Home Cameras/Lenses Ricoh Kathmandu Valley: Madhypur Thimi and Bhaktapur

Kathmandu Valley: Madhypur Thimi and Bhaktapur

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My fascination with the Kingdom of Nepal never wanes. I’ve written extensively on Macfilos (see links at the foot of the article) and illustrated the articles with my simple, pocketable Ricoh GR. Who needs more, I sometimes ask. Not for me a full-frame camera and a bag of lenses; I’m content to work with one focal length, 28mm, and a camera that looks like a simple, innocent point-and-shoot.

I continue my travels by visiting the cities of Madhypur Thimi and Bhaktapur, both of which lie no more than ten miles east of Kathmandu. If Bhaktapur is on every tour operator itinerary, Madhypur Thimi is often neglected. Yet both are well worth a visit. Let’s start with the neglected one.

Madhypur Thimi

We actually spent more time in Madhypur Thimi than in Bhaktapur. The first remains of the original town, Newar, will send us back no less than five thousand years.

Madhypur Thimi is situated in the center of the valley between Patan, Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. Because of its position it served as a bulwark between Bhaktapur and Patan, Kathmandu during the late Malla period when there were often battles among the three kingdoms of the valley.

Several theories surround the name “Thimi” and its meaning. Legend says that because the people of Thimi so successfully defended Bhaktapur, the kings of Bhaktapur called them “Chhemi”, meaning “capable people”, thus praising them for their loyal constant support. Gradually, the name of the settlement became “Thimi”. “Madhya” means centre and “pur” means city; therefore Madhyapur means city located in the centre. The oldest known name of the city is “Themmring”.

The town is clearly divided into two two parts, old and new. Getting lost in the old town lanes is a sheer pleasure. Some of the city temples suffered from the devastating 2015 earthquake that occurred in the valley. Many of the temples have been damaged and were being rebuilt during our visit. The main street is a derelict surfaced road that crosses the town from north to south. The first thing you notice while walking down this street is the slow pace of the town. Old men gossiping on a shaded pati (a covered and sculptured resting place you may find anywhere in the Kathmandu Valley) while women chat on their doorsteps. It seems as if time was suspended.

The main is street is lined with small shops. Shop owners patiently wait for customers while most of their merchandise is stored inside, behind wooden doors and sometimes behind sculptured pillars typical of the Newari traditional architecture. You can buy anything you need, shoes, a wicker basket, cloth or pastries if you feel inclined.

Thimi is also well-known for its potters, You may find potteries in many backstreets of the old town. Most of the items are made either in the open air or within tiny workshops with foot-operated potters’ wheels. Once the items are shaped, they are left outside to dry in the sun. The black clay slowly turns to orange while drying.

Bhakktapur

Bhakktapur means “the city of devotees”. It was the centre of one of the three Newa kingdoms (together with Khatmandu and Patan) in the 15th century. It is renowned for its temples and Newari architecture

For the visitor Bhakktapus resembles an open-air museum. Unlike other Unesco world heritage sites, this city is pleasing in the way ordinary life and monuments mingle. There is indeed no clearcut boundary between the two except for temples. The sculptures and woodwork are truly amazing. Every square, whether royal or not, is teeming with life, be it children playing or people passing by.

Apart from pottery, Bhaktapur is famous for its tailors and weavers, whether they work on traditional looms or use more modern sewing machines. They usually work in the streets or in small workshops that open on to the street. The city is home to many cloth shops as well among others.

Turning at a street corner, I stumbled into a camera shop. The front window was an absolute mess with a few five- or six-year-old DSLRs, backed by a clutch of point and shoot boxes. Fortunately, the owners had kept one of the front windows with the Konica advert. I imagine some of you remember the Konica Hexar, The Konica RF (the poor man’s Leica) and their postive and slide films back in the last century. That was a pleasant unexpected encounter,

Of course, the day would not be complete without a look at the local farmers selling their produce. It felt different from traditional markets as people were selling their products directly on the streets and squares in the centre of the city.

