Mohan Duwal has been to 65 districts in Nepal and he plans to make it to all 77 before this year ends. A part time photographer, a full time creative director for F1 Soft International, Duwal is a web designer by profession (UIUX designer as it is called today) but really he is a traveler at heart. The first time he remembers traveling is when he was 10 years old and he was taken to a community worship in Kailash, Nuwakot. For someone who didn’t think twice before jumping onto a huge river and was always up for adventure, Nuwakot gave Duwal a new perspective on what was fun.
From Kailash, he saw a clear view of the Langtang range and Ganesh Himal. “I think this was the start of my appreciation for landscape and nature,” he says.
Later he trekked up to Manakamana hills (at a time when cable cars weren’t even thought of) with his friends. Then two years later he embarked on his first major adventure to Gosaikunda. Equipped with his father’s one-shot reel camera, he started taking pictures and soon he realized that he had a knack for landscape composition. From reel cameras he has moved on to highly sophisticated models and traveled all over Nepal.
His pictures have been picked up by the likes of NCell, 1x.com, a very popular photo sharing website that handpicks photos, and 500px, another online platform for sharing pictures. And all the while, he has traveled – the hills and the plains. Trapped in blizzards, walking into a waterfall, squeezing into a nine people capacity vehicle with 17 people, nearly two decades have passed since he seriously began to travel. And there’s very little that he has left to see. “Once I’m done with all 77 districts, I’m redoing the whole thing again. I want to visit all these places one more time,” says Duwal.
Duwal mostly makes time for traveling during Dashain breaks but working as a freelancer photographer also takes him all over Nepal during the other times. “Working, traveling, doing what I love, I think I’m at a great point in life right now,” he says.
Out of all the places Duwal has been to, Gosaikunda remains by far the most exciting and memorable one. He has made trips to the famous site a total of five times but his first visit in 2000 tops all of the adventures he has undertaken in the last two decades. “Gosaikunda is where everything started for me. I got my photography and traveling spirit from my first trip to Gosaikunda. This trip was also where my life was at risk multiple times. I still get shivers recalling the trip,” he shares.
With a group of six people, Duwal made the trip to Gosaikunda in the year 2000 with very little knowledge about the place, except that it was visually stunning. They made their way to Dhunche on the eve of “Janai Purnima” so they couldn’t find enough seats for the group in the vehicle that was to take them there. Duwal compromised on his seat and settled to sit wherever there was free space. At one instance he was made to sit on the rooftop of the vehicle.
The off-road tracks made sitting on the rooftop extremely risky. On what would be the beginning of a series of near brushes with death, Duwal slipped off and landed on the ground. Except for a few bruises he was unharmed.
Then not being used to high altitudes his group struggled making their way up to the lake. “But everything we saw around us was so breathtaking that it was well worth all the trouble,” says Duwal. Some of his first landscape portraits were of Gosaikunda and looking back he still marvels at how well the pictures came out.
At the lake Duwal decided he would make a dive. He had after all grown up swimming and diving on great rivers. “Besides I was impulsive back then,” he clarifies. Even after 19 years, Duwal remembers this particular dive vividly. “Upon impact I felt my heart stop. The water was so cold it felt like shards of glass on my skin. I completely froze then,” he recalls. Despite all the numbness, somehow he remembered to keep his legs moving so he eventually brought himself up to the surface but his face completely swollen. “I shudder to think what would have happened to me otherwise,” he says.
The same day they decided to make their way from Suryakunda pass to Thadepati. An elderly person told them of a shortcut to Thadepati that could take them there in three hours. They were warned of the risks though. Eager to embark on another adventure they decided to take the suggested route. The path was just wide enough for one person to stand on and went sloping uphill.
Less than two hours into their climb they heard a light trickling of water. The water poured down harder as they climbed higher. Turned out, they had walked into a waterfall. Unwilling to return they walked through the water, carefully finding their footing on the lodged rocks. But the rocks too gave away pretty soon. Boulders, heaps of soil and water poured upon them and they were nearly swept away by a landslide.
Cursing the man who had suggested that they walk this route, they went ahead. After a nearly 11-hour climb they finally came across a homestay, that Mohan would return to again 16 years later. When they recounted their journey to the homestay owners, they were told that the trail had been shut down for years because of the grave risks they posed to trekkers. The man who had mapped out the road had himself fallen to his death on the trail. A Japanese hiker had been trapped under a boulder for 17 days. “We were fortunate to have survived the journey,” says Duwal adding that even incidents like these, though they still give him chills, don’t deter him from embarking on adventurous trips.