All posts by Luke M.

I was born and raised in the prairies of Sioux Falls, SD. I succumbed to the creative lure of Austin, TX when I was 18, attending countless live music performances, as well as the University of Texas. I did not know it at the time, but that southern launchpad of many indie filmmakers had an impact on more than my musical side. While I spent much of my time over the following 14 years chasing day jobs in fields ranging from nuclear engineering to tuning up people’s pacemakers, I passionately poured my free hours into making music, photography, and now film. I recently shifted my time toward photography and filmmaking full-time, and wonder why it took so long. Nature plays the central role in my creative inspiration. As a student of science and avid outdoor enthusiast, I am constantly striving to show how we interact with our environment on an intimate and personal level. When I am not hiking up a trail or skiing down a mountain, you can probably catch me in Seattle, my current home base, planning my next photography adventure at one of my favorite pubs.

Giving Tuesday and Beyond – Your Help Makes a Real Difference

As we try to keep our wits about us during this busy time of year, it can be hard to keep track of everything. Social media to the rescue! I wanted to take a moment to give a friendly reminder that today is “Giving Tuesday”and reminds us of the Giving Season.

We have received all manners of help from people all over the world to get to where we are with the film. Yet, we still are not at the top of our climb. As you think about where to make your donations this Giving Tuesday, and throughout the season, please consider contributing to the Karma Documentary.

Your donation will support the people of Nepal and help them recover from the devastating earthquakes. Together, we will tell their stories and encourage the return of tourists. It has been a slow recovery so far. Fall is usually the busiest tourism season in Nepal, and the numbers this year are far below what is needed for many Nepalis to get by in good years. Help us turn that around.

Thank you, Happy Holidays, Happy Giving Tuesday, and Namaste!

Contributions of ANY amount are gratefully accepted.

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***by mail:

Luke Mislinski Photography
714 3rd Ave
Salt Lake City, UT 84103

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Luke ~ The People of Nepal – Ashok

How do you know when travel impacts you deeply? Which journeys give you the most powerful memories? These thoughts have been bouncing around my mind furiously since I returned from Nepal. Nepal left a deep imprint. Every time I ask myself why, the answer is simple. The people.

I met Ashok Bhujel, a young Nepali man in his early twenties, one day as I returned to my guesthouse in Changu Narayan. He helped with all sorts of daily chores around the guesthouse. He greeted me with a warm smile, and open arms. I could not even begin to have a want before he would anticipate it and help me out.

Ashok is a dreamer who likes to think about the possibilities for his friends and family.
Ashok is a dreamer who likes to think about the possibilities for his friends and family.

I got to know Ashok better over the next three weeks. He is a dreamer. Whether he was inviting me to sit with his friends and trade songs on his guitar, or teaching me about the political, educational, and economic struggles of younger Nepali generations, Ashok dwells on the possibilities, not the barriers.

I have been keeping touch with Ashok occasionally. It was his messages to me a couple weeks ago that both gave me great relief that he was ok and sadness for his upcoming struggles. Ashok, like so many in Nepal, has lost everything – his home and his job – due to the earthquakes. He has a new wife, Nena. Together, they were starting their life together in Kathmandu when the earthquakes struck. Rather than relay his story to you, here are his own words from our recent conversations. I asked him to tell his story, so I could share it with you.

“Okay Luke Iet me start. Well I was working in starview and she had a singingbowl healing centre in Bhaktapur Dattariya. One day I took one of my costumer to her centre and then I meet her. Her name is Nena Nepali.

She is very good as a person. So I liked her at first sight. I took her visiting card and then slowly we came close. Well she is a town girl and I belong to village. She had lots of big dreams like to be a big successful business girl…”

Ashok and Nena
Ashok and Nena

“And one day she took me to her home I met her parents. They had a small shop too. Her parents and her 3 yrs old brother all are very nice people. After that slowly I talk about her with my parents. They want to meet her too.

Then I took her my village. My village is 150 km away from Kathmandu. It’s a rural place, completely a small village. I hope u can imagine. She was so afraid while we were on bus coz it feels like we r riding on elephant. It makes me laugh remembering her face on bus in that day. After that my parents liked her. So after that we fix the date and get married. Then I got job doing Thanka paintings.”

