The mountain communities of Humla District in Nepal and Pulan County, in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China, have long histories and rich cultures. As neighboring communities, their pasts are intertwined, with their Hindu and Buddhist ties dating back centuries. In 2018, the groups came together for a cross-border travel and trade fair, the Kailash Confluence. The two-day event celebrated the communities’ history of trading goods, ideas, and beliefs. It also sought to preserve their shared culture and create opportunities for improving the livelihoods of the local people through the development of sustainable tourism and trade. Now, in 2020, the Namkha Rural Municipality has published a bilingual photo book (English and Nepali) with support from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. The book does not only depict the ceremonies and activities offered by the Kailash Confluence, but also provides insight into daily life in the Humla district of Nepal.
The images show stone pathways and houses, majestic mountain views, and colorful attire. Home to nearly 51,000 people, Humla is a well-known district along the ancient salt trade route that spans from the Tibetan Plateau through parts of Nepal and India. The photo book includes images of harrowing mountain passes through which trucks climb unpaved roads. Although the roads can be dangerous and difficult for vehicles, they are necessary for conducting trade. The district is also a pilgrimage site and a source of international tourism, drawing thousands of Hindu and Buddhist devotees each year.
Culture is particularly displayed in the photo book, which includes images of the event’s speeches, dances, concerts, local cuisine and exhibitions of local products. Images from the start of the Kailash Confluence reveal the honors bestowed on guests, who were received by a line of locals and event organizers. A series of photographs show dances dedicated to deities, religious figures, and dances calling for good omens and prosperity. The performers wear ornate masks, layers of colorful, patterned clothing and use props. One image shows two dancers surrounded by clouds of white powder.
As evidenced in the photo book, Humla has remained mostly untouched by urbanization. The district continues to be defined by ancient Buddhist practices that are fueled by their connection to spiritual sites. One image from the book shows how visitors hike through Humla to Mount Kailash in TAR, China. Melting glaciers in Humla threaten the district’s communities and cultural sites. Severe flooding from glacial lakes has led to dangerous intervention projects. Despite efforts by the government of Nepal, threats of rapidly melting glaciers continue to loom over the Humla District and its people.