Being Here Now
The Art & Practice of Travel PhotographyTM
Upper Mustang, Nepal
Adventure Travel & Photography Trip
May – early June 2023
(the festival is Lunar dependent so it varies)
circa 17 Days
Photography "has little to do with the things you see
Skill & Physical Level: MODERATELY ACTIVE to STRENUOUS hiking skills with a good level of fitness required; no technical difficulties, but an ability to walk around, when acclimated, in altitudes between about 2743 meters /9000 feet up to 4135 meters /13,566 feet. (If you are adding the Manang horse trek via Thorong La Pass you will need to go much higher: 17,769 feet /5416 meters.)
Our tours and workshops are open to photographers who desire to hone their skills in capturing content and developing a style – all in the beautiful and mysterious environs of Cuba, Mongolia, Venice, Santa Fe, Mustang, Papua New Guinea, Scotland and East & Southern Africa – preferably (but not required) using Fuji X or Leica M, SL or Q digital cameras. These systems are well suited to the classic image-making activity in which we engage: travel and street photography/ portraiture, documentary work, an occasional landscape and the ability to lend 'presence' to static objects like buildings and monuments. Just as Buddhism attempts to get one to live in the present, in the now, your picture-making will begin to focus on the image you have in front of you at any given moment. The idea is to make the best, most interesting photograph you can with this one chance. Digital has made many of us move this idea to the rear of our consciousness. We know we have hundreds of images to freely burn and forget that it is this one now that is the most important image we will ever make – at least until we approach the next shot!
Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best. – Theodore Isaac Rubin
Buy experiences instead of things.
Travel through the awe-inspiring mountains of the central Himalaya. We will follow the Kali Gandaki River, home to the deepest gorge on the planet, making our way to the capital of the formerly restricted, demilitarized Mustang Kingdom of Lo, the last culturally-intact Tibetan Buddhist society on earth.
Once in the capital, Lo Manthang, we will view and photograph the annual three-day Buddhist festival of Tiji within the old walled city. Tiji is a spring-renewal rite ushering in the life-giving monsoons. As importantly, in a ritual called 'chasing the demons', it celebrates the triumph of the forces of light over those of darkness.
The road from Mustang's Sino border onward south thru the realm to Jomsom is now finished and fully navigable. This rough thru-way (and, now, the electricity and spotty mobile cellular service the road has allowed) will forever alter not just the landscape but Upper Mustang's 5,000 inhabitants and their culture. What, for the last 1000 years has been at least a week's trek at high altitude can now be done in a one or two day (sometimes dizzying) drive -- if one does not stop to smell the roses.
Join up to six photographers, our guides, sherpas and drivers, as we take our time slowly gaining elevation and move through this incredible landscape for a life-altering journey to this Tibetan cultural area in its last years of sparse tourism. Our route will take us up the new SUV-negotiable road, following the Kali Gandaki river gorge between the towering massifs of Dhaulagiri to the west and the Annapurnas to the east. We will be using the sturdy and appropriate Indian-manufactured Mahindra 4-wheel drive 'jeeps'(instead of the former 7 days of trekking at altitude. But! There is still arduous trail walking from road-heads to sites inaccessible to vehicles.).
A bonus of our trip is that arrangements and lodgings are organized by members of the once-royal family, 26th and 27th generation descendants of the Kingdom's founder, warrior-king Ame Pal!
Whereas our urban street photography tours encourage participants to use prime lenses, this tour will have opportunities to use zoom lenses, too. We have permission to use the second-story roof of the palace in Lo to view and photograph the Tiji Festival. Here the distance will allow the use of longer focal lengths to great advantage.
We will encourage participants to choose one fixed (prime) lens for each morning and afternoon walkabout session and stick to that lens for that entire session. Zooms are great tools: you always get a photo of some sort, but they do not always force one to think in the most creative way about the potential photo at hand. With a zoom most photographers begin to shoot by pondering, "Do I want to take this at 28mm or at 50mm?" After this decision you still have the rest of the picture-taking process to figure out. Alternatively, when faced with a picture opportunity, fixed lens at the ready, you will start by thinking, "How can I best frame this image with what I have at hand?" "What angle of view will create the most dynamic photo?" "What f-stop will give me sharpness through the whole scene or create the out-of-focus surroundings (bokeh) I need to isolate this subject?" You will begin to think about this image before you and only this image instead of thinking, "If this first photo doesn't do the trick I can always zoom in or out to better advantage!" You will begin to practice being in the present with your photography.
