Thomas L. Kelly

Thomas L. Kelly

Thomas L. Kelly first came to Nepal in 1978 as a USA Peace Corps Volunteer, and has since worked as a photo-activist, documenting the struggles of marginalized people and disappearing cultural traditions all over the world. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation he has been recording the lives of sex workers and the traditions of prostitution across South Asia. Thomas has worked extensively for UNICEF, GIZ, Save the Children Fund (USA), DFID, Aga Khan Foundation, Institute of Child Health (ICH), on the subject of child prostitution, trafficking, Safer Motherhood/Saving Newborn Lives, Conflict and Resolution, and numerous other subjects. His editorial work has appeared in publications worldwide, including, the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, and The Observer, U.K. From 1990-1991 he was the Corporate photographer for The Body Shop Int., UK specializing in documenting the Press Campaigns of the Company. He currently represents Hinduism Today magazine, based out of Hawaii.

Apart from photography, he has produced and directed films and videos on prostitution, violence against women, and esoteric ethnic practices, among other subjects for Discovery Communications, USA, National Geographic, and the BBC. He has researched and photographed the books: Himalayan Style; Sacred Landscape-Pilgrimage in Tibet: In Search of the Lost Kingdom of Bon; Tibet: Reflections from the Wheel of Life; The Hidden Himalayas; Kathmandu: City on the Edge of the World, Abbeville Press, N.Y., Fallen Angels: Sex Workers of South Asia, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Roli Books Int. New Delhi, India, Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World, Viking Penguin, N.Y., and Cultural Traditions on Hinduism-Sadhus, Cuerpos Pintados, Santiago, Chile.

Thomas was the AV Technical Advisor for The Youth Expression Project, YEP, a program in South Asia to help young people (ages 15-23) to identify and voice their concerns about parental and societal values, HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, unwanted pregnancy, and sexual abuse. The project was about aiding them to understand their problems, concerns, hopes, fears, frustrations, and learning how to use media (writing, photography, video) to express those concerns on a public platform. Their media outputs were directed to parents, teachers and the general public. 

Sacred Landscape and Pilgrimage in Tibet

In Search of the Lost Kingdom of Bon


Before Buddhism, there was Bön. This book is a fascinating journey, visually and spiritually, through western Tibet by a monk of the little-known Bön faith, who is searching for the lost, sacred Bön homeland of Zhangzhung.

Including a DVD of the Pilgrimage.

This spiritual adventure is the first book to document the living tradition of Bön. What makes this narrative so compelling is that the voice and perspective of Gelek, a young Bön monk, lends an intimacy and knowledge of Bön not found in religious texts.

According to the Tibetan calendar, 2002 was a holy year for pilgrimages, and in the holiest month of that year, Gelek set out from his monastery in Nepal with some hardy companions and photographer Thomas Kelly to travel to Kailash, a sacred mountain in western Tibet. He was also on a quest to seek out the long-vanished kingdom of Zhangzhung. At the end of the journey, Gelek finds little that resembles the Bön kingdom. He comes upon crumbling ruins that have all but reverted to their native dust and earth. From this experience Gelek understands that the essence of his faith is built not on these shifting sands but on the bedrock of the changeless Bön teachings.

This extraordinary trek is illustrated by 160 stunningly beautiful color photographs of the unknown landscapes, as well as travelers and local people. Accompanying the images is the authors’ vivid description of their journey, which is especially evocative as it includes translated excerpts from Gelek’s personal diary.

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Reflections from the Wheel of Life


With a foreword by the Dalai Lama, this remarkable volume presents an intimate, Family of Man-like portrait of Tibet and its people.

According to Tibetan belief, existence is an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and in this exquisitely illustrated volume authors Carroll Dunham and Ian Baker take us through the Tibetan wheel of life, from birth and childhood through adolescence and midlife to old age and death. We meet a pregnant woman who is married to four brothers. She dreams of turquoise--a sure sign that she will give birth to a boy. Ten-year-old Tulku Ralo yawns as he sits on a grand throne blessing the reverent throng who flock to him; it is not easy being a god-child. The pilgrimage of a family to Lhasa takes several years, for they cover the entire distance by prostrating the length of their bodies across the earth, surrendering to the primordial ground from which all Buddhas have arisen.

Set against Tibet's staggeringly beautiful mountain landscapes, as well as against the ongoing struggle of the Tibetans to win independence from China, Tibet: Reflections from the Wheel of Life portrays the many faces of an earthy yet devout people steeped in a rich heritage.

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Hidden Himalayas


An intimate gaze into one of the last truly exotic places on earth.

Two young Americans take us to Humla, an ancient territory at the edge of Nepal where no Westerner has ever lived before. In breathtaking photographs and evocative prose, Thomas Kelly and Carroll Dunham capture Humla's limitless vistas and disclose intimate details of the lives of its extraordinary people: yak herders, caravan drivers, shamans, and brides who are shared among brothers.

Here is a land of eternally snow-capped mountains and sweeping valleys. A land as eerie and forbidding as the landscape of some distant moon, its people all but forgotten by the rest of the world. Their lives are a struggle — the alpine soil metes out sustenance grudgingly, and long winters threaten to banish the warmth of life forever. Yet these lives yield untold riches. As if the splendid isolation and sheer altitude of the hidden Himalayas bring them closer to the gods, the people of this land are possessed of a spirituality few Westerners will ever know.

Kelly's extraordinary photographs are accompanied by Dunham's evocative and lyrical account of life as the people of Humla conceive it: a cycle of fall, winter, spring, and summer. In a world made easy, accessible, and all too familiar by supersonic travel, television, and communication at the click of a mouse, here is an enlightening glimpse into the lives of a virtually untouched people.

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