TREKKING IN NEPAL
“Sometimes all you have to do to go from a frost-covered ridge to a rain forest is to take a turn in the trail.” — Benny Haddad
It was December 2011 and Benny Haddad, California-based photographer, had just spent six weeks traveling in Bali, Singapore and Bhutan, and was soon to head back to the United States. Then he decided to enjoy one more excursion: Nepal was calling and it was close enough for him to reach. This small, landlocked kingdom in the Himalayas, between China/Tibet and India, is home to the Annapurna Circuit, a region of majestic landscapes and spectacular mountain peaks, many revered by both Hindus and Buddhists. So, too, are Nepal’s temples, holy sites, and medieval architectural structures both revered and a destination for pilgrims. A photographer’s Paradise indeed. And the inspiration for many iconic pictures.
Don’t expect them here, though, for Haddad is as much the experiential traveler living in the moment as he is a man with a camera known for his own personal style in photographing celebrities, lifestyle, and travel. When he photographs, it’s not to make the familiar, must-have image, but to find the true spirit of the moment and capture his subjects in a deep and honest way.
Both the photographs and video reveal Haddad’s relationship to the people, places, and circumstances he encountered in Nepal. His Nepalese guide, Shiba Abihari, speaks to the camera with ease and intimacy while Haddad films him for the video. In the first image in the album, pilgrims circle Boudhanath, one of the holiest sites in Kathmandu. As the viewer, it’s difficult to find a single vantage point, for people are walking in many different directions. The result is dizzying, and the viewer may be pulled inside.
Traveling in Nepal, Haddad wasn’t looking for an arduous hiking and camping trip but for a different experience Nepal offers, teahouse trekking. Speaking with me recently he explained, “You have a guide, stay each night in a teahouse. . .it’s more like a tour. To find a guide, I started in Pokara, the biggest town in the area and where trips start for Annapurna. Its streets are lined with shops, some selling climbing gear and others offering guides. Walking around and meeting people, I found Shiba and we hit it off right away.”
Haddad was quick to explain the critical importance of the guide: “The guide is leading you on, your cook, your friend, first-aid person, the one who will make introductions, act as interpreter, and ask permission for you. The guide also sets the day’s pace. Our daily trek was generally eight to ten hours a day in duration, with an overnight stay at a teahouse and then waking up to a leisurely breakfast.”
Haddad’s photographs take us inside and up close in those teahouses and their accommodations, including the mouth-watering food. And then there are the people that Haddad and his small group met on the only path going from one village to the next: local children outside of Ghandruk carrying firewood home on their backs; a woman weaving with a hand loom; the local miller in a mountain village; the kitchen staff at a teahouse; and the constant flow of young and old going about their daily lives.
Haddad recalls one unexpected event: “One day we came upon a herd of sacrificial goats approaching from the opposite direction. They had been walked all the way from Tibet by herders bringing them to sell in the villages.” Haddad jumped out of their way and started photographing.
For a clearer understanding of Haddad’s time along the Annapurna Circuit, here is his four-day itinerary:
Kathmandu to Pokhara Itinerary
Started Annapurna Circuit from Pokhara. We took a taxi to Nayapul where we started walking and walked in a big circle……
Day 1: Taxi from Pokhara to Nayapul. Hiked from Nayapul to Ulleri.
Day 2: Ulleri to Ghorepani.
Day 3: Wake up extra Early. Summit Poon Hill at 10,475 feet in elevation. Then Hike from Ghorepani to Gandruk.
Day 4: Gandruk to Nayapul. Took a taxi back from Nayapul to Pokhara.
Total Days 4
Total Distance 68 mi/ 110 k
Starting Altitude 3600 ft / 1100 m
Max Altitude 10,475 ft/ 3100 m
Reflecting upon the joy of being in the mountains and the warmth with which he was welcomed, Haddad notes: “Overall, it is a very respectful culture. I never felt uncomfortable. Nepal is a very poor country with not a lot of resources and a government on the verge of collapse and chaos. Tourism matters a great deal.” Each photograph invites viewing at your own speed. They don’t unfold in documentary or photo-essay fashion but more in keeping with the spinning prayer wheels or vibrantly hand-painted bicycle rickshaw in the city, or the Lung Ta (“Wind Horse”) prayer flags, strung and hung in high places to carry the blessings depicted on the flags to all beings.
Every image has an energy and frequency all its own, there for you to let play upon your senses as you wish — and allow.