Ashok and Nina on their wedding day.
Ashok and Nena on their wedding day.

“But I didn’t have still home to stay. So I was sitting. With her parents. Life was going slowly okay u know but now my sweet home in village is no more. My family is staying under tent. I don’t even know. Do they getting foods or not. My wife shop is also gone and with that all her hard work and dreams too.

Seeing around how and what earthquake brought to our normal life still today we cannot sleep well. Thinking about how to start all when it’s gonna be normal like before my heartache tears rolls down. What to do how to do? I don’t have any idea. In one side I think about Nena and in another about my parents. She is a elder child of her parents and I must also. We both are feeling helpless brother. But still haven’t giveup our hope.”

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Ashok and Nena are some of the many people in Nepal that will receive help from the donations you make to our GoFundMe fundraiser. Please contribute today.

Luke ~ The People of Nepal

The news has been horrific. Many of us have seen the images and videos of the destruction in Nepal as the country shook repeatedly over the last several weeks. The wonders of an interconnected world bring the heartbreaking losses into all of our lives.

Yet, I am struck by how different this disaster feels to me than the others that have come in recent times. The difference is, of course, that the people hit this time are my friends. I do not say this to take away from the many people who endured the horrors of the tsunamis in Japan or Thailand, the earthquake in Haiti, or any other natural disaster. I say this, because I hope that in sharing the stories of my friends in Nepal, you too will be touched by their humanity and help them.

This is the first of many posts I will be making where I will tell the stories of my Nepali friends pertaining to the earthquakes. While it has been difficult to wake up every morning to countless messages from Nepal recounting the tragedy (13 hour time difference), it is nothing compared to the challenges that they face every day. In a country where life was difficult before, the earthquakes have taken everything from many.

Suman Bhadel, a chef in the village of Changu Narayan, supports both his parents and three younger siblings.
Suman Bhadel, a chef in the village of Changu Narayan, supports both his parents and three younger siblings.

One of my friends who has asked for help is Suman. I smile every time I think about the first time I met him. I had just strolled through the temple complex in Changu Narayan, a 4-th century village in the hills outside Kathmandu, and was meeting my travel companions at the little open-air restaurant just outside the temple gate. As I was walking up the stairs leading to the elevated pavilion, I was greeted by the warm smile and boundless energy that Suman is never without.

Suman explained that he would be our waiter and chef. It turns out, this 22-year old runs the entire restaurant by himself in addition to managing the small wheat, rice, and potato fields his family relies on for food. He supports his mother, father, and three younger siblings. He learned to cook while working in restaurants in India before returning home to work at the restaurant at a small guest house in Changu. Did I mention he can cook? Suman made, without a doubt, my favorite chicken dishes in Nepal.

As we got to know Suman more, he invited us into the community to experience their culture like we were family. Whether he was bringing us to the evening Puja (prayer session that is mostly a musical jam session by a local family of musicians) or taking us on picnics, Suman made us feel at home.

A great honor came one day when Suman invited all of us to accompany him on a 3-hour hike into the hills to attend the village’s annual festival to honor the hindu gods Ganesh and Vishnu. We were treated to a traditional ceremonial goat sacrifice that culminated in a delicious roasted goat feast. As we were walking back to Changu in the golden sunset over Kathmandu valley, we learned that we were the first visitors to attend this ceremony.

We were the first visitors to Changu to be invited to this festival, where sacrifices were made to Vishnu and Ganesh.
We were the first visitors to Changu to be invited to this festival, where sacrifices were made to Vishnu and Ganesh.
Locals from Changu Narayan await the feast after the sacrifices.
Locals from Changu Narayan await the feast after the sacrifices.
A happy group with full bellies makes the 3-hour walk back to Changu Narayan after the festival.
A happy group with full bellies makes the 3-hour walk back to Changu Narayan after the festival.

The messages I received from Suman in the days following the earthquakes were heartbreaking. Like many people in Changu Narayan, Suman and his family lost everything. His family’s home was destroyed. The restaurant he worked at is gone. He has no income, and he is the sole provider for his family. They are now sleeping under a tarp at the village’s Bus Park. Suman tells me that it would cost $3000-$5000 to build a new basic mud home for his family. Considering that his salary was about $35 per month before the earthquake eliminated his job, he has no way to pay for it.

