Tag Archives: tibet

The Science of the Reel


Do video journalists need showreels? While I don’t know the answer to this question, for the past two years I’ve gone with —yes. However, the science of creating a (show)reel is seemingly far more complicated than one might believe.

Showreels have traditionally been made by cameraman, DP’s and those of us in the photography industry that find themselves on the film side of things. However, as I explained recently, video journalists, cinematic news photographers and documentary makers are certainly in a gray area between film and traditional video journalism.

When DP’s, directors and producers need cameramen its normal for them to request to see a reel. Since going freelance, I’ve had weekly requests for these from various people around China. However, it would not be so normal for a newspaper or magazine to ask to see a reel. So if you work in news photography, why would you make one and what are the challenges?

WHY: With converging media, its certainly becoming easier for photographers to jump from one industry to another. If you can film a news clip, chances are you might be useful as a cameraman in motion picture or documentary. So having this tool together is useful when someone is in your office asking for it.

WHAT: Now comes the tricky part — what do you put in your reel? I’ve found this tricky because it really depends on who you are showing it to. In many ways, this creates the possible need for more than one reel. You might have one to show documentary makers and another for a commercial client. Further more, you might need another one to show your ability with motion graphics or post production work. If your video has too much post production, it might reflect negatively if the inquiry is for documentary where the look is supposed to be more natural.

While last year I was doing much more still photography, the product became more of a photography show with small video clips embedded. This year I’ve been much more focused in video production and created the entire film with just video. If you notice, the footage kind of shows a cultural and developing world theme. I tried to add some clips of people from different countries to show a larger demographic of who I work with (westerners, developing world peoples and indigenous peoples). However, does this peg me or ‘type cast’ me? And if it does, am I ok with that since this is the type of work I want to be doing? I’ll ponder those questions and get back to you …

SEQUENCE: If you’ve figured out which content you want to include in your reel, you next need to decide how to order it. Since its mixed footage and in many ways simply eye candy — putting the images in an order that logically makes sense might be different for everyone. I’ve been trying to make mini sequences that flow together from one to the next. However, the logic behind these sequences and the order in which they appear is quite subjective. Trying to find logic in this can be difficult.

SOUND: Music is another tricky part. The song I used this year from Hanggai I personally love. However, its pretty distinct and different than what most chose.

Most of my friends’ reels and reels I see online use relatively ambient electronic music. By doing this you certainly push the focus to your images. For me however, I’m involved in production and photography. So I wanted the music and images to compliment each other in making a self contained visual demo of what type of imagery and films I’m interested in producing.

If one does chose this route, you become a bit a risk of offending someone (musically). While I like Hanggai, I can certainly imagine someone not liking it. So by choosing something more subtle, you might be a little more safe of not offending anyone.

I however, aren’t really trying to be subtile with my images. I prefer high impact images. But, this is certainly a style thing as well as a time-and-place thing.

NEVER ENDING FOOTAGE: Perhaps the most difficult thing is trying to figure out when it is done. I’m always creating new images and therefor, feel like I can always replace images with better images. In many ways, this means — you are never done. The images keep coming. So I think its always a work in progress. The version above is a third draft and I have a fourth draft in the works already.


If you’re interested — comparing last years reel to this years I think it shows a larger change in my visual direction and a bigger push towards video production. But for a quick look at 2010 – check out this video in still photography form.

Tibet to Nepal: 'The Journey Not the Arrival Matters'



Share

For those that have been following this blog, this is the conclusion to a photo series from the Great Himalayan Mountain Range. The photos document a journey by car, foot, boat, plane and elephant from Tibet to Nepal. While I was on this voyage I had a lot of time in the car. Throughout the time, I was shooting with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 14mm f/2.8 L USM from the driver’s side, back seat of whatever vehicle I was in. In Tibet, this was on the left hand side, in Nepal — on the right. On motorcycles, planes and elaphants — well, I’m just shooting on the side of the vehicle in the frame. When placed altogether the frames make a quasi-stop-motion animation that shows the three week voyage in 1 minute and 45 seconds.

At the start of the video, there are some slower frames of people and places that represent some of my favorite images from the trip. For the final edited down portfolios from each country, visit my Web site to see my favorite 32 images from each.

The frames go by fairly quickly but for readers of this blog, you’ll notice each blog post from this series is represented within the short video. Tibetan Cloudscapes, the vibrant blue of the Himalayan sky, trash problems in Kathmandu, or the Terei of southern Nepal — the video above compresses 20 blog posts, 60 GB of photos and weeks of riding in a car into a format you can take part in from your home, work or phone. If it goes by too fast, I’ve put some of my favorite frames in a slideshow below.

If you want to explore any parts of this trip further, the links below the slideshow can help you navigate this mammoth of a road trip.

What’s next, you ask? The blog will travel back to China briefly before heading off to the Philippines in a few weeks.

