Sudin KC, a Kathmandu-based portrait and documentary photographer is passionate about travelling and capturing vanishing cultures. On his recent solo trek to the Great Himalayan trails, he shares his life experiences and travel journey with us.
Tell us more about the Great Himalaya Trails, why did you start the trip?
I always had this idea of discovering my roots, where I come from. Nepal is the country that I was born in, and I wanted to know more about the country itself, and the only way to achieve this is by visiting everywhere I can. I was wondering where I could begin this journey from and that’s when I started researching into the GHT. It offered the whole range of mountains of Nepal so I decided I’d start from the mountainous region of Nepal. The Great Himalayan Upper Trail is the higher one, most people visit and some people like to do both the upper and lower mixed. But what I am aiming for is to stick to the lower area as much as possible, because that’s where my subject will be—people.
In terms of the outcome, there are many things that crossed my mind, for instance: I’m writing a book, I’ll be doing photo exhibitions, making a video documentary but these material outcomes are secondary to the experience I’m gaining from this trip. What I truly want out of this journey is to gain an in-depth understanding of the lives of people in the mountains, learn about their culture, and understand how people in the mountains tend to be content despite their hard living conditions.
What inspires you to do what you are doing?
People – that’s where I get my inspirations from. People who are striving to follow their passion despite numerous challenges, people who have sacrificed their ambitions to support their family, people who try to do the right thing despite their human imperfections, people who are living with the bare minimum but remain happy, people who are busy but always come to the aid of their friends. Simply put, when I hear people speak about their lives, I feel inspired to share these stories through both my photography and narrative excerpts.
Why do you love travelling? What is your philosophy of travel?
I think my love for travelling ultimately stems from my love for people. This exposure to diversity, for example, witnessing different living conditions helps me widen my perspective and appreciate life in general. Travel to me is about pushing my boundaries, escaping comfort and putting myself in the shoes of the people I am fortunate to meet along the way.
Do you believe in the idea that travel is a solution for acquiring happiness?
I think the road to happiness differs from people to people but one thing that’s common for all is happiness comes from problem-solving. So I think it’s all about your mindset. If you’re travelling to escape your problems it might bring you happiness short term but the problems will be still there after you come back to your base from your travels.
For me travelling is definitely not an escape, instead, it helps me get in touch with reality more as I see people solving their everyday problems.
For instance, just recently I met an old lady in Manasalu region who was carrying a lot of woods in order to make a fire to cook her meals. It’s hard work but she needs to do it in order to survive. When I think about her, and people in similar situations, I get the strength to face my own problems and not try escaping from them.
What does your independence mean to you?
We are always dependent on something or someone. For me, being independent is about building relationships with people that I can trust entirely, placing value on humanity and the goodness of people. Through the duration of this trek, I spend a lot of time on my own and when I cross paths with strangers I’ve become so much more aware of their willingness to share, help and guide me.
Describe your most fearful and happy moments during your GHT travel?
The happy moments outweigh the fearful moments. I was scared to death this one day when I was walking in the Makalu Barun Buffer zone. It was a long hike through the dense forest – alone. I knew the forest had bears and tigers but what I didn’t know at the time was that the local people had been attacked multiple times by these animals and I had to walk on that very trail where they were attacked. So the jungle trail has to be the scariest part of the trek so far.
One of the happy moments that I can recall is my visit to Thuptencholing Gumba at Solukhumbu. More than 300 happy nuns live in this monastery and the whole experience of visiting this monastery was just great. I remember I was tired by the time I got there and not in a great mood either but after spending a couple of hours there and having 5 cups of tea with the nuns, by the time I was returning back I had a big smile on my face and was feeling very happy.
How is travelling related to self-realisation? Can you reflect on any moment during the trip that moved you?
Before answering that question I checked on google what self- realisation was and according to Wikipedia self-realisation is “fulfilment by oneself of the possibilities of one’s character or personality”. Before starting my trail I wasn’t sure if I could backpack solo across GHT alone, like everyone I had my own fears – fear getting eaten by wild animals, fear of getting robbed, fear of getting injured, fear of getting sick, fear of not being able to complete the trail, fear of freezing to death and fear of getting lost.
On the trail I did have to face most of those fears, I was almost robbed, I got lost on multiple occasions, I saw some wild animals and walked on the dense forest with bears and tigers, I got sick and I hurt myself a couple of times too. What I came to realise from all those experiences is that sometimes we are our worst enemies. In Nepali we have a saying “Ban ko Baag le khaye ni khaye ni Man ko baag le khancha” which basically means sometimes we let our fears have power over us which stops us from pursuing what we want.
I came to realise the fears I had although legitimate weren’t as bad as I thought they would be. Facing and overcoming all those fears has definitely helped me to understand what my true potentials are and the next time when I have to make a life decision, I know it won’t be fear-driven but I know I am strong enough to face my fears headstrong.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from nature and travelling?
Nature is complete. That’s the same reason when you’re out in nature, you feel complete. It has various entities that support their existence. For instance, the high and mighty mountains and glacier let their snowmelt and form lakes and rivers, the rivers let the animals drink from it, the animals fertilise the soils and with the help of rain and the fertilisers we have trees, the trees give us oxygen and nests for the birds and so on the cycle continues to rotate all year round.
We being social animals, need to support each other and be kind to each other whenever possible. In other words, work to support each other not against each other. Be there for your friend, spend time with your family, be kind to even strangers. Basically, I guess what I’m trying to say is what I learned from nature is just like nature has its support system we need to build a strong support system which is strong relationships with people in order to thrive.
How have you changed as a person since you began your adventure?
The adventure has had a huge impact on my outlook on life. It has helped become a better version of myself I think as I got to learn from the people on the trail. They were very hospitable, respectful, courteous, generous, caring and above all showed unconditional love to this young guy from the city (me). So I guess those experiences rub off on me and I am trying to develop all those qualities in me too now.
What do you think constitutes a fulfilling life?
A life that revolves around not just yourself but other people too constitutes a fulfilling life.
What did you learn from travelling solo? Any bits of advice?
Travelling solo sure is a learning curve, I know it was for me anyway. I can share a few tips that might come in handy for future solo travellers.
- Ask for directions to the local people and listen carefully – You might have done your homework well, have done a thorough research about the place and the directions but you don’t live and breath those grounds, the local people do – they’re the experts so swallow up your pride and ask for directions until you’re sure where to go for it’s very easy to get lost in the woods where no one walks.
- While camping alone in the woods don’t set up your camp in the middle of the forest filled with wild animals, not a great idea.
- It goes without saying be adventurous, not stupid – safety first – take the necessary first aid kits.
- In case you need to contact someone back home – in the GHT Sky phone works best and NTC after that – Ncell is useless
- If you’re walking, invest in good hiking boots, it’s not luxury its comfort and safety.
- Always be respectful towards the local people and learn the local customs as much as possible, learning to say hello in their local language can go a long way and you can make new friends easily.
- If you’re trekking make sure you learn about how to acclimatise well.