Nepal is a country blessed with one of the most dramatic landscapes in the world – and these fascinating images show how everyday life unfolds in and around it.
Against a backdrop of the world’s most vertiginous peaks, the mesmerising pictures show elephants being ridden along sun-dappled roads, planes landing at the world’s most dangerous airport and street vendors selling their fruity produce.
They were taken by Belgian photographer Giel Sweertvaegher, who recently visited the country for two weeks on a surprise trip organised by a friend.
Photographer Giel captured this shot out of a car window while travelling through Kathmandu. It shows people gathering for a local fair
While in the mountainous town of Lukla, Giel and his wife were invited to a school to watch a graduation ceremony. He said: ‘Since both my wife and I are teachers, our guide arranged for us to go to the graduation festivities at the local school in Lukla. We sat in the “VIP” area as the only foreigners and got a very warm welcome. It was nice to watch and see the kids dance’
Boudhanath, pictured, is a stupa in Kathmandu. Giel said: ‘We wanted to visit the Boudhanath on our last day and there was a religious festival going on with people praying, making food, drinking, and walking on the Stupa. There were so many people, colours and smells. It was one of the coolest Kathmandu experiences I had’
People gather around to share food at the religious festival next to Boudhanath in Kathmandu
Giel recently visited Nepal for two weeks on a surprise trip organised by a friend. He captured this image of people playing music and dancing at a religious festival in Kathmandu
Giel describes this picture as a typical Kathmandu street scene. He said: ‘Everything you need to know about Kathmandu is in this picture’
A fruit seller on the streets of Kathmandu uses a bicycle to carry his produce. Giel said: ‘Nepal turned out to be much more diverse than I could have ever expected’
This fascinating image shows people turning the prayer wheels at a temple in Kathmandu. Giel explained: ‘I think this was the monkey temple, but I can’t say for sure’
The Belgian photographer managed to capture this shot in a Tibetan Monastery in Kathmandu. He explained: ‘I went to take a peek inside and at the entrance, there were kids playing with the prayer wheel’
Giel said: ‘You find these prayer wheels everywhere on the hiking routes as well as cattle carrying goods’
Mules pass by on the way from Phacding to Namche Bazaar, left. Pictured right is a part of an animal that had been slaughtered during a religious festival
Giel said he had no idea what to expect before taking the trip but when he got there, he was pleasantly surprised.
He told MailOnline Travel: ‘Nepal turned out to be much more diverse than I could have ever expected. I knew the country was situated north of India, but it never occurred to me that it had the same jungle.
‘Also the people were much more friendly than I expected. Every single one of them was helpful and friendly. In a crowded, dusty city like Kathmandu, I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe.
‘I really enjoyed photographing people in Kathmandu and watching the elephants in Chitwan National Park, but walking in the Himalayas, experiencing the friendliness of the people there and the beautiful landscapes was my favourite part.
A stunning image of a woman looking at the mountains at her home near Lukla Airport
A plane takes off from Lukla Airport. Giel said: ‘I’m not sure if it’s allowed, but we ended up standing at the head of the runway with the planes coming in low over us. It’s not exactly very safe because a couple of years ago a plane didn’t make it to the runway and crashed just below’
The view of Mount Everest, left, and the rest of the Himalayas, right, from a ‘mountain flight’ on Buddha Air. The plane takes off from Kathmandu and flies along the mountain range
A shot captured on a mountain flight. Giel explained: ‘On the flight, one side gets to enjoy the view while the other people can visit the cockpit. Flying back to Kathmandu it’s the other way around. It gives a stunning view of the highest peaks in the world’
Giel said: ‘This was my last look back at Lukla before leaving for Phacding. There are people carrying the craziest amount of stuff all along the route’
Mules going down to Namche Bazaar. Giel said: ‘We went to a lookout that gives a view on Mount Everest, but while going up the last 200 metres of the day, clouds came in fast and we were standing in the clouds. Going down a little we were out of the clouds again and got a look at Namche Bazaar below’
Giel said his favourite part of visiting Nepal was walking in the Himalayas. Pictured is his wife walking to the helipad in Namche Bazaar
‘It’s difficult to put to words, but the fact that there were absolutely no distractions or rushing compared to the city made it very enjoyable. I felt disconnected from the world for once.’
Giel, an aviation enthusiast, had always wanted to visit Nepal so he could experience a landing at Lukla Airport (also called Tenzing–Hillary Airport), which is often described as the most dangerous in the world.
He added: ‘It only has a short landing strip going uphill. The end of the runway is the mountainside, so there’s no possibility to go around. You either land or you crash into the hill.
While visiting Chitwan, Giel and his wife woke at sunrise to take a look at the elephants, who were leaving to be taken to work
Giel said that the elephants allowed him to get very close in order to take some of his pictures
Giel said: ‘There was not a tourist in sight at this hour so it was very peaceful in the town. I could snap some pictures of the elephants in the beautiful morning light’
Giel said that one of his favourite parts of the trip was seeing the elephants being taken to work in Chitwan
Giel said: ‘I knew Nepal was situated north of India, but it never occurred to me that it had the same jungle’
This image shows some of the houses in Chitwan next to where the elephants were kept
‘Since we are all members of the Aviation PhotoCrew we decided to also make a photo series about the airport for our website.
‘Just 12 hours after leaving there in a helicopter, a plane crashed into the same helipad killing four people.
‘We were quite lucky to have gotten out the evening before bad weather came in. We kind of dodged a bullet there.
‘I have several favourite photos from the trip.
Giel captured this shot while coming in at Lukla in a helicopter. He described the helicopter flight as ‘awesome’ as he got to see Mount Everest
An overview showing Lukla Airport, which is often dubbed as the most dangerous airport in the world due to its short angled landing strip. There’s very little room for error
Giel, an aviation enthusiast, had always wanted to visit Nepal so he could experience a landing at Lukla Airport, pictured
Giel took this picture while waiting at Ramechhap for the plane to Lukla. He said: ‘It was a four-hour drive from Kathmandu in complete darkness at night on unpaved roads. There was a thunderstorm lighting up the place all the way from Kathmandu to the airport. We ended up waiting for another 10 hours before finally flying to Lukla. The weather on the way is quite variable’
Giel shot this image just moments before touching down at Lukla Airport. He said: ‘I was lucky to sit behind the cockpit so I could peek in there’
Giel and his travelling companions left Lukla via helicopter. He explained: ‘I’m still happy to have left when we did because the next morning, one of the first planes leaving crashed into the heli platform, killing three people’
In close proximity to the Lukla Airport runway you’ll find the local police station, crops and goats
An aerial view looking over Nepal’s capital Kathmandu while coming into land. Giel said: There were brick factories all over the place’
‘My wife sitting in the plane staring through the window with Mount Everest as the window view is a highlight for me.
‘As is everything from Lukla because of the memories rather than the pictures.
‘But I also like the picture of the Big Stupa with the crowd in front. There’s so much happening in that photo.’