Cheers,

Jonah

Road Trip on the Himalayan Shelf: If you’re just joining now, here’s what you’ve missed:

  1. Road trip on the Himalayan Shelf
  2. Lhasa: City of Sunlight, City in the Sky
  3. In Tibet, People’s Liberation Army (mostly) out of site, but not out of mind
  4. Attn: Crayola — a new color for you — Tibetan Blue
  5. Tibetan Cloudscapes
  6. Tibetan Prayer Flags Littering Roof of the World
  7. Should you pay for photos? The ethics of travel photography
  8. 29 Minutes and 15 Seconds on Mount Everest
  9. Desertification stretching from Inner Mongolia to Tibet
  10. ‘The journey not the arrival matters’
  11. Namaste and welcome to Nepal
  12. Kathmandu: The greatest place on earth to get lost
  13. Kathmandu: Full of mystery, culture, history — and trash
  14. ‘A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles’
  15. Who has the strongest necks in the world?
  16. Hey hey, they’re some monkeys
  17. After the Himalayan: The Terai
  18. Watch where you step: Chitwan National Park
  19. At the end of the road: Pokhara
  20. Final Destination 8 (in 3D): The luckiest travelers in the world
  21. Tibet to Nepal: ‘The Journey Not the Arrival Matters’

Namaste and welcome to Nepal

Namaste



Share

Note from Jonah: This is the continuation of a photo series from the Great Himalayan Mountain Range. The photos document a journey by car, foot, boat, plane and elephant from Tibet to Nepal.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”— Martin Buber

After passing Chinese border control, entering Nepal on foot is about as easy as crossing the street in your home town.

After the “no-man’s land bridge” you end up on a small street on the side of a cliff. Mist, fog and precipitation make the entire town feel somewhat like Rivendale, but with a much smaller GDP and more trash (and no Liv Taylor).

Instantly, you know you are in a different country. In many border areas, populations will speak multiple languages and there will be a bit of a culturally gray area. However, upon entering Nepal, Mandarin becomes useless (although, its not always entirely helpful in Tibet either). Visually speaking — people simply look different. They dress different. They are eating different foods and listening to different musics — you are clearly in a different country.

Welcome to Nepal

The reason why this is strange is, Tibet is just across this very narrow canyon. Literally within 200 feet of an enormous crack in the ground people are completely different. The edge of the Himalayan apparently makes a distinct political and cultural line — eliminating some of the culturally gray area.

While there is a large Buddhist population in Nepal, about 80 percent of the country is Hindu. Visually, it looks more like the Western conception of India rather than Tibet or China. The language sounds something similar to Tibetan or Mongolian, but still, distinctly different.

If I had not intended to get a visa to enter Nepal, I could have just walked into the country and gone about my business (although I’m not sure what would have happened upon exit). However, a man signaled with his head and directed me toward a small room where you can buy a visa for about $25-30 for 30 days.

Walking back outside on the street, I looked for a ride to Kathmandu. While looking, the first Nepalese word I heard was “Namaste.”

This is one word we all know — “Namaste.” Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t know this word came from Nepal (it is also used in India). I had associated it with hippies, the 60’s and Lost. I also didn’t know that Nepal was never colonized – making it the first place in the world (outside of Europe) I have ever been that was not some type of colony or occupied territory.

This makes Nepal much different than a lot of its surrounding areas. Their culture has been existing (non necessarily peacefully) for a very long period of time without foreign occupation, although there are certainly some land disputes with bordering nations. Nonetheless, the Nepalese are a mixture of Buddhists, Hindi, Islamic and Newari peoples, to name a few.

And then came the hippies. Nepal was a mecca for hippies in the 1960s and 1970s looking to escape the commercialism of the West. Their presence and stench is still there.

Landslide

It took all of 20 seconds to find a man with a car willing to drive me to Kathmandu. Although Kathmandu is only about a 4 hour ride from the border, this trip took about 7 hours after becoming stuck in a landslide.

I had read this was common in Nepal; however, it was funny to experience it within 30 minutes of entering the country. What was more interesting was how everyone on the extremely narrow road on the side of a cliff reacted … they didn’t.

Waiting

It was so normal that no one really reacted. People left their cars where the fate of traffic had decided and walked outside to sit, eat, smoke, pee, fight, watch and just about anything else you could think of doing. Many people gave up on their rides and took off walking down the dirt road, many barefoot.

I watched as a heavy machinery came in and tried to move the dirt to allow cars to pass, only for cars to get stuck over and over again.

Fixing Landslide

After a good bit, we were free and headed toward the Kathmandu Valley dropping 3,820 meters in elevation from Tong-la to the city. In my car was a 21-year-old male, professional dancer who liked Michael Jackson, two woman who chatted like they were old friends the entire ride, but were actually strangers and the driver, who looked about 14 years old driving a massive four-wheel drive car. It kind of reminded me of a 4-year-old driving a big wheels.

There’s nothing like getting stuck on the side of a cliff with a bunch of strangers in the middle of nowhere to make you understand that it is this odd place, that is actually the destination.

Road Trip on the Himalayan Shelf: If you’re just joining now, here’s what you’ve missed:

  1. Road trip on the Himalayan Shelf
  2. Lhasa: City of Sunlight, City in the Sky
  3. In Tibet, People’s Liberation Army (mostly) out of site, but not out of mind
  4. Attn: Crayola — a new color for you — Tibetan Blue
  5. Tibetan Cloudscapes
  6. Tibetan Prayer Flags Littering Roof of the World
  7. Should you pay for photos? The ethics of travel photography
  8. 29 Minutes and 15 Seconds on Mount Everest
  9. Desertification stretching from Inner Mongolia to Tibet
  10. ‘The journey not the arrival matters’
  11. Namaste and welcome to Nepal
  12. Kathmandu: The greatest place on earth to get lost
  13. Kathmandu: Full of mystery, culture, history — and trash
  14. ‘A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles’
  15. Who has the strongest necks in the world?
  16. Hey hey, they’re some monkeys
  17. After the Himalayan: The Terai
  18. Watch where you step: Chitwan National Park
  19. At the end of the road: Pokhara
  20. Final Destination 8 (in 3D): The luckiest travelers in the world
  21. Tibet to Nepal: ‘The Journey Not the Arrival Matters’

'The journey not the arrival matters'

The Friendship Highway



Share

Note from Jonah: This is the continuation of a photo series from the Great Himalayan Mountain Range. The photos document a journey by car, foot, boat, plane and elephant from Tibet to Nepal.