Just as Buddhism attempts to get one to live in the present, in the now (as that is all we really have, your picture-making will begin to focus on the image in front of you right this moment. The idea is to create the best, most interesting photograph you can with this one chance. Digital has made many of us move this idea to the rear of our consciousness. We know we have hundreds of images to burn freely and forget that it is this one that is the most important image we will ever take – at least until we approach the next shot. Take your time with this photo. There may be instances where you will have to react quickly to get the picture (even though, with time, you may have anticipated it) but just as often you will have extra seconds to do the job right. A 50mm, or wider, fixed lens also gets you into the action (which will show in your Point Of View) rather than let you stand outside the action, clicking from afar (a distancing that almost always shows in the final photo.)
All modern cameras have the ability to create excellent photographs. And, in the final analysis, viewers of your images (other than other photographers!) won't give a fig whether your tool was a $9000 Leica or a $100 plastic Holga. What they will care about is that your photographs are engaging, emotion-generating, thought-instilling creations. Otherwise, why bother?
While we welcome any DSLR, rangefinder, cell phone or so-called mirror-less model in this adventure, we gear it with the Fuji X-camera system and Leica M, SL and Q cameras in mind. These are clean, somewhat pared-down systems without the instrument clutter of most modern DSLRs. More bells and whistles only distract from the task at hand. Really, all we need on our chosen tool is a way to adjust ISO, lens aperture and shutter speed. We used to think all the rest was 'gravy' but, increasingly, many have come to see and understand that this 'gravy' is a system-clogging, artistic distraction from the central focus of our craft. Adding functions ought not be confused with increasing functionality.
With the above said, we will still be taking large numbers of shots during our in-country stay. Not from nowhere do we have the old saying "practice makes perfect". The great photographers that we all admire paid their dues in time and shooting to get their iconic status. In Malcolm Gladwells' book Outliers he wrote, after studying success in various fields, that about 10,000 hours of actually doing a thing are required before the hard work of practice - paying one's dues so to speak, truly starts paying off. Gladwell found this was true for the 'naturally gifted' as well as those who were... well... more ordinary in their talents. What the research really means is that there are basically no shortcuts to fluency; one must Do The Work.** (What 10,000 hours boils down to is forty hours a week for five years, or twenty hours for ten years, etc.) And remember, Ansel Adams once said that if he got twelve really good photographs during the course of a year he was happy!
* Everything in Mustang, and Nepal in general, is, at all times, in flux. While we make every effort to stick to the schedule of the day, things can happen to make improvisations with comparable alternatives necessary! Come prepared for the delightfully unexpected and serendipitous. The flexible – and prepared – good photographer takes such events in stride and makes the most of any opportunity.
** I would encourage you to read Gladwell's books as well as Steven Pressfield's Do The Work! Overcome Resistance and get out of your own way.
for the photo tour is US$5100 per person, double occupancy. (Note: If we have only 4 participants the price will increase a bit as our total costs are fixed regardless of our numbers.) In Kathmandu and Pokhara (if required by flight conditions) we stay in really great hotels. The hotel in Jomsom is simple but adequate. Traveling up the road to Lo Manthang we stay at Teahouses made to accommodate tourists. These range from spartan to spartan minus! Our meals are taken in these establishments, too. These lodgings are expensive by Mustang standards (and are included in your Tour price) but are the only recourse except for tent camping.
Your tour price includes and pays for:
Upper Mustang Restricted Area Permit, $500 (1 or 2 passport photos required)
ACAP Permit (1 passport photo & 1 passport Main Page copy required)
Double rooms for every night.
Drivers for each SUV and our Guides/Porters plus their medical/life insurance Almost all breakfasts, lunches & dinners. (ca. 43 of 49 meals are included)
Airfare Kathmandu-Pokhara-Jomsom & Return
Transfers to/from Kathmandu-Pokhara-Jomsom and our lodgings
Group SUV transport for Tour activities that need it
3-Day Tiji Festival (and Still Photography) Event Pass
Most entrance fees
Some years horse transport for part of the journey up the Kali Gandaki is available for those who would like to switch from SUV to horses for a day or two
Sight-seeing in Kathmandu and surrounding villages
Pre-Tour instructions to prepare you for Nepal and Upper Mustang (as well as dozens of photography articles on a USB drive)
Essentially, we include all accommodations, most meals every day with drinks, flights inside Nepal, SUV transport with local driver, and a guide.
