A Photographic Analysis of Nepal
The three concepts of experience, knowledge and place are intertwined in order to fully appreciate the depth of a person’s understanding. For example, the love one might have for Nepal, as a place, is interwoven with their knowledge of Nepal’s culture and history as well as the different experiences that its culture affords. These three concepts cannot exist independently of one another as each is required to enhance the individual’s experience of the thing a whole. In this instance, it is important to experience Nepal’s culture whilst enhancing one’s knowledge of its history, society and culture all whilst simply being in the place – soaking up its atmosphere, eating its food, meeting its people and so on. As Memmott & Long (2002) discuss, the cultural landscape of a place is an entirely different experience from the physical landscape but equally, the two are interwoven – further suggesting the idea that experience, knowledge and place are inescapably related (2002, p46). Equally, Seddon (1997) discusses the idea of how language is massively influenced by our engagement with a place – his discussion helps to develop the understanding of the relationship between place, experience and knowledge. In short, the aim of this essay is to discuss the three arms of understanding with regard to Nepal as an example of how it is impossible to extrapolate experience, knowledge and place on that basis – the three must be intertwined in order to be fully effective.
Figure 1: Visitors stroll in Patan’s Durbar Square (Palace Square), in Kathmandu Valley (Dempsey, 1981).
Nepal is a place which is rich in history and culture and shares cultural influences from Asia as seen in the first photo: The buildings have a distinctive, Asian appearance (Phuoc, 2010, p218) whilst many of the people wear brightly-coloured clothing as often are seen in Indian culture (Jha, 1998, p52). Nepal is a wonderful combination of the two as India’s culture is often colourful whereas China’s is a lot stricter – the two combined produced a very chilled out atmosphere in Nepal.
Figure 2: Kathesimbhu means “Kathmandu Swayambhu” (Dempsey, 1981)
Nepal has much of the exciting and bright celebrations that India experiences as shown in the second photo. These celebrations are full of dance and song (Lee et al, 2010, p862) with lights and people all enjoying one another’s company in peace – it is a beautiful experience. Due to the majority of the population being Hindu or Buddhist (Zuchora-Walske, 2008, p44) and as a whole, they are religions that preach the important of acceptance and peace; the Nepalese people are a calm and celebratory people who revel in the pleasures of a simple life (de Wolfe Nadel, 1971, p13).
Figure three: Friendly Hindu children in the lowlands of Nepal (Dempsey, 1981)
The third photo shows a small group of Nepalese children. Their appearance demonstrates how the country lacks significant wealth (Panday et al, 1994, p46) but is fundamentally a happy people – the atmosphere in Nepal is extremely enjoyable. However, the most famous thing for which Nepal is known is its mountains and particular Mount Everest – the world’s tallest mountain:
Figure four: Carol admires the north face of Ama Dablam (Dempsey, 1981)
The fourth photo shows the natural beauty of Nepal and the Himalayan Mountain range – the view is simply breath-taking and it is because of these that many people love Nepal as a place: its culture, history and environment make it a beautiful, interesting and culturally enriching country.
Memmott and Long (2002) discuss the idea of ‘place’ as being one which becomes more closely associated with certain aspects of knowledge and experience. They discuss how “A place can be partly or wholly created by enacting special types of behaviour at a particular piece of environment” (Memmott & Long, 2002, p40). By this, they mean the idea that a place takes on a deeper meaning when there are actions and behaviours attached to it. They discuss this further with regard to territoriality and how when people move into a new environment and establish themselves in a place, they may become defensive of their new found place and the connection they establish with it (Memmott & Long, 2002, p40). In short, place can mean significantly more than somewhere an individual has gone on holiday and frequently, a place takes on a far deeper sense of meaning to a person once they have experienced it closely. This is demonstrated, according to Memmott and Long, through the emotional behaviour which individuals exhibit with regard to a place and they elaborate by offering nostalgia, affection and dislike as examples (Memmott & Long, 2002, p40). Frequently, a place can become part of a social intelligibility when it is experienced by a social collective and the individuals involved begin to feel as though they have shared the experience – this is further enhanced when social aspects “develop from social interchanges with others who have had further experience or knowledge of particular places” (Memmott & Long, 2002, p40). In reference to Figure 3, this social experience with the Nepalese children is one which invokes social intelligibility – particularly if the individual shares the experience with peers. Equally, as a social experience can help to shape the interpretation of a place, the person-environment interaction can also help to enhance this, particularly through altering physical characteristics of the place – Memmott and Long offer the example of clearing debris to make room for dance as an example of this. Referring to Figure 2, the preparation for a celebration could be another example of this too.
