A Journey Through Nepal


Portland-based photographer and designer Sarah Collins recently made a trek to Nepal, which she carefully documented with her camera. Needless to say, it left an impression. Read about her experiences in Nepal below, or click through to her online gallery where you can buy her work printed and framed.

The trip from the US to Nepal is quite a commitment. What about Nepal caused you to embark on such a journey?

I made the decision to travel to Nepal after some brainstorming around what life-altering thing I could do to celebrate my 3rd decade of living. After learning about a sanctuary called Lola ya Bonobo located in the Democratic of the Congo, I was bent on finding a way to volunteer there. (I’ve had a lifelong obsession with monkeys, and the Bonobos are super special). I never feel sure of how dramatic or realistic the news we get about other counties’ danger levels are, but the travel warnings from the Bureau of Consular Affairs regarding the Congo were enough to make me consider a different direction. As I continued with my search, a friend in Kathmandu informed me that an international school she worked for was looking to borrow a web designer for a few months. It was a volunteer opportunity rather than paid, but it sounded like a safer way to travel to a strange land, and to do something selfless felt like a path I’d like to trod…so I did some whirlwind planning then hopped on a plane.

Through the prism of your camera lens, what aspects of Nepal stood out the most?

Coming from the Pacific Northwest which has a fresh, clean and natural palette, the grit and the colors of Nepal were so striking. Also because of pollution from burning trash, an out of control transportation system and all the dust, golden hour seemed to last as long as the sun was out— a photographers dream. The visual stimuli are out of control, and while I wanted to capture every wild and beautiful moment of being in Nepal, I had to force myself to put the camera down and just absorb the place without a lens.

You named one of your photographs from Nepal Prayers for Freedom. Does this have anything to do with Nepal’s geography, situated between India and China?

Maybe inadvertently. Without knowing much about the history and politics of Nepal, I could still see a lot bondage while I was there. The biggest oppression is that their society operates according to a caste system, putting everyone on a hierarchal scale that is inescapable. This limits the people in their social, spiritual and vocational lives, leaving them with very little freedom of choice. You can feel it and you can see it everywhere. Also, their resources are controlled by India who always seem to be bullying Nepal. Then there is the looming possibility of another big earthquake, so people are jumpy. I could go on…there are sad things I saw and learned every day I was there. Things aren’t perfect in America, but boy do we have it good.

Nepal is home to 8 of the 10 highest points on earth. Did you manage to scale new heights while you were there?

Because I was there to work with the school, I spent much of my time in Kathmandu Valley, but luckily I worked quickly enough to save myself 5 days for a trek into the Himalayas. That wasn’t long enough for me to summit any snowy peaks, but I did put in some hard work to get breath-taking views which you can enjoy in some of my photos.

And finally, was there anything about Nepal that was completely unexpected?

Where do I start? As a westerner whose life is very comfortable and padded by laws to “keep you safe” almost everything was unexpected for me to experience in person. The precautions I had to take in eating food. The disorderly ways of public transport. The majority of unnamed roads but somehow everyone knowing exactly how to get around. Kids barefoot and begging in the streets, some of them brutally marred for extra compassion effect. Cow’s freed to roam the roads alongside the insane traffic. Monkeys scurrying along power lines. Strangers sitting on each others laps on busses that were teetering along narrow roads with steep cliffs on one side… Over the course of the month I adjusted to a few things, but more often than not I encountered something that short circuited my brain.

 To learn more about Sarah, visit her website, or to view and purchase her photography, visit her gallery.