The destruction in Suman's village, Changu Narayan, is extensive. Photo by, Balkrishna Baj.
The destruction in Suman’s village, Changu Narayan, is extensive. Photo by, Balkrishna Baj.

In the midst of all of this tragedy, there is a positive note. Suman just got married May 8th. Amid all of the loss and destruction, a glimmer of happiness still shines through.

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Suman is one of the many people in Nepal that will receive help from the donations you make to our GoFundMe fundraiser. Please contribute today.

 

Luke ~ The Threads of Tourism Run Deep

When visiting another place, it is common for us to project our own version of ‘familiar’ onto our new surroundings. We fall prey to our own rituals and tendancies, inadvertently drowning out little cultural discoveries along the way. Whether that takes the form of frequenting western style restaurants, hotels, or bars while in an exotic city like Kathmandu, or seeking an espresso or cup of coffee in the morning in lieu of milk-tea, the results are the same. Countless little cultural treasures with the power to grow our insights about life can be missed. The chance to find our similarities through examining our differences is stifled.

I was thinking about my own morning coffee, gulped down moments ago, as I hurried out of the guest house to meet my new friend, Balkrishna. I was supposed to meet this complex and intriguing fellow for tea in his shop, where I was to interview him about tourism in his idyllic 4th-century village, Changu Narayan. I chuckled at my obvious addiction to coffee. Although I had been in Nepal for over a month, I still had not fully embraced coffee’s more gentile cousin. I gladly took the warm milky cup of tea from Balkrishna when he greeted me, however. I was beginning to come around.

After starting the cameras and beginning our interview, I was struggling with trying to tap into Balkrishna’s personal perspectives. As he enthusiastically and thoroughly explained the geography, history, and cultural high points of Nepal, I puzzled over why my normal questions were not on target. His answers were interesting to me, but I wanted to learn how tourism touches modern Nepali’s daily lives.

A couple of things finally dawned on me. First, Balkrishna was telling me what he thought I wanted to hear, because I had not given him the opening to speak on a personal level about his life’s devotion. As someone who has worked in tourism for over 20 years, he grew accustomed to answering the typical questions of tourists – for example, “How old is Changu?”, “What Caste are you?”, “What religions do Nepalis practice?”, “What is your favorite (fill in the blank)?” His depth of knowledge of typical ‘tourist’ information would impress any travel guide editor, but it was his experience with the daily grind of trying to support his family, grow his business, and build his community that I wanted to hear. The second realization I had was that Christen was right. Balkrishna is a gold mine of information about the inner workings of the tourism industry in Changu Narayan, and in many other places all over the country of Nepal.

“Balkrishna, I am interested in learning more about tourism from the Nepali’s perspectives. How do average Nepali people view tourism?” With that question, his eyes lit up. Just as I saw a great opportunity to learn more about these generous and kind people, Balkrishna saw an opportunity to tell his own story on a larger stage.

As Balkrishna started to explain the depths to which tourism has impacted life in Nepal, I started to realize the size of my task for the first time. It is one thing to hear that tourism is the second largest source of income in Nepal, behind foreign remittances (money sent back into the country by Nepali Ex-Pats abroad), it is another to visit person after person whose livelihood relies upon tourism. Once he realized the mission of our film, to tell the story of tourism from Nepali’s perspectives, Balkrishna’s mind went into overdrive, planning out the next four weeks of filming. “We need to go visit the sand quarry, where they are digging sand for hotel construction projects, and the chicken farm that supplies many restaurants, and the pashmina factory, and the silver smith, and the blacksmith, and the tourism college, and the….” The list went on, and on, and on.

Once again, I learned the value of shedding the Western-bred desire to control the agenda of the film. Over the next month, Balkrishna would be my guide, interpreter, production manager, teacher, and friend. Christen was right. She encouraged me to let go of my rituals and tendencies and let Balkrishna guide the story. The stories that he and I lived together, and the footage we captured are the proof. We look forward to sharing more of it with you!

In this clip below, residents of the 4th-century village of Changu Narayan, Nepal go about their jobs supporting tourism.



