Light & Shadow

Behind the Shot with Douglas Steakley

Earlier this year I had the unique opportunity to take a group of itinerate travelers to the remote kingdom of Mustang in northern Nepal. Mustang was closed to foreign travel until the 1990’s because it was a sanctuary for the thousands of Ghompa insurgents who aggressively resisted the Chinese takeover of Tibet. It’s a little known fact that the CIA had a presence in Mustang to train and support the resistance.

Our trip was planned to coincide with the annual Tiji Festival, which occurs each spring and lasts for three days in Lo Manthang, the capital of Mustang. This elaborate festival is a harbinger of peace and hope and is based on the Tibetan myth of a deity named Dorje Shunu who was reincarnated to defeat evil, which creates suffering on earth. Tiji takes place in a surprisingly small courtyard with a large thangka displayed on the back wall. For the first day the “old” thangka, from the fourteenth century, is unrolled and for the final two days the “new” thangka from the sixteenth century is unveiled. Drums, cymbals, and ceremonial dancing take place every afternoon and last into the early evening.

Main dancer in Tiji Festival in Lo-Manthang, Mustang, Nepal

Main dancer in Tiji Festival
Lo-Manthang, Mustang, Nepal

Monastery doory at the monastery in Kagbeni, Lower Mustang, Nepal

Monastery door
Kagbeni, Lower Mustang, Nepal


Photography at the Tiji Festival was particularly challenging due to the bright light, crowds and difficulty in establishing a good location. On the final day I had to smile as I looked down and realized that I was sitting on a large pile of cow dung, which gave me a little height and seemed to keep other people away.

When I go on tours where the travel is challenging I use my smaller Series 2 tripod (TVC-23) with the smaller BH-40 ballhead. This more portable setup is perfect in the dark monasteries and for shooting in the caves where a tripod is essential for the longer exposures. In crowded situations I will often collapse the legs and use the tripod as a monopod to get as much stability as possible.

Caves in Garphu, Mustang, Nepal

Caves in Garphu, Mustang, Nepal

Photo by Douglas Steakley

Altar with butter lamps in Buddhist monastery
Ghiling, Mustang, Nepal


Doug Steakley is a widely recognized photographer from Carmel Valley, California. His distinct images range from the Monterey Peninsula where he lives to many international destinations where he enjoys traveling.


All images and words Copyright ©2013 Doug Steakley. All rights reserved.