T.S. Eliot once said “The Journey not the arrival matters.” This trip was very much about the journey. To drive from Lhasa to Nepal’s Southern border you will spend the vast majority of your time in the car.

However, this is a marvelous thing — especially in the Himalayan.

After taking historic car routes in other parts of the world I do believe the Friendship Highway may be one of the coolest roads in the world. The legendary road drops thousands of meters from the Tibetan Plateau into the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. This is one of the most dramatic roads I have ever been on.

For those familiar with other epic drives in the United States — such as California’s Highway 1, the “Million Dollar Highway” U.S. Route 550, U.S. Route 30 in Maui, the Oregon Coast, U.S. Route 375 (Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway) or California’s Route 395 — this road is a step up on the dramatic meter (this is usually just left of your odometer).

Friendship Waterfalls

As the elavation drops, temperatures rise and humidity fills the air often creating thick fog and mist. Snow melt from glaciers and the world’s tallest mountains funnel down the canyon creating endless waterfalls over seemingly never ending cliffs next to one very small road with no guard railing. If you look at the top photo, you can barely make out the road, but it is on the far cliff snaking down the Himalayan ridge.

The stretch of highway from Lhasa to Kathmandu is 865 kilometers (537 miles); however, you need to allow a good deal of time due to varying road conditions, steep icy sections, road blocks, landslides and any other bit of chaos you are likely to encounter.

Disappearing Highway

As you travel down the road your elevation drops dramatically. As you look down the cliff, the road inevitably becomes lost in the thick fog filling the canyon. From Tong-la, the section of the highway directly before the decline, the elevation is 5120 meters (16,797 feet). Very quickly at the Chinese/Nepal border town of Nyalam you already fall to 3750 meters, followed by Zhangmu at 2300 meters, to Kodari at 1873 meters to Kathmandu — elevation 1300 meters (12,500 feet).

The road drops 3,820 meters in a short amount of time. How short? This is hard to answer because the road is so steep and at points narrow that its hard to gauge what type of distance you are traveling. On my descent into the Kathmandu Valley I was also stuck in a landslide for about 3 hours (more on that next week).

Himalayan Highway

Another fun part of this trip is the actual border between the two (3?) countries. There is a bridge that crosses the canyon which you actually walk over to enter Nepal (or TIbet). While in the middle of the bridge you are effectively in no man’s land, which is a unique thing. Beyond being in international waters, its pretty difficult to not be in any country. This is one place you can do it.

Although the highway is spectacular, there are some obstacles and annoyances for people looking to make this overland voyage. First, the Chinese authorities will not let you enter Tibet without a TTB permit as well as a tour group. To make things more complicated, travelers on Lonely Planet’s Tree Thorne have reported their Chinese visas being canceled upon entry and forced to buy a tourist visa. This means, if you are holding a Z-Visa you will forfeit it and have to reapply. More information on this annoyance here.

Highway View

Next post in this series brings us to Nepal.

Road Trip on the Himalayan Shelf: If you’re just joining now, here’s what you’ve missed:

  1. Road trip on the Himalayan Shelf
  2. Lhasa: City of Sunlight, City in the Sky
  3. In Tibet, People’s Liberation Army (mostly) out of site, but not out of mind
  4. Attn: Crayola — a new color for you — Tibetan Blue
  5. Tibetan Cloudscapes
  6. Tibetan Prayer Flags Littering Roof of the World
  7. Should you pay for photos? The ethics of travel photography
  8. 29 Minutes and 15 Seconds on Mount Everest
  9. Desertification stretching from Inner Mongolia to Tibet
  10. ‘The journey not the arrival matters’
  11. Namaste and welcome to Nepal
  12. Kathmandu: The greatest place on earth to get lost
  13. Kathmandu: Full of mystery, culture, history — and trash
  14. ‘A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles’
  15. Who has the strongest necks in the world?
  16. Hey hey, they’re some monkeys
  17. After the Himalayan: The Terai
  18. Watch where you step: Chitwan National Park
  19. At the end of the road: Pokhara
  20. Final Destination 8 (in 3D): The luckiest travelers in the world
  21. Tibet to Nepal: ‘The Journey Not the Arrival Matters’

Desertification stretching from Inner Mongolia to Tibet

Shigaste, TIbet



Share

Note from Jonah: This is the continuation of a photo series from the Great Himalayan Mountain Range. The photos document a journey by car, foot, boat, plane and elephant from Tibet to Nepal.

From Lhasa to the edge of the Himalayan, growth and vegetation on the Tibetan landscape is almost non existent. If you remember back to the Tibetan Cloudscape post, there are very little trees throughout the Tibetan plateau.

