Russo Gallery: Langtang: Tragedy and Circular Time
Austin Lord '06

When a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25th, 2015, it triggered a massive avalanche in the Langtang Valley that led to unimaginable devastation and the loss of over 300 lives. These photographs, taken by Austin Lord, Athena Zelandonii, and Prasiit Sthapit over a period of six months after the tragedy are part of an ongoing engagement with the Langtang community. As witnesses to this tragedy and the ongoing cycles of grief that have followed, we hope to portray not just the intensity of this tragedy but also the layered struggles that the people of Langtang face as they begin to rebuild their lives. Highlighting cultural and circular understandings of time, these images speak to the ways that the people of Langtang have used ceremony and ritual to orient themselves and rebuild community within a void created by inconceivable loss.
The narrative begins the night before the earthquake, with a funerary/reincarnation ceremony called a ghewa held in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery just below the village of Langtang. Hundreds of people dance and sing throughout the night just hours before the avalanche, moving from death toward rebirth. Forty-nine days later the earthquake, the displaced people of Langtang assemble for another ghewa ceremony to honor and guide the souls of all the Langtangpa who died on the day of the earthquake. Sweating in the inescapable heat of Kathmandu in June, the people of Langtang unite again in their grief, reciting many of the same prayers and songs they offered together the night before the earthquake. Candles are lit inside a different monastery and effigies are wrapped in scarves. Lamas chant as the photographs of the dead are ritually burned, and shaking mouths form hopeful prayers radiating virtue out into the living world. The voices of the women echo on June 13th as they did on April 24th forming an imperfect circle around the immensity of the devastation, filling an immense void with resonance. Ceremony continues in the face of incredible uncertainty as the people of Langtang engage in a simultaneous process of remembering and forgetting, attempting to heal themselves and allowing the souls of the deceased to pass on into circular time.
Six months after the earthquake, the Langtang Valley shows signs of life, as people prepare to move forward in their lives. An old man spins a prayer wheel in a temporary gompa as another begins to salvage build material for reconstruction. Women dig for neglected potatoes amid the rubble. Prayer flags in the wind speak for those who have not yet been found. The narrative ends in the monastery where it began, as Buddhist texts weather the elements waiting to be reborn. Time moves in recursive patterns, the natural rhythms of living amplified by tragedy, memory and forgetting helping us to make sense of this pattern, the cycle of birth and death ever ongoing.

Austin Lord (Dartmouth ’06) is an anthropologist and visual ethnographer who has been working closely with the Langtangpa in the wake of the earthquake. To learn more about people and place in Langtang, please visit:
27 photos · 518 views