* Random images of ... Bryaga; an Archery contest & a Rolleiflex .. June 19 2015

Bryaga sits toward the far end of the Marsyangdi valley, with the Annapurna Range opposite. The Annapurna Circuit trek is a long one, broken into 2 parts - pre & post-Thorung La. All the way along the Marsyangdi Kola, you gain altitude, & at this point, just short of Manang, you're noticing it. At 3,470 metres, you're nevertheless 2,000 metres short of the height you'll be at when you top Thorung La. And, including tonight's sleep, you've got 3 nights before you wake before Dawn, fuel-up & start walking ... Between now, at Bryaga, & the time you top Thorung La, you're always wondering; can I do it ?.. Will the altitude beat me ?... Will Aspirin be sufficient, or will I need to resort to Diamox ?.... Hope I don't need the Oxygen tent !!... How deep will the Snow be ?... What's Diamox like ?... Will I get a stomach bug (2 of our small group were struggling with crook stomachs).... Will we be caught in a snow-storm ?.... How cold will it be, in Tents, that final pre-summit night - sleeping higher than the summit of Mt Blanc, at Thorung High Camp ?.... My Map highlighted large areas of the narrow trail into Thorung-Phedi as avalanche-prone !! ....we had plenty to think about, as Pete & I got ready to climb the track up to the gompa on top of the Bryaga Monastery. 

The valley is dry; the result of its position in the rain-shadow of the Himalaya. Dust is ever-present. A feature of Bryaga (or Bragha), is the building code. A vertical approach, with the roof of the house beneath used as the sunny porch of the dwelling above. It looked cold, dusty & distinctly draughty !  The ghompa Pete & I were going to climb to can be seen on the roof of the monastery at the top of the picture. Stone is used as the basis of all building, & lies all around; the buildings are old, & it's difficult to tell whether they are lived-in or not. 

Ever-present prayer-flags, fluttering in the breeze, warding off evil spirits. The monastery sits with the Himalaya as a back-drop. The Archery competitors shoot towards us. Accidents aren't unknown ..

In Spring. keenly-contested Archery contests are held in the Manang district. Photographers are not encouraged ... The dress of the participants is individual, with local monks involved. The target's a large wooden plank, with minimal markings & a prayer-scarf wound round the top for good luck. There's some good shots amongst them. 

Pete & I continued climbing, to the ghompa above the village. 

The ghompa faced the Himalaya, with the Annapurnas right there. Forget about fences & hand-rails. You could fall off the roof of the monastery, easy as anything. Whilst on a Trek, you're encouraged to do these exploratory walks, to further your acclimatisation. Indra, our attendant, was watchful, here & at the next ghompa (the very remote Thare gompa, the next evening).

Tilicho Peak & the stone spire behind are visible from the time you enter the valley, way back at the Paunga Danda rock-face. Close-up, it's very impressive. Behind the ridge lies the Tilicho Tal ice lake, with a hotel - Tilicho Base Camp Hotel. Pretty typical of Nepal, that a hotel can exist in such an isolated area. Trekking in the Tilicho region is dangerous, with frequent avalanche & snow-storms. Across the valley, avalanches crash from the flanks of the Gangapurna glacier. The whole area is a jumble of smashed rock & huge flanks of ice-covered mountain. Tomorrow, we'll trek further along the valley towards Tilicho Peak, to Thare Gompa. Then, we'll climb slowly up the very steep ridge, in switch-back style, be treated to huge views back to the Paunga Danda area & Manaslu; then descend into the valley & trek towards Yak Kharka, Thorung Phedi & Thorung High Camp.

The children are instructed in drum-work as part of the day's pageantry, which kept them involved. The men were very close around me whilst I was shooting these images.

Amongst all the excitement, I was excited to spot this photographer, in amongst the crush of locals. It appeared to me that he'd won their trust.  In the image below, he's got a bag of film spools in his right hand, & he's getting a tripod out, which he didn't use in the short time I watched. Indra, our ever-present companion, watches, transfixed. The Rolliflex sits in the gear-sack, in the dust. I was horrified !, & very excited. In the time just before I'd left Sydney, I'd seen a doco on the TV about Archery competitions in the Nepali Himalaya being documented by photographers, with all the attendant tension it creates in the locals, & here I was seeing it !. And, the Camera is a wind-on Rolleiflex film camera !!! (Didn't expect that ...)

Indra borrows a Bow & shapes up. I can see that Indra, in his quiet way, is proud, & excited as ... The photographer waits ... He was classic; low-key with a disarming demeanour & his labour-of-love Rolleiflex wind-on film Camera, just waiting. I'd attracted enough attention, enough warning glances, at this point, to feel I should stop shooting ... 

