A slide being projected onto a wall in a darkened room.
When I set off on my travels in the mid 1980’s, I took a SLR camera with me. From my memory I had two lenses, a 35mm and a zoom lens the size of which I cannot remember. I believe that I also had a couple of filters with me. I did not know a lot about photography, though had been reading a little on the subject, and wanted to take the best photos that I could to remember and give me a flavour of my time away.
I decided to take slide film, though I cannot remember what drove that decision? Based on my reading, the film that I decided to take with me was Kodachrome 64. The price of purchasing the film also included the developing of it by Kodak. When you bought a roll of film, they provided you with an envelope with which to return the exposed film to Kodak for processing. I purchased a number of rolls and they were going to last me for the time that I was away. I had no idea if film would be available where I was travelling to, and so I left home with the understanding that what I took with me had to last the entire trip. So I had to make sure that I had enough film and at the same time did not get carried away snapping shots. I was not travelling with the largest backpack.
Again from my memory, I carried these films around with me for all the time that I was away. In the case of the images that I have shown here to date, that was a year long trip. Once I was back home I mailed them all off to Kodak to be developed, and thankfully they survived the trip in one piece.
A bustling train station somewhere in India, taken from the door of a train.
Now that I am revisiting those years on the road, I needed some way to get them from slide into my digital world. I believe that there are some services out there that will digitize your analogue images, but this wasn’t going to work for me, at least not right now. My slides are in a mess, there are a lot of them, and so I am working my way through them in a rather hit and miss manner. And I want them now, so that I can write as I come across images. Digitization might come in time, but not yet. So here is plan B.
Plan B happened by accident. One evening I set some of my slides in a carousel and loaded them into my projector. In a darkened room my wife, Melissa, and I sat down to look at the images, for me to be reminded of places that I had forgotten about, and for Melissa to see where I travelled to during my earlier years. While we were watching them, Melissa liked some of the images so much that she used her phone to capture what we were looking at.
A small square in Kathmandu. The porters could carry impossible loads.
I now had a way of getting the photos from analogue to digital. I initially did some colour editing of the phone captured images, but did not like the results. So now I just leave them, just editing to straighten the images as they are captured at an angle to the wall projection to avoid shadows creeping onto the images from the projector light. The result might not be as good as a scanned, digitized image, but with the quality of phone cameras these days, I am more than happy with the result; the slightly vintage, aged look lending a mood to the photos.
And perhaps most important for me are the memories that these images invoke. I am returning to them after a period of almost thirty five years.
A tourist consulting a book with an Indian policeman.
Road from Gaya to Bodhgaya from the roof of a bus
Following my time in Patna, I continued my journey onto Bodhgaya by catching a train to the city of Gaya. I travelled to Gaya by train along with an American, Ray, whom I had met in Patna. I had an omelette for breakfast in my hotel room, settled up with the hotel owner and then caught a rickshaw along with Ray to the railway station. There was a lot of misunderstanding between us and the rickshaw driver, and when we settled up on arrival we weren’t sure if his annoyance was because we’d paid too little, or if it was a show to get some more money? We chose to leave things as they were. I went to buy a newspaper to read on the journey and then went to find our train and carriage. On reaching our second class seats there was still plenty of room on board. However, the train soon filled up and by the time that we were underway seating became tight and squashed even though we thought that the express train that we were on would negate that experience. This was our first Indian train and we were still learning.
Seated, I picked up the newspaper that I had bought earlier. I had a quick flick through it and passed it onto Ray, not engaging much with the stories. Ray quickly passed it back to me, pointing out the article below.
I couldn’t believe it. Just to say that at that time I didn’t really know who the Dalai Lama was. I was aware of his existence, but that was about it. And this was 1989. He wasn’t the world figure that he is today. Subsequently, people who I met who had been around him for a number of years prior said that 1989 was the year that things changed for His Holiness. That was the year that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and really came to the world’s attention.
