Since I received the first email from World Nomads saying that my scholarship entry was on final rounds of judging, my happiness only has increased to an unknown level for me, and even though I was exchanging emails and phone calls with Alicia, Pari, Pearse, Christopher and of course Richard, leaving everything ready for the trip, it was actually when my flight was departing from Caracas that I realised that the whole thing was going for real. What an opportunity I am about to face was my main thought.
The easiest way to get to Asia from Venezuela is through Europe, so my first flight was to Frankfurt, where I had the longest stop over of my life, a 12 hours one. Having to be there for so long all I wanted was to depart on my second flight towards Abu Dhabi. While crossing over Doha and arriving to Abu Dhabi at night time the lights and shapes of this island, even though from the airplane captured me totally, but the best views of the whole journey was flying over Nepal, at this point I was falling asleep from the long trip but to have my first sight of the high peaks of the Himalayas leaving way behind the clouds level and other mountains, what a welcome to such a beautiful country.
After my arrival and making my way out of the Tribhuvan International Airport, I met Lok, the driver from Intrepid Travel who was going to take me to the Guest House where we were going to spend our time in Thamel, I was a bit sad that the first person I met after almost 35 hours of journey did not speak so much English, but after a few minutes of trying to exchange some information, bingo! He knew Bengali, language, that I can defend myself on conversational level, so immediately he started explaining to me many things, main places to visit, the weather, good places to eat in Kathmandu, he was just meant to drive me to the Guest House, but finally he was pretty much like a tourist guide for me, all the people I met after him had the same mood, all are very kind and always willing to help and assist you with a happy smile on their face, this was my first impression of the people in Nepal and it last till the very end.
After recovering myself from my long journey with a full day of rest. The following day Richard was supposed to arrive near noontime, which had me alert to meet him personally for the first time. It was already like three o’clock when I saw him walking around the garden, so I approached him and he invited me to accompany him during a quick lunch before our guide named Shiva arrived to the place. We were talking and exchanging some of our background when Christopher from World Nomads arrived at the hotel as well. Just by that brief first meeting with Richard while his lunch I realised how conscious he was about light. He really wanted to leave at the proper time to get the best shots in the best light. It was like 4:30 pm when we were ready to leave, so he quickly checked his professional photography gear and gave some advice about mine. We left the guest house at 4:45pm towards the Swayambunath, also known as the Monkey Temple, at the time of our arrival to the Temple due to some traffic jam, we only had few minutes of sun light before the sunset, so Richard told me to feel free and try to get the most with the light we had so we immediately started the work all around the place. Walking clockwise around the Stupa I experienced how Richard worked with the low light we were starting to have, and I started to realise how extremely practical, simple and sharp we was. We were up there till nighttime seeing how the evening light affected the temple, and still sharing between us some background and certainly hearing from Richard some teachings and advises about low light photography. After we returned to the Guest House and drop all our gear we headed for a place to have dinner, and there I recall a lovely and deep conversation about life, photography, travels, graphic design, typography, publishing, art, and from this very moment I realised how fortunate I was to have Chris join the trip with us. Richard is a first class professional photographer and Christopher is so professional as well in what he does that all the conversations were so meaningful and rich that even though we were having a chat while eating pizzas I was receiving so much nourishment from the conversation as well.
Today was our first full day of assignment. Extremely tiring but exciting at the same time. The departure time from the Guest House was set up at 6:45 am, fortunately I was ready on time although I only slept around four hours being so excited about the assignment already going on. So, when we were all ready to leave the place we realised it was raining, and probably the whole night had been raining since the streets were so wet, so I quickly ran back into my room and prepared myself with the Kathmandu gear sent by World Nomads, and finally we left the place directly to the Baudhanath Stupa, probably the main pilgrim place in Kathmandu. Unfortunately when we arrived we saw how the earthquake left its mark on it, bringing down its top part, you could see the people working on the reparations with structures and bricks. Richard gave an introduction to the place and a brief explanation of what we should look for, so we started to walk around the Stupa and of course enter two of the monasteries that are just in that area, finding no activity inside of the them we continued walking around the big stupa. We saw a temporary tent where there was going to be a Buddhist offering, so we waited a little bit for them to start and we focused there for a while. I could say it was my toughest experience with photography ever, all the Buddhist monks were sitting making their prayers, but outside the tent rain was falling, a crowd was surrounding the tent, and the background wasn’t so attractive at all, but still we tried to register the ceremony and the action involved in it. We made a break to rest a little bit after almost three hours of shooting, and Richard in the middle of a coffee talk started deep explanations about focal length, exposure and aperture, and how to harmonise between them to get the perfect exposure and image, I was mind blown to see how deep Richard´s technical knowledge was and how he was openly sharing it with me including some of his secrets. So at 10:30 am we left the Boudhanath Temple and went back to the Guest House for late breakfast to immediately continue the journey in a 2 hours walk all around Thamel and the Old city markets and Temples. You could see all over the place very old statutes and ornaments hidden between shops and tents, remembering you how beautiful and ancient this country is. During this walk I started practicing the advises Richard gave me early morning. Having walked all morning and part of the afternoon hunger took us naturally to a beautiful garden with restaurant to have lunch. Todays journey was going to be long, so, after finishing the meal and returning to the Guest House we just had around 15 to 20 minutes to refresh the camera gear before and depart to the Pashupatinath, the largest Hindu Temple in Kathmandu. We weren’t allowed inside Lord Shiva´s Temple, but in the surroundings there is the Bhagmati river, where it is costume to see the body cremations, and also many Sadhus are always passing their time around this holy place, we were there until nighttime to presence Shiva Arati, just after we finished and jumped in the car to return to the Guest House, Richard and Chris started planning the wake up call for the following day, at this point I realised with a clear idea of the intensity of how the rest of the days were going to be.
Early morning we were ready for our third day of assignment and Richard led us once again towards the Baudhanath Temple to see if we ran with luck to presence another Budhist offering but this time inside one of the monasteries rather than a temporary tent as the day before, so we arrived without rain fortunately and immediately ran into the first monastery were the Buddhist monks were performing their morning prayers and offerings, so we stayed there for like an hour trying to register their holy activities. The pronunciation of their verses mixed with the beautiful sounds of their instruments gave a very deep sense of spirituality, many pilgrims entering the room paying obeisances and giving donation to the monks gave some action and movement to the peaceful and concentrated atmosphere that was inside the beautifully decorated Temple. Being able to see Richard work and capture his images is really one of the greatest experiences so far, you learn just to see the way he shoots, how he moves between the people, and how he interacted with locals through smiles, what to speak of receiving direct advice from him. Richard, Chris, and myself were on the same time and place, seeing the same subjects but the way Richard captured his scenes was truly amazing. Of course, he has more than 35 years of career, so my good fortune is to be beside him and learn just by see how he works and creates unique and beautiful photographs. After our Baudhanath cover was finished we had breakfast and reviewed the theorical lessons from the day before in the same coffee shop. We departed immediately towards the Kopan Monastery, one of the biggest and principal monasteries of Kathmandu. This day was the Sonam Losar, Tibetan new year, so for our surprise and photographic opportunity we found the monastery fully packed with monks performing a huge offering. The place was divided into approximately a hundred monks in half of the temple and in the other half a hundred nuns and all of them together were doing their prayers creating this unique atmosphere in one of the most beautiful monasteries of Kathmandu. Having the experience of the religious activities performed in this day, after lunch we went to a big land in the centre of Kathmandu were thousands of people gather to celebrate this new years eve, giving us a further understanding on how locals relate with this day.
We left Kathmandu after breakfast to go to Balthali village, but on our way we made a stop in Bhaktapur, the oldest town in Kathmandu Valley. Once I arrived I could not stop thinking on how that place was in the 19th century. It has been one of the most historical places I have been so far. Sadly many of the buildings and Temples being so old were heavily damaged with the earthquake, but still you could feel the ancient atmosphere of the place. We had a walk throughout the streets, it was around 10:30 am, and the light was starting to become harsh, but anyhow we made some coverage of the place and people around the town. One of Richard´s main focuses there was to take us to the pottery square, were traditionally all the local hand made pottery is created, so we had an amazing time there. I asked Richard if I could go by myself a little bit further into the village to see if I found something special, which he replied positively, so wondering around I heard some live instruments playing and I followed the sound till I reached a little house were a group of musicians were making a traditional ceremony for the coming of age of the young boy of the house, so I made some shots and immediately went back to the pottery square to tell Richard and Chris what I found. Richard was happy about the news so we went and made a little coverage of the musicians. We had a little break in a coffee shop but the journey had to continue for around four hours more approximately towards Balthali Village, so we moved on passing through beautiful landscapes of rice and potato fields, we arrived to a point were we changed cars because the following path was very inclined and rocky, the Sumo dropped us off half hour away from the Balthali village resort, so we trekked through the mountains crossing over two bridges and we arrived for late lunch. The food was really nice. The best of all was the view of the town and cultivation fields that were extremely photogenic. Unfortunately the sky wasn’t clear to allow us to see the Himalayan peaks, so, we used the rest of the day to start processing pictures. I was stunned to see how Richard processes his images. He remarked many times that getting the proper exposure with the camera settings makes the post processing much easier, we were late up night beside a fire prepared for us processing images and listening anecdotes from his travels. Incredible times.