As an aside, it took us a couple of hours to cover the eight miles bewteen Bhaktapur and Kathmandu in the evening because a government minister was going on his way home. The police had blocked all the trafic. One of Orwell’s quotes in Animal Farm then came to my mind: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.


Read Jean Perenet’s first article on the Kathmandu area

Read more on travelogues on Macfilos by Jean Perenet

29 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks George for your kind comment. The Ricoh GR camera has been a trustworthy companion when travelling for more than 7 years now. It’s a reliable tool. Of course in colour it lacks that magical Leica microcontrast but it’s an excellent B&W camera. The positive film preset which I had never used before provides nice results and better microcontrast except when you’re walking in the woods. The greens become quite awful then so you need to change presets but it’s just a whizz with tha camera. The Kathmandu valley is a wonderful destination to go to when all the covid restrictions are over.

  2. What I love about Macfilos is the depth of articles, and the range of cameras and experience that contributors create. Oh and a couple of Aussies that frequent the site. 🙂

    I love the people shots Jean, and the wonderfully warm, rich colours that Ricoh is producing. Some of those reds are just wonderfully deep.

    Thank you for sharing the experience, I now have a growing list of places I need to visit when we are allowed to travel again. Whenever that is.

    Enjoy the weekend, keep safe, and remember the viral invader is still in play.

  3. Those Kodachrome colours feature again, Jean, even though no Kodachrome was used. Wonderful and this reminds me of opening those yellow boxes of slides after the postman put them through the letterbox. And the scenes depicted which are in the modern world, but not of the modern world. Well done Jean in capturing the colour, vivacity and sheer humanity of life in Nepal. To my eyes, your work is very comparable with that of Steve McCurry who photographed that part of the world, not just Nepal, but also Afghanistan, India and Tibet for many years.

    William

    • Thanks William for your kind comment. I remember quite well the Kodachrome slides. I really enjoyed shooting with the 64 ASA film and then waiting for some time to see the results. I must admit I admire the works of McCurry, Reza and Lam Duc Hien and French photographers who are called “humanistic photographers” down here in France (HCB, Boubat, Doisneau…). I loved your video presentation on old Leica films cameras and your pronunciation of the words “films” (phonetically it sounded like filums) which reminded me of my many trips to Dublin (Raheny and then Pemberton road) on a school exchange in the 1990s. It was great to do some street photography in Temple Bar or in the backstreets of O’Connell St.
      Enjoy the weekend and stay safe
      Jean

      • Thanks Jean. On RTE, our national broadcaster, the announcer would often say tonight’s ‘fillum’ (never movie) stars John Wayne or whoever. This extra syllable is quite common in Cork where my mother came from. Dublin-speak also has this feature and many older Dublin people referred to Dublin Zoo as the ‘aZoo’. When this Covid thing has passed we might meet up in Temple Bar sometime if you visit Dublin again. I am on the Board of the Gallery of Photography which is on Meeting House Square in Temple Bar. Unfortunately, we had to close the gallery again last night because of a new lockdown which applies in Dublin, but not in the rest of Ireland.

        William

        • Thanks William. One silly question, Do you still have the angelus at 6 pm on RTE 1?
          Unfortunately we also have Covid-related restrictions down here, which makes it a real trial when you want to see an phto or painting exhibition. My wife and I would certainly like to go back to Dublin, walk in the city centre, board the DART and return to Howth, Dalkey and Bray among other places.
          Jean

          • We have something which amounts to a pause for contemplative pictures. I had to check that it is still called the Angelus. It comes at 6pm between the News in Irish and the News in English. These days Mass is entirely online again in Dublin. Up to recently 50 people could get into a church, but in Dublin this has now gone back to zero. In Doha a large chunk of my staff would disappear into the prayer room at various times during the day. If I went looking for one of them about some matter, I would often be told “he is at his prayers”. It was a totally multi-cultural environment and I had staff from 6 continents working for me. The level of cultural and religious tolerance was very high indeed and the Qatari Government actually part funded the building of a Catholic Church in Doha.

