‘Nepal: Then and Now’ Photography Exhibition


‘Nepal: Then & Now’ received an overwhelmingly positive reception, attracting over 700 visitors and being featured in several prominent newspapers. ‘Nepal: Then & Now’ is a photography exhibition that juxtaposes historical and contemporary photographs of Nepal, examining how the physical and social landscape of Nepal has changed over time. This exhibition examined change from the perspectives of the eight photographers. With each comparison showcasing a different interpretation of change in Nepal.

This show featured 21 photographs, 10 comparisons, from eight photographers. The Bikalpa Art Center would like to thank Shisang Lama, Fritz Berger, Bipin Raj Tiwari, Ram Paudel, Katherine Cheng, Pablo Lopez, Shrijana Shrestha, and Peter Gill for their participation in the exhibition.

Change is complicated and multi-faceted, impacting society in both negative and positive ways. This exhibition address a multitude of different issues, with each of the 10 comparisons showcasing a different perspective on change in Nepal. In the last hundred years Nepal has gone through a period of rapid change: tumultuous political changes; Nepal opening up its borders; the “hippie invasion” and freak street; becoming a tourist and NGO global hotspot; technological advancements; educational reform; the destruction of the April 2015 Nepal Earthquake; increased industrialization and globalization.

For those who did not have the opportunity to visit the exhibition in person, we have recreated ‘Nepal: Then & Now’ exhibition digitally.

Curated by Saroj Mahato & Bronte Isabella

The exhibition also included musical performances by ‘Raspberry Bush’ (Indie Nepali Band) and ‘Bee Numb’ Solo Musical performance

  • Catherine Cheng – China

    Then: Hashish and Mariwana (1969) Old Freak Street, Kathmandu Durbar Square. Photographer Unknown Sourced from Nepal Picture Library 

    Now: Coca-Cola and Hookah (2018) Freak Street, Kathmandu Durbar Square. By Katherine Cheng From Toronto, Canada

    From the 1960s to 1970s, the hippie era was marked by the Vietnam War, anti-establishment protests, and the counter-culture movement. During this period, a generation of foreigners known as the ‘flower children’ made their way to Nepal, gathering around Jhhonchen – also known as Freak Street. Drawn to the abundance of legalized hashish, music tapes, and apple crumbles, this small street south of Kathmandu Durbar Square became marked as the final destination of the ‘Hippie Trail’ for those who sought refuge from materialism and militarism.

    Coca-Cola and Hookah (2018)

    Hashish and Mariwana (1969)

    Freak Street came to an end with the banning of hashish in 1972, with the waning of the hippie movement, leading to Thamel replacing Freak Street as the hub for foreigners. Aside from a few old haunts (such as the Snowman Cafe or Eden Hotel) and the occasional visitor reminiscing about fond memories from the 1970s, little of the original spirit of Freak Street remains. Today, commercial coffee chains, factory-made souvenirs, and motorbikes populate Freak Street instead, reflecting the greater commercialization and modernization of Nepal between then and now.

    About the Artist

    Catherine Cheng is a graduate student, photographer, and environmentalist from China currently lives in Toronto Canada…

    Pablo Lopez – Visual Artist: Australia

    Then: Trolleybus at Tripureshwor bust stop Kathmandu (1993) Photographer Unknown. Sourced from www.nepal8thwonder.com 

    Now: Wherever I may roam (2018) Tripureshwor bus stop, Kathmandu By Pablo Lopez From Melbourne, Australia 

    A trolleybus approaches the Tripureshwor terminal. The design of this bus gives the impression the photograph was taken many years ago. The skyline in the distance shows a fragment of a mountain appearing through trees that stand as tall as the surrounding buildings. The street seems quiet with minimal human traffic and motor vehicles. A hand can be seen gesturing towards a small child standing on the footpath. There is no urgency or concern expressed in this parental gesture, suggesting that this is a safe space. Behind him, a man is captured strolling away from the bus shelter. 

