When your friend says he or she just visited a wonderful, quaint village somewhere in Nepal, you will have to rely on the images and anecdotes shared by him or her as you will get absolutely no information about the place and its culture via our go-to information guy – the internet. It is alarming how little of Nepal is documented on the World Wide Web. We have little to no idea about a place we are visiting (except for places that are frequented by tourists). From its history to the kind of weather there, it’s all a mystery.
It was this lack of information and documentation that alarmed Nikki Thapa, 35-year-old freelance multimedia producer, and made her want to do something about it. Thapa has now taken upon herself the task of documenting and recording places and people of Nepal. And if her database as well as photography website/Instagram page, Ask me about Nepal, is anything to go by, she seems to be doing a stellar job.
Thapa had worked as a photo editor for various photographers around the world for about a year. But in December 2017, finding herself at a saturated point in her work life, she quit her job to start Ask me about Nepal. “AMAN had been my brainchild for several years. Now I have finally have the courage and resources to give it proper focus and time,” she explains.
She registered the domain in 2010 and is currently in the process of adding content on the website before launching it. She hopes to add blogs as well as photographs of places and people of Nepal taken by everyone from professionals to amateurs that give out detailed information on the places, people, and their history. “I’m planning to have an information page and a gallery on the website. I want the website to be like Wikipedia but the content will be entirely about Nepal,” says Thapa.
She started the Instagram page for AMAN on March 2018 to share pictures as well as information that she and other people find out about different places and culture. For instance, her Instagram picture features a monk lighting butter lamps and for the caption she has elaborate information on why butter lamps are lighted and how they are the symbols of prosperity and peace in the Buddhist culture. “I research about all the pictures that come in, looking for something that may not be known but is very significant and noteworthy,” she says.
Whenever people send her photographs to be featured on her Instagram page, she also asks them for a little detail about the people, place, or object they have captured in the image. “Then I do little research on the topic, often consulting books written by Toni Hagen or other historians who have written extensively about Nepal,” she explains.
Thapa says it’s disheartening to see Nepalis show little to no interest about documenting our culture and history and making it available for the rest of the world to see and read about. She reveals that often foreigners know more about Nepal than she does or, in fact, the average Nepali does. “It’s great when we take a picture of a mountain but it loses its charm when we don’t know its name, the mountain becomes just another nameless rock covered in snow,” she says.
The year 2018 has been a “travel” year for Thapa. She has been to places like Lamjung, Parbat, Biratnagar and Gorkha, talking to locals about the local culture and history. “I like hearing and documenting stories that are unique to people of a place. Local people have the most knowledge about the places they grew up and live in. They provide interesting details about the temples, traditions, or monuments found in the village or city,” she explains. Thapa herself also takes pictures and writes blog posts on the places she visits.
Thapa says the main goal of her website is to provide information and data about everything in Nepal, including not only just places or people but music, musical instruments, national dresses, origin of different cultures, to name a few. “Whenever someone goes on the internet to find something about Nepal, they should be able to get clear and detailed information in AMAN,” she says adding that for this to happen she needs support from Nepalis all around the country. “I hope people send in photographs and information about the place they have been to whenever they travel within Nepal,” she says.
Thapa hopes to attract the interest of students of history, anthropology, geology and archeology to help her with this project. “Students are more engaged in field work – traveling to different places and talking to people. So, they are the ones who can really bring the information we need,” she explains. Thapa also hopes to post research work people have done on Nepal over the years, from a regular journal entry to a detailed PhD thesis. She hopes to launch the website in the near future, making it a place where writers and photographers can showcase their talents and visitors can get all the required information about Nepal.