Stories from the Road: Kali in Kathmandu, Nepal

Stories from the Road is a collection of stories about my own photographic adventures in South Asia. Sometimes the stories are exciting and sometimes mundane and at times emotional. I hope you enjoy the pictures and the story.


One of my favorite things about traveling in general is observing others religions practices. In the United States we practice religion behind doors. In South Asia religion is practiced everywhere, outside, inside, on the street, in the house. It is refreshing. I am not sure why we Americans are so prickly about religion. Even though you are free to practice whatever religion you would like in the States, everyone does it in specific spaces. I guess our ideas about the separation of church and state have something to do with it.

The above photograph was taken at the Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal. The photograph is dominated by a relief sculpture of Kali, a Hindu goddess. She is depicted in classic style, painted black, holding a machete, and the heads of demons in another hand. She wears a garland of sculls. In this sculpture she is also adorned by a Nepali style headdress. Kali also holds a man behind her back, which is something I have never seen before. In the foreground of the photograph, there are two women with their backs to the camera. The are saying prayers or making offerings to Kali. The goddess is flanked a dragon on either side of her. On Kali’s left side there is a smaller statue of Ganesha and to her right there is a statue of another god or goddess but It can not be made out. Furthermore, all around the goddess you can see candles and incense burning as offerings.

When I walked up on this scene it was surreal. This looming Kali statue and the smoke surrounding her created otherworldly feeling. I was definitely not in Kansas anymore or India for that matter. I wanted to walk over to Kali, to stand behind the women, but I could not convince my feet to walk over. Perhaps it is the American in me, I do not want to offend anyone. However, the image was arresting. I had a hard time detaching myself from the scene and moving on into the square.

Kali is known for being fearsome. Perhaps she has what I want. Not for people to fear me, but for me to be fearless. Nepal is the first country I have traveled to alone on a first visit. It is beautiful, as I grew up traveling to Colorado Rockies, I felt quite at home in Kathmandu. It was familiar in terms of landscape and in its visual similarities to India in terms of clothing and other human artifacts. But Nepal is uniquely her own. There is an interesting fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism, a stirring of faiths that the whole world could learn something from. Every religion is not diametrically opposed to every other religion. They can in fact mingle and get along. May we Americans come to terms with this one day and be free to practice all religions in the open without fear of offending our neighbor.

By |2016-11-10T18:59:28-06:00March 22nd, 2016|nepal, Travel|0 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.

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