NOT included in your tour cost is:
– your airfare to Kathmandu from your home base*
– Nepal multiple-entry visa ($40 for 30 days)
– airport-related taxes
– baggage charges as well as excess weight fees
– meals in Kathmandu before & after the tour
– drinks (after the first, included, one) during meals
– alcoholic drinks
– personal outings and entertainment and incidentals (music/dance, gifts, etc.)
– some monastery admissions
– medical expenses incurred before, on, or after the Tour**
– expenses arising from situations beyond our control. These include flight cancellations, road closures, landslides, mechanical breakdowns, weather events, etc.
– money exchanging fees
– travel insurance
– medical, & evacuation insurance - REQUIRED!
– any optional activites not required by the Tour
– a single room with en suite bath (may be available for extra cost in the cities & Lo Manthang, probably not in the Upper Mustang villages)
– tips for meals, guide services and monastery services
– a possible 10% increased trip cost if we have 4 or 5 people instead of 6 participants.
– Do ask about any other items if you have questions.
* You must arrive in Kathmandu at least ONE day before we head out to the Mustang region. NO exceptions! Arrival two days before is better in case your flights are delayed or there are unanticipated problems in your journey. As well, Kathmandu offers lots to see and photograph!
** Your regular U.S. medical insurance policy may cover you in Nepal if the policy is a global policy. Do check to find out whether this is the case with your medical policy. If you are not covered we have a very good option for our participants.
Our tours are generally scheduled near or during the week of a full moon to provide night illumination that can be used to great advantage by photographers. As we are bound by the dates of the Tiji Festival, however, this is not always possible.
Please confer with us before making reservations and paying for any flights or hotels! Also, plan on arriving at least one day before the trip to avoid un-forseen delays with your travel.
Our 2023 Tour will be undertaken in May to early June. The festival is a lunar-based event so can happen anytime between the last few days of April to the first few days of June. The dates are set in January by Upper Mustang's head lama.
On all our tours we stay in lodgings that are the best available to us consistent with our type of Camera Treks travel. But! In many, if not most, cases these accommodations are quite different from what those of us in Western countries are used to.
Participants coming alone will be teamed (for accommodation purposes) with another photographer as a roommate. A single room may, or may not, be available.
Physical Requirements & Dietary Info
Skill & Physical Level: moderate hiking skill with a good level of fitness required; no technical difficulties, but an ability to walk around in altitudes between about 2743 meters / 9000 feet up to 4135 meters / 13,566 feet. (If you are adding the Manang horse trek via Thorong La Pass you will need to go much higher: 5416 meters /17,769 feet AND have the ability to ride a horse.) Talk to us if you have ANY questions about your ability to do this trip or if you have high altitude, lung, heart, blood pressure or other conditions that might compromise your ability to successfully complete this journey.
Even though we will have SUVs at our disposal there will be lots of walking (if you want to see and photograph the many sites we go to that are off-trail/road.) The ability to walk an hour or so in the mornings and in the afternoons - at a minimum - is a necessity. Anyone who can get around any large city at street level with ease should have no problem in Lo Manthang as we gain elevation gradually. Do note, though, that many of the off-trail/road places we visit require walking for up to an hour or more at fairly high elevations. These walks to caves, monasteries and ruins are not required and one can stay with the SUVs (or horses, if applicable) if one so desires. If you have never traveled at high altitudes you may not know how you will fare until we actually arrive on site. But! If you have ambulatory issues you must let us know as this trip is probably not for you!
Obviously, mountain travel can be a minefield of rough trails, rapidly changing elevations and other challenging issues. Walking any distance with a camera to your eye is a recipe for physical disaster. Look down frequently and don comfortable and stable footwear for our daily activities.
Spring weather in Upper Mustang varies from cold (freezing temps) at night to sunny days where it rises (usually) to 65F to 68F between the hours of 1:00 p.m. to 3 or 4:00 p.m. Layering your wardrobe is key. Sunblock is a good idea as we are at high altitudes. The days get windy so staying hydrated with plenty of water is a necessity.
NOTE: most of the trails we walk are in good condition and are not much different than hiking and scrambling in any wild, mountainous, high-altitude terrain. However, you must understand that common sense and caution are factors that cannot be 100% built into our tours but must be supplied by you, our participants!
