Tag Archives: Karma Documentary

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.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Christen ~ Himalayan Reality

Christen does her laundry outside, Himalayan style. © Luke Mislinski
Christen does her laundry outside, Himalayan style.
© Luke Mislinski

Hindu New Year to Buddha’s birthday. One month in Nepal.

Before we left, many people placed wagers on when the reality would sink in for me on this trip. When that moment of “What on God’s green earth am I doing going so far above God’s green earth?!” would hit me.

Many said the gravity would hit me as the plane came skidding to a halt on the tiny airstrip in Lukla. Others said it would be when I looked up at the mountains I was about to climb. Some said it would not be until I got to the 16,500 feet or when I got to the end of the trek. (Hey, thanks for the faith I would actually get that far.)

Reality never came.

Not starting the trek from Lukla on two days of traveling and an hour and a half of sleep. Not when I am doing laundry with cold creek water and a bar of soap in a bowl. Not when I am standing in a shack as I try to shower with a bucket. Not through the almost three weeks of the hike. Not when we got to the end. Not even when hanging upside down in the rabbit trap.

I have no idea why.

Now, I have flown back through China, waited through another cancelled flight delay, flown to Vancouver, gone through customs, and I am sitting in my seat on the little plane that will be taking me from Vancouver back to Seattle.

The announcements have come on. I am so exhausted that I am barely listening. Then, this little tidbit seeps into my consciousness…

“Our cruising altitude today will be 15,000 feet…”

My body freezes cold as my nerve ends flame hot. Ummm, I just hiked higher than our plane will be flying…

Well played, Reality. Well played.

.

.

.



Donate to the film. Any and all contributions make a difference.

 

***You can donate through the GoFundMe campaign, as well as share the link and encourage others to donate:

http://www.gofundme.com/karmadocumentary

 

***You can donate through PayPal here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

 

***You can send a check to:

Luke Mislinski Photography

3563 US Highway 26
Dubois, WY
82513

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.

Christen ~ Continuing the Journey ~ Changunarayan

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

It has been explained to me that the large bells outside of the temples are to be rung to say, “I am here.” Ringing the bell to let God know you are present and are ready to share this moment.

I kind of love this idea, that God is not sitting around waiting for our every whim and whisper, but that we must make our presence known. The idea that God has other things to be doing and does not simply spend time waiting around for us to have a thought, but is available if you ring the bell. (There has been no implication that the bell ever goes unanswered.) Active participation in the relationship, rather than the passive assumption that a relationship with God is happening, just because you think about it. If you want a relationship, you must “show up”.

I am here.

A lot like any other relationship we have, or life itself. Life does not just happen. You must participate. You must take action. You must show up.

Life is about showing up.

I am here.

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

And, where is here…

At this moment, after trekking high into the Himalaya for a few weeks, and a few days in Kathmandu to catch our breath (which was impossible, really, because it is so polluted that it was harder for me to breath in Kathmandu than at 16,500 feet), I am sitting in the little village of Changunarayan. It sits up in the hills, overlooking Kathmandu Valley, and I can, once again, breathe.

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

A week to marinate in the zen-like calm of a village that has gone about their way of life for hundreds of years, before my country was even a concept.

I do not, yet, know what comes after this journey (just as I did not know this journey was coming), but in this moment, I ring the bell.

I am here.

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

.
.
.



Donate to the film. Any and all contributions make a difference.

 

***You can donate through the GoFundMe campaign, as well as share the link and encourage others to donate:

http://www.gofundme.com/karmadocumentary

 

***You can donate through PayPal here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

 

***You can send a check to:

Luke Mislinski Photography

14821 SE 181st Street
Renton, WA 98058

#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.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

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.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

#buskingforkarma – St Dominic’s Trio Returns

Once again, at Nye’s Polonaise Room, here is the next of several #buskingforkarma songs that St. Dominic’s Trio was gracious to perform for us. This is one of their original songs, titled “Bike Ride on 35W”.

Enjoy!

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

#buskingforkarma – Scary Numan plays Cows

Our next Minneapolis band to volunteer for #buskingforkarma is the band of my longtime friend, Dax. They are called Scary Numan, and they play a mash-up of older hit pop and rock songs. Here is their first of several #buskingforkarma songs that they recorded with us one night at their band practice. This is a song by the band the Suburbs called Cows. Unfortunately, not everyone in the band was there this time.

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Busking for Karma – Luke sings Lorena

For this installment of #buskingforkarma, I decided to sing one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite performers, Bob Schneider. He is a long-time Austin artist, and I used to see him play with his old band, the Ugly Americans, every week at Antone’s while I was in school.

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

Donate Button with Credit Cards

 

Luke ~ After the Trek, Kathmandu

Kathmandu. Capitol City. Urban center. Cultural hub. Gateway to the diverse and mysterious country of Nepal. The cultural stew of this city bursts forth with a beautiful cacophony that assaults the senses.

My eyes, ears, and nose were filled with a litany of new sights, sounds, and technicolor smells. Our late night arrival into Kathmandu weeks before meant that I was experiencing this exotic and hectic city for the first time as I climbed off the little puddle jumper from Lukla.

It is an understatement to say that experiencing Kathmandu is like taking a hyper-charged journey into the human condition. As I wandered down the streets of the Thamel neighborhood, the central historical, cultural, and tourist district of Kathmandu, I quickly learned a simple truth about urban Nepali life. Personal space does not exist in this city. And that is perfectly ok. Locals, international tourists, vendors, cars, rickshaws, motor scooters, cows, dogs and chickens all interact in an intricate symbiotic dance on streets the width of Seattle’s Post Alley. Vehicle horns blurt from every direction. Shopowners call out from every door. A diverse swath of humanity flows throughout. And, almost everyone offers a warm smile and a courteous “namaste” as you cross paths and share gazes.

