NEPAL

He’s got 270,000 followers and rising: one photographer’s mission to tell ‘Stories of Nepal’ becomes online sensation

Inspired by the similar project “Humans of New York”, photographer Jay Poudyal tries to highlight the heroism of Nepal’s common men and women

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 5:56pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 9:54pm

It started with a photograph of a smirking, young man wearing a heavy-metal band T-shirt and selling tea on the streets of Kathmandu. It has become a wildly popular blog chronicling street life in the Himalayan nation of Nepal.

Inspired by the similar project “Humans of New York”, Nepalese photographer Jay Poudyal has posted biographies and photographs for more than 800 Nepalis including villagers, bureaucrats, schoolchildren, housewives and students since launching his blog three years ago.

Stories of Nepal – with 270,000 followers and growing – has become a mission for the 37-year-old college dropout: to highlight the heroism of Nepal’s common men and women as they struggle against widespread poverty, natural disasters and a government widely seen as corrupt.

When I am listening to the stories, I go into that emotional space, and the struggle, the pain, suffering or the happiness, hopes and aspirations, it sort of also becomes mine
Jay Poudyal, photographer

“I was searching for purpose of life,” Poudyal said, admitting to past struggles with alcohol and drug abuse. “When I started doing this, it was like a calling for me.”

Each morning, Poudyal takes to the streets of his native Kathmandu to chat with people, share jokes or heart-wrenching memories, and snap their photos. Occasionally, he’ll drive his motorcycle to a nearby village, or take a bus to a community farther out along Nepal’s mountain roads.

For one story, posted last week, Poudyal photographed a man he came upon sitting alone in a crowded Kathmandu square surrounded by old palaces and temples. They spoke for an hour, with the photographer recording the man’s tale of how he missed his wife, who had died three years earlier and left him to raise their four children.

Later, Poudyal met truck driver in a narrow stone-paved alley, and heard about how he had just been shopping for new clothes for his family. The man, smiling wide and holding up a bag of rice he had purchased, said he was heading home with the gifts before a Hindu festival celebration.

The son of a jewellery trader, Poudyal and his two brothers and two sisters grew up in a middle-class neighbourhood of Kathmandu. His struggles with alcohol began when he was a teenager. He later spent four years attending a college in Thailand before dropping out without a degree.

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He went to Australia, searching for something to do, but instead reached a low point in drug and alcohol abuse and depression. He recalled begging in the streets of Melbourne for money to buy cheap wine. He returned to Nepal in 2009, got a job as a graphic artist for an advertising agency and got married to his girlfriend of many years. But his depression only got worse.

“I drove in my scooter and I wanted to jump off a cliff and end it all, but something stopped me,” he said.

Instead, he rode home crying and told his wife he needed help, leading him to spend three months in drug rehabilitation at a clinic in the Nepalese capital. A few months after finishing rehab, he started “Stories of Nepal” in October 2013.

As its popularity grew, he also used the blog to raise funds for some he had photographed. He managed to raise US$14,000 to help the eastern village of Ghumthang recover from the 2015 earthquake by buying food and medicine, building temporary shelters and a primary school. A year later, he raised about US$700 in two hours for a girl’s mother who lost the family’s savings when the quake started a fire that destroyed everything inside her stone hut.

“When I am listening to the stories, I go into that emotional space, and the struggle, the pain, suffering or the happiness, hopes and aspirations, it sort of also becomes mine,” Poudyal said. “Sometimes I am laughing with the person who is telling me a story, sometimes we are both crying.”