Almost all evenings will be free after about 6:00 p.m. for individual exploration – music, dance clubs, restaurants, etc. in Kathmandu but almost nothing by way of social events in Lo Manthang and while in-transit on the trail/road. Whatever you decide to do in the evenings is fine as long as you are ready for our activities at 9:00 a.m. (and earlier!) the next morning! When you are late you hold all your companions up! In 1986 Nepal advanced their clocks by 15 minutes, creating their year-round Nepal Standard Time (NPT) as UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) +05:45. For example: New York City is 10.45 hours behind NPT; noon NYC is 1:15 am Kathmandu.
Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries economically. The restaurant scene in Kathmandu is fine, however, and we will eat our meals in a variety of excellent local restaurants. Vegetarians have no fear, there is selection aplenty in this Hindu and Buddhist country!
The situation in even poorer Mustang is a little different with rice, potatoes, daal bhat (lentils), Tibetan momos (dumplings), soups, Indian-style breads and sometimes chicken, predominating.
If you have any dietary issues or requirements please let us know before you sign up for this Tour. For those with gluten-free and other dietary needs the country may be a bit of a challenge, not in eating elementary meals but in getting much diversity during your trip. Vegetarians ought to be okay; vegans?
Finally, do not expect to buy any medications while in Mustang! Bring whatever you need with you, in its original, labeled container. Kathmandu is not a problem for normal meds - in fact, they may well be much less expensive than at home!
We REQUIRE tour participants to have both evacuation and medical insurance. Your regular U.S. medical insurance policy may cover you in Nepal if the policy is a global policy. Do check with your carrier to find out whether this is the case. If your medical policy will not cover you in Nepal we can provide information on a carrier whose coverage is very good and whose cost is reasonable.
Medical evacuation is a valuable tool in the kit of the traveler who heads to remote places. Some insurers provide this or it can be purchased as an add-on. In all cases READ THE FINE PRINT. Some evacuation insurance only evacuates you from a hospital, NOT off the mountains! Med-e-vac from the region we are traveling to costs US$25,000.00 and the heli will not take you until you provide proof of insurance OR let them charge the full cost to your credit card(s). We will ask to see your medical and evacuation policies BEFORE we head off into the Himalaya so bring your paperwork proof of insurance (which you would need in the event of an illness or accident.)
Prudence dictates that you investigate other insurances, too. We do not require travel insurance but, depending on your circumstances and location (a snow belt where airport closures are possible, for example), it may be wise to purchase it. We will not provide refunds to you if you call us in Nepal and say you are stuck in a snowstorm in Boise and cannot get to Kathmandu for at least three days! There are many providers of travel insurance so you may wish to consult a travel agent as to one that meets your needs. Before you purchase, read the whole policy; the big print giveth, the fine print taketh away!
If you are coming on our trip with lots of expensive gear it ought to be insured. If it is stacked under your Homeowners policy be certain you are covered abroad. Note that if you - or your site provider, offer to sell your prints on your photography web site you are categorized as a "professional" and your insurance company will not pay out a settlement on your loss even if you have been paying premiums under a Homeowner's Policy Rider. A savvy underwriter's agent will look for this after you make a claim and it applies even if you have never sold a single print!
Here are some carriers issuing insurance in the areas discussed above. Note we have no affiliation to them nor do we get any kickbacks from them for listing them here. Obviously, we also do not endorse them in a formal way, either. We have used them but never made a claim – the real test of any coverage.
What to Bring
Comfortable footwear is more important than a fancy
Comfortable footwear is more important than a fancy camera!
Comfortable clothes that you can get dirty and that are easy to wash in a sink or shower are a must! Quick-drying (a relative term) fabrics are best. There are no laundromats in Upper Mustang; a washerwoman is the only recourse. Your clothes will be soaped and beaten in a stream used by horses, yaks, goats, sheep and people for ALL their needs! I have had clothes washed this way and they do get clean but lots of sand needs to be shaken out of the fabric.
Details on what to bring – and what not to bring here.
Who Should Come
The ability to get on well with a group is of crucial
importance. This is your photo tour but you are also a member of a group; a group where everyone has a strong personality and an urge to do
certain, specific things. Some may want to get more comfortable approaching potential
photo subjects on the trail while others may want to refine their technique and vision.
Tour leaders will address your concerns and questions in areas you wish to explore and
provide practice tips for you.
