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in Photography

Behind the scenes: AirBnB photography in Kathmandu Valley

We had just finished a three months motorbike trip and went to stay in Nepal for a few months, before embarking on a new trip. Back then, in the summer of 2014, we didn’t have much plans what to do. The trip had consumed all our savings, so we had to work. But regarding the freedom that we were looking for, we also wanted to see what would come on our path. In most cases, if you don’t plan ahead too much, just then, there will be unexpected fun things in your way.

Mandy, a professional photographer, had worked for AirBnB in the Netherlands to photograph accommodations. AirBnB is not only active in the Netherlands, but worldwide. So Mandy got the request to photograph accommodations in Nepal. This was the start of our exploration of the Kathmandu valley on our Royal Enfield for AirBnB, to capture the beautiful hidden spots we came across and listening to special stories people trusted us with so easily.

AirBnB offers private individuals a service to rent out their accommodation. If you are a traveler and in search for accommodation, ranging from a room or a whole house or even a castle, you can go to their website. Online you can choose where you would like to stay and pay for everything online. If you are a lesser on AirBnB, the company offers you the possibility to have your accommodation photographed by a professional. A service that gives landlords the opportunity to improve their online profile with professional photographs.

Pieter and Mandy on their Royal Enfield Bullet

Hidden places

The applications came from everywhere in Kathmandu and its surrounding valley. We had just arrived Kathmandu and didn’t know our way around. To make it even harder, Kathmandu is a totally unplanned city with no street names or house numbers. On the way to the first accommodation we had no more instructions from the landlord than: ‘go to the northern ring road and follow it until you reach this and that hospital, turn right at the tea shop on the left side of the hospital. From there follow the winding road up for 5 kilometers until you reach a crossroads where buses depart for Kathmandu. At the bus stop, take the first right which runs down. A little further you come to a green house, there you take the road to the left. I live in that street on the right. Just give me a call when you can’t find it…… ‘. Pieter, a geographer, had come along to find the way to the location of the landlord. Together we jumped on the Enfield, adventure awaits. After a scenic drive through the valley and a lot of asking around, we came to the house were we had to be; a place where we would otherwise have never been. One of those hidden secrets you will never see or find when only staying in the main tourist areas.

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Another time Mandy got a request to photograph a house that could only be reached from Kathmandu by a two hours drive and then a two hours’ walk. A young Nepalese man had created this profile on the website of AirBnB to support the modest means of his parents. On a Friday we took the Bullet and drove to the end of the road, as the guy had indicated. Hence we had to continue on foot. A nice lady Namesteed (Hello!) us and we found out it was the mother of the young Nepali. She would escort us down the mountain and in the afternoon we reached the house, located on slope of the hill in a small village. The very hospitable people gave us tea (Chiya) and a meal on arrival. After that there was no time to take pictures and go back so we asked if you could stay over. It was an AirBnB after all and we loved the small village on the hill. Of course we could stay to sleep and were assigned a bed in the mothers’ room and next to the harvest of the past few weeks. After a good night sleep we woke up early morning and witnessed the most beautiful sunrise we had ever seen. Last afternoon it was cloudy but this morning it was crystal clear, allowing us to see the entire Himalaya range.

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Village where we slept
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Villagers drying corn

It was time to take pictures, but with our western view on things we didn’t know of what. Was it the intention to take pictures of the cottage where we slept? This little house that didn’t have space for visitors, as we thought? We rang the son in Kathmandu and he told us, ‘yes, you can take pictures of my parents’ house, but also the homes of neighbors’. It was time to leave our western view behind. Tourists who come to this village are offered a place to sleep and it doesn’t matter where. These people don’t have much, but are incredible hospitable. Everyone who comes here gets offered food and shelter, even when the house is too small and without prior notice. The kind of hospitality that was difficult to imagine for us. Mandy took pictures of the different houses and after that we thanked them and said goodbye. While climbing back up the mountain, a milk truck offered us a ride, which we thankfully accepted. Together with another 25 people we were standing on the back off the milk truck which brought us safely back to our motorbike. It was a unique experience to stay with a Nepali family in a small village, while supporting these people by leaving a ‘little’ money through your AirBnB booking.

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The Kathmandu valley consist traditionally of three Newar kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan and Bakthapur. Each of these kingdoms has magnificent royal squares decorated with palaces, pagodas and temples. Surrounding these royal squares lies the old inner cities, made up of narrow streets, small yards and typical Newari style housing. Nowadays, some of these families have rebuild their houses to accommodate guests, giving you a unique place to stay and incredible views. Like Om’s Apartments in Patan.

Special stories

On the way with the motorcycle through the Valley we’ve seen many beautiful places, but we also heard many wonderful stories from people. Nepalis are very open and while enjoying a chiya the landlord often tells us his or her story or that of the guesthouse; before or while Mandy is taking pictures. One of the most special stories we came across is that of a home for disabled children, located at the fringe of Kathmandu.

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A happy young Nepali boy at Kinderhaus Kathmandu

Kinderhaus Kathmandu lies at the edge off the valley, where they run a day and night care for children with disabilities. These children come from poor families. Through this daycare parents can go to work and provide a income for their family. If the parents are too poor or they live far away the children’s home also provides night care. During their stay, the children receive the necessary physiotherapy and education. The caretakers of the children’s home, a just married couple, have taken it over from the man’s parents. His parents had started the home with the help of a German lady some years back. Due to the high costs of running the home the couple build a small and friendly guesthouse on their property. The income from the guesthouse they use for the running of the children’s home. The caretaker had made a profile on AirBnB to give the guesthouse a boost.

Like the story of the orphanage, we encountered many more beautiful or unusual stories; from other charities that get revenue from renting out rooms to personal stories of themselves or from their family. Nepalis are very open and love to tell their story. By staying with a family you’ll have the opportunity to see and learn more from the country and the culture, what we think is another great dimension to your stay through AirBnB in Nepal.

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Cocina Mitho Chha works together with a couple of orphan homes in Kathmandu. The children learn how to cook, about hygiene, recipes, etc. next to that the school support the children’s normal education. When their education is finished, at the age of 17-18, they can apply for a job. The guesthouse of Cocina Mitho Chha is to support the cooking school, but visitors can also learn Nepali cooking.

Check for much more lovely places in Nepal.