In choosing the correct language to describe our affection for a place, we deliberately pick words which greatly reflect our understanding and appreciation of the place. Seddon discusses this and states that “We stuff the skin of words with the meat of meaning according to our own experience and character” (1997, p21). By this, it means that we apply our own choice of words to the discussion of something in order to convey our feeling for it. Seddon discusses how the language we choose to describe the landscape of a place is “inescapably anthropocentric” as we endeavour to place ourselves in relation to the environment itself (1997, p22). We frequently do this through a process of naming as an act of possession – referring to specific places as ‘ours’ for example. Seddon also adds that “The words we use reflect our objectives and interests in the environment” (1997, p22) and the discussion of Nepal focuses on the beauty of the environment with regard to the mountains and the country’s atmosphere. He adds that frequently, the anthropocentrism which we apply to a place through our language is better referred to as ‘pathetic fallacy’ where we assert human qualities to the natural landscape and world (1997, p22) – using words such as ‘breath-taking’ and ‘beautiful. Seddon also adds that in attempting to assert our passion for a place, we frequently use ‘teleological language’ which is where a man-made design or process is implied in a natural element such as ‘the soil is perfect for growing potatoes’ (1997, p25). In short, the language that the individual may choose to use in order to convey the love that is held for such a place, it usually indicative of the depth of their understanding and how engaged with Nepal’s cultural landscape (as well as its physical one) they may be.
Nepal is generally perceived as being a beautiful place. However, another’s perspective could be that it is a poor country which can be considered dirty and disorganised. Whereas many enjoy the relaxed atmosphere that Nepal permeates, others may find it to be unstructured and difficult to engage with. Conversely, Nepal’s neighbour, China, is well-known for being an extremely structured culture which is devoted to the idea of efficiency and technology which attempts to promote smaller, faster and better products. By contrast, Nepal’s culture is infinitely more relaxed and less preoccupied with the idea of efficiency – the Nepalese people are less focused on the ideas of material goods and creating solutions to a need for improved efficiency. From China’s perspective, Nepal may seem more like a poor relation as opposed to a place which is full of beauty and intrigue. Nepalese culture is sedated and quiet – it does not require a constant onslaught of improvements and whilst, from the perspectives of many, its simplicity is its beauty, to others, it may be perceived as being outmoded and ‘behind the times.’ However, it is often felt that Nepal’s beauty is undeniable to anyone. Looking at the earlier photos, the image of the Nepalese children could be perceived by some as being a photo of children who look unwashed and dirty – this may be off-putting to some; the image of mountains may seem rural and like a scene that does not fit into the modern, civilised world. In short, Nepal may seem as though it is less prosperous and attractive than other places whilst to many, it is its under-developed nature which appeals most.
It is clear that experience, knowledge and place are three concepts which cannot be treated independently of one another: love for Nepal is often founded in a basic knowledge of it before being developed into a fully-bloomed experience of life there and the place as a whole: its atmosphere, its people and their priorities as well as its influences from the geographical places surrounding it. Through this analysis of why many love Nepal, accompanied by the four photos displayed earlier in this essay, it is clear how these three arms of understanding cannot exist without one another: the language that demonstrates a deeper engagement with Nepal that could not exist without knowledge and experience of the place itself. Although for many, their initial knowledge of Nepal is gained through a school project, it is often not until people spend time in Nepal, amongst the people and experienced it first-hand that their true engagement with the place begins. It is clear that individuals require both knowledge and experience of the place itself before they can truly claim to have understood it.
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Dempsey, T., 1981. Carol admires the north face of Ama Dablam [photo] Available at http://www.photoseek.com/Nepal.html [Accessed 10 August 2011].
Dempsey, T., 1981. Friendly Hindu children in the lowlands of Nepal [photo] Available at: http://www.photoseek.com/Nepal.html [Accessed 10 August 2011].
Dempsey, T., 1981. Kathesimbhu means “Kathmandu Swayambhu”. [photo] Available at http://www.photoseek.com/Nepal.html [Accessed 10 August 2011].
Dempsey, T., 1981. Visitors stroll in Patan’s Durbar Square (Palace Square), in Kathmandu Valley [photo] Available at http://www.photoseek.com/Nepal.html [Accessed 10 August 2011].
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