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Published: October 16th 2012
A note from both of us:
Just a reminder that this blog is full of personal opinions and impressions and in no way meant to offend anyone, but to share our honest feelings. We are of the impression that almost every reader of TravelBlog does not want any wind blown up their skirt and wants to know the impressions of the people who have traveled to countries throughout the world. So, with that being said….
The transition from Northern European everyday amenities was to be expected, given that we were leaving Germany, one of the most organized and modern nations in the world, and transitioning to Nepal, which of course, is not. And this was clearly the case when we arrived in the country’s largest city, Kathmandu. Nepal is the size of Arkansas and Kathmandu has about one million people.
Kathmandu is a city that is in perpetual motion and going nowhere in a hurry. Our ex-pat acquaintance David best described it as an amusement park that you can’t leave, as the whole city is enveloped in the madness.
Now, it would be easy
to the conclusion that we do not like it here, but let’s face it, we’ve stepped back considerably in a short time (from a westerner’s perspective). We’ve spent quite a bit of time in SE Asia and it feels good to be back in many ways.
We’ve traveled to more than a few countries in Southeast Asia and have many pleasant memories. One does not travel to Asia expecting everything to be clean and orderly (unless you are in Singapore) but our view is that Kathmandu has taken filth and chaos to a higher level.
Asia travel is not for everyone and we have enjoyed Nepal but quite a bit of Kathmandu is a “s___ hole”. It is our opinion and we will not apologize…. It just was not for us. For us it did not offer the charm you might find in Luang Prabang, Bangkok or Hanoi. It made Phnom Penh look clean (and if you’ve been there, this is really saying something).
The transport