His arms were covered with jailhouse I love John Lennon" tattoos. He was going to Waitsfield, I was heading south. When I dropped him off, flatly refusing to take him any further, he looked at me, shooting daggers, and exclaimed: "This is the story. of. my. f---ing. life." I guess sometimes I feel that way too.
I’d like to think that I’ve come to grips with the principles of non-attachment so well that I’m not attached to them.
Kathmandu is like an eddy in a river. Generations of flotsam and jetsam has ended up making lazy circles in the lee of the Himalayas, bobbing like a coke bottle while the rest of the world heaves and rushes by, somewhere else.
This detritus includes a handful of vintage motorcycles, all with provenance and long stories of near misses, bad decisions, wind and dust. After eighteen years of bobbing around myself, I found myself the humble caretaker of a 1972 BMW R75/5 and wrestling with the delirious joy of property.
The bike is delightful to ride. Ornery. Fast and perfectly impractical. It inspires desire, demands holding on to the grips a bit harder than one should at speed.
Ultimately, this too will pass someday. The roads here are dangerous and poor. Anything could happen. The paperwork for the bike is sketchy to say the least, and forty more years on the road would only but double its lifespan.
Breathe. Hold on, but loosely. Relax. Lean. Look ahead. #Kathmandu#nepal#bmwmotorcycles#R75/5 #dancingspeedometer
In the darkest alleys of Kathmandu, there is a gang of no-goodnicks and dharma bums. Like their ancient motorcycles, this is a gang burned with decades of bad petrol and even worse roads. Conquistadors of the impractical, students of the sublime. Introducing Shiva's Slaves.
Here's an unedited sequence of shots from a joyful weekend spent wrestling with some of the most terrifying roads on Earth and hanging with some of her greatest characters.
Underexposed. Exploring the periphery of #Kathmandu takes you through dozens of brick factories. Primitive and crude, they churn out the bricks and the heavy smoke that have come to define the city. Working conditions are brutal for humans and animals alike.
Stopping with @codytutts to take a few photos, I got to thinking about what it means to look upon such drastic suffering from afar and, for me at least, so often. One of the most important elements of travel is that we are brought face to face with our own privilege. That we are rendered speechless in the face of hardship. There are no answers here, just questions. Just reasons to strive for a more equitable world - first within ourselves, and then without.
Quench your thrust with trust.
The English language really only realizes its full potential in the hands of those who speak it as a second or third language. I can only hope my Nepali is as creative. #nepal
Often when I'm traveling outside of Nepal, I find myself missing the deep spirit of everyday people - the ancient truths of the temple bells.
But I never feel that way when I'm in a bookstore.
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Descending from the market town of Aiselukharka in far-away Eastern Nepal, I came upon this elderly man carrying a basket of fresh oranges - his uphill progress stopped by a solo excavator punching in a new road to the tiny settlement of Maheswhori.
These rural roads are nosing into even the most isolated corners of Nepal - spurred on by local politics and corruption, but equally by the grassroots desire to be connected, to be more "modern." But one excavator and limited planning make for extremely unreliable thoroughfares. Come this monsoon, this track will rut and turn to a thick clay soup - only to be rebuilt with local funds at some point when they can.
The people who benefit most from these roads are the excavator cartels and the banks that finance them. It's likely to be some years before the first small truck rattles up this hill with a load of fresh oranges market-bound. #nepal#roads#progress#oranges
Bal Krishna Rai shows off a map of the future. Today @dzifoundation is officially launching our programs in our new partner community of Jaleswhori, and the first thing we do is ask community members to dream about where they want their community to be in ten years.
Asking community members to share what they actually want for themselves and their village, and then working to make this possible, makes us all accountable, invested, and more effective.
Bal Krishna's community dreams of having a road, a good school, drinking water as well as healthy forests and rivers. We typically find that by working together we can accomplish most ten-year dreams in half of that time.
It took us sixteen hours of driving to reach this bridge - the last eight hours of which were spent crawling in 4wd at walking speed. Fifteen years ago, we never imagined that rough roads would reach so far into Nepal's backcountry.
Crossing over the turquoise Dudh Kosi river and into our @dzifoundation partner communities, I found myself grateful for the incredibly steep and thin footpaths, for the places far away, for all these remote villages have to teach us for all they have yet to change. With @heemarai
2017 came in with a shout. Let's keep it up, friends.
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. .... I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature's loveliness." - John Muir
Detail: Bagh Bhairav, Lakure Bhanjyang.
A metal Om symbol draped with flowers stands out against the vermillion powder placed in blessing upon a sacred limestone formation.
This particular stone stands around fifteen feet tall, representing a powerful incarnation of Shiva in the form of a tiger.
On a tiny terrace, twenty feet below the main formation, there is another smaller stone, decorated in a similar manner. This was the head of the deity which, according to the locals, rolled off the formation fifteen minutes before the April 25th earthquake struck the country.
This, somehow, saved Kathmandu from much greater destruction.