The lack of vegetation comes in large part from logging and deforestation which contributes to desertification and other natural disasters such as excessive flooding and major erosion problems which can lead to deadly landslides. Poor land use from the time of the cultural revolution to modern times have played a large role in the degradation of Tibet’s grassland’s as well. After the recent landslide in Gansu province, information came out that they had even anticipated these effects:

A 2006 report by Lanzhou University warned of the dangers presented by the destruction of the forests around Zhouqu for mining and agriculture, causing soil erosion and destabilising hillsides.

“The hills have become highly unstable and easily subject to natural disaster of landslides and mudslides,” the report said. “The situation is the result of deforestation, exploitative mining activities, construction of hydroelectric power plants and other development activities.”

Sandy Donkey

While in Shigatse a sand storm swept though the town. With no growth on the forest floor outside of the town, an ocean of sand took over the town with no notice. Some fled indoors, others took their donkeys and ran, while others stood with squinting eyes and held their ground.

I’ve seen major areas being taken over by deserts in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, but for some reason in Tibet, it seemed strange to see the sands infiltrate towns. In part this was strange because Tibet is so much further South than Inner Mongolia — especially on the Nepalese border. It visually connected a problem that stretches for an entire nation in my mind.

Sandy Street

Currently, about 28 percent of China is covered by desert. While desertification is a global problem, deserts are growing faster in China than anywhere else in the world. Each year in China, the desert grows around 900 square miles a year — which is around the size of Rhode Island.

Although their are major efforts going on to combat the problem, the Chinese continue logging within Tibet. Although I’ve not seen it, there was a film made by Tibetans which was smuggled out of the country without the help of foreigners called Cutting Down Tibet which secretly documents current operations. It looks and sounds very interesting.

Biking Home, Shigatse

So — why cut down all the trees? There are many reasons, including mass production of furniture and mass consumption and production of paper. However a more interesting reason to cut down so many trees and create so many sandy towns is China’s massive chop stick production. According to Green Peace China:

In addition to the forty-five billions pairs of disposable chopsticks used each year in China, another eighteen billion pairs are exported. Disposable chopsticks are made, obviously, from wood (in most cases from birch or poplar, but in some cases from expensive bamboo). Greenpeace China estimates that to create that many disposable chopsticks per year, a hundred acres of trees need to be chopped down every twenty-four hours. That means that every day there is a forest the size of a hundred U.S. football fields chopped down … to make chopsticks. If you want to think of it in terms of individual trees instead of land mass, it’s between sixteen and twenty-five million trees per year.

Shigatse: After the Storm

Shigatse Boy

At an elevation of 3900 meters, Shigatse is Tibet’s second largest city after Lhasa. It is the traditional capital of the Tsang Province and home to the Tashilhunpo Monastery. This was one of my favorite monasteries in Tibet. It gives visitors a lot of room to explore, unlike the monasteries in Lhasa where you pretty much get guided around.

Monks Walking

Monks, students and visitors were friendly here and the monastery itself is kind of like a small city, with a labyrinth of walls, cobblestone paths and stupas everywhere. The spaciousness of this monastery as well as the seemingly larger monk population made this monastery seem much more authentic.

Tashilhunpo Monastery

Also very cool and nontouristy is the Tashilhunpo Kora, a path around the outside of the temple that gives you views of the town and into the monestery. A kora is:

Kora is both a type of pilgrimage and a type of meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Kora is performed by making a walking circumambulation around a temple, stupa, or other sacred site.

Monks and pilgrims pray while spinning prayer wheels on the path that takes about an hour to walk. From above, looking into the monastery you can see monks singing, playing instruments and praying.

Monks Dancing

Also, worth a visit is the old city which is very mid-evil feeling. Something like walking into a different time with people milking their cows in the cobblestone streets outside of their houses. There was also not many soldiers around like in Lhasa.

Tibetan Monks Drumming

Road Trip on the Himalayan Shelf: If you’re just joining now, here’s what you’ve missed:

  1. Road trip on the Himalayan Shelf
  2. Lhasa: City of Sunlight, City in the Sky
  3. In Tibet, People’s Liberation Army (mostly) out of site, but not out of mind
  4. Attn: Crayola — a new color for you — Tibetan Blue
  5. Tibetan Cloudscapes
  6. Tibetan Prayer Flags Littering Roof of the World
  7. Should you pay for photos? The ethics of travel photography
  8. 29 Minutes and 15 Seconds on Mount Everest
  9. Desertification stretching from Inner Mongolia to Tibet
  10. ‘The journey not the arrival matters’
  11. Namaste and welcome to Nepal
  12. Kathmandu: The greatest place on earth to get lost
  13. Kathmandu: Full of mystery, culture, history — and trash
  14. ‘A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles’
  15. Who has the strongest necks in the world?
  16. Hey hey, they’re some monkeys
  17. After the Himalayan: The Terai
  18. Watch where you step: Chitwan National Park
  19. At the end of the road: Pokhara
  20. Final Destination 8 (in 3D): The luckiest travelers in the world
  21. Tibet to Nepal: ‘The Journey Not the Arrival Matters’

Should you pay for photos? The ethics of travel photography

Five Kuai Photo



Share

Note from Jonah: This is the continuation of a photo series from the Great Himalayan Mountain Range. The photos document a journey by car, foot, boat, plane and elephant from Tibet to Nepal.