All of this aside, I was still excited. I had an unexpected but growing interest in Buddhism, was traveling to Bodhgaya because of this (I did not know of the village’s existence when I left home just over four months earlier), and now I find out that the Dalai Lama would be there at the same time that I was visiting.
We spent a day in Gaya, just exploring the streets making up the city. As in Patna we encountered demonstrations related to the upcoming elections. Nothing to disrupt our day, but another presence in the town. I had read and noted in my journal that Gaya,
is 2nd only to Varanasi in its sanctity.
Here is what I wrote about some of those wanderings.
We headed off through the crowded shopping streets, street vendors selling peanuts, fruits and a few other concoctions. We disappeared down some further backstreets, finding ourselves staired [sic] at a lot. We passed what appeared to be a loading bay for sacks of this and that. Back streets were filthy, really dirty. Stagnant black, scummy water in open drains. Piles of rubbish, there is one across the road from the hotel which the cows make good use of. Muddy streets, black mud, and ponds lying in the middle of the road. Rickshaws go by ringing bells, bicycles go by ringing bells, scouters go by making rasping noises with horns, autorickshaws, later in the day heat & dust.
We found the Vishnupad Mandir on the banks of the Phalgu River on which Gaya itself also sits. Not being Hindus, we were not allowed in the temple, but that did not matter. Gaya was offering us a lot to take in as it was. The river itself was more like a series of smaller rivers right now. There were people down by the river washing clothes, hanging around or making their way across. Dogs and cows joined them.
The Phalgu River in Gaya
Ray and I found a chai store where we sat down to eat, drink and watch life go by - a favourite occupation of mine.
The next day we travelled south to Bodhgaya. Rickshaw drivers and private vehicle owners tried to tempt us with rides for the 13km journey to Gaya, but we opted for the cheapest option - a Rs1.50 bus journey and the subject matter of the photograph at the top of this piece. We sat on the the roof to enjoy the journey and better see the environment that we were passing through. Leaving Gaya we had to be careful of low hanging power cables, but once out of town that was no longer a bother. Again, I’ll let my journal tell the tale,
…through flat agricultural land, small temples here and there, horse carts, autorickshaws, buses, horns honking. On our left was the dried up River Phalgu.
Arriving in Bodhgaya we had a chai before going off looking for accommodation. I scouted while Ray watched our backpacks. Finally housed in a hotel we went off to take a look around the village and see what Bodhgaya had install for us.
I’ve just left Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram situated just outside of the small town of Sevagram in almost the geographical center of India. I had spent a couple of night’s at the ashram as part of a pilgrimage around India that I had set out on, to visit places connected with the life of Gandhi. He has been a big influence on my life, and I have read a lot by and about him.
I’m waiting at the railway station for a train, though I cannot remember my final destination. The station, from my memory, is simply one long platform. However, Wikipedia says the station is made up of five platforms. As I said, from my memory. Nothing else there. I am after all in the middle of nowhere. Maybe in the day it was a busy station as people made their way to visit Gandhi, but essentially this platform served a village. This was, now, not a major destination.
I arrive and sit on the platform floor to wait for my train. I have a few bananas with me that I bought on the way here.
After a while I am approached by two boys. One maybe pre-teen, another early/mid-teens. They start by asking me for money. I decided not to give them any change, instead I offered them a banana each - which they accepted. They joined me seated on the station platform. There was little to no language in common, but they somehow asked and I replied with my destination.
The time for the arrival of my train came and went. I don’t remember any announcements being made as trains intermittently came and went, but I really didn’t need that. My two companions appeared to know every train that passed through. Whenever a train came in site they would shake their head. I trusted them. I had no reason not to.
We sat there for a long while, from my memory, with animated (literally) banter in order to communicate. Eventually their shaking heads were replaced with a nod as the next train drew in. I thanked them both, said goodbye and hopped on the train.
I never forget that time at Sevagram Junction and my gratitude to those two boys.
Photo of a slide projected onto a wall.
