There were times when our two years in Mumbai seemed an eternity. I knew the time would pass quickly, however, that every day, strange as it was, would crossfade into the next and that sooner, rather than later, we would be headed back to the airport, boarding a flight out, and that everything undone would most likely stay undone.
For perhaps the first time in my travels I feel like I did almost everything I could possibly have done given the time I had in South Asia, given obligations to family and work and simply the toll that India takes on health and endurance.
I hiked to the headwaters of the Ganges and drank from the holy river where it flows from a glacier at 14,000 feet. I waded into the warm surf on Sagar Island a month later where the same river enters the Bay of Bengal. I went to Varanasi, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Jaipur, Johdpur, Old Goa, Chennai, Calcutta, Trivandrum, Badlapur, Badrinath, Mukwha, Gangotri, Udaipur, and a score or two of other places. I went from Kanyakumari at the southern tip of the Subcontinent to Mana in Uttarkhand, the last village in India not far from the Tibetan border. I never made it to the Taj Mahal and I feel no guilt or regret for that.
But there was one place I would have regretted not visiting and that was Kathmandu, Nepal. It was far from the most remote place, far from the hardest or most hazardous to reach. A few million hippies, mountain climbers, mystics, and plain old tourists had made it there before me. But when we broke through the Himalayan clouds over the Kathmandu Valley, I cued up Bob Seger on my headphones and can’t remember smiling more broadly or feeling that I had somehow arrived somewhere important than I did at that moment.
It is a modern cliché that one goes to Kathmandu, to the Himalayas, in search of enlightenment: to find answers to the great questions of life. I didn’t go to Nepal looking for enlightenment but to one degree or another I found it. I am still somewhat chagrined to speak or write those words but you take enlightenment as it comes. And so, if you climb a frozen peak and find me meditating at the top (you probably won’t) and ask me what is the meaning of life is I will tell you this: turn off your cellphone. Look at the world around you. Stop scrolling through social media. Stop curating your experiences as they happen. Love your family. Hold your wife and children. Read a good book every now and then… What were you expecting anyway? 42? Some cryptic Zen mumbo jumbo? That a snake oil salesman from Kansas is pulling levers behind the curtains?
Journalism is in crisis now not so much because journalists have biases — as humans they always have — but because more than ever they are setting out to prove those biases, because no time is taken to explore and to reflect upon how that investigation has changed one’s opinion. In the same way we, as private citizens, set out on a voyage with our ever-linked phones in hand. Every experience is reported live and without reflection or context. We become so enamored with the appearance of our adventures that we don’t allow the adventure itself to occur. Our personal lives, like the mainstream media, have been consumed by the voracious 24-hour news cycle.
“I hiked to the headwaters of the Ganges and drank from the holy river where it flows from a glacier at 14,000 feet.”
The moment I landed in Kathmandu my phone went black. I couldn’t turn it on, couldn’t use Wi-Fi, couldn’t even take a picture with it. I assumed it must be broken but it began working again as soon as I returned to India. It may have had something to do with the Nepali cellular networks (though this doesn’t explain why none of the phone’s functions worked) but it felt as if God had taken away my phone to teach me a lesson. Not being caught up in that constant news and communication cycle I also approached my photography in a different manner. In this case I became content to simply enjoy taking photos, to not worry if I was making deathless art. In other words to enjoy my time in a place I had dreamed of going since I was a boy rather than seeing it all through glass, sectioning it all into neat little rectangles. Of course I took photos — it is what I do — but I also spent more time, well, just being. I bought a book about Mallory and his attempts on Everest. I read at night about how he wrote his wife from the slopes of the mountain that eventually killed him, from where his body will never return, and I missed my own wife more than I thought possible. I took tours of the major sites. I sat and watched people and thought about my family and my life and all the steps that had finally brought me to Kathmandu.
When it was time, I packed my bag, packed the treasures I had found, put my camera in its bag, concentrated on what I was seeing on the way to the airport. I meditated on the unknowable, the future, and whether I would ever return. And I was grateful for having been.
The following are a selection of images from my five or so days in Kathmandu. They were shot with a Leica M Monochrome (Version 1) with a 50mm Summicron, a 35mm f/2.8 Summaron, and a 15mm f/4.5 Voigtlander Super Heliar (V1). FP
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