    Trolleybus at Tripureshwor bust stop Kathmandu (1993)

    Tripureshwor bus stop, Kathmandu (2018)

    In the second photograph, the Tripureshwor bus shelter still stands along with the electrical lines that powered the trolley bus, as it did in 1993. Now a diesel-fueled bus approaches and much of the surrounding environment has changed. In the background, the World Trade Centre has replaced the stand of trees. A multiplicity of black cables bedeck the street and now also crowded with the suggestion of people and traffic. The footpath is now inhabited by motorbikes, left by their owners who are in one of the many surrounding stores. The only element of nature is a pot plant by the side of the road under a street sign. The people pictured underneath the shelter and stepping onto the bus appear to be moving with a briskness – in a rush to get to their destination. 

    These photographs demonstrate the Kathmandu’s fast-changing face in recent decades. Kathmandu has grown and changed as more people have come to call it home. Growth has led to new infrastructure overlaid on the existing fabric of the city. Rapid change has come along with some challenges in the increase of pollutants and decreased child-friendly zones. As evident in these photos, while some things change others, will remain the same.

    About the Artist

    Pablo Lopez is a visual artist/musician joining us from Melbourne, Australia. Pablo was introduced to traditional painting methods and techniques while undertaking a Diploma of Visual Arts and continued with a Bachelor of Fine Arts to expand his studio practice. During his Bachelors, Pablo conceptually developed as a painter, through experimenting with different mediums (acrylic paint, spray paint, earth materials, etc.), scale, and style.

    Shrijana Shrestha – Nepal

    Then & Now: Let us hope for their citizenship (2011 & 2018) Thapathali, Kathmandu By Shrijana Shrestha 

    The then photo was taken in 2011 A.D., near the Thapathali area, which is commonly known as the sukumbasi tole. During the 2008 Elections, Moist – the Maoist communist party – made false promises to Nepali people in rural areas to help their political campaign. Based on these promises, many of these people relocated to the Bagmati riverbank. These people came from Terai and hilly region of Nepal, mostly Lama, Magar, Chaudhari, Kumal, Tamang, Brahmins and Chettr. Many of these people had paperwork – featuring the Maoist logo – that promised them rights to this land. As this area had no government oversight, it became chaotic very quickly. With unmanaged drainage, no electricity, no sewage system or pollution management, the environment of this site rapidly declined.

    In 2011, the government acted on behalf of Bagmati Protection Act and said anything near the holy riverside is illegal and destroyed all the huts along the river. This decision resulted in a clash between the inhabitants of this area and the police. Some of these displaced people were offered 25,000NPR (approximately $230 USD) each to find a home elsewhere, but most didn’t take the money, and instead only two months after their homes were teared down, they came back and started rebuilding.

    Let us hope for their citizenship (Now (2018)

    Let us hope for their citizenship (Now 2011)

    As of 2018, this area is still in the process of rebuilding and this time – with the help of different organisations which are providing them with services of water, some educational materials and tuition classes for the students – the area they are building is far less toxic. Now we can see well-established bamboo and concrete houses, schools, restaurants, and shops. The large cross on the central building, is indicative of the influence of Christian missionaries in rebuilding this area. To this day, the government still does not have a plan for people living there. This remains one of the many problems facing the government of Nepal.

    About the Artist

    Shrijana Shrestha is a teacher of Journalism and Mass Communication based in Kathmandu who finished her Bachelor’s in Media and Communication from Tribhuvan University. She likes telling stories through visuals, pictures. She has taken several research works and is currently she is working on some projects. Her latest documentary is about women in conflict and peacebuilding process in Nepal
    “Banduk Dekhi Kodalo Samma”,  

    Shisang Lama – Nepal

    Then: Gorkhali (c. 1938 – 1965) Photographer Unknown Portrait of Kul Bahadur Tamang 

    Now: Gorkhali (2018) Tribhuavan International Airport By Shisang Khyungba Lama From Kathmandu, Nepal Instagram: @shisang 

    The Nepalese soldiers, known as Gorkhas, were famous renowned for their bravery on the battlefield. Between 1812 and 1816, the British East India Company suffered heavy casualties in the Anglo-Nepalese War. Their heavy losses lead them to sign a hasty peace deal that allowed them to recruit Gorkhas. From this agreement, more than 200,000 Gorkhas served in the British Army. The British weren’t the only nation to acknowledge the military prowess of the Gorkhas, with Singapore, Malaysia and India employing them in their police forces and armies. 

