Black and White and Golden

The Golden Temple* in Patan, Nepal is a stunning Buddhist monastery. The three-tiered temple roofs, walls, and embellishments are plated in golden metal. Decorative carvings adorn every inch of the courtyard, including doorways and roof struts. Rows of prayer wheels wrap around the courtyard, and statues surround the central shrine. The temple was founded in the 12th century, and its current structures date back to 1409.

On the day we visited, the sun was glaringly bright on the gilded sheeting. Instead of fighting the light, I decided to focus on light and dark contrasts, and the depth of shading in the elaborate details. I haven’t done much black and white photography recently, but I used to take and develop black and white film–35mm, medium format, and 4×5. It was a great experience to try out visual and mental lens in this incredible temple.

* Also called the Bhaskerdev Samskarita Hiranyabarna Mahavihara

My favorite of these pictures are the ones that show different layers of decoration. Taking pictures in this temple was overwhelming, because there were incredible angles and detail everywhere–around corners, multiple stories up into the sky, statues next to statues behind other statues. I particularly like how the prayer bell picture with the courtyard in the background turned out.

Want more black and white posts? Here’s a circular tower in Copenhagen, and animal antics at the San Francisco Zoo.

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Patan old city

The last stage of our November Nepal trip was a week in Katmandu, exploring the city and surrounding regions. We particularly enjoyed visiting the other city states in the Kathmandu valley, which are now connected to the sprawling metropolis. The first of these is Patan, which was founded in the 3rd century. Temples and stupas are scattered throughout the city, many of them hundreds of years old. Intricate carvings adorn doors, windows, and even supporting wooden struts along the tile roofs. Walking through the streets, we also saw evidence of the 2015 earthquake, and more modern artwork, including a street exhibit on climate change and environmental issues.

Looking for more photos of Nepal? Check out mudbathing rhinos and mountain sunrises. Want more city streets? Here’s Copenhagen and Oulu.

Narayani River

Entering Chitwan, we crossed a large river which our taxi driver told us was part of the Ganga river. We later learned that this is the Narayani, or Gandaki River, which is one of the major tributaries of the Ganga river. I spent 7 months in Varanasi, Indiat living and teaching on the banks of the Ganga (way back when this blog was first conceived). It was pretty incredible to see the same waters much further upstream.

During our stay in Chitwan, we took a boat ride along the river. We saw all kinds of animals in the water and on the shores, including the endangered gharial, or fish-eating crocodile. We also saw a group of men using two canoes to bring a Jeep across the river! And we took a morning walk with the elephants and mahouts that work at the lodge to cut food for the elephants. The elephants passed a bundle at a time up to their mahouts (stealing bites along the way) and carried the stack back–the whole elephant-load is only about half of their food for the day.

Nepali Pachyderms

We went on multiple jungle walks in Chitwan, including a visit to a watering hole. On each of these adventures, the highlight was pairs of rhinos, each a mother with a calf. Young rhinos stay with their mothers for about four years, until her next child is born. One of the calves was pretty small. It was fun to see them wander around, with the mothers always watching nearby. We also had a great time watching the tame elephants, who provide security and continuously munch on their favorite forest plants.

*Pachyderm is a term often used to describe elephants, rhinoceroses, and hippopotamuses, all large vegetarian mammals with thick skin. Despite their similarities, these animals are not closely related, and are all taxonomically grouped into different orders.

Chitwan Courtyard

One of my favorite things about my time in Kenya was the wildlife and birds I saw from my porch. Chitwan National Park in Nepal is similarly rich in diversity. We were fortunate to see tame elephants and wild rhinos (more pictures of both to come) on our short trip there. But we also had a lot of fun birdwatching at the resort, and seeing all the animals in the trees and vines around our tent. Some of my favorites were the fantail bird and the eyelashes on the hornbill.

Chitwan Jungle Walk

We spent our second week in Nepal at Chitwan National Park, at the Tiger Tops lodge. The lodge is situated near the edge of the park, and hosts guided walks through the jungle to see the wildlife. In addition to the naturalists walking along with us, mahouts rode elephants at the front and back of the group. The elephants acted as security detail. If wild animals were to charge, the mahouts would move the elephants in front of the group as a very hefty protective wall. This provides security for the hikers and employment for the mahouts without overburdening or harming the elephants. Just a few minutes into our hike, we saw three rhinos (a mother and baby, and another female) and got to watch them interact. Later on the hike, we came across the mother and baby again wallowing in a waterhole.

Nepali Mountain Views

To get out of the smog in Nepal’s cities, we took a ride into the foothills of the Himalayas, and a one-day trek through the villages of Dhampus and Astam. The sunrise was stunning, with glowing colors spreading over the mist, and the Annapurna peaks shining. As the day progressed, we wound our way up and down hills on small rocky paths, enjoying both the natural scenery and the small villages.

*Please note–all photographs of people were taken with explicit permission, here and in any other post. In this case, we stopped to have cha (hot tea) and chat with these women. The first one asked me to take her photo, and the second is laughing because she was surprised to hear me speak in (rusty) Hindi.

Sunrise at Sarankot

We spent our first week in Nepal in Pokhara, a medium-sized city centered around the Phewa Lake. Guidebooks of the area always feature crystal-clear reflections of snow-capped mountains surrounding the town, but increasing pollution in recent years has made the mountains a lot harder to see. Even though we were there in one of the clearer times of year, the views from the city ranged from hazy to cloudy, without a peak in sight.

Early one morning, we took a car up a windy road dotted with tourist guesthouses to Sarankot. The lookout there stands at 1600 meters, up above most of the haze. It was incredibly crowded, with people filling the the tower, clustered along the stairs, and spread across the grass at its base. Even packed in tight, we watched in awe as the sky slowly brightened, and a faint line of clouds hovering above the valley coalesced into the range of mountains. The sky brightened and colored until it was crisply blue, and then the fog spread up, we drove back down the hill, and the mountains disappeared once again.