Nepal storyteller uses photos and few lines to reveal lives

KATHMANDU: It started with a photograph of a smirking, young man wearing a heavy-metal band T-shirt and selling tea on the streets of Kathmandu. It has become a wildly popular blog chronicling street life in the Himalayan nation of Nepal.

Inspired by the similar project "Humans of New York," Nepali photographer Jay Poudyal has posted biographies and photographs for more than 800 Nepalis including villagers, bureaucrats, schoolchildren, housewives and students since launching his blog three years ago.

"Stories of Nepal," with 270,000 followers and growing, has become a mission for the 37-year-old college dropout: to highlight the heroism of Nepal's common men and women as they struggle against widespread poverty, natural disasters and a government widely seen as corrupt.

"I was searching for purpose of life," Poudyal said in an interview with The Associated Press, admitting to past struggles with alcohol and drug abuse. "When I started doing this, it was like a calling for me."

As its popularity grew, he also used the blog to raise funds for some he had photographed. He managed to raise $14,000 to help the eastern village of Ghumthang recover from the 2015 earthquake by buying food and medicine, building temporary shelters and a primary school. A year later, he raised about $700 in two hours for a girl's mother who lost the family's savings when the quake started a fire that destroyed everything inside her stone hut.

The project has brought him praise from around the world. One 73-year-old follower named Doug Hall, from Chichester, New Hampshire, said Poudyal's work gave outsiders a sense "of life in the early 21st century in Nepal."

"One is better able to understand the pain of women left behind when their husbands emigrate for jobs, of the pride in small accomplishments, of the emotional toll of caste discrimination, of the beauty of childhood friendships," Hall said in an email to the AP.

Another follower, airline pilot Pratistha Karki from Kathmandu, said the blog was inspiring.

"When the only people to have media space are celebrities and politicians ... 'Stories of Nepal' has let an everyday Nepali participate in the major Nepali discourse," Karki said.