    The old photo is of my grandfather ‘Kul Bahadur Tamang’, who served in Assam Rifles from 02-03-1938 until 01-12-1965. The Assam Rifles is the oldest Central Para Military Force in India which was originally formed by the British in 1835 as Cachar Levy. I got this photo from my grandmother and this might be the only photo of him wearing his uniform. 

    Fast forward to present-day Nepal, with an unemployment rate of 40%, many Nepalese men and women are forced by circumstances to go abroad to find employment. Most Nepali migrant workers end up in Gulf countries, travelling great distances away from their families and enduring harsh working conditions, all in the hopes of providing a better future for themselves and their families. Approximately 1600 Nepalese leave the country every day for foreign employment. The money sent back home by these migrant workers is the backbone of Nepal’s economy, accounting for 31.3% of the total GDP. While this new influx of wealth benefits many in Nepal, it comes at a steep price, with most workers being forced to live in terrible conditions and many suffering physical, mental and sexual abuse. While many workers survive these conditions, some return home in boxes. Migrant workers are the modern equivalent of the brave Gorkhalis of Nepal. 

    The recent photo was taken 2018 in Tribhuvan International Airport which -05-on 07 old Makshudhan Shah is standing -year- is the only international airport of Nepal. 48 in front of the departure gate dedicated specially for Nepalese leaving the country 

    2011 to Saudi Arabia -05- left the country for the first time on 25 with a working visa. He for foreign employment. He mentioned that he gets a holiday after every 2 years of working and he has been working with the same company since then. Unlike most r, he was very happy with the company he was working on the horror stories you hear with and said that this was his fourth holiday. Later that day, he left for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to continue his work. 

    Two different stories of two different times, but they have one thing in common – Nepalese blood leaving their soil in search of the same things, a better future, and a happier life.

    About the Artist

    Shisang Khyungba Lama is a self-taught multimedia practitioner based in Kathmandu, who documents the world around him with photography and videography. He is an avid BMX rider and became motivated to pick up a camera for the first time because he wanted to capture the local scene, which hadn’t been documented before.

    Shisang was mostly focused on filming BMX in the early days but started to look at photography as a way to tell a more multi-dimensional story. Inspired by BMX, he took up film photography as his preferred medium in 2017 and entered the world of visual arts. Shisang’s work now focuses on street photography because it goes hand-in-hand with BMX — both riding and street photography require you to learn, understand and practice how to adapt your work in different environments.

    Beyond his work, Shisang is a freelance full-stack web developer, volunteered for Microgalleries: Kathmandu (2018) and a member of the local art collective, Kaalo.101.

    Shisang’s work was exhibited at Nepal: Then & Now (Bikalpa Art Center, 2018), Life in Analogue (organized by Film Foundry and exhibited in Siddhartha Art Gallery, 2019) and BACKtoBack (Goethe-Zentrum Kathmandu, 2019).

    Peter Gill-  New York, USA/ Kathmandu, Nepal

    Then: Untitled (c. 1973) Nepalgunj, Nepal By Rich Pfau Sourced from Nepal Picture Library & Nepal Peace Corps Photo Project. 

