The Faces of Kathmandu

Durbar Square woman

I have never been one to take a lot of pictures of people when I travel. With my point and shoot, I could never get close enough to take compelling photos without making myself (and likely the subject) feel uncomfortable. I always felt like I was imposing. Even if I started chatting with the locals, I hesitated to bring out my camera for fear that it would create a divide between us – and “us” and a “them.” Rather, I just wanted to blend in.

All of that changed on my recent trip to Nepal. I was traveling with a “real” camera for the first time – a DSLR that I purchased in August for the primary purpose of my trip, which was a three-week photography trek led by travel photographer Peter West Carey. In addition to the kit lens, I also invested in a telephoto zoom lens, which turned out to be my most valuable purchase.

While my historical discomfort with photographing people was alive and well during my first couple days in Kathmandu, I soon got past it and found that I absolutely loved taking pictures of people. Part of this likely had to do with the lack of interesting and easily photographable architecture in the city.  And part of it likely had to do with the fact that I enjoyed people-watching more than almost anything else in Kathmandu. The city itself was chaotic and polluted and not particularly attractive. Sure, every now and then a majestic temple popped out of the crowded landscape, but I could rarely get the shot I wanted due to a plethora of motorbikes and scooters standing in the way. And with the addition of my telephoto lens, I could capture plenty of candid shots without feeling like I was imposing.

So what did I do? I ended up taking a lot of pictures of people. Little kids playing with pigeons. Kids playing with each other. Girls laughing together. Vendors making sales. Vendors looking bored, waiting for their next sale. Young women making necklaces of marigolds. Elderly women making necklaces of marigolds. Elderly men sitting around talking or perhaps people-watching themselves.

These were the many faces of Kathmandu and these are the faces I will remember more than anything else.

Child vendor in Durbar Square
Child vendor near Durbar Square.
Woman feeding pigeons
Taking a break from feeding the pigeons.
Apple vendor Kathmandu
Could this apple vendor looked any more bored?

Kathmandu man

Kathmandu kids
Playing in the streets of Kathmandu.
Kathmandu marigold vendor
One of dozens of vendors selling necklaces made of marigolds.
Sadhu playing flute.
A Sadhu man plays a flute-like instrument at Pashupatinath.
Sadhu at Pashupatinath
Another Sadhu at Pashupatinath.
Girl with pigeons in Patan
Playing with pigeons in Patan.
A group of girls hanging out near Durbar Square in Patan.
Hanging out near Durbar Square in Patan.

Patan women

Patan women
These women approached me at a temple in Patan to have their picture taken.
Kathmandu market
Buying and selling in the markets.


Woman praying near Durbar Square
Praying near a temple in Durbar Square.
Patan temple
At a temple in Patan.
Man reading newspaper
Reading a newspaper while sitting between the pillars of a temple.
Patan woman feeding pigeons
A woman gives food to a girl to feed the pigeons.

Elderly men in Kathmandu

What do you like to photograph the most when you travel? People or things?


9 thoughts on “The Faces of Kathmandu”

  1. Excellent photos, Katie! It’s funny how pictures taken of Kathmandu (particularly those around Kathmandu Durbar Square) have largely stayed the same for the past few decades. If you dig up photos from the past of travellers who’ve taken pics of people and life around Durbar Square, it will be difficult to tell the difference even if they are decades apart. I suppose this is the charm of Old Kathmandu.

    If you will be visiting Kathmandu again, then perhaps you would want to explore the backstreets and meet the locals who inhabit them. 🙂

  2. Katie, this is a great post with amazing photography. I don’t remember the vibrant colors from my time in Kathmandu. In my mind, I always see the city and its people in a smoky haze. Love the photos!

  3. Hi Katie,

    I love the way you have captured each face here. Unknown faces, with all their vulnerability, uncertainty and skepticism become the greatest attributes of photography at times. Lovely to see you excel in this art..:)

  4. Well done! They´re beautiful, what a vibrant street life! Kathmandu seems like a place few decades back in time though..where most people struggle a lot to earn their living. Still, must be an incredible place to visit! From my romantic and possibly very idealistic point of view this is where ancient religions come together and give rise to the atmosphere of general tolerance and openness..Temples must be on every corner, I imagine.

  5. Really amazing photos! I love how you captured expressions and not just people. Working up the nerve to take photos of people is definitely the hardest part, but once you are over it the result is so rewarding. Love the blog! Safe Travels!

  6. Lovely photos Katie. I agree that Kathmandu was polluted and not very nice but I LOVED the people. You’ve captured them wonderfully.

  7. Hi Katie,

    I usually find most interest shots are of people instead of architecture and landscape. Granted only putting all together gives any resemblance of a story, but its the people that create strong focal points for which the story revolves around.

    Funny you mentioned DSLR as the first “Real” camera 🙂 Its a little bit catch-22 for introverts. The imposing size and visibility of a DSLR maybe intimidating to both the photographer and the subject, but its that same tool that enables and pushes you past your usual hesitation.

    It takes a lot of work, but some shots you return home with will become your most cherished souvenirs.

    On a curious note, I’ve never taken a photography tour, the price is on the high end (As most photography tours are) how did you like the structure, and did you find it worth it?

    Have fun and keep shooting.

    1. Thanks Will. Having a telephoto lens that allowed me to zoom in on people from a distance definitely helped. For many of these, I just stood to the side in the market and observed everything around me for a while. I wasn’t going up and getting in people’s faces to take the pictures so I hope I wasn’t so intimidating.

      I thought the photography tour was good, although I probably wouldn’t do one again. I probably wasn’t quite advanced enough to get the most out of it. And I sometimes got tired of so much focus on taking pictures and not enough learning about the places we were visiting. I don’t feel like I got to know a lot about many of the places we went beyond what was in my guidebook.

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