An artists journey into the Langtang Valley, Nepal.
Nepal is a poor, third world country blessed and cursed at the same time and certainly provides an inspirational but often challenging travel experience.
A journey into a remote mountainous area always throws up challenges, which is part of the fun in going in the first place. The beautiful, high mountain valleys and fantastic folk of Nepal are no exception to that rule.
The images in this blog are all original artwork, either sketch drawings, photographs or digital paintings produced on an IPad using a Paper53 application. The images and supporting text tell my story of my journey into the heart of the Langtang Valley before the devastating 2015 earthquake which changed this valley forever and took so many lives.
In some ways the images are a record of the valley before it changed forever. Many of the places, valleys and even the mountains themselves have been changed dramatically by elemental violence on a scale that is hard to imagine.
The purpose of this body of work is to continue my financial support of Community Action Nepal, a British NGO charity who works tirelessly to support communities across Nepal, particularly needed after the 2015 disaster.’ Just after the earthquake I was able to raise several thousands of pounds for the charity, by auctioning off limited edition prints of the the original ‘sketchbook journal’ images which I’d produced during my visit to the Langtang Valley. My hope for these images when they are printed and exhibited that sales of the work will create further funding for the charity to help it continue its important good work.
The new colour ‘paintings’ – in inverted commas because no paint was used in making them were made digitally using a computer. This fact, I believe does not make them a lesser form of fine art, indeed I’m convinced that direct image making using a computer is going to be a common fine art process of the future.
Internationally famous visual artist David Hockney is a major proponent of this process of image making. His recent ‘Landscapes” exhibition at the London Royal Academy demonstrated to me the potential of direct image making using a computer and a digital stylus pencil has. The artist tools and the colour palette of the image manipulation programmes are vast and getting better every day. As an artist I can move quickly between colour, tools and effects. I can experiment without fear of mistake, I can explore my visual ideas and then I can share them quickly and widely.
The criticism of this method of making original art, reminds me of the arguments made against photography being a fine art in the early twentieth century. We all now accept that good photography can be fine art. My argument is that the processes used to make a fine art photograph are exactly the same processes as making a direct image on a computer. Like the fine art photographer the painter gathers together the raw reference materials and manipulates these references to produce a unique visual perspective.
The fact that an image can be reproduced over and over again exactly the same, for some means that both photography and direct image making on a computer can never be fine art. That in my opinion totally misses the point. The point being it’s not how many images you make, it’s the quality and originality of the image and how it was made, that for me defines whether it is fine art or not. Clearly, the best photography and direct image making on a computer involves a creative process that by the very methods employed to produce the final image makes these images an example of fine art.
As the door of the plane swings open at Kathmandu airport you instantly know you’ve arrived somewhere different. Different sounds, smells and tastes, the immediate hustle and bustle of one of the most polluted mega cities wraps around you instantly. You have no choice but to dive in and embrace the experience, always wary of the pollution, the crazy traffic and the overcrowding. Kathmandu is a paradox. On one hand it is a massively important world city with its 7 ‘World Heritage’ sites, vibrant, teeming with life, creativity and colour. On the other hand it is a filthy, overcrowded, ramshackle mess of a place, dangerous and disturbing. It is not a surprise it’s like this since just 40 years ago it had a population of less than 104,000 but now is a city of over 1.5 million. Built in a steep sided valley there seems no rational or conceived urban planning, resulting in a sprawl of poorly built concrete constructions of all shapes and sizes and pollution from the millions of cars, motorbikes and ‘Tuc Tucs’ competing for space, ever noisily on inadequate roads. I like Kathmandu but I like even more getting out of Kathmandu without picking up a chest infection
Langtang Valley is regarded as one of the most accessible mountain trek valleys of Nepal. It takes only a full days drive into the mountains on increasingly bad and precipitous roads to reach the road head and the starting point for the trek. As such it attracts a lot of visitors. I’ve travelled in much more remote areas particularly in the north west Himalayas so seeing so many westerners doing ‘the trek’ for me depleted the experience somewhat. However what the crowds of trekkers took away was more than made up by the quality of the landscape we were passing through and the good nature, smiles and welcome from the locals which was consistently given.
Another positive of demand to visit this area meant the infrastructure to support a trek up the valley was readily available. We picked up a team of porters with ease. On the trail campsites and tea houses were abundant. In this context a Langtang trek is an ideal ‘first trek’ for those that want to experience a Himalayan mountain journey without the protracted difficulties and higher costs of travelling in more remote areas.
Our objective was not ambitious. We planned to go as far as the last village, Kyagin Gompa in the valley, put up a higher camp to acclimatise then climb a trekking peak called Kyaagin Ri. Although not a technical challenge at 4773m / 15665 feet it would prove to be as usual, a lung draining climb.
The journey begins in the steep sided valley, densely forested following the line of the torrential river, weaving its way ever upward, crossing the river back and forward over ramshackle bridges. Our Porter team were well used to the trail and took great pride in ensuring in their opinion that we had the best campsites, the best Tea House accommodations and what they believed we as westerners wanted to eat. Food was always ready for us, but it took a full week before we convinced our team that Spam was not our staple diet and that we were quite happy to eat Dahl Bhlat like the locals.
It took us five days of trekking at a pretty steady pace to reach the last village. We rested here for a couple of days before putting a higher camp in. We managed to climb Sirgi Ri but unfortunately our second higher peak Merla Peak was unsuccessful because winter arrived early. This was not a trip for ‘an epic’
The photographs and artwork gathered on this trip gained more significance because of the 2015, 7.8 magnitude earthquake. This landscape is now different to these images, they are a record of what was, was before it all changed forever. Langtang Valley was particularly badly hit with a reported 300 plus people killed. The main settlement Langtang village was completely buried when the hillside behind village poured down burying the entire village to a depth in some spots 400 feet deep. People here had no chance.
The impetuous now is reconstruction and to encourage people to return to the Langtang and other Himalayan valleys. The people who live here depend on the income this tourism brings. I support the work of Community Action Nepal who get money raised effectively to aid sustainable reconstruction. All the images on this blog are downloadable and offered to you free of charge. However I ask if you download one of my images you make a donation to my JustGiving Page: www.justgiving.com/langtangart. All donations will go to the Charity.
David Wilson is a visual artist living in the Highlands of Scotland. Lime Tree Gallery, Fort William www.artfortwilliam/biography