A mother and her daughter sell flowers in the Thamel Neighborhood of Kathmandu. © Luke Mislinski
A mother and her daughter sell flowers in the Thamel Neighborhood of Kathmandu. © Luke Mislinski

After settling into our rooms at the Lhasa Guest House and cleaning up a bit, the group of happy trekkers converged on a middle-eastern restaurant for dinner in the more touristy part of the Thamel neighborhood. Even though we were seated traditionally on the floor, and the power went out halfway through the dinner (during which time the staff seamlessly restored the ambiance with candles), the cozy and casual atmosphere felt luxurious compared to the typical rustic surroundings we had in the Himalaya.

I puzzled over the paradox of material security and creature comforts as we ate. Had I had my first full experience with Kathmandu before going on the Himalayan trek, it would have definitely felt like I was in a developing nation. The water is undrinkable – you can not even brush your teeth with it for fear of spending the next couple days violently ill. The electricity goes out for 6-hour periods a few times a day when Nepal’s sale of power to India peaks, and the schedule is typically different every day. The air pollution is tragic. The streets are managed chaos. The bathrooms in some buildings make the sets of all seven films in the Saw franchise look like European spas.

Yet, I felt after having a cold shower in my hotel, drinking a cold(ish) beer, and sitting down in this restaurant that I was in the lap of luxury. What’s more, the hospitality I received from everyone I encountered was the warmest, most genuine I have received anywhere. Nepal may be an extremely ethnically and geographically diverse nation, but their hospitality never wavers. Even though Kathmandu is crowded, polluted, and has significant basic infrastructure challenges, seeing the contrast in lifestyle between this rapidly developing city and that of the people in the remote villages in the Himalaya was striking. Life in Kathmandu has significant challenges for the locals when compared to American standards. Yet locals in the capitol city were the first to tell me just how amazed they are at the difficulty of life in remote parts of their country. Those who have been lucky enough to travel to those areas talk about it as though it is like visiting another country altogether. I have to agree.

While reaching Kathmandu meant that some of our group would part ways for other parts of Nepal, it also meant reunion. As soon as we made it to town, I was able to meet up with my old friend, Tatiana, who had been spending the prior several months studying to become a Yoga instructor in Thailand. Tatiana and I then welcomed Jenn into the sleepy early-to-bed city of Kathmandu when her flight arrived late at night. The three of us sat up for hours having a couple beers, reminiscing, and planning our next few days of exploring the art, culture, food, and architecture of this amazing city.

One of our first stops was the famous Kathmandu Durbar Square. Durbar Square is home to many temples and palaces, and was the location of the royal Nepalese residence until the 19th century. More importantly, there are no cars allowed in the general area. It is a fabulous place to enjoy the classic architecture of the city.

Durbar square in Kathmandu is home to many of the city's temples. © Luke Mislinski
Durbar square in Kathmandu is home to many of the city’s temples. © Luke Mislinski
© Luke Mislinski
© Luke Mislinski

As we walked through the square, enjoying the scores of pigeons that were fluttering everywhere (they are seen as a positive sign and are treated with respect by locals), we were approached by a very friendly, soft-spoken Nepali man. He introduced himself as Ram and explained that he has been a cultural tour guide for 17 years. He asked us if we would like to hire him for a very modest 200 NPR (about $2.10) per person for a tour. I could see the usual American skepticism start to creep across Jenn’s and Tatiana’s faces. When someone approaches a group of American tourists offering a product or service out of the blue, I have noticed a natural tendency for us to say things like, “oh, that’s ok. I just want to wander around and look at stuff myself. I am just casually passing through. No thank you.” Thankfully, we swallowed our western-bred reticence this time and took him up on his friendly offer. 

Durbar square is a location where many Kathmandu locals go for a break. © Luke Mislinski
Durbar square is a location where many Kathmandu locals go for a break. © Luke Mislinski
© Luke Mislinski
© Luke Mislinski

Ram, as it turned out, gave one of the best historical, cultural, or religious tours I have ever had. After we had spent two hours with him, he was even inviting us to his home and offering to arrange any possible trip we would like to take in Nepal. I was quickly learning that one of the best ways to experience Nepal is to fully embrace the locals and take them up on their offers. Sadly, we were not able to take Ram up on his, as we had already made plans for later that day. He taught us an important lesson in trusting the locals, though, that would open up amazing opportunities time and again throughout the remaining trip.

The next day, Tatiana was feeling a bit ill (she did not previously know about the danger of brushing teeth with tap water), so she elected to rest while Jenn and I visited the Garden of Dreams. The Garden of Dreams is on one of the busiest streets in Kathmandu. Once inside, though, the sounds and smells of the city melt away into a serene oasis. This garden, originally built as the Garden of Six Seasons in 1920, was restored with the help of the Austrian government between 2000 and 2007. It is a meticulously manicured garden of terraces, pavilions, and nooks and crannies for the most discerning pair of lovers looking for a romantic escape or a weary tourist looking for a quiet place to enjoy a cup of tea and a book. They even have wifi…

Lotus flowers in the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
Lotus flowers in the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
© Luke Mislinski
© Luke Mislinski
A couple enjoys the quiet of the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
A couple enjoys the quiet of the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
A maintenance worker at the Garden of Dreams pauses to photograph the lotus flowers. © Luke Mislinski
A maintenance worker at the Garden of Dreams pauses to photograph the lotus flowers. © Luke Mislinski
Door in the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
Door in the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
A security guard in the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
A security guard in the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski