A Scottish photographer has documented his recent expedition through the Himalayan landlocked country of Nepal. Bordering China in the north and India in the south, east, and west, Nepal is the largest sovereign Himalayan state. It has a diverse geography, including fertile plains, subalpine forested hills, and eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. Breathtaking cultural shots from Glasgow born Dan O’Donnell gives us an insight into the everyday life of the indigenous Tamang and Newar people of Sailung. The incredible images show us some very impressive portrait photography which gives the viewer an immediate connection to these Nepalese tribes who inhabit the viridian Himalayan foothills.
Dan decided to explore parts of Nepal that foreigners to the country rarely ever visit. “It seemed like everyone I came across was flocking towards the Annapurna, Langtang, and Everest trails. I will absolutely return to Nepal to walk one of those magnificent routes myself one day. However, for this project, I had to drive myself as far away as possible from the tourist influence and get amongst the real natives of the land.”
The traveling photographer decided to explore the Ramechhap district and hiked one of Nepal’s lesser-known trails to investigate the cultural lifestyle of the Tamang and Newar people. He said “There is very little known about the background of the Tamangs, but it’s believed that they have been in the Himalayan zone of Nepal longer than any other group. They currently inhabit around half of this zone. Due to their present location in the high foothills of the Himalayas, they have made their living by hill farming and have more recently became involved in the trekking business as guides. They are incredibly peaceful people who are virtually unknown outside their own country. They have their own distinct culture, tradition, language and social system with the majority of them following Buddhism.”
One of the dominant ethnic groups of Nepal, Newar is the indigenous group of Kathmandu valley that used to make almost the entire population of the valley before the Shah invasion in 1968. Before the invasion of the valley, the three cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur were autonomous Newar kingdoms and the latter two cities still have a large number of Newar residents. O’Donnell tells us that: “The Newars are rich in culture and religion and the best example for that are the numerous jatras, pujas and social ceremonies they manage to conduct continuously throughout the year. I happened to be in Nepal when it was the Dashain Festival. Everyone had colored sticky rice stuck to their heads and everywhere I went they were building these huge swings made of bamboo. They call them ‘pings’ and they aren’t like your typical swings found in playgrounds across the planet. They are mega swings, with heights exceeding 20 feet where the arc is so long you can easily imagine you are flying. They always reminded me of a trapeze you see at the circus. They can be a lot of fun, especially when you have had a few drinks of the homemade Nepali moonshines that they make from the local maize crops and drink by the tonne during the festivals!”
We asked O’Donnell why he decided to pursue such an incredible yet challenging project: “I wanted to gather an insight into the traditional way of life of indigenous people which some might not have known still exists in the world. I always loved hiking and photography so I thought why not combine both of my passions while traveling and document the lives of the indigenous mountains dwellers as I hike through their land. I wanted to see how the lifestyle, food, language, and the landscape that the natives lived within varied from each area I visited. By visualizing this through my photography, my aim is to tackle the differences and contrasts between cultures over such a large land mass. I get invited into their homes; they feed me with their delicious traditional food and provide me with a bed. I have a short but meaningful connection with almost every person I have the privilege of photographing, there’s a really interesting story behind each photograph.”
When we asked Dan about his most memorable part of this particular hike, he goes on to tell us about the awe-inspiring views of Mt.Everest from distance and an unexpected meeting with a local. “I awoke at 5 am to start the steep walk up to Sailung (translated: One Hundred Hills) from Kholokharka, a small Tamang village. Sailung is regarded by the Tamangs as the home of the territorial deity, Sailung Phoi. The Buddhist shrine atop the hill of Sailung is the seat of the divine protector and the Tamang community are the ‘custodians of the land’. The souls of the ancestors together with the ‘Lord of the Earth’ guarantee the well-being of the people and the fertility of the soil. The main rituals held here are Buddhist offerings to the souls of the deceased. On a clear day, this viewpoint offers incredible views of the Greater Himalayas, a long row of snow-capped mountains all the way from Annapurna to Everest.”
“When I scaled my way back down to the small Tamang village, I came across this little wooden bar. I opened the door and there was this local Tamang man drinking a beer with a dapper full piece suit and a Nepali hat to match. I really couldn’t believe it. He smiled and offered me a beer, which being Scottish you never decline. It’s the highest altitude I’ve ever had a beer so far, we were roughly 3200m high! We spoke in very broken English and my extremely minimal Nepali, but we definitely got across to one another that we both enjoyed beer. He was a very happy man, or maybe just excited to see an unexpected guest to enter the bar, but when I asked to take his photograph he fell straight into this somber pose.”
You can follow Daniel O’Donnell’s ‘Indigenous Mountain Cultures of Asia’ project through his Facebook and Instagram below. He has already explored the Kashmiri Himalayas of India and the tattooed Chin women inhabited within the Chin Mountains of Myanmar. He plans to continue his project soon in Mongolia.