I gave the woman above 5 kuai (60 cents) after taking her photo … Every since, I’ve felt horrible about it. I didn’t intend to do it, I just got stuck in an awkward situation. Let me explain …

I have never experienced the population of China reacting to tourism like they did in Tibet. From Disney-like monasteries to beggars, the impact is obvious.

I’ve been to some of the poorest villages in China. I’ve eating dinner with a family in Anhui Province, where their annual income was less than $100 per year. I’ve been to a town in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region where sand is taking over lands and livelihoods. However, never in rural China has a beggar ever asked me for money. Although this is different in cities — beggars are still very rare compared to anyplace I’ve ever been in the developing world.

Furthermore, no Chinese person has ever asked me for money to take their photo. In Tibet, traditionally nomadic people are waiting at vistas hoping to be photographed as a way of making money. Tibetan monasteries charge an entrance fee — however, on top of that if you want to photograph, an additional fee is often charged — sometimes, the additional fee is per room. Meaning you pay an entrance fee, and every room you photograph has an additional fee.

Ta Shi Lhun Monastery

The room above in the Ta Shi Lhun Monastery cost 10 RMB to photograph ($1.49). Should I have paid?

While I have seen these actions and practices in other countries — I had not seen it anywhere in China. This part of tourism brings up a tough ethical question for travelers and photographers.

Should you pay for a photograph? What makes it more tough, is the amount of money you pay is almost meaningless on a western scale.

My attitude is: You should never pay to take someone’s photograph. If they don’t want to be photographed, that is fine — and people should respect that. By paying to photograph rural people, you fuel a very negative occurrence of tourism’s impact on people and places. Every time a traveler pays to photograph someone, it makes this form of economic gain one step more viable for rural people and in turn, aids in the disintegration of traditional lifestyles and culture.

Having said this; I admit, this is much easier said than done. For example, if a street beggar gets me at the right moment, pending on their attitude I might give them money (non-photographically speaking). The woman in the top photo was asking for money. For whatever reason, I reached into my pocket to see what type of small bills I had. After I gave it to her, I realized she was selling me the right to take her photo.

So I took it. I’ve been mad at myself ever since.

Tibetan Yak

I took the above photo of a Yak on top of a mountain on a pass near the Drigung Monastery. It was just standing there eating. However, instantly after — the owner of the Yak charged at me demanding money for photographing his Yak. This was after the incident with the lady and I refused.

But then I felt bad for saying no to him. It didn’t seem like I could win — however, by refusing to give him money I felt I made a more ethical decision.

The ethics of travel photography are very difficult — especially given the purpose of your photography. Are you taking the photo for a magazine? For your Facebook page? To show your grandmother? Simply for yourself?

I do believe foreigners should not pay subjects to be photographed; however, I also understand the reality of assignments, the pressure of the value of the dollar and the feeling that you can help someone in a small way.

I believe if you minimize your impact on the people and places you visit you will leave the places more authentic for other travelers while helping to preserve global culture and our physical environment. Paying people for their photograph is doing a disservice to ethnic populations, other travels and our global society.


Road Trip on the Himalayan Shelf: If you’re just joining now, here’s what you’ve missed:

  1. Road trip on the Himalayan Shelf
  2. Lhasa: City of Sunlight, City in the Sky
  3. In Tibet, People’s Liberation Army (mostly) out of site, but not out of mind
  4. Attn: Crayola — a new color for you — Tibetan Blue
  5. Tibetan Cloudscapes
  6. Tibetan Prayer Flags Littering Roof of the World
  7. Should you pay for photos? The ethics of travel photography
  8. 29 Minutes and 15 Seconds on Mount Everest
  9. Desertification stretching from Inner Mongolia to Tibet
  10. ‘The journey not the arrival matters’
  11. Namaste and welcome to Nepal
  12. Kathmandu: The greatest place on earth to get lost
  13. Kathmandu: Full of mystery, culture, history — and trash
  14. ‘A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles’
  15. Who has the strongest necks in the world?
  16. Hey hey, they’re some monkeys
  17. After the Himalayan: The Terai
  18. Watch where you step: Chitwan National Park
  19. At the end of the road: Pokhara
  20. Final Destination 8 (in 3D): The luckiest travelers in the world
  21. Tibet to Nepal: ‘The Journey Not the Arrival Matters’

Tibetan Prayer Flags Littering Roof of the World

Prayer Flag Mania



Share

Note from Jonah: This is the continuation of a photo series from the Great Himalayan Mountain Range. The photos document a journey by car, foot, boat, plane and elephant from Tibet to Nepal. If you’re just joining now, here’s what you’ve missed:

  1. Road trip on the Himalayan Shelf
  2. Lhasa: City of Sunlight, City in the Sky
  3. In Tibet, People’s Liberation Army (mostly) out of site, but not out of mind
  4. Attn: Crayola — a new color for you — Tibetan Blue
  5. Tibetan Cloudscapes
  6. Tibetan Prayer Flags Littering Roof of the World
  7. Should you pay for photos? The ethics of travel photography
  8. 29 Minutes and 15 Seconds on Mount Everest
  9. Desertification stretching from Inner Mongolia to Tibet
  10. ‘The journey not the arrival matters’
  11. Namaste and welcome to Nepal
  12. Kathmandu: The greatest place on earth to get lost
  13. Kathmandu: Full of mystery, culture, history — and trash
  14. ‘A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles’
  15. Who has the strongest necks in the world?
  16. Hey hey, they’re some monkeys
  17. After the Himalayan: The Terai
  18. Watch where you step: Chitwan National Park
  19. At the end of the road: Pokhara
  20. Final Destination 8 (in 3D): The luckiest travelers in the world
  21. Tibet to Nepal: ‘The Journey Not the Arrival Matters’

Regardless of where you are from in the world, most people have seen a Tibetan prayer flag. But until I actually went to Tibet I had no idea how they were actually used.

