As It Happens

Mount Everest emerges as pandemic lifts veil of smog from Kathmandu Valley

With air pollution levels down during the pandemic, Kathmandu photographer Abhushan Gautam captured a sight that has been shrouded in the city's smog for nearly 50 years — a clear view of Mount Everest.

For the first time in decades, photographer Abhushan Gautam was able to get a clear shot of Mount Everest

For the first time in nearly 50 years, Kathmandu photographer Abhushan Gautam was able to get a clear shot of Mount Everest. (Submitted by Abhusan Gautam)
Listen6:17

With air pollution levels down during the pandemic, Kathmandu photographer Abhushan Gautam captured a sight that has been shrouded in the city's smog for nearly 50 years — a clear view of Mount Everest. 

Gautam and his neighbours in Kathmandu Valley live on the doorstep of the famous mountain range. But until now, it was extremely rare to catch a glimpse of Mount Everest and its sister peaks.

"This photo is symbolic," Gautam told As It Happens host Carol Off. "If we do our actions right, then things can be mended, and we can actually see Everest from our own backyard."

Gautam says the mountain is occasionally visible from the outer city limits when the weather is clear. But it hasn't been documented in Kathmandu Valley for decades. 

"We hear from people of older generations that it was visible during their times, maybe 30 [or] 40 years back. But there's no document of that. So it's a very rare sighting from [the] valley itself," Gautam said.

Mount Everest (arrow) hidden behind Mount Kang Nachugo and Mount Chobutse from Chobar in Kathmandu. (Submitted by Abhusan Gautam)

Gautam estimates he was about 160 kilometres from the mountain when he snapped the shots. He says that his friend messaged him and suggested he take some photographs because the weather was clear.

He walked up a small hilltop only a few minutes from his home to take a panoramic photo, unaware of what he was about to capture.

"Quite frankly, even I, myself, was very much surprised after I took the photo because I had no intention of capturing Everest in that picture," Gautam said.

"Only after I took the picture and zoomed in a bit into the photo, I realized that it was shaped like Everest. And then, after that, I had to confirm it via Twitter."

Abhushan Gautam is a photographer who was among the first to snap a picture of the famous mountain from the Kathmandu Valley. (Submitted by Abhushan Gautam)

After he confirmed the photo, he still couldn't believe his luck.

"That came as a shock," Gautam said.

"Everest sighting is very rare. So that was something new for me and that was something new for other people also because they haven't heard of it or they haven't seen it before."

Gautam says the contrast is startling between the photograph and other images he took before the pandemic lockdown.

"Kathmandu Valley is shaped like a cup, so whatever pollution there is, it gets stuck," Gautam said.

"Thanks to the lockdown weather, and thanks to the rains that happen in between, everything is clear and the number of incidents of health problems has also drastically gone down."

A panoramic view of the Kathmandu Valley. Gautam says he hopes the photograph reminds people in his city that they can see Mount Everest from their own backyard. (Submitted by Abhusan Gautam)

Gautam also points out that this is peak climbing season and usually the city would be busy with tourists.

"There has been so much traffic that you can even see, you know, photos on the internet about having traffic jams on the Everest mountain," Gautam said.

While acknowledging how much the tourism industry has suffered over the last few months, Gautam hopes the photographs bring joy to his community and remind them of the nature around them.

"Having taken that sort of luxury of seeing Everest away due to the own doings of people and due to the pollution and everything we've done to the nature — it's quite saddening to see that," Gautam said.

"Nature is replying back about how it should be left alone sometimes. You know?"


Written by John McGill. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.