It was mid November, 1989. I was four months into my journey through Central Asia. With my visa expiring, my time in Nepal was drawing to a close. Not feeling ready to go home, indeed a deeper sense of purpose and exploration beginning to arise from the trip thus far, I decided to travel down to India. I had left home with a few vague goals of things that I wanted to see or do, otherwise I was following my nose and seeing where the adventures would take me. During my travels to date I had experienced a deepening interest in Buddhism, a story within itself, and because of that I decided to head to Bodhgaya the place of Buddha’s Enlightenment. I was in Kathmandu and Bodhgaya is essentially directly south of the city, albeit a journey in itself. The route that I took went this way,
Kathmandu -> Birgunj at the Nepalese/India border -> Patna -> Gaya -> Bodhgaya
This journey started with an overnight bus ride from Kathmandu to Birgunj at the Indian border. I arrived at the border in the early hours of the morning, 4:30am to be precise. The temperature was cool. Streets were quiet. A full moon shaped like a rugby ball as it hung low in the sky was turning orange. A lot of rickshaws and donkey carts waited around.
I caught a rickshaw and headed towards the border, however I’m not sure that it was the 4km as the driver claimed!
From my memory the immigration and customs process on the Nepalese side was smooth and friendly, the Indian side was completely the opposite. I felt as though the officials were holding it against me to have them up at this unearthly hour…possibly a valid complaint?! From my journal,
Nepal immigration was friendly, let me keep my trekking permit as a souvenir, and as I left said “see you again.” … Then Indian customs; unfriendly, short curt questions, at least he didn’t waste time emptying my pack. Immigration was equally unfriendly, but at least there was a smile out of the guy halfway through the proceedings. He spent a while finishing some other paperwork…, ruled some lines in a book and then dealt with us; a Japanese couple as well. I had filled out my forms and sat there and watched him for a long time.
Once I was through all the red tape I went in search of the bus to Patna. Six hours later, and a couple of stops for chai on the way, the bus came to halt just short of Patna. It turned out to be a demonstration of some sort (I found out later that elections were happening, and this demonstration was related to them). Once we were underway again the bus crossed a long bridge spanning the River Ganges, on which Patna sits.
On arriving at the bus station I quickly found a rickshaw. I asked to be taken to a particular hotel that I had in mind to stay at, but the driver took me to different one. I didn’t know where I was and so I went in to see what I could make of this hotel. I managed to bargain down the price of the room and then the hotel owner took me out on his motorbike to look for a bank to change money - I had been in his country for less than a day. I don’t know why he did this though as it was a Sunday? Banks were closed. I would try again tomorrow.
The next morning the owner of the hotel woke me up, I assume by knocking on my door though I have no record as to his method. He asked me if I would like breakfast - tea and an omelette with toast. With food inside me I went downstairs to chat with him in his cloth shop before heading out to look for a bank. This is where the subject matter for the photograph started to emerge.
On stepping out of his shop I was immediately swept away by a mass of humanity. I was only going in one direction: where the the crowds, old and young, were going. The hotel owner had told me that today was the Hindu Festival, Kartika Purnima, and (as he wrote in my journal),
All people want to bathe in River Ganga.
Down by the river I climbed onto a wall. I shall allow my journal to explain the scene that I looked out on (the photograph can do the rest),
[The River Ganges] must be 3km wide at this point. The far bank was a mass of people, all sizes of boats were plying between the two shores, being rowed and laden with people. On my shore people were bathing in the Ganges, some fully clothed, men in loin cloths or mini sarongs.
And from my memory there was a haze in the air, a haze that in time I came to associate with India - dust driven up by the shear number of people and a mist from this time of year, Autumn slowly crossing into Winter.
In time I went on my way to find a bank and was able to change some travelers cheques. The remainder of the day I spent in Patna. I met an American who had been on the same bus as me from the Indian border and we agreed to travel down to Bodhgaya together. We ate lunch and stopped to watch a fortune teller who was using a bird to pick cards. That evening I returned to the Ganges. It was quieter now. Groups were gathered performing various rituals, symbols playing, incense burning, dancing. Some were cooking. A cremation was taking place to one side.
