Imagine no possessions

New photobook on the Raute is a poetic documentation of Nepal’s last nomadic people

Aiyar Shahi (left) and Gurpi Shahi (right) pause for a smoke.

What do we call a people without fixed addresses, without land or proof of citizenship? And what do we call a people who have no desire to possess any of these things?’

In 2011, when photographer Kishor Sharma made his first encounter with  Nepal’s last truly nomadic community in the highlands of Salyan two days walk from the nearest road, he struggled to be accepted and understand their lifestyle. But as he gradually won their trust, and they his respect, the original plan to document in photographs the reclusive forest-dwellers turned into an exercise in visual poetry.

Recording the lives and times of the Raute cannot just be done in a narrative text or through flat photography. “You are the world, we are the Raute,” they remind the lensman. It is a life of wandering, a culture that predates history and the modern nation state, before healthcare and the need to learn the alphabet, before buses and mobiles. 

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Sharma revisits the Raute clan three years later, and shows them a photo on his laptop of tribe member Surendra that he had taken earlier. Surendra had died, but his relatives did not want a printout of his photo. 

Raute map

‘Photographs contain remembrances of things past, Rautes with their wandering souls, do not like to be stuck with old memories,’ Sharma writes in the evocative bilingual text accompanying the photographs.

But globalisation, the modern Nepali nation, its administration and police are never too far away. Rautes have frequent encounters with townspeople who look down upon them, but also fear their wild ways. Raute life is also being rapidly monetised, a process accelerated by a monthly Rs5,000 allowance they receive from the state. But the stipend is always late, and that has now become their greatest complaint.

Imagine no possessions2
Samjhana Shahi near a Raute camp in Achham.(Photo: Kishor Sharma)

Sharma spent six years, off and on, among the Raute in Salyan, Achham and Dailekh, and won their confidence. But one thing they never cared to share with him is their practice of monkey hunting. They do not like outsiders joining in the hunt which they see as a sacred duty to ensure survival. They do not use guns or knives, but net traps, and never kill more than they can eat. 

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It has been a few weeks, and it is time to change camp. The Raute are bundling up their possessions. Bir Bahadur tells Sharma: “It is time to move again.”

Imagine no possessions
A Raute man. (Photo: Kishor Sharma)

Many readers may see in Kishor Sharma’s Living in the Mist, a photographic visual confirmation of an endangered nomadic group with a vastly different lifestyle from ours. 

But others may find survival lessons for ‘modern’ globalised humans of a frugal, gentle and dignified people who only take from nature what they need. They cannot own land because the land owns them.  

Instagram: @kishorksg


Living in the Mist Exhibition

Patan House, Dhaugal

Till 30 November (Closed 21-30 October and 12-15 November) 

living in the mist

Kunda Dixit


Kunda Dixit is the former editor and publisher of Nepali Times. He is the author of 'Dateline Earth: Journalism As If the Planet Mattered' and 'A People War' trilogy of the Nepal conflict. He has a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and is Visiting Faculty at New York University (Abu Dhabi Campus).