Stepping back in time – Kagbeni, Nepal

On our most recent jaunt (see last blog “Quite the adventure trekking” ) we overnighted in a small village called Kagbeni, in the lower Mustang Valley. For me it was a sight to behold. Having walked for 4 hours up the dry grey river valley we turned a corner and there in the distance was this green oasis that I hoped was our stopping point. The wind had picked up so much by mid afternoon that we were literally struggling to hold our footings as it pushed us around (thankfully mostly from behind) and I was looking forward to the idea of stopping and settling for a moment. While 4 hours of walking along flat ground was not that strenuous I think that the change in altitude up to 2700m still has an impact and wears you down a little. Anyway, the gorgeous spot of green was indeed Kagbeni, a walled town surrounded by lush paddocks of flowing wheat. With the wind racing and pushing through the terraces creating swirling patterns of bowing wheat it was a sight to behold. I tried to photograph it resulting in the fairly abstract shot below (which I debated about adding in or not and have decided that I like it so you get to see it heheheh).

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWandering into town we found ourselves in small streets lined with guest houses and restaurants but had to stop when we came across “YacDonalds”. The name was too kitch and catchy and we were both hungry so in the end we each had a “Yak’n’cheese burger”. I would have to say that MacD’s needs to watch its back. These were some pretty darned impressive burgers and as a yak first-timer I loved it 🙂 Dave was so impressed he bought the tee-shirt hehehe

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter checking into a guest house we went for a wander through town. We were familiar with the style of architecture as it was much as we had seen in Pokhara and in passing towns. Brick or stone buildings, often rendered on the outside, usually 1-2 storeys tall with a tin roof held on with some nails and a heap of big rocks and/or piles of firewood. Either underneath or alongside there would be a walled enclosure for livestock and attached electrical cables implying electricity for pretty much everyone. But we were in for a surprise.

The “newer” part of Kagbeni where the tourist accommodation was located was as described above, but cross the stream and everything changes. It gets older. You see, Kagbeni has been there a mighty long time. As in the monastery dates from the 1400’s. The houses and the streets reflect the different age of this side of town. The lanes are a narrow network running between 2-3 storey homes. The bottom level, sometimes below ground, is a livestock pen for holding the family cattle (small woolly looking cows with the most adorable tiny calves), then there is what I assume to be the family living area, where we could occasionally see a cooking hearth/kitchen. The top floor was a mystery but was generally reached via old and rickety ladders. These houses were cut stone with a thick mud/clay render and were solid and stalwart. The whole area felt positively medieval. It was amazing.

We wandered down one lane to find a set of prayer wheels lining the pathway. An old lady was walking along, quietly making her prayers and turning each wheel as she passed. The people we encountered seemed to be living a quiet kind of existence where there were jobs to be done and they just got on and did them. I felt as though at the end of their day they seemed to have time for a sit and chat with the neighbours, sharing stories and gossip, watching the kids play in the laneways, just kicking back and relaxing. In these simple lifestyles in the middle of nowhere there seemed to be a serenity that might well be missing in many a busy modern household.

A small but interesting highlight for us came as we were looking up the river to where the town ends and the valley carries on into the distance. Right at the edge of town was a long line of dark animals being herded up a road towards us. Now, yak are on my list. Not just to eat (although waaaay yummy) but I wanted to see and photograph some so the chance that these were yaks had me raring to go. Dave assured me they were too small to be yaks but either way we raced across town to find what was coming in from where.

They were goats. And I mean lots of goats. It must have been a herd of perhaps 200 goats being brought in from pasture and herded through town to their pen (a rock walled enclosure 1 block from our hotel). Many goats were belled and the whole lot streamed through the streets to the sound of dinging bells and insistent bleating. It was awesome.  They literally wound their way through the entire village, seeming to know their way and needing no pressing to keep them moving and on track.

Once they were penned the head goat man (I am assuming the owner) went to a collection of downturned baskets and to our amazement retrieved baby goats, by the dozen. He would get a baby from under the basket, look at it, decide who it was, who it’s mother was, then find the mother and re-introduce mother and kid. It was wild. Some mothers were seemingly pleased to see their offspring and would let them feed but other mothers were a bit reticent so the goat man would literally milk the mother into the baby’s mouth. Such dedication was awesome to watch. Truly animal husbandry.

So in case you didn’t get the vibe – I fell in love with this little mountain village. It was such an unexpected surprise and truth be told I would have loved to stay for a couple of days just to photograph and document what I saw. It made a big impression on me. That said, one afternoon was all we had so we made the most of it. Below I have a collection of some of my favourite images from Kagbeni. I decided I wanted to present them in black and white. With all of the photos coming from the one place I wanted to try and make them a cohesive collection and I felt that the ancient feel came through better in black and white. Some of them need a harder look than others because the scene is quite busy but that is all part of my masterplan – forces you to slow down and really look 😉 I hope you like them as much as I do.

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6 Responses to Stepping back in time – Kagbeni, Nepal

  1. Cath says:

    What a great gift this blog is. Thanks for sharing your journey. It is fascinating and very compelling. Safe and happy trails with wonderful clicks all the way.

  2. Karen Standen says:

    Absolutely love the photo of the wind in the wheat looks like a van Gough oil painting. Just a slight problem once I open one photo full size when I then try to open the others it seems to open the first one again. Very frustrating indeed!

  3. althea smith says:

    Black and white photos are extra special these days. Good to see your treatment of them – especially the old woman and the prayer wheels and the goats with their herdsman. Such a different world!

  4. Augustine says:

    Hi Karen,
    Thanks for the kind words re the wheat shot. I rather liked the way it worked out.
    I tried the opening and closing and opening thing as you said and mostly got the same result. Unfortunately I have no idea why this is happening and will have to do some digging to get it sorted. Sorry that it is so painful (and yep – agree 100% as to the frustration). I will see what I can find out in the next couple of days to straighten it out. Thanks for letting me know it wasn’t working 🙂
    Cheers,
    Augustine

  5. Tracey Hurn says:

    I love the wheat one too, and was having the same problems with the others opening and defaulting back to the first one. All except the last one which opens fine…. maybe there’s a key there somewhere? Sounds like Kagbeni is surreal.

  6. Dean Whelan says:

    Time travel;
    positively medieval,
    a serenity that might well be missing in many a busy modern household,
    Truly animal husbandry.
    Th-yak you.

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