I have just returned from Kathmandu & still in a tired stupour that goes with the territory of budget red eye flights & ambitions of packing as much as I can possibly do into 5 days in Kathmandu. So here goes a summary with an unapologetic over reliance on images to fill in the gaps where my fatigue will not allow me to go. It was a memorable adventure in a country that I grow fonder of with each visit:

Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival [KIMFF]:

The main reason for this visit was to attend KIMFF.  ‘Mira’ had been selected to screen at the festival & I made sure that I worked it out so that I could fly and be there as this was to be my first screening in the country & with the people that I made it for. It was a special time as MIRA was screened to a packed house and received a touching response with standing ovations.

Richard Bull receives a standing ovation. Fitting for a man who works hard behind the scenes to support Mira & other runners
Mira is welcomed at KIMFF to a standing ovation
Speaking about the aims of the film to the KIMFF audience – to inspire other Nepali girls
Mira, Purna & Sunmaya enjoy the occasion
Delighted to receive the ‘Audience Award’ at KIMFF. An award given to the most popular film after votes are counted at end of festival
Mira, Purna & Sunmaya enjoy the occasion

Kathmandu Ultra 50km Race

The day after KIMFF, I joined in the ultra fun & took part in the Kathmandu Ultra 50km race that takes part in the Shivapuri National Park. It was my first ultra race since Dragons Back [200 mile race across Wales – read story here].  My training has been so inconsistent with a dysfunctional work schedule over the past year that my goal was simply to run as well as I could & enjoy the journey. The fast Nepali runners all took off out of sight within the first hundred metres, which is what I expected & so I settled into my own steady pace. It was good to be on my own & just focus on running. I needed to clear my head after such an intense few weeks & was content with the solitude that I surprisingly had for the first 2 hours after passing quite a number of runners. I was chuffed that I ran stronger as the kilometres ticked by but then came to one point where there was a junction a few kilometres before Check Point 4 that was confusing with conflicting arrows. I decided to choose the longer option based on my memory of the course map & a discussion with another confused runner who was also wondering what to do. We ran the 7km loop and found the checkpoint & carried on towards the final 20 km to the finish. I eventually pulled away from the other runner who faded & finally crossed the finishing line feeling satisfied to have finished well and put in a good innings except for getting lost once that cost me around 45 minutes.

Obligatory finishing line shot – Kathmandu Ultra 50km. Photo: Upendra Sunuwar

To my surprise, I found out later that I was actually the fastest runner to complete the whole course as the other runners ahead of me had missed the long loop to Checkpoint 4 [about 7km]. What do you know? A win at an ultra in Nepal! There were clearly faster runners there who would beat me at any other ultra race but I’ll take this one 🙂

Finding Soni

The time in Kathmandu finished on a real high point for me as Mira Rai & I travelled from Kathmandu to the mountain area of Balthali, to find a young girl named Soni – a young girl I met while on assignment in that part of Nepal last month. It was a chance meeting where I let her use my camera which was the first time she had ever used one & she took some fantastic shots where it was clear to me when looking at her images that this girl had unrealised talent & potential. Mira & I travelled to the area in an effort to try & find her. After a lot of asking villagers, we finally found her mother who told us that she was still at school. We walked across the mountain trails to the school & talked to the Principal who called for the girl.

Soni Tamang

To say that Soni [left] was overjoyed is an understatement as we gave her mounted prints of the shot she had taken of her sister [right] & told her that she was a talented girl.  While there, we arranged to return & hold a screening of MIRA for the school & the surrounding villages in 2 weeks time. This will be a special time as Mira, my wife & daughter & myself will be there to share the moment. That’s all for this edition of Kathmandu Chronicles, I’m heading off now to catch up on sleep.

Below is the full story of how I met Soni that gives context to this journey to find her with Mira Rai.

Showing the MIRA trailer to Soni’s family.
Showing the MIRA trailer to Soni’s family.

What follows is the story I wrote of meeting Soni in October 2016:

Chance, opportunity & unlocking talent.

It is fair to say that chance, opportunity & unlocking a hidden talent played a large part in Mira Rai’s journey from her mountain village in Bhojpur to where she is today. While on a recent assignment shooting a 3 day ultra race for Action Asia Events in the mountains near Balthali (2 hours south east of Kathmandu), another story unfolded that involved a young mountain village girl named Soni, who I met by chance & through a mountain side opportunity, I recognised that she had an unrealised talent for photography even though she had never held a camera before.

Soni [right] carrying a load over the mountain passes before trying to retrieve the tyre

While running between shooting locations during the first day of the race, I heard shouts from above and saw a large tyre come hurtling down the mountain and came to rest below on a steep terrace of crops. Adults from nearby fields started to shout at the children to remove the tyre. The game was no longer fun as Soni and the other children looked worried as they struggled to lift the heavy tyre out of the crops. I could see that it was too heavy for them so I climbed down & helped them lift it out of the crops and safely back onto the mountain trail. At that moment, fellow photographer Bryan was passing by and took the below shot as I reached the final terrace with Soni and a young boy watching.

Photo: Bryan Diehl

The children were grateful & left the heavy loads they had been carrying and curiously hung around me as I shot passing runners. While waiting for runners, we had running races, climbed trees and played hide and seek. Simple games that kids who don’t have mobile phones and computers play all the time. However, they became particularly excited when I let them take it in turns to use my DSLR cameras and take photos of passing runners. They had never held a camera before & so I showed them the basics with my creative use of sign language & extremely limited Nepali. They were were very fast learners. Of the group, it was clear that Soni had a flair for photography. She really got into it & I saw in the few images that she shot that there was a talent for imagery that was being unlocked in those moments.

Soni shooting with my Canon 5d
One of the shots that Soni took on my Canon 5d mk2 with Sigma 35mm in manual mode

The above photo was taken by Soni who shot this image of her friends having a race within 15 mins of first handling a DSLR.  When I saw this image, I could see that this girl had a natural flair. It has the image ingredients that draw you in. If a well known photographer had taken this & posted it on Facebook, I am sure that there would be a host of ‘likes’ and comments such as “great shot” and “nice capture”.

Fun races while waiting for runners. Photo: Soni
The children shooting with my IPhone
A parting photo before running on to the next location

After an hour or so, it was time to run on to the next location. With my creative sign language & smiles, I tried to let Soni know that she took very good images. She smiled and then took her basket with a load of crops that she was carrying and carried on her journey & I ran off to my next location.

It’s almost 2 weeks since that mountainside chance encounter in Nepal. I have returned home and gone through the images that Soni has taken and looked at them closely on a large computer screen and confirmed what I thought at the time: she has talent. This has left me pondering a question over the past few days:

where could this young girl’s potential take her if she was given the opportunities that I have had?

Soni shooting with my Canon 5d & 70-200


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