I returned to my hotel to sleep at the end of my first full day in India.
The original of this image was a slide. I projected it onto a wall and took this photo.
I initially posted this photo on September 3, 2023, but offered no context for it. Following the reception to my story about a photograph that I took of Mt.Everest at sunset and encouragement of Miraz and Maique, I have decided to revisit other photos that I have posted of my travels, as well as ones yet posted, and share their story. Retelling the story behind the Mt. Everest photograph took me back to a time in my life that was important to me, reshaped my life, and delving back through my journals deepened my memories of those journeys.
This story starts almost where the Mt. Everest photo left off. My trek to the Solo/Khumbu region of Nepal, where Mt. Everest sits, ended at the small village of Jiri. From there I had to catch a bus to Kathmandu, a day long journey. I had been out trekking for thirty days, and was sad to be leaving these mountains, though illness was calling for me to rest.
I arrived in Jiri on October 28, 1989, with my stomach feeling none too good. That night I had to make two runs to the toilet, explained in my journal as being made…
…none too easy by the fact that the toilet was a good 70m away outside and I had to get past 2 locked doors to get there.
As I read that entry, I could picture the battle to get to the toilet that night. I think that I had giardia due to the sulfurous burbs that were accompanying the upset stomach. Dirty water, or food were probable causes.
I was considering staying put in Jiri for another day just to rest, but sooner or later I would need medication to fight the bacteria in me, something that I was unlikely to find that in this village. The next morning I felt a definite improvement, skipped breakfast in order to give the bacteria nothing to feed off (and my body nothing to get rid of!), and an American couple gave me four tablets to “nuke it."
I got on the bus early, put my pack under the seat instead of on the roof as it had amongst other things the underdeveloped slides of the trek that I gratefully still have, this image being amongst them. However, by the time that the bus left I was feeling tired and nauseous, not helped by the man next to me smoking. Two hours into the bus ride, we stopped. I used the opportunity to grab my back and climb up onto the roof. Surrounded mainly by porters and a couple of westerners, I spent the rest of journey on the roof top. Again, I’ll share from my journal,
No rain, just sun, blue skies, a little wind and beautiful views. The Himalaya rose up abruptly behind terraced hills and lower lying cloud. Orange flowers decorated houses, dogs, cattle. People picked more <flowers> as today is the 2nd day of the festival marking the new year. I dozed for a while and marveled at the country side…
Along side the road chautara (or store rest stops) appear by paths. I wonder whether this is part of the old trail <coming all the way from Kathmandu> or just another trail between villages. Gaurishankar and the surrounding range become even more impressive than yesterday, rising up shear and dominating the skyline to the north.
On the way we passed a bus going in the opposite direction, the photo that is at the top of this piece. I did not record how the two buses past each other, but be sure that they did as I am writing this now!
The tablets that I was given in Jiri must have done their work, as I was feeling better by the time that we reached Kathmandu. The city was busier than when we left. Trekking season had arrived. I had picked just the right time to head up to the mountains. The hotel where I had left the rest of my gear, that which I didn’t need during the trek, was full. Despite the friendly staff, I was silently happy that I could not stay there as the area surrounding the hotel was now busy and noisier than before. I repacked everything and headed across town to find a quieter hotel.
That evening, with a settled stomach and having not eaten all day, I had some dinner and then headed to bed for a good night’s rest.
Yesterday I posted a photograph showing the last rays of sunlight catching the summit of Mt Everest at the end of a day. After putting it up online, I was reflecting on the story behind the image, and thought that I would share it.
The year was 1989, the month September. I found myself in Nepal at what turned out to be a little under halfway through a journey that would take me through Pakistan, China, Nepal and India. Plans for the trip were no more than a sketch. I had bought a one way ticket to Karachi in Pakistan, had a couple of destinations that I hoped to visit, but that was about it in terms of planning. It turned out that I visited most of those destinations, but plans also changed as I traveled, as events happened, and as I met people.