    Now: Saraswoti Girls’ School and staff today (2017) Nepalgunj, Nepal By Peter Gill Website: www.petermgill.com Born New York, USA; Lives in Kathmandu, Nepal 

    Through the Peace Corps Nepal Photo Project, I obtained a picture taken by an American Peace Corps volunteer, Rich Pfau, in Nepalgunj in the early 1970s. It appeared to show a school: there was an L-shaped building, a corridor with a group of young girls sat at desks, and two men and a woman in a white sari standing in the sun. 

    After asking several rickshaw wallahs and store-keepers, I eventually found Saraswoti Girls’ School and immediately recognized it from the photograph. 

    Saraswoti Girls’ School and staff today (2017) Nepalgunj

    Untitled (c. 1973) Nepalgunj

    Some teachers on break saw me studying the photo. Looking over my shoulder, they immediately recognized the woman in the white sari: “Mehrotraji!” An Indian, she had been the school’s principal for decades. Later that date, I snapped a group photo of the teachers. 

    Over tea and samosas in the staff room, I learned the school had been established in 1998 BS (1941–42 AD) by a Mr Tandon, who owned a rice mill, to educate his daughters. It operated secretly under the Ranas before it was nationalized by King Mahendra in the 1960s. 

    Mrs Mehrotra had been a strict disciplinarian and built a strong reputation for the school. But much had changed in the years since she left. Wealthy families began sending their children to private schools; the student body became primarily poor Dalit, Muslim, or Madheshi.

    About the Artist

    Peter Gill is a writer from New York US grown up and based in Kathmandu. He earned degrees in History and Forestry in the US. His work is more inclined towards environment, history, and social change. His work has appeared in The Diplomat, Yale Envrionment 360, Internazionale, World Politics Review, Himal Southasian, Himal Khabarpatrika, The Kathmandu Post, Seto Pati, The Record, and elsewhere. Peter speaks English and Nepali fluently.

    Bipin Raj Tiwari- Nepal

    Then & Now: Enjoying life through hard times (2015 & 2018) Tundikhel, Kathmandu By Bipin Raj Tiwari Born in Chitwan, Nepal; Lives in Kathmandu, Nepal

    I took the ‘then’ photo 20 days after of the April 2015 Earthquake, a natural disaster that crumbled much of the country, killed thousands and left millions homeless. The Tundikhel area was flooded with thousands of displaced earthquake victims. In the background of this photo, you can see the field littered with the tents of these displaced people. In the foreground of the photo, a group of youngsters are playing football. This juxtaposition shows, despite the tragic circumstances, the Nepali people’s strength of character allows them to find joy in life, even in the darkest of days. 

    Enjoying life through hard times (2018)

    Enjoying life through hard times (2015)

    It had been three years after the earthquake, and my ‘Now’ photo shows that the tents are now gone. However, there are still earthquake victims in many parts of Kathmandu, and throughout the entire country, who are still waiting for the day they can return to their homes. However, despite long-term hardships, the Nepali people have proven their resilience. I am proud to be Nepali, as we are have shown time and again that through hardships we continue to hope for the future and always find a way to enjoy life.

    Then & Now: History waiting for the change (2015 & 2018) Kathmandu Durbar Square in picture By Bipin Raj Tiwari Born in Chitwan, Nepal; Lives in Kathmandu, Nepal

    This photo was taken two days after the earthquake and still gives a nice view of the square. Sunset
    after the disastrous earthquake came with great hope to rebuild the nation. 3 big festivals (Indrajatra)
    have gone and they are still doing the renovation work on this site. One of the best squares known for
    its medieval artistic value with a combination of Neo-Classical architecture was the focal point for many
    travelers in Nepal. The change itself advocates the need of rebuilding in the old style where many
    countries are putting their hand. We made this history about 400 years ago on our own and now still
    with so many helping hands from around the world we are far behind. No matter what there is still a lot
    to do from the government side.

    History waiting for the change (2015)

    History waiting for the change (2018)






    About the Artist

    Bipin Raj Tiwari is a passionate photographer, journalist, travel consultant from Chitwan currently based in Kathmandu. He has earned a master’s degree in Sustainable Tourism and Management. He is also an expert freelance tour guide keen interest to explore the country make him a perfect person as a guide. He has taken several research works and is working with projects that generate ideas of making a livelihood
    through tourism.

