Journey to the ‘Roof of the World’
What do you get when you combine passion and photography? “Blipfoto!” some of you might say, rightly so. But some of our members take that combination to new heights – literally.
Case in point: Mairi Fleck (aka weeflecky) whose adventures took her to Nepal last November on a bit of a humanitarian mission.
Prior to departure, members of Friends in High Places (a caring group of people from Australia and Scotland) raised money for the families of Langtang (in the Himalayan range) who were affected by the devastating 2015 earthquake. To help in the fundraising, Mairi sold some of her photographs, one of her cameras and worked her first wedding – “a hair-raising experience in and of itself,” she says.
The effort even involved the Blipfoto community, some of whose members responded by sponsoring or designing prayer flags that Mairi lovingly stitched together.
Then, with a bit of trepidation, the group was off to meet the family it was sponsoring.
A Land of Contrasts
The group’s visit spanned the rarified air of the Himalayan range, to the dusty streets of Kathmandu, and the tropical climes of the jungle in Chitwan.
“Stepping out of Tribhuvan Airport,” says Mairi, “we were met by blasting horns and a sea of marching bands -- not celebrating our arrival, but the football results: Nepal had just beaten India. Sights, sounds and smells assault the senses immediately. Luggage is piled on the roof of a tiny car (no roof rack) and five of us squash in for a crazy drive through the mayhem to find 'Nirvanah' (our guest house), wondering if the luggage will still be on the roof of the car! Then, a walk through the dark and dusty streets of Thamel to sample our first momos (steamed dumplings), washed down with Everest Beer, in an open air restaurant with monkeys running around us. Welcome to Nepal. A place of my dreams.”
“Travelling with a group of 10, as the 'official' photographer, kept me on my toes” says Mairi. “Nobody wanted to miss anything. Nepal is incredibly dusty, and I had to avoid changing lenses.” Mairi shot primarily with her widest angle lens, and only changed to her telephoto once on the whole trip, to capture the wildlife in Chitwan.
On the 11-day trek in the Himalayas, few opportunities to charge batteries and extremely cold overnight temperatures meant that Mairi had to wrap her batteries in a fluffy sock and take them to bed with her, tucked into her sleeping bag, to avoid losing all their charge overnight. “I hardly looked at photos I'd taken on my camera to save battery life, and saw most of my three and a half thousand photos for the first time when I got home to Scotland.”
The 7-hour journey from Kathmandu to the mountains was “the most terrifying experience in my lifetime.” She’s thankful to their driver for keeping them safe, in spite of stalling and rolling back on every hairpin turn, coming dangerously close to the precipices on the flank of the mountains. “The good thing,” she quips “is that after that experience, I felt like a fearless mountain goat, unaffected by the vertigo that I’ve suffered from for years.”
The rewards are many
There were many memorable moments, but the most emotional for Mairi was “climbing Kunjin Ri (to 4750m) with two Tibetan lamas, and flying all the special prayer flags from the top of the flagpole, while the lamas conducted a blessing ceremony. It was amazing and so special.”
It’s clear that Mairi and her group established strong personal connections with their host family, who took them into its fold and made sure their every need was covered. “They ask for nothing, have little, but give you everything. It’s so humbling,” she reflects. Working as yak farmers is no easy life. “Yet,” says Mairi, “they are so resilient. This one wee lady who traveled with us on the trek would grab our backpack, throw it over her shoulder and off she was! Another scaled the mountain wearing only flip-flops. We later gifted her a new pair of proper shoes! She called us her fairy godmothers.”
Then came an impromptu moment of cultural exchange: teaching the family some Scottish country dance steps and watching the sheer delight on the face of Appa (the father of the family) as he negotiated what had to be rather unconventional moves for a yak farmer!
Moneys put to good use
Thanks to its fund raising efforts, the group was able to take Appa to a specialist eye doctor in Kathmandu and pay for the cataract surgery needed to save his sight. Funds also went towards buying shoes, boots and blankets for the family, craft materials and small toys, as well as a sewing machine, along with some supplies, for a villager to set up a small business – with a view to exporting some goods back to Scotland.
Mairi will be heading back next November and is already working at raising more funds by exhibiting her photographs, hosting discussions around a slideshow she has prepared, and selling an e-Magazine she put together with the story of her trip. This time, the plan is to raise enough money to help the family build a home, after they spent the two years since the earthquake living under a tent.
You can follow Mairi’s Nepali journey through her journal, starting on November 16, 2016
Mairi joined Blipfoto on a dare from another blipper GOD in 2013 and hasn’t looked back since. She thinks the best thing about Blipfoto is its community, and the friends she’s made through being here. “It's so great to be part of this positive community, with a supportive group of people, sharing life's ups and downs.”
She believes she’s learned a huge amount about photography from being part of the community, and continues to learn all the time. In fact, she says that thanks to Blipfoto, she’s found her true passion in life - photography! “I would never be without my little 'magic box' (Fujifilm x-t10) that goes everywhere with me now.”
Mairi and her husband live on the west coast of Scotland, together with their Labrador, Juneau. They have two grown children – a daughter in New Zealand and a film-maker son in Edinburgh.
Remarks collected by Michele (aka Alsacienne)