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* Random images of ... from Muktinath to Kagbeni May 16 2015

Our Trek group of Pete, Margaret, Anna & Lutz had a solid night's sleep in Ranipauwa (just past Muktinath), having successfully fallen down Thorung La. Marg was fastest down, disappearing off into the distance. I went ok, having been administered a Tiger-Balm head massage by the Trek leader, Juddha Rai, which left me feeling super-charged - Wow !!. The next day's Muktinath to Jomsom leg was keenly anticipated, giving stunning views across the tributaries of the upper Kali Gandaki, to the legendary closed kingdom of Mustang. Our path stayed higher than the traditional route, as we bipassed Mustang's entry-town Kagbeni (which, I must admit annoyed me - how can you bypass Kagbeni !!!). Photographically, though, we benefitted. The following images; views of the Himalaya on a typically `tough-Light' Nepali day, are some of the most satisfying images I've ever shot. I enjoyed the challenge of shooting such large-scale images with a crop-sensor body & an 18-200mm kit Lens.


The following image shows where we came from. Thorung La sits above the cloud, at 5,400 metres, with the snow-drifts tapering-off as they descend. In the foreground, the surprising lushness of the cropped fields sits in stark contrast with the barren surrounds. The light was off & on throughout the morning; it lit up the valley as I shot this image. The Trees were brushed fleetingly with colour. , 

Moving further down the valley bought 1 stunning vista after another. As always, Murray the Photographer lagged behind the group, which, to be fair, set it's own pace, person-by-person. The pace was leisurely, giving me time to catch the incredible beauty around me. I was agog at this point; shooting whenever the group slowed or rested.. As we approached the viewing points for Kagbeni, we walked past huge slopes, almost bare of vegetation, containing caves where monks would live in isolation. The landscape around Kagbeni resembles Tibet in style; huge, swooping vistas of largely bare ground covering enormous distances, contrasting Nepal's condensed & more forested valleys.

Looking across the Kali Gandaki to Mustang was exciting. As I process these images & write this Blog, Nepal has been struck by destructive earthquakes, which look set to keep the area unstable for some time. Awful devastation has hit the mountaineous regions of Nepal. My early searches on the Web have confirmed that entire villages have been buried by rock-falls. Langtang has gone. The Tal area has gone unreported, but sits totally vulnerable under huge rock-fields. I can't imagine Trekking in Nepal at the moment, but I have a burning desire to see much more of the area - Ladach, Sikkim, Mustang, Far-Western Tibet (I haven't finished with Mt Kailash...!, & there's Guge, too).  I expect it will take a long time for Nepal to recover. I expect the Thorung La region will have been smashed - that whole area is on a knife-edge at the best of times.

Much has been written about `The Road'; how it's robbed the Annapurna Circuit of it's ambience & jeopardised it's historical context. I do know that it's opened the Trek up to new markets; older generations of middle-aged Trekkers who might have shied away from the challenge it was previously perceived to be .... Having said that, our route followed the river-bed of the Kali Gandaki once we passed Kagbeni. The road had been rocky, but ok. The river-bed was a rock-a-thon - rounded boulders of medium-size, jammed together so you couldn't miss them. It was a tough day's walking, for me. It exposed my walking boots as light-weight & comfortable - good for pavements. If you're gunna walk in river-beds, have fair-dinkum Leather hiking boots, that offer good ankle-support & no flexing under the sole ... The weather closed-in as we left the Kagbeni area behind. Spatters of rain, the wind increased to it's normal afternoon velocity (which stops the afternoon flights thru Jomson & convinces Trekkers they really do need a bandanna ...), & the cloud gave me 1 of my favourite images ..

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To see these images in hi-res on Facebook, go to ... (Muktinath to Kagbeni) (the Thorung La region)

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* Random images of ... Ganden Monastery April 01 2015

Ganden Monastery lies about 50kms outside Lhasa, in Tibet. Founded in 1409, it was heavily bombed by the Red Guards in the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, following China's Cultural Revolution. With a stunning view over the surrounding valley, it's a terrific place for a day-trip from Lhasa, whilst you acclimatise to the altitude. Tibet at-large is worlds-apart from Western society (which is why you'd see it ..), & a walk-thru the Chapels takes the comparison to another place entirely. Visitors have often just arrived the previous evening in Lhasa, off the Train across the Tibetan Plateau (another mind-widening experience !).