Tibetan Prayer Flags can be seen in hutongs in Beijing, on skyscrapers in Shanghai, in college dorms across the United States or in Buddhist temples around the globe. Normally, you see a single line of about a half dozen to a dozen colored flags.

However, the reality in Tibet: You’ll never see just six or twelve. The biker above may have learned this on this mountain pass on the Friendship Highway. Many signs and overpasses look like this.

Prayer Flag Shadows

Not only are many used, but they actually very rarely come down (according to my guide, they never come down — however, I’m a little skeptical of that statement). They are hung on Tibetan new years on houses, signs, hills, mountains, across rivers — literally anywhere and everywhere it seems possible — or impossible to hang a flag. They are actually hung in such mass, at times its a bit comical.

Prayer Flag Liter

Enormous groups of them litter the Tibetan landscape — and I do mean litter. As they become worn and shredded they fall and blow off somewhere to most likely never be picked up again.

Prayer Flag Cloudscape

I talked about this with United Nations Ambassador of Peace Dr. Jane Goodall this weekend, and she agreed in the Tibetan usage of the flags, it could be considered littering (more on the three day shoot with Doctor Goodall in an upcoming post). Although prayer flags are seen all over the world, their origin does come from the Himalayan.

A prayer flag is a colorful panel or rectangular cloth often found strung along mountain ridges and peaks high in the Himalayas to bless the surrounding countryside or for other purposes. Unknown in other branches of Buddhism, prayer flags are believed to have originated with Bön, which predated Buddhism in Tibet. Traditionally they are woodblock-printed with texts and images.

Another strange habit I saw was a confetti style prayer flag that people throw out of car windows as they drive down long highways surrounded by amazing landscapes.

While its hard to argue with someone’s religious belief system, it seems weird to me a population that is so connected to the earth, thinks that throwing paper and cloth into the street is a good idea. However, people’s perception of trash around the glove is so different, I’m sure the Tibetans don’t think they are littering.

The prayer flags have different meanings. According to my guide they are:

  • Blue (symbolizing sky/space)
  • White (symbolizing air/wind)
  • Red (symbolizing fire)
  • Green (symbolizing water)
  • Yellow (symbolizing earth

I’m curious how much these things cost in the Western world. In Tibet right now, I believe the “going price” is about 5 RMB (60 cents) for a dozen or so.

Green Lake

The prayer flags can play an element photographically speaking for landscape photography. There is always a flag to shoot in front of some landscape, rather than — just the landscape like the example above where we get a little bit of Tibetan Blue and a Tibetan Cloudscape. They make landscape photography globally unique in Tibet.

Drigung Monastery

Drigung Monastery

This amazing place is the Drigung Monestary. Tucked away in the Himalayan, 150 km east of Lhasa, this place is truly amazing — and truly covered with prayer flags. A hot spring runs through the middle of the village with nice pools (separate female and male pools) that can be used for a nominal cost. The monastery continues up the mountain until a final area of prayer is built into the rock at the top of the mountain (about a one hour hike up from the hot springs — be wary of some shady dogs). As you walk up the hill prayer flags cross enormous ridge tops and valleys on both sides of you — in mass quantities.

Giving Directions

Nuns walk around barefoot praying and chatting. There is a certain zen like feeling to the place. Although its only 150 km east of Lhasa, it does take all day to get there with the roads. I feel — its definitely worth the drive from Lhasa. Unlike some places in Tibet, everyone seemed very open to photography and people even encouraged me to explore the area. The nun above was walking around a Stupa when she stopped to give me directions to the top of the mountain.

Top of the mountain

This nun even let me photograph her in the small temple on top of the mountain. She didn’t ask for money, didn’t expect money and seemed pretty happy I made the effort to get to the monastery and then climbed the mountain.

Tibetan Girl

Other villagers, were even asking for portraits, including this Paniolo type Tibetan cowboy below and the younger woman above. A lot of Tibetan men seemed to have a cowboy type image or style to them.

Tibetan Cowboy

Check back Wednesday China time, Tuesday USA time for a new post with a note to all travelers — a small discussion of travel ethics.