I'm always fascinated by the confluence of faith and geology that one finds in this part of the world. It's all magic - the magma of our imaginations, the natural sculptures of rock.
Turning 40 in Kathmandu fulfilled a lifelong dream that I only recently came to realize.
This wild city, this corrugated country, has blessed me with so many moments of sublime discovery, with the company of so many teachers and companions. Thanks to all for the well wishes.
Here's to another chapter - written in the same script. #growing#nepal#lifeadventure
"Give me ten men, and we could have this factory up and running again." Seth Sahu started working at the Janakpur Cigarette Factory forty-five years ago, working his way up through the ranks to be a senior mechanic. As we toured the factory, he rattled off the technical specifications for the three Russian diesel generators - each the size of a small apartment. Liters of diesel consumed per hour. Electrical output. The size and bore of the massive pistons set on heavy metal racks beside the dusty engines. #yakcigarettes#janakpur#nepal@prabhatza
Yak Cigarettes. I'm coming to realize that my obsession with the former Janakpur Cigarette Factory is somehow tied to my own still-unfolding relationship with Nepal. Equal parts chasing windmills and the particular beauty of failure.
I wonder how much my love for Nepal actually needs the steady dysfunction and the bright colors of decay. Or is it instead the massive potential and hope that exists despite such?
I remember when I first moved to Nepal in 1999, I was young, scrappy, and broke. I would ride the bus into Kathmandu, and always buy one Yak cigarette from one of the many vendors that sold singles and various other cheap goods along the edges of Ratna Park.
The cigarettes were rough, caustic, and I felt somehow proletariat as I strolled the city, smoking, lost in the dusty recesses of my own fantasy.
Today, @prabhatza - the most connected man in Janakpur - finally got access to the factory where the Yak cigarettes were made, now long abandoned. #backintime#yakcigarettes#smokingisbadforyou#nepal
A worker hangs a string of lights on the Janaki temple in the mystical city of Janakpur. I'm here chasing a personal fixation with the recently closed Janakpur Cigarette Factory - a state-run enterprise that was once the largest taxpayer in the country, but now lies abandoned. But the real story here is the great energy and color of this holy city. Stay tuned for more images and an IG story series. #yakcigarettes#jaimadesh#nepal#ramayana@prabhatza
Winter mornings in #Kathmandu can take you back centuries. The fog settles heavy along the sacred Bagmati river, somehow erasing time.
It's been an intense few weeks for almost everyone. I, myself, have been lost in a smog of social media feeds and airplane food.
Democracy can be a curse, especially when we lose the vote. We’re shocked to learn that our unquestionable opinions might be in the minority. We wrestle with the future of our nation and our species, and then regurgitate it onto our computers. The global becomes personal.
It’s a lot of weight to bear. Struggling with this, my mind drifts back to my friends across rural Nepal where simple survival can be incredibly difficult. In the face of this, they rely entirely upon one another, forging deep and durable bonds. Their democracy is the democracy of a family, a neighborhood, and a watershed. It is built through conversations, rituals, and hard work. It’s human. There is much we can learn from this.
Go talk to your neighbor today, leave the politics out of it. Build something beautiful.
Somehow leaving America is harder today than it has been for a long time. The home of the brave. It feels almost as if I'm retreating. ~
Thinking on how this moment is one of great energy, of fire, of light. Moments like now, when our values and our human potential feel under attack, are the moments when we best understand who we are. What we stand for. ~
Like every generation before, we will not be handed a better world. Expecting such, even hoping for it, is ignorance. ~
A candle finds purpose in darkness. We mustn’t stop striving, opening, working.
THE NEW LOCALISM - Vachel Lindsay. America, 1912.
The things most worth while are one's own hearth and neighborhood. We should make our own home and neighborhood the most democratic, the most beautiful and the holiest in the world. The children now growing up should become devout gardeners or architects or park architects or teachers of dancing in the Greek spirit or musicians or novelists or poets or story-tellers or craftsmen or wood-carvers or dramatists or actors or singers. They should find their talent and nurse it industriously. They should believe in every possible application to art-theory of the thoughts of the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. They should, if led by the spirit, wander over the whole nation in search of the secret of democratic beauty with their hearts at the same time filled to overflowing with the righteousness of God. Then they should come back to their own hearth and neighborhood and gather a little circle of their own sort of workers about them and strive to make the neighborhood and home more beautiful and democratic and holy with their special art. . . . They should labor in their little circle expecting neither reward nor honors. . . . In their darkest hours they should be made strong by the vision of a completely beautiful neighborhood and the passion for a completely democratic art. Their reason for living should be that joy in beauty which no wounds can take away, and that joy in the love of God which no crucifixion can end.
Friends, Americans, our votes are not only our own. By virtue of the rights bestowed upon us by our Government, the decisions that we make as individuals have repercussions across the globe. This is a tremendous responsibility and a privilege. Do not squander this. Remember that the world is watching you anxiously, enviously. Vote.
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