Ganden is a big Monastery, with numerous Chapels, in various stages of rebuild. There are about 200 monks working there now, after having about 2,000 at the time of the 1959 Uprising.  The displays within the Chapels are spectacular, demonstrating the reverence the Tibetans have for their Buddhist faith. The rooms within the Chapels are packed with artifacts, as well as the beautiful banked displays of Yak-Butter Candles, fluttering away. The smell is of incense & an earthy mix of burning Yak Butter, wax & dust, which under-emphasises the impressive nature of what you're seeing, as well as the obvious wealth in the room. 1-Yuan notes are stuffed in every crevice as offerings, & White & Gold silk scarves are twisted around all the Goblets & Bells. The background hum of Tibetan Monks chanting may well have been taped (I don't recall seeing them performing here - that's impressive ..!). It's fair to make the point, here. The Monks are oppressed; struggling under the authoritarian rule of the Chinese superpower situated right-next-door. Everything in Tibetan life is a struggle; particularly the existence of the Monks & the Monasteries.  Dissent is dealt with in the traditions of old-world China - harshly.

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* Flying in to Lukla, & the 1st view of Everest. December 04 2014

The trek from Lukla through Namche Bazaar & Thyangboche Monastery & up toward Mt Everest is beautiful, exciting, & rewarding. The thrill starts before you've landed. The Tenzing-Hillary Airport at Lukla is the most dangerous in the world. Built by the never-say-die Edmund Hillary's workers, the runway is 460 metres long, at an angle of 12 degrees. The landing is scary, partly because you can see the airstrip below you, through the open Cockpit door ! The takeoff is scary, because, once you've hit speed, you're committed to the takeoff, successful or not. Pictured is a small 2 engined aircraft, on final approach.

The trekker passes through beautiful forests of Rhododendron, Conifer & Fir trees, crossing the tumbling Dudh Kosi river regularly. The ascent to Namche is a 2 day affair, from 2800m to 3420 m, but with a 1,000 m ascent on the 2nd day from Phakding, which probably sounds confusing, but highlights the up & down nature of the Trek route. I saw numerous people sprinting past our group, intent on doing the Lukla to Namche section in 1 day, only to see them dreadfully sick with Altitude Sickness, nearing Namche Bazaar. The following image is our 1st night's camp-site. Farmers rent access of their land to Trekking companies, probably selling vegetables as well. The locals are virtually self-sufficient. And, it's cold, people. 

The image below shows a rest-stop on the way to Namche. One of the larger villages, perhaps Phakding. These buildings are well-established businesses, on what is surely the world's most popular trekking route. The population at large is very poor.  

The first glimpse of Mt Everest is a pretty good look, indeed. Everest climbs above the surrounding peaks, & at the angle of view available, Everest looks very impressive. It looms large ...

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* A Confronting scene in Pashupatinath, & a correction ..! December 03 2014

On an earlier stage of that Trekking holiday (see previous Blog), I travelled through Nepal. It was my introduction to the 3rd world (I'd hopped off the jet in Kathmandu from Sydney the previous day), with confronting images at every corner. This image is of a Hindu cremation ceremony, at Pashupatinath, on the Bagmati (holy) River, in Kathmandu. It was an intense sight, with half a dozen cremations in progress. The grieving families were spread along the Ghats, with acrid smoke giving the scene a stark reality that remains with me.   

The following image, it turns out, is probably my 1st Portraiture Session, pre-dating the subject covered in my previous Blog of yesterday by a couple of months. Which just goes to show you can't believe everything you read on the Net; even from a trusted (!) source like IAM. These little Angels were insistent that I shoot them, & they adopted the classic `Butter-wouldn't Melt ..' pose that they probably use on all the Trekkers that come their way. This was in the Annapurna region, in the Nepali Himalaya. These little Angels ran around our campsite for hours that night, in the rain, keeping our Trek leader on edge all night.

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* Random images of ... Nepal November 30 2013

The images shown below are from a day trip to Patan, an out-lying suburb of Kathmandu.It's known for it's ancient wooden architecture, with carvings of surprising sensuality & extraordinary detail. A Heritage-listed area (1 of many in Nepal), it's nevertheless a working city.


The following images are from a day trip to the Boudnath Stupa; a Tibetan Buddhist Pilgrimage site in Kathmandu. The surrounding suburb forms a gathering place for Tibetan refugees.


The image below is of students in Tibetan art, hand-drawing Thangkas, of incredible detail. Thangkas depict tribal religious scenes & weave exotic religious meanings.


the image below is of 1 of the entrances to the Pashupatinath Hindu cremation Ghat on the banks of the Baghmati River, in Kathmandu.


The Annapurna Circuit Trek coverage begins below. More images & commentary to follow.