    Ram Paudel- Hamburg, Germany/ Gorkha Nepal

    Then: A Gurung Hunter in Langtang Valley (c1980) Photographer Unknown Sourced from Nepal travel Guide by Apa Guides, 1983, Pg. 238- 239 

    Now: Raj Bahadur Shahi- One of the Raute Hunters (2015) By Ram Paudel Lives in Hamburg, Germany; Born in Gorkha, Nepal

    Until about 10,000 years ago, all humans were hunters and gatherers, living in the wilderness with wild animals and plants. For most of human history, we have lived as foragers, in constant search for food. Today, in the 21st century, the majority of humankind hunts for their food in a supermarket. There are only a few nomadic forest tribes left on in the world, all struggling to protect their traditional way of life. One among such tribes is the Rautes, the last remaining nomadic people in Nepal. 

    A Gurung Hunter in Langtang Valley (c1980)

    Raj Bahadur Shahi- One of the Raute Hunters (2015)

    The “now” photo is a portrait of Raj Bahadur Shahi, a hunter from the Raute Tribe in the traditional dress he wears every day. The Raute people described themselves as ban ko raja (which means “kings of the forest”). These kings, represent a small closed society of about nomadic 150 individuals, who survive by hunting monkeys and manufacturing simple wooden bowls and boxes, which they trade for grain and vegetables. 

    The Raute people do not have agriculture, and because of this, they are facing a food shortage crisis. They are dependent on the help of state and villagers. Since 2009, the government has provided them 1000 Rs (approximately $9USD) per person, per month. However, such a small stipend is not enough to meet their needs. 


    Then: Typical village settlement in the Himalayan foothill (1983) Photographer Unknown Sourced from Nepal travel Guide by Apa Guides, 1983, Pg. 22-23 

    Now: The Raute Settelment in Deilekh District (2015) By Ram Paudel Lives in Hamburg, Germany; Born in Gorkha, Nepal 

    The daily lives of the Raute tribespeople, from Deilekh in the mid-west Nepal, is dictated by nomadic principles and ancient traditions passed down through generations. Their population is estimated at about 650 people living in small settlements in the regions of western Nepal. Most have been forcibly settled by the government of Nepal but there are about 150 nomadic Raute. 

    Typical village settlement in the Himalayan foothill (1983)

    Typical village settlement in the Himalayan foothill (1983)

    They mostly live in very remote locations, far from other villages, on a meadow or on riverbanks. While they live at high altitudes during monsoon season, they wander subtropical forests and valleys during the dry winter. A potential location to set up a temporary settlement called “Basti” must meet some basic requirements: a source of drinking water and forests with plenty of wildlife must be nearby, and easy access to wood. 

    The social order of the Raute people is strictly patriarchal. The strongest men venture out to hunt monkeys, the other weaker men cut down trees and carve wood products. Women and girls rarely leave the camp, as are responsible for caring of children and preparing foods. The women-only leave the camp to collect firewood, wild-seasonal vegetables and freshwater. 

    The Raute people emphasize that their continued existence is based on three principles: 

    • Remain nomadic, 
    • Continue their own native culture, language, and education, 

    • Remain hunter-gatherers. Raute community emphasize that they wish to remain full-time foragers and not assimilate into the surrounding farming population.