One of my pre depature hoped for destinations was Mt. Everest base camp. The reason was simple, because Mt. Everest is the highest point on this planet, and as climbing the mountain was not on my cards, base camp seemed to be the next best option. My interest in visiting Mt. Everest was also informed by having read the biographies of Chris Bonington, the British mountaineer who led pioneered expeditions to many of the Himalayan peaks.
I arrived in Nepal on September 20. A week later I had my trekking permit for the Solo/Khumbu region, where Mt. Everest sits. It is possible to fly into the region, cutting two weeks off of the trek, but I was in no hurry and I wanted to see Nepal. The great Himalayan peaks inform the geography and personality of the country, but the people make it. I want to see and meet the Nepalese people and understand those who lived in the shadows of these great mountains. Although I had left home by myself, on the day long bus ride to the trail head I met a handful of fellow western trekkers who became my partners for the next couple of weeks. We were blessed by a monsoon season ending early and there were very few other trekkers on the route. We had this corner of Nepal to ourselves.
Let me now fast forward to the photograph. This was taken about two weeks into us setting off. As we reached the higher elevations there was the necessity to slow down our height gain each day in order to acclimatize to the thinner atmosphere, and to keep altitude sickness at bay. By October 13 we were at Lobuche 16,210 ft (4,940 m). We had planned to spend a couple of nights there, but woke up on our first morning to extremely cold weather, a hard frost, some snow and a thick mist. Unsure what to do, we sat most of the day out. Very slowly the mist cleared and blue sky revealed the mountains of Nuptse, Pumori, and the Khumbu Glacier which comes down off the Everest massif. Mt. Everest itself is not visible at this point, despite us being so close to the mountain.
With the clearing weather we had an idea that went against all acclimatization recommendations. We would push for Gorak Shep at 16,942 ft (5,164 m), dump our backpacks in a hut there and climb Kala Patthar at 18,519 ft (5,644.5 m) for a sunset over Mt. Everest. And so off we went. At Gorak Shep we found a place to stay, got some warm noodles in us and then started up Kala Patthar. It was slow going. Now we could feel the elevation. A few steps and then rest. A few more steps, and rest again, panting for breath. …And then the clouds starting moving in. We did not know what to do. This was not a place to be caught out and although Gorak Shep was straight down the mountain that we were on, the diminishing visibility and increasing cold was telling us that we were not in the best situation. Our idea was not working out as hoped for.
Then it happened. Suddenly the cloud dropped beneath us, Mt. Everest came into view and there was that orange pyramid seen in the photograph, as the setting sun caught its peak. And at the same time an almost full moon rose from behind the mountain (I have not been able to find that photo). I wrote the following in my journal,
Then, just as we were about to head down the clouds dropped from beneath us and an almost full moon rose behind Everest. There we were for 5 minutes with the moon and the highest peaks in the world. Cameras whirled; absolutely fantastic!
That evening, that experience, has never left me.
The summit of Mt Everest, peeking out from behind surrounding mountains, coloured orange as it catches the last rays of sunlight at the end of the day. This image was captured during a month long trek to the Solo/Khumbu region of Nepal around September 1989. Photo of slide projected onto a wall.
Day 8: Walk, suggested by @lwdupon
A photo of a projected slide from my time in India in 1989. I’m unsure where I took this, but I think that it was in Bihar State.
I am not sure where this was taken, except that the country is India. I believe that it’s either the Lilajan River in Gaya, or the River Ganges in Patna. Like other recent photos that I’ve posted, it was taken in 1989.
Photo capture of a slide projected onto a wall.
Another photograph from my travels through the Indian/Chinese subcontinent between 1989 and 1990. This was taken near to Bodhgaya, Bihar state, India, possibly on the road on the way to the town. From the height of the photograph I wonder if I am sitting on the roof of a bus?
Photo capture of a slide projected onto a wall.
Kathmandu from across, I think, the Bagmati river. Like other photographs that I have posted this week, this was taken in 1989 during my travels through the Indian/Chinese subcontinent. Photo capture of a slide projected onto a wall.