Very early we were trying to get some landscapes with the Himalayan peaks, but the morning was very hazy. Richard being so many times in Nepal said that November is the best time of the year there, so that was one of the reasons we were not seeing anything yet. We still practised some landscape shots with him till almost breakfast time. We had like an hour more before we left towards Nama Boudha, a village even higher in altitude, so I took that time to write down more thoughts on my diary and process a couple of more pictures before we left the place. The road was very bumpy, but we arrived to a very warm and lovely eco guest house. Arriving close to lunch time we were served the most special eco food with vegetables grown in the garden. The main place to visit in the village was the Nama Boudha Monastery so without spending a minute for rest as the previous days we checked all our gear and our trek started led by Shiva. We arrived to the monastery probably at 2:30pm and there were no activities and also photography wasn’t allowed inside so we moved on to a hill that had a little temple for prayers and was full of praying flags, we took hundreds of shots there. After that, Shiva took us down to the central town before going back to the guesthouse. Lot of work to do beside Richard processing pictures and of course writing down my daily journal diary. I am very fortunate to have so much access to Richard's vast knowledge about everything related with photography and also having traveled so many years he is just the perfect person to listen stories and anecdotes from. We were up selecting images till our eyes started blinking out of tiredness so when that happened I went to my room for rest.
Another early cold morning full of haze, what a bummer. Unable to do so much due to the weather, we had lets say our first official break watching one of Richard's projects with National Geographic called Tales of Light. Very lovely and inspiring, I do not know if through this diary I will be able to express how fortunate I am to be all day so close to such a master in photography. Our destination today was Bandipur, one of the oldest villages of Nepal, that was a 5 hours drive from Namo Boudha, so after breakfast we needed to pack everything quickly and leave the place as soon as possible. The road trip was very nice, part of the highway road was beside Trishuli river, so we had very nice views and landscapes during the whole trip. We arrived to our place at late afternoon. We had a very nice couple of days there. People were extremely kind and the best of all, we had perfect weather so we could make our coverage and fulfill more our shot list. As we arrived, we checked in the Old-inn Guest House, again, one of the oldest in the town, a very beautiful place. We already had lunch on the road so we used the last rays of light to make a recognition of the town and make some shots of the peaks, that for the first time in the journey we were able to see a bit clearly. Richard requested me that after dinner we sat down so I showed him my selection of photographs so far, I was very excited about it. Richard, in the previous days, checked some of my photos from the camera, but this was the first time he was going to go through them in a more profound way. I could say that this was one of the greatest moments of learning in the whole assignment, to see how critic and analytic he was over my work, made me reconsider many things. He was going through them checking the meaning, exposure, composition, focus, sharpness, colour, absolutely everything, I saw surprised how he started leaving aside many of the images I thought were good, although I was a little bit concerned that my work was reduced to more than its half, I started to feel very happy to understand why he was doing so, and furthermore the level that the final selection would have thanks to his mentorship.
Ready for sunrise we woke at 5:30 am, but we had to trek a hill over 25 minutes to reach the top and have a clear point of view, it was worth it since we saw the most beautiful colours over the Himalayas, specifically the Annapurna circuit. Richard gave us more or less like a master class of landscape photography, and we had a very smooth morning shooting from the hill with his advice. After breakfast in the Old-inn we went through all the village making some coverage of Balthali's people and places. Walking through one of the main streets we found a blue house and some kids playing in front of it, so the practical classes with Richard continued this time with portraiture lessons. People were extremely simple and happy, so we comfortably captured them for a while. Today was half way of the assignment and personally I was starting to feel very tired, the accumulation of activities started to make effect over my energy, specially after going up to the hill and the morning walk. To this point everything had been very intense and non stopping, fortunately Richard and Chris are extremely kind and nice, so we also had a lot of fun specially during meals. We had some free time in the afternoon before going again to the hill to have a clear view of the mountains and villages but this time at sunset, but during those free times I had to process images to not allow them to stay behind, so although very tired, there was a lot of work to do.
Leaving Balthali early in the morning after going up the hill for the last time we tried to capture once again the mountains. I was extremely tired at the time of going to bed the day before so I was unable to pack my gear and belongings, so after we came down from the hill and received breakfast at our place, I was only 10 minutes late for the time of departure. The journey back to Kathmandu was about 5 hours, so we wanted to leave quickly before we got stuck somewhere due to traffic jam. During our road trip our car was very quiet, no questions for Richard, no chat with Shiva, and no speaking with Chris, we tried to rest as much as possible. When we were back to Kathmandu, we went straight for lunch. It was about 2:30 pm and Richard made a meeting for me at 4:00 pm so I could show him my second batch of selected images, so as soon as we arrived hands to work. While Richard went through them he focused mainly in the composition of the images, as always giving me very important advices that will remain with me hopefully every time I have to make a photograph. After our session we went for dinner and afterwards we needed to pack our things and leave everything ready for the next day.