            William

  4. Thanks Dave for your kind comment. The positive film preset on the GRii works great in most situations and produces deep and profound colours. It enhances colours and microcontrast although I must admit the later will never be on par with your X ot my X2.
    I did try your X preset last summer for slow motion blur you mentioned in your articles on High Force and Whitby with manual focus on infinity. It worked really well. The only trouble was the wind blowing 60 miles an hour which made the camera on the tripod a bit shaky even though I was holding it tight on the tripod.
    Just like you I’m addicted to Macfilos and enjoy reading and rerreading articles. I love the comment section which is always civilized, kind and never aggressive and look forward to reading from the worldwide bunch of contributors. Mike is also making a wonderful job at editing the articles and keeping us informed with new gear.
    As for travel, I hope the pandemic wikk come to an so we can travel again and go places we like and want to discover.
    Weekend starts tomorrow at 12 GMT as there’s school on Saturday down here in France.
    Stay safe

    • I am impressed you tried out my long exposure settings, more impressed you tried in a 60mph wind/gale. I suspect that would be a challenge for any of us, and I can appreciate the shaky effect you got, my experience is usually in conditions a little less harsh. Thats not to say I wouldn’t still try in extreme condition. I am sure it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try.

      Saturday school, that is something that just doesn’t happen in the UK. Thankfully, as Liz works at a school.

      I would add, don’t tell Mike what amazing things he does to our words and images before they appear here. 🙂

      • The outcome was a bit blurred as you can imagine and the camera did move even while I was holding it really tight.However the result of it is quite interesting. I used a 16ND filter at nightfal, with speed varying between 15 and 30 seconds. A heavier camera & lens might have been better, but I can’t figure carrying something heavier the the X2 or Ricoh GR. The ultralight Manfrotto tripod did not help either though it usually is a stable one in normal weather conditions.

  5. Again another magical showing of the GR, I have this. Strange idea of the boys DOWN UNDER, meeting you and Mike and Dave on neutral ground, say Switzerland, and just go photo whatever you folks want, then let Mr. Fagan critique and supply the Guinness,guess we could do go fund me for that, what a story line that would be for Mike! I would still be looking at those pictures into the next decade. Jean your rapport with these people oozes from your photos. Tell your wife you retire you go run for Ambassador from there to anywhere. Go now enjoy your family and a fireplace tonight, we have frost warning tonight and temp dips below 32F next three night, and night have been so clear and fires west coast so bad the smoke/haze carries up into our skies here in Upstate NY.

    • Thanks John for your kind comment. The positive film preset is really good in my opinion and adds deep colours to the imaging. I discovered that preset when you sent me the link to Andrea Bianco, the photographer from Sardinia, who was raving about that particular preset in his article. However I never shoot that preset in the woods as the greens are just off the mark. Assigning presets to MY1 and MY2 usually does the trick as it is just a one button click. Ricoh could have done better as you can’t change your aperture once the preset is programmed. I would not have thought that the fire on the west coast would reach upstate NY.
      Enjoy your cold weekend, sitting in front of an openfire in a comfortable sofa is truly very snug.

  6. Thank you for showing these images Jean, and taking us on a walk with you through these towns.
    Your images shine a light on the the daily lives of the people.
    And the depth of colour and clarity provided by the positive film preset of the Ricoh adds to the strength of the views. Some might find them too strong and rich I guess, but personally I like it. The Ricoh engineers have put something interesting into that setting, especially for travel photography.

    • Thanks Wayne for your comment. I can’t imagine myself using another camera when travelling. Once you’ve accepted its limitations (7 year old sensor, no telephoto and only 7 MP in the 47mm crop mode) the camera is pure bliss to use. I don’t know if the Canson photo papers have reached Australia but if it had I’d advise you and John S. to give them a try. Their “etching rag” paper gives quite excellent results if you enjoy deep colours.
      Enjoy the Weekend

  7. I just sit back in my chair and think: Where’s he going to take me this time? And when I’ve browsed (at least twice), I feel I’ve really been there. I think it is the 28mm angle of view in combination with the colour which makes me feel I’m standing in the picture not just looking through a frame. It certainly feels as if the Ricoh is just an extra limb you happen to have – that’s what seven year’s consistent use does, I suppose. As always, a huge thankyou!