Tibetan Cloudscapes

Tibetan Cloudscape



Share

Note from Jonah: This is the continuation of a photo series from the Great Himalayan Mountain Range. The photos document a journey by car, foot, boat, plane and elephant from Tibet to Nepal. If you’re just joining now, here’s what you’ve missed:

  1. Road trip on the Himalayan Shelf
  2. Lhasa: City of Sunlight, City in the Sky
  3. In Tibet, People’s Liberation Army (mostly) out of site, but not out of mind
  4. Attn: Crayola — a new color for you — Tibetan Blue
  5. Tibetan Cloudscapes
  6. Tibetan Prayer Flags Littering Roof of the World
  7. Should you pay for photos? The ethics of travel photography
  8. 29 Minutes and 15 Seconds on Mount Everest
  9. Desertification stretching from Inner Mongolia to Tibet
  10. ‘The journey not the arrival matters’
  11. Namaste and welcome to Nepal
  12. Kathmandu: The greatest place on earth to get lost
  13. Kathmandu: Full of mystery, culture, history — and trash
  14. ‘A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles’
  15. Who has the strongest necks in the world?
  16. Hey hey, they’re some monkeys
  17. After the Himalayan: The Terai
  18. Watch where you step: Chitwan National Park
  19. At the end of the road: Pokhara
  20. Final Destination 8 (in 3D): The luckiest travelers in the world
  21. Tibet to Nepal: ‘The Journey Not the Arrival Matters’

In the last post on Crayola’s new color, Tibetan Blue, I mentioned the unusual clouds on the Tibetan Plateau. In part, this was due to my timing of the trip. August is still part of the monsoon (rainy) season in the Himalaya and in many ways, its a stupid time to visit. On the other hand, you avoid lots of tourists and get to see fast moving menacing clouds.

Road to Mount Everest

Another advantage to visiting in the summer, is your ability to see what is normal buried in snow. In the high Himalayan, and regions around Mount Everest, the Tibetan landscape is extremely arid. Barely any growth is found on the ground, mountains and even by lakes. The undulating ground, combined with the strange cloud formations makes some landscapes look Martian.

Arid Tibet

The three photos above were all taken on an access road to Mount Everest … and by road, I mean there were parts which resembled something similar to an old gravel road, other parts feel like you are driving on the moon. The drive is a very bumpy 4 hours from the access point on the Friendship Highway to Rongphu Monastery, the world’s highest Buddhist Temple where you can begin the hike to Everest Base Camp.

Rain ahead

Throughout this trip, it rained everyday for at least some period. However, when in the Himalayan, the mountains usually created small microclimates where it would be raining continually in some areas and not at all in others.

Martian Cloudscape

Other times, you could see rain clouds move around like cartoons across an enormous valley. This made for some very interesting landscapes (also some very uninteresting landscapes that you won’t see here). Since these are all centered around clouds, I dub these type of photos “cloudscapes.”

Rain

The last post in this series is a photo essay all shown from the backseat (driver side) of different modes of transportation. You’ll see a lot of these cloudscapes there as well. The Tibet portion of this journey was made by car. If you notice in the pictures above, there are some fairly concrete rain clouds on the horizons. You might ask, what happens when you get there?

Karola Pass

There are very few roads in Tibet, so you don’t have too many choices about how to get places. The nature of the landscape means mountain passes can go up far past 20,000 feet in elevation and it is inevitable you’ll be in the clouds. One of my favorite moments in this process is the point where you are half in the cloud and half out.

Cloud

The shots above shows the view coming into Karola Pass at 15,700 feet, which climbs between two massive mountains, Nozing Khangsa 23,700 feet and Ralung 20,460 feet. The clouds hold there place well enough that its almost like walking through an enormous curtain on rigged to a mountain.

Yamdrok Lake

Check back next week, for images from Mount Everest and a collection of prayer flag photos.

Attn: Crayola — a new color for you — Tibetan Blue

Mount Everest Cloudscape



Share

Note from Jonah: This is the continuation of a photo series from the Great Himalayan Mountain Range. The photos document a journey by car, foot, boat, plane and elephant from Tibet to Nepal. If you’re just joining now, here’s what you’ve missed:

  1. Road trip on the Himalayan Shelf
  2. Lhasa: City of Sunlight, City in the Sky
  3. In Tibet, People’s Liberation Army (mostly) out of site, but not out of mind
  4. Attn: Crayola — a new color for you — Tibetan Blue
  5. Tibetan Cloudscapes
  6. Tibetan Prayer Flags Littering Roof of the World
  7. Should you pay for photos? The ethics of travel photography
  8. 29 Minutes and 15 Seconds on Mount Everest
  9. Desertification stretching from Inner Mongolia to Tibet
  10. ‘The journey not the arrival matters’
  11. Namaste and welcome to Nepal
  12. Kathmandu: The greatest place on earth to get lost
  13. Kathmandu: Full of mystery, culture, history — and trash
  14. ‘A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles’
  15. Who has the strongest necks in the world?
  16. Hey hey, they’re some monkeys
  17. After the Himalayan: The Terai
  18. Watch where you step: Chitwan National Park
  19. At the end of the road: Pokhara
  20. Final Destination 8 (in 3D): The luckiest travelers in the world
  21. Tibet to Nepal: ‘The Journey Not the Arrival Matters’

Living in Beijing, whenever I go anywhere I’m always struck by how blue the sky actually is. However, on the Tibetan Plateau — the sky actually looks different. If New Zealand is known as Aotearoa — land of the long white cloud, Tibet should be known as land in the big blue sky.

Driving around in this environment is truly fantastic. Seemingly endless roads, with soaring peaks into an endless blue sky. The sprawling valleys and peaks usually make the sky visible someplace at all times — even if its raining where you happen to be.

Blue backed Chinese Flag

The Tibetan sky simply looks more blue. However, its so much more blue, it appears to be a different color altogether. With an average height of 4,900 meters (16,000 feet) the air quality and visibility on the Tibetan Plateau create a saturation in the sky that is something truly unique on a global scale.