Please consider donating to the film. Any and all contributions make a difference. Sincerely, no amount is too small, as we need to raise $25,000 just for this stage of the project (and approximately $75,000 in total), and every dollar counts. (Either through the Paypal link or send to Luke Mislinski Photography at

14821 SE 181st Street
Renton, WA 98058)

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Luke ~ Surrendering to the Story

How can you tell when you are in the midst of change? How do you know when it is time to surrender to the unfolding of a story, a journey, an experience? Why is it hard to let go of instincts? As I climbed the nearly endless stone stairway to the fourth-century temple of Changu Narayan, I thought about the unfolding dilemma I was facing. To explain, I have to rewind a bit. When I was originally invited months before to join the inaugural trek for Karma’s fledgling tourism business, I thought the trek would provide me opportunities enough to get sufficient footage to tell the story of sustainable tourism in Nepal. I would spend one week post-trek in Kathmandu valley after the trek, I had reasoned, to focus on getting the blog up to date with Christen. Then, she would return to Seattle, and I would travel to India to visit a friend. Life and the universe have a funny way of having their own plans.

As I neared the top of my climb, a nagging feeling crept from the murky part of my mind I do not like to visit. I started to worry whether we had captured enough footage to tell a complete story. I knew that, given this is our first film, there would be a significant learning curve – especially for me. My minimal experience with video combined with my novice abilities as a Himalayan trekker took their toll. Christen has said many times, “I wish you would have captured that moment on film!” I have said it far more times to myself. Many days, it felt like all I could do was simply finish the day’s mileage, get some usable footage, somehow charge my fleet of camera and laptop batteries, transfer hundreds of gigabytes of footage from cards to external hard drives, do my laundry, eat, rest, interview others in the group, and stay up late with Christen to take star photos and giggle at silly jokes acting like kids. It felt like I was frequently missing key moments during the trek when I would try to take a moment’s break.

When I reached the top of the stairs in Changu Narayan, I knew. We needed more…I was not going to India. I was going to spend my remaining four weeks in Asia in Nepal. I met up with Christen, Jenn, and Tatiana for lunch. Jenn (my wife) and Tatiana (an old friend) were joining us for this part of our trip in Changu. I was chewing on my new realization the whole meal.

After eating, Christen did what she does best. I was interviewing the master teacher at the Thanga painting school in the village when Christen came over to tell me that she had a couple more people I needed to meet. I had learned that when she says something like that, it is best to trust her instincts. Within minutes, I was sitting on the floor of a wooden mask shop and dodging shards of alder wood that were flying by my head at surprising speeds as Christen smashed a wooden mallet into a chisel. The owner of the shop had decided to teach her some of the finer points of mask carving.

As we explained our film to the him, he was very excited and insisted we meet his family members who help him with the shop. “Tourism,” he explained, “is the life of the village. There are few other forms of work here besides those supporting tourism.” It was easy to see, as we strolled down the cobble-stone streets of the little village. Shops lined both sides of the streets offering all manner of crafts, clothes, and souvenirs. The villagers who were not working in shops were working on the wheat harvest. They would carefully lay out their harvest on the street every morning to dry, and pick it up in the evening. After several days of drying, they would thresh it by hand on the same streets. Changu - Bazaar view

© Christen Babb. A resident of Changu Narayan sits outside one of many shops that line the narrow streets. Changu - Wheat woman

© Christen Babb. A woman from Changu Narayan dries wheat on the street from the recent harvest.

As Christen and I finished at the mask shop, she told me about another shop owner she had met earlier in the day. “You have got to interview this guy named Balkrishna, the owner of the singing bowl shop,” she insisted. “Really,” I asked? I had passed by his shop the previous day but was not drawn to it. I have no idea why. “Jenn had mentioned she was in there and wanted to go back to buy something.” “Trust me,” replied Christen. “You will be glad you talked to Balkrishna.” Did I mention I had learned to trust Christen’s instincts?

I returned to Balkrishna’s shop later with Jenn and Tatiana. Balkrishna is a great man. I immediately liked him and felt like despite the vast cultural differences between us, we shared something important: we both want to see our communities thrive and strive to devote our lives to that mission. Our conversation that afternoon spanned from the explosion of tourism in the village over the previous couple decades (and subsequent recent decline), to the complicated political situation in Nepal following the civil war (1996 – 2006) and shift from a monarchy to a republic. However, the most important part was how his eyes lit up when I explained that we are making a film about tourism in Nepal from the viewpiont of local Nepalis.