  8. Thanks John for the kind comment. When Ricoh advertised the GR they said it was just an extension of your arm. I guess their slogan has some truth in it. If not perfect regarding specs the haptics of the camera are really amazing. Just hope that little black box holds the test of time (and use of course). The 18.3 mm (28mm in FF terms) on the camera is as sharp as a knife. Although people complain about the lack of a viewfinder, shooting with the camera at arms’ length allows you to see all the surroundings and helps for composition. Of all the cameras I’ve owned over the years the GR is the camera that fits my hands and suits my style of shooting.
    Enjoy the weekend

  9. Thanks everyone for your kind comments. My wife has just suggested that it’s a pity the camera can’t capture the smells, the noise and the dust.

  10. Hi Jean, you sure are gifted as a natural story teller. I loved the images and the text combined with the images provided a feeling for me of walking with a great informative guide.

    • Thanks Brian for the kind comment. Nepal is on the top 3 destinations we’ve been to in Asia but I’d like to go back for a trek and visit of the area we didn’t explore in February.
      Ejoy Sunday
      Jean

  11. Another wonderful article chock full of colour and life, Jean. How many trips have you made to Nepal, by the way? I love that photo of the guy with the sewing machine (unfortunately can’t see them in bigger size). The GR lets you come up close — a good street camera. We’ll use our imagination for the smells and the noise and the dust, you just bring us the pictures.

    • Thanks Farhiz for your kind comment. It was my first trip to Nepal, I followed a colleague’s piece of advice to stay for a fortnight in the Khatmandu valley. I truly enjoyed that as we did not have to get up at 6 in the morning to run for such and such visit. We planned our visits day to day as I did not book through a travel agency, just looked in advance the places we wanted to see (Thanks google maps). The only thing we had to do was to find a driver. The image of the guy with the sewing machine is a 35mm in camera crop (about 10MP which is decent enough to have a large print about 60cmm by 60). If you want to view the image full size click right on your mouse open a new window and you can view the full size image.
      Stay safe as from I heard Covid is running wild in India.

  12. Very enjoyable Jean, thanks. I liked your compositions very much, up close and layered. A question; the photo of the young girl smiling at her mother leaving a shop, did you use burst mode? It’s a favourite of mine.

    • Thanks Kevin for your kind comment. Glad you enjoyed the images. I’ve never used a burst mode in my life. I just don’t see the point of it. I only use AF-S mode (never used AF-C). I just like to work quickly on the street, my shooting method is as follow I’m atttentive to my surroundings (where the light and people come from), spot the scene compose and press the shutter. Things go fast but that’s the way I’ve been used to shooting for many years and it works in general. I guess that’s why I tend to keep cameras till they don’t work anymore and usually buy the same models in spite of improvements in the latest gear.

  13. Your beautifully written travelogue transports me out of lockdown, at least until I saw a man wearing a face mask. But I guess that had nothing to do with Covid -19.
    Colours so natural and delightful. I imagined myself covering your tracks with an original Leica Q. Sadly, that will remain a dream.
    I was intrigued by the row of open doors, with box seats at the entrances. Were they private homes?

  14. Thanks David for your kind comment. I guess your Q would need some dust proofing in Nepal. The row of doors is quite common in old buildings when they have not been replaced by metal blinds in the Khatmandu valley. All shops have at least two, three doors or more. The living quarters are usually at the back of the shops and upstairs. Nepal is certainly a country worth visiting where I’d like to go back to see white rhinos and other wildlife in the Chitwan national park and get closer to the Himalayas.

  15. I forgot to say that the wodden door frames are often sculptured. I’d also like to see Deepa, the young girl we’re paying school for, and her family again.

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