In the morning time we checked out from the Guest House and departed towards the airport to take a local flight towards Salleri a very remote village, where the Australian Himalayan Foundation has been reconstructing schools as in other remote areas of Nepal damaged by the earthquake. The flight was lovely, we were able to see all the valleys and peaks from the airplane. Salleri is like 2,000 m of altitude so, when we arrived we had an extremely clear view of the mountains. It was the coldest place so far in the trip, and after arriving and taking the respective hot tea, they took us for the first school to visit, the Garmma Primary School where a couple of the buildings were destroyed, because of this reason, some students were receiving classes in temporary classrooms while new buildings and classrooms were being constructed. We went to those temporary classrooms first and from outside you could hear the children reciting out loud all together phrases. What a heart touching experience to live, we were in the middle of nowhere but those kids were reading their lesson lines in English, they were very respectful and of course shy to see us with big cameras on hand. We approached them with smiles and the coverage began. The principal director took us to every classroom and introduced us to the teachers and we were able to make photos everywhere. Afterwards we went to the place were the already constructed places were finished, with just a few details remaining. The whole environment was very positive, everyone was helping to finish the buildings and showing us the developments, and expressing extreme kindness to us. The second school we visited was even warmer, all the kids received us with garlands and intense affection, as in the first school they showed us the damages done by the earthquake and where the kids are receiving classes nowadays before the new classrooms are finished. Today the rest place wasn’t booked because we were on the road and very much in the middle of nowhere, so we had to go to couple of places searching, finally arriving to the Himalayan View guest house situated at 3,000 m altitude, with a beautiful and clear view of the mountains, specially the Everest among them. It was very cold, you were able to see pieces of ice in the middle of the road. We were exhausted but having such a clear view we made some landscapes and went back again by a warm fire inside the house and had dinner.
The previous night, was the most austere from the whole trip, being in such a place the accommodation was very simple, but on the positive side we did not have a wake up call for the first time in the assignment. Once we were ready we again went to a little hill behind the house and captured again the mountains this time with some clouds giving a new appearance to the view. We had a simple breakfast and our road trip started once again towards another school that has received the support from the AHF, weather was great, and not so cold as our last place back in the guest house, we arrived around 10 o’clock, time when the classes start so we were present for the morning assembly and afterwards we visited the classrooms to capture the relation between the teachers and students. One more school was in our shot list so we drove 1 hour through very difficult paths to a point where we had to make a tough 1 hour trekking up to the school, no doubt the view was lovely but being on the last day of the assignment I was feeling exhausted, anyhow we made it, one of the most important things of having to reach up to the school was to realise that many of the students, between 6 and 12 years old have also tale the same path to attend their classes daily. It was approximately 1:00 pm and the light was very harsh, and inside the classrooms light wasn’t enough to capture almost anything. All the schools we went we were received with so much honour by the head professor, once again showing the Nepali´s natural kindness. After lunch beside the school, we had to return to our car through the same path. Again we had to drive for about another hour towards Salleri to have some rest. Rest for me was to sit on my bed processing as much pictures as possible to be able to show my selection to Richard having only one day left before his departure.
In the morning time our plane departure was at 8:30 am, so we had to be at the small airport at 7:00 am, little bit worried that our flight would be late because of heavy winds that made some of the flights unable to land the day before. Anyhow, we were up early, went for a quick breakfast before heading towards the airport. Our plane fortunately was on time, so as we were leaving Salleri behind I also felt that I was leaving behind one of the most beautiful experiences of my life being so close to the assignment end. We arrived to Kathmandu and immediately headed towards the Guest House. The only thing left to do on my behalf was to advance with my final selection of images and some processing for Richard to overview my whole process and guide me towards the final selection of photographs so I could continue processing the following days. After working in the afternoon with my photographs I also started collecting all my gear and preparing my luggage for tomorrow’s check out and the end of the assignment. In the nighttime we went to a special place for dinner to say goodbye to this beautiful experience. This opportunity as World Nomads explain certainly is a money can't buy experience and it was my good fortune that such a precious opportunity was extended to me. I feel that I can put into practise all of Richard’s advices and remember the teachings learned. Certainly all the experience he can easily share from so many years of traveling and genuine love for photography gives you so much courage and inspiration to become more serious and focused about everything related to it.