Although my photographs are circumstantial to my specific timing of the trip, when looking at a color profile of the sky on an 8-bit JPEG, color distribution of the sky comes out around 0R + 30B + 90G, while in this photo of the China Pavilion in Shanghai the sky’s color profile comes in at 95R + 120G + 170B — a much more neutral color.

If your unfamiliar with the RGB color space, pure black is 0R+0G+0B, while a middle gray falls at 127R+127G+127B and pure white as 255R+255G+255B. The color profile above indicates a much darker or richer blue, compared to one whose RGB values were more similar.

Tibetan Photo Stitch

I’ve alerted Crayola and the United Nation’s Ministry of Color, we have a new color on our hands — Tibetan Blue. New crayons should be printed by spring 2011.

Photographically speaking this was strange to me. Looking through my view finder it looked like someone had taken the photo in Photoshop and cranked the vibrance and saturation sliders. Even on camera, the sky in the images simply looked fake. Often in bright situations, I under expose photos to help take down the high spectrum of the light meter — and this also increases saturation, creating some vibrant landscapes.

Blue Contrast

The colorful outfits of the Tibetans, as well as the arid dry landscape creates some amazing contrast with this deep blue color. A red Chinese flag, a rocky desert or a market in Lhasa, the color contrast is remarkable.

Tibetan Blue

Clouds also seem to appear differently on the Tibet Plateau. I might compare it to being in a plane or helicopter when you are at the same elevation as the clouds. When you look over at a cloud instead of up at it, you get a much different perspective. Low lying clouds and fog give mountains and landscapes a different perspective in terms of size. They also created distinct shadows and if there is enough light, some nice contrast.

Later this week, check out another post on “Tibetan Cloudscapes.”

In Tibet, People's Liberation Army (mostly) out of site, but not out of mind

PLA marching in Lhasa



Share

Note from Jonah: This is the continuation of a photo series from the Great Himalayan Mountain Range. The photos document a journey by car, foot, boat, plane and elephant from Tibet to Nepal. If you’re just joining now, here’s what you’ve missed:

  1. Road trip on the Himalayan Shelf
  2. Lhasa: City of Sunlight, City in the Sky
  3. In Tibet, People’s Liberation Army (mostly) out of site, but not out of mind
  4. Attn: Crayola — a new color for you — Tibetan Blue
  5. Tibetan Cloudscapes
  6. Tibetan Prayer Flags Littering Roof of the World
  7. Should you pay for photos? The ethics of travel photography
  8. 29 Minutes and 15 Seconds on Mount Everest
  9. Desertification stretching from Inner Mongolia to Tibet
  10. ‘The journey not the arrival matters’
  11. Namaste and welcome to Nepal
  12. Kathmandu: The greatest place on earth to get lost
  13. Kathmandu: Full of mystery, culture, history — and trash
  14. ‘A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles’
  15. Who has the strongest necks in the world?
  16. Hey hey, they’re some monkeys
  17. After the Himalayan: The Terai
  18. Watch where you step: Chitwan National Park
  19. At the end of the road: Pokhara
  20. Final Destination 8 (in 3D): The luckiest travelers in the world
  21. Tibet to Nepal: ‘The Journey Not the Arrival Matters’

The after effects of the 2008 Tibetan riots as well as a student demonstration at the foot of Mount Everest in 2007 can still be seen in Lhasa and beyond. Since the demonstration in 2007, travel restrictions have been imposed on foreigners making things very difficult and expensive for travelers. Friend Jeff Lune of Lune Tours helped arrange my permits but the long story, short is: if you plan to leave Lhasa you will need multiple permits as well as both a driver and guide.

However, the effects of the uprisings go much further than making arrangements difficult for foreigners. Military check points, roadblocks and soldiers paint the colorful Tibetan landscape.

Sometimes this is a strange visual juxtaposition. Here is one example. On one block in Lhasa, a man bows his head against a wall of Tibetan prayer flags, praying peacefully. He is surrounded by monks, pilgrims and Chinese tourists most of whom are all praying as well.

Tibetan Praying

Across the street a group of Tibetan woman dance and sing on the roof of a building, chanting songs and prayers. The rhythmic stomping of their feet and their distance voices make a peaceful ambiance in the street below.

Singing Tibetans

However, on a third corner — the presence of the People’s Liberation Army hides, peering down from the roof of a building. Ironically, this soldier watches the religious population of Lhasa in front of Tibetan Prayer Flags. Soldiers perched on buildings can be seen throughout Lhasa and beyond.

PLA Soldier

While its always strange to see soldiers and guns in an area that appears peaceful — there has been a long history of violence and riots in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and the surrounding areas including Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan Provinces.

The thing I can’t figure out is if the soldiers presence actually preemptively stops uprisings or are if they are just there as a reminder to the Tibetans to who is in charge? It might also be important to ask if there would be any uprisings anyway?

Tibet travel realities

There are two main permits travelers need in Tibet: a PSB Permit (Alien Travel Permit) and a TTB Permit (Tibet Entry Permit). The PSB is only needed if travelers intend to leave Lhasa into the “restricted” zones — from which I can tell, is anyplace in Tibet that is not Lhasa. Of course, you also need a Chinese visa to be in Tibet as well. An additional permit is needed for Mount Everest.

Beyond these permits, small details still exist. Travelers are not aloud to retain their permits on their person. Instead, a guide must both accompany and retain the legal documents during travel. Check this link out, for a simple explanation of this process.