There is Tamang and Rana blood running in his veins because the first Chiniya Lama married a woman who was Jung Bahadur’s daughter through a Tamang wife, and he is also of Sherpa descent by way of ancestors from Helambu. Lama thinks his mixed heritage has given him a wider perspective on the world.
While his father went about his priestly duties, Lama spent his childhood experiencing Boudha, then a settlement of mud houses with thatch roofs.
“Pilgrims from India, China, and many parts of Nepal visited Boudha in those days,” he says. “They came here in autumn and stayed the whole winter when the mountain passes were snowed under.”
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Mani Lama got his first camera from his father when he was 12, and took up photography as a profession when he returned from the United States and could not find a job in agriculture because of rife nepotism and casteism.
Lama started taking photographs for postcards that he had printed in Singapore. These flew off the shelves when they first appeared in New Road shops. Lama then took up out-of-town assignments, and travelled all over Nepal taking photographs and learning about his country.
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Lama’s skills and his connection to the neighbourhood came into use in documenting the damage to Boudha, an important pilgrimage and a world heritage site, in the 2015 earthquake.
“I was shocked when I saw a crack on the stupa,” he recalls. He started documenting the damage, as well as the later reconstruction. He and his camera were at the stupa every day.
The result is now a photobook that documents the reconstruction of Boudha, along with commentaries from historians and cultural experts. Lama is happy with the way the book has turned out, but he is not so happy with what has happened to Boudha.
“The commercialisation of this sacred space is a sad thing. It is very different from what I remember as a child,” he says. “I hope Boudha is able to retain its spiritual essence in the future.”
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