    About the Artist

    Ram Poudel is a photographer and designer from Gorkha Nepal now based in Hamburg Germany. He did his undergraduate in Photography and Media Design from the University of Applied Science Bielefeld, Germany in 2016. He also studied Media Production for two years (2009- 2011) at the University of Applied Science Lemgo, Germany. He has worked as an intern and assistant photographer at Arvato Medienfabrik Bertelsmann in Gutersloh, Germany and Medienzentrum Bennohaus in Munster, Germany. He is an award-winning photographer for Prasidium Stipendium Der FH Bielefeld 2015 for  Bachelor Project – Die Raute and a finalist for the Photographer’s Forum Magazine, CA 2015

    Fritz Berger- Bern, Switzerland/ Stockholm, Sweden

    Then & Now: The power of a road (1978, & 2010) Muktinath, Mustang District By Fritz Berger Born in Bern, Switzerland; Lives in Stockholm, Sweden Website: www.transhumana.ch 

    These two photos show the impact of a new road on a natural landscape. 

    In 1978, when traveling from Muktinath to Kagbeni, I come across this semi-deserted valley, a quiet oasis free from dust and noise. I stopped many times during my trek to observe the vegetation along the way. I met many locals – both young and old – on my journey, all exhausted from walking up the mountain for a pilgrimage to the holy shrine at Muktinath. 

    The power of a road Muktinath, Mustang (2010)

    The power of a road Muktinath, Mustang (1978)

    In 2010, over twenty-years on from when I first visited this area, a new road had been erected, replacing the old footpath. Vehicles transported pilgrims and goods, leaving behind a cloud of dust. Additionally, a power line bringing electricity to the few villages in this remount area has also been installed since my last visit. While these changes may have only affected a small part of the physical landscape of the valley, the lives of the people in this valley have been profoundly improved.

    Then & Now: Life on the water place (1973, 1996, & 2016) The Dhara of Dolakha By Fritz Berger Born in Bern, Switzerland; Lives in Stockholm, Sweden Website: www.transhumana.ch 

    These three photos document the decreased importance of a village Dhara. 

    In the seventies, the old Dhara of Dolakha was central to the community, with people congregating there to bathe and socialise. The men would come here to wash after a long day of work. The women and children fetched drinking water, clean clothes, and bathed themselves at the Dhara. When talking to the locals, people stressed the social importance of this site. The Dhara was a prominent place for ladies to socialise, discussing the struggles of daily life. Chatter about pestering mothers-in-law, husbands, children, illness, etc. echoed throughout the stone walls. In short, the Dhara acted as a local “newsroom.” 

    Life on the water place (1973)

    Life on the water place (1996)

    Life on the water place (2016)

    When I returned to this site in 1996, I found that the Dhara had been renovated. With stone walls, improved water tapes, and stone-carvings of deities being added to the structure. These improvements showed that Dhara still being a fundamental pillar of village life. 

    In 2010, the Dhara had seen further renovation, with a shelter to protect from rain having been built. However, while this space had been remodelled since my last visit, it was comparatively deserted. Advancements in engineering in the village had overseen the installation of several new water tapes in different locations around the town; meaning that the Dhara was no longer the only source of water. Additionally, the population of Dolakha has decreased considerably in the past decades due to increased immigration to nearby Charikot or Kathmandu. A combination of industrialisation and urbanisation have made the Dhara a relic of the recent past.

    About the Artist

    Fritz Berger was born into a farming family south of Bern, Switzerland in 1938, as the third of eight children. After primary school, he earned an apprenticeship in horticulture, starting a life-long fascination with plants and agriculture. At 24, he started working as an adviser to development projects abroad, initially in Greece, but later in Nepal and Pakistan. Berger took a camera with him on every field excursion, developing this hobby into a passion for photography. 

    In 1987, Fritz returned to Bern and began working as a freelance photographer. His assignments took him far afield once again, documenting activities in Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, and ex-Yugoslavia (today knows as the Balkan region). He particularly enjoys documenting people, their work, and their struggles.

    Fritz speciality is Photomonitoring. In this, he conducted trainings wrote articles and conducted exhibitions. In 2010, Berger performed some of this work for ICIMOD and SDC, traveling to many sites in Nepal to record the impacts of natural forces and human activities. Fritz lives at Stockholm, Sweden

  • http://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/nepal-then-and-now-in-pictures/

    For the Love of Art: Himalayan Times


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