Street photography is 99.9% failure. – Alex Webb
Staying in Touch With Home
The internet and mobile usage is easy in Nepal's big cities. Two different companies offer SIM cards for cell phones in Nepal. Service in Mustang may - or may not - be available! Wi-Fi is available at the fancy expensive hotel in Lo Manthang.
Payments & Refunds, Cancellations
Within 7 days after you make your reservation (by telephone, email, facsimile or other means) we require an Initial Payment of $800 per person to hold your place for the Tour. We will send you an invoice for this Initial Payment and then one afterward that includes the payment and your balance due, with the sequence of due dates for your other payments. The final payment for your place in the Tour will be due in full 90 days before the start of the Tour.
Your place in the Tour may be cancelled without notice if you have not paid any fees upon their due date.
If you find you cannot go on the Tour after you have made a reservation/payments to us, you can cancel your participation. To do this you must notify us in writing. An initial email and/or a telephone call concerning your intent to cancel will also be helpful as this is a small group endeavor and your cancellation will affect the whole Tour.
Please read this page carefully as it describes our Cancellation Refund policy in full.
Below is a list of the photographers who will be leading this trip. Both have many years of experience as photographers and adventure travelers in Mustang and other remote areas of the world.
Go to this page to see their work.
Wilbur Norman is a Santa Fe writer and photographer who studied social anthropology and has owned rare book and tribal art galleries. His first camera was his father's bakelite 120/220 Ansco Panda. He has ‘upgraded’ many times to where he now feels somewhat competent to handle his current image-making tools: the Leica M10, Leica M246 Monochrom, and several of the Fuji X-cameras; kit chosen for the beautiful rendering produced by their companion lenses. He is quite partial to black and white whether on film or on digital, except in the tropics, and in commerce, where color is (usually!) king.
Tsewang Jonden Bista is the nephew of the Late King of Mustang and was born in the village of Charang, Mustang. He is a tourism entrepreneur and social worker and conducts specialized tours in his homeland. He has been working in Mustang for the last 26 years and has in-depth knowledge of its locales, customs and practices. He has worked with The National Geographic, Discovery Channel and WGBH USA. He is also a founding member of the non-governmental organization (NGO) called Lo Gyalpo Jigme Foundation for Cultural Conservation, working in Upper Mustang to uplift the life of the Loba people and conserve the rich cultural heritage of his ancestors. He has also authored a booklet in collaboration with UNESCO on the important and famous Tiji festival of Mustang.
Our fantastic guide, Pema Sherpa. Most everyone has heard about the incredible warmth, cheer, initiative and strength of Nepal's sherpas upon whom expeditions depend. Pema is an exemplar of these heroes of the Himalaya. Pema knows every nook and cranny of Upper Mustang and is friends with the royal family. He also knows what Westerners need in terms of dietary hygiene and fills in as cook; no one on our trips has ever gotten sick when traveling with Pema and his watchful eye. (As if guide and cook are not enough he also fills in as Wilbur's camera sherpa, a useful position for one who only uses primes and is often switching lenses and bodies. Four hands good, two hands bad!)
We are often fortunate to have the company and advice of Luigi Fieni. Luigi has many awards and publications to his credit. He has worked in Upper Mustang for over 20 seasons training local artists in the conservation, restoration and preservation of the ancient monastery paintings that abound in Mustang. His knowledge and good cheer are always a plus..
Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best. – Theodore Isaac Rubin
Typical Tour Schedule
Please confer with us BEFORE making your flight reservations! Itinerary particulars? More detail here.
Trip Extensions There are many additional activities and places one can go in Nepal.
Itinerary particulars? More detail here.
Trip Extensions There are many additional activities and places one can go in Nepal.
There are many additional activities and places one can go in Nepal.
Events Subject to Change
Much in Nepal is, at all times, in flux. While we make every effort to stick to the schedule of the day, things can happen to make improvisations with comparable alternatives necessary. Come prepared for the delightfully unexpected and serendipitous. The flexible – and prepared – photographer takes such events in stride and makes the most of any opportunity. As we will be a small group, activities may be amended with the consensus of participants.
Photo Release / Tour Review
Camera Treks may ask you to submit a few of your photographs from the Tour to use on its web site or in promotional/publicity materials. We will always give attribution for your photographs if and when we use them!
We will ask you to submit a brief blurb on your opinion of the Tour to use on our web site or in promotional/publicity materials. Also, after your return home, we will ask you to fill out a brief questionnaire rating us on the trip – both the good and the bad.