Swayambhunath, on the edge of Kathmandu, through the mist. This photograph was taken in 1989 and is a photo of a slide projected onto a wall.
Sunset over a Tibetan monastery with prayer flags near Kathmandu, Nepal, taken towards the end of 1989.
This image is a photograph of a slide projected onto the wall and then cropped and straightened in order to correct the perspective.
Last night I went back through some slides from my 1989/90 travels through Pakistan, China, Nepal & India. I have numerous slides, and they are in an ill arranged mess at the moment. As I loaded up the carousel to put into the projector, I had little idea as to what I would be looking at, even whether I would recognize the images.
My fears of not recognizing images were unfounded. The photos were mostly from the Solo/Khumbu (Everest) region of Nepal and my first forays into India.
This all happened towards the end of 1989, over thirty-three years ago. It was a time of great change for me. I had left home confused, lost, maybe angry, with many questions going through my head. I’m not even sure that I knew what those questions were? I just wanted some space, to get away from all that appeared to hold expectations over me and would not hear questions (or at least I did not feel comfortable going to them with questions). So, I threw a pack on my back and hit the road. This was my second trip and I felt that some pieces were beginning to fall into place, though I had fear around what I would do with those pieces once I was home. For now, I was in a safe place.
I spent a month in the Solo/Khumbu region. Two weeks trekking in, about a week in the area, and then a week or less trekking out. The walk out is mainly downhill, and my blood was pumping with oxygen due to all the red blood cells that it had produced in the rarefied atmosphere at the roof of the world. I found it hard to leave. I felt at home there, especially once I got up in the Sherpa region, dotted as it is with signs of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Something was seeding my growing interest in this faith.
So last night brought back happy memories for me. Memories of a sense of meaning being found, of self-discovery. Such I believe is always available to us, but there are times, such as those days for me at the end of 1989, when there is space to take time to explore, inquire, and look around. The incorporation of my discoveries into regular life were still to come, but at that moment I could take in, appreciate and start to reflect on what was beginning to emerge.
Below is a photograph of me with the Himalayan range, including Mt Everest, in the background. Mt. Everest is on the left of the picture, the triangular peak lying slightly to the left. The photograph is an image taken from a slide projected onto a wall, and then tweaked a little.
I’m not sure what is going on in this photo, taken in Tibet in 1995. I believe that it was taken near to Drepung Loseling Monastery and that the monastery just visible in the middle right might be Nechung Monastery, home of the Nechung Oracle. Both monasteries have been reestablished in exile in India, Nechung in Dharamsala in north India, and Drepung in the south in Kanaktaka State.
Given that it is center stage, I think that I was trying to capture the run down tractor/cart in the middle of the photo.
Summer has arrived here in Maui, at least a preview of what summer is to bring. The last few days have been devoid of wind, hot and muggy - and has included a well timed air conditioning breakdown (hopefully that is not a preview of summer as well!). By late afternoon the air is still and feels as though it is sitting waiting for something to happen.
Thankfully mornings are still cool. That will change as we go into summer, but for now I will take the fresh air.
While sitting doing my meditation practice this morning and then later out watering plants I was transported back to memories of time spent on the road in the way that sounds, senses and smells can do. One’s senses pick something up in the air and in an instant one is transported to a time and place of memory.
Today those memories took me back to India, traveling there by myself in the late ’80s and subsequent visits through the ’90s. I saw myself midway through a long train journey, the passengers now very much moved in and settled for the long haul. The heat of the day rendering the overhead fans almost useless unless you were sitting directly underneath them.
Sitting by the open door of the train, my feet resting on the footplate as the train clickerty clacks through the dry country side, a red sun hanging low in the sky.
Sitting in a small hotel room, the noise, dust and confusion of the town outside making its way into the background hum of my rest from the days travels. Smells of life in a foreign land touching me, making me feel at home.
Memories of the road. Fond memories. Happy memories. At ease with myself and the world, and bringing peace to my heart in this moment as well.