Lunch on the 1st Day (wet); the scene as you enter Tal, with rock-falls commonplace in this area;


Buf (crossing a bridge); prayer flags


the Paunga Danda rock-face (absolutely HUGE)

the bridge at Lower Pisang; Farming in the Himalaya - steep & steeper ...!

looking along the valley towards Tilicho Peak

Prayer wheels & prayer stones - Om Mani Padme Hum (Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus)

arriving at camp

a camp-site in the mid-altitude Himalaya


the monastery at Bragha; Raj (1 of our Nepali guides) - now where's that turn-off again ?? All the way along the valley, it was noticeable the Nepalis were always carefully watching the weather & track conditions. 1 month earlier, there'd been deep snow in the Thare Ghompa region, making that side-exploratory impossible.


Trek leader Juddha Rai - so much responsibility on this man; looking back down the valley towards the Paunga Danda Rock-face & Manaslu (8156 metres) 



Just about to leave the valley for the Thorung La region; Bilkha & Marg talk to a solitary trekker of senior years (abandoned by his companions, I think I remember. We encountered him a few times; slowly slowly - Bistari Bistari ...)


the trail going further in towards Thorung Phedi (phedi means foot of the hill - some hill ..!!); avalanch areas - 1 person at a time, & don't dawdle was the directive.

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Thorung Phedi - the slope of the hill - flattened somewhat by the Lens

Thorung Phedi - lunch stop for us. At the extreme top-left of this image, you can see the track reaching toward the Thorung High Camp (4800 metres)

Proof that I got this far (I'm rarely in the image, being a photographer). At this point, my feet were holding up ok. I learned a lot about dressing Blisters & stuff. Finally had to pull out at Tatopani (2 nights short of the finish). My head was willing; my `feets' weren't !

Climbing ever upward, toward Thorung High Camp. The scale of the mountains was incredible. I felt like I was clinging to the side of the world. Climbing the track, my peripheral vision was filled with empty space at my side. My vertigo was chronic at this point. Bloody horrible & incredibly exciting.

Bilkha, Margaret & Pete arrive at Thorung High Camp.

Pete arriving at Thorung High Camp - 4,800 metres.

Marijuana is commonplace in Nepal - it's even marked on the maps - `Fields of Marijuana' !

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* Summitting Thorung La September 30 2013

We arose this morning after a very chilly night, during which I had vivid dreams & a fitful sleep.We breakfasted open-air style as the Nepali porters broke camp around us, & early rise trekkers from Thorung Phedi plodded slowly up the track past us. Breakfast was porridge, bread & eggs, tea & coffee (load up, you guys ...). Altitude at Thorung High Camp is about 4,800 metres, which means we camped higher than Mont Blanc. No wonder I've got a headache ! The previous night, our Nepali trek leader had advised (repeatedly) that we be prepared with our warmest gear on, & more available in our day-packs. We started climbing about 5am, with down jackets & thermals, scarves & gloves. Temp o/night perhaps -5 to -8 degrees C. Slow & steady was the plan. Keep a careful watch on AMS symptoms, drink lots, & rest often. Not too far short of the summit, our group had another rest stop, & I busied myself trying to record the stop & the scenery. I found it difficult to shoot meaningful images - my concentration was affected by the altitude. The images below show the staggering scenery, with the trail winding around the spur, back down into the valley, toward Thorung Phedi.


The above image also shows a trekker, carefully wrapped against the cold, with knees placed down the slope & head propped up on a medical kit, positioned as safely as possible. I'd not seen this poor soul at the time, & I don't know if our trek leaders saw him. I only identified him when I started processing my trek images, back in Sydney. I expect his trek leaders have organised a yak be bought up from Thorung High Camp, to get him over the summit ASAP.

 All around us, trekkers were either exhiliarated or struggling from head-ache, exhaustion & oxygen debt. We were very lucky with the conditions. Visibility was very good, wind wasn't a problem, & snow depth was as good as we could have hoped for. My recollection now of that day is that the going up was easy. You just did it; stopping when your body said stop, or when your companions stopped. The going down was much more difficult. The (1.6 km vertical) descent to Muktinath is steep, tricky & constant, with snow drifts an easier option than the trail. The trek up, from 4,800 metres to 5416 metres, took perhaps 4hrs; the descent from 5416 to 3800 metres at Muktinath perhaps another 4hrs, & lunch & rest stops another 4hrs. A big day !

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* Checking out Tilicho Peak & the Great Ice Barrier August 30 2013

Another shot from the Annapurna Circuit trek in the Himalaya earlier this year. At this point, we're at about 3,900 metres. This image is taken from near our camp-site at the remote Thare Ghompa, near Tilicho Tal, & prior to crossing the ridge behind me to trek to the Thorung La region. Pete & I had a look at the ghompa (apparently about 1,000 years old – the ghompa, not Pete !). Pete’s taken this shot of me, with Tilicho Peak (top right), & the Great Ice Barrier (which prevents monsoon rain from the Bay of Bengal crossing the Himalaya into Mustang & Tibet); first identified by Maurice Herzog), at left.

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