I was about to learn over the next several weeks that Balkrishna is a person with a big vision. I barely finished explaining it before Balkrishna was running off an impressively insightful and diverse list of people and places that he could introduce me to for the film. I was looking for anyone to help me understand just how far the tendrils of tourism reach into the economy and lives of the people of Nepal, and here was Balkrishna, my new Nepali production manager whom I did not know that I had, waiting right there for me with an ambitious production schedule. Even better, an amazing friendship started with Balkrishna that I will cherish the rest of my life. I owe a large debt to Christen for my friendship with him. 10258679_10152167837887496_8756685174630154594_o

© Luke Mislinski. Balkrishna Baj assists with filming in Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha.

As I write my next posts about filming in Nepal, I will shift from the trek phase of the trip to the second half covering several other major parts of the country. I hated to see Christen go back to America. I felt like I was losing my right arm, and I was worried that I would not capture the same depth of story without her. Once again, I learned to trust her judgement. Although she could not stay in Nepal, Christen somehow found the right person in Balkrishna to help me uncover the rest of the story…The more one learns about tourism in Nepal, the more it becomes clear just how vital it is to the Nepali people country-wide. The best part about meeting Balkrishna? I was starting to learn how to surrender to the story, and there could not have been a better teacher than he was.

If you would like to donate to the making of the Karma Documentary, please send money to Luke Mislinski Photography via Paypal.

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Luke ~ Purchase some art for your wall and bring Nepal to your home.

My income comes from photography, and right now, all of that income is going toward making the Karma documentary. We are almost solely self-funded, which is not sustainable. We continue to need your help, and we all need more art on our walls.

Help support the making of the film. Purchase any landscape or travel photograph as a traditional print, aluminum print, or acrylic print from my website using the coupon code, GOODKARMA, and receive a 20% discount!

All profits go towards the continuation of telling the story of the people of Nepal, and a man named Karma who started us on this journey, so he can try to bring water, electricity, education, and basic medical access to the people of his village.

Thank you for joining me in this journey in the ways that you can.

Luke ~ Chinese Layover

There is something about the words of a friend that bring you back. Christen and I were stranded unexpectedly in China. We were lucky to have a bag full of letters from friends. Nicky Volin’s helped us make it through the situation.

If you would like to donate, please send money to Luke Mislinski Photography via Paypal.

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#buskingforkarma ~ Luke sings ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve’

2014 Was a year of many firsts. While it was a landmark year in many ways, we are looking forward to celebrating the start of a new year and many more milestones for the Karma Documentary. Please contribute to help us reach our next – the official trailer. It is coming later in January!

Please enjoy this special new year’s busking performance.

Check out the video below!

If you would like to donate to the making of the Karma Documentary, please send money to Luke Mislinski Photography via Paypal.

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#buskingforkarma ~ Gandharba musicians from Nepal play Resham Firiri

Next in our #buskingforkarma series, enjoy this performance of the very popular traditional Nepali folk song, Resham Firiri. I met these musicians while taking a break from filming for the Karma Documentary, walking through the Thamel neighborhood of Kathmandu. They are the hardest working buskers I have met. They are members of the Gandharba, an ancient Hindu caste of musicians who travel from village to village, earning their living by spreading news and entertainment through their music.

Today, there is less demand for their traditional services. Like many Nepali people, they are struggling to adapt to changes brought about by globalization and the rise of modern communications technologies. To earn money for their families, they are often seen playing their music for donations from visitors and selling recordings and instruments on the streets of cities in Nepal.

Check out the video below!

If you would like to donate to the making of the Karma Documentary, please send money to Luke Mislinski Photography via Paypal.

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Left to right: Mandal, Petram, and Dambar

#buskingforkarma ~ Luke plays Change

As I was getting ready to bring you some musical performances from Nepal for our #buskingforkarma series, I found this recording I did a couple months ago and forgot to post. This is one of my favorite Blind Melon songs. I cannot hit the high notes that Shannon Hoon was known for, but I hope you like this version anyway. As you can see from the video, this was the end of a very long day.

If you would like to donate, please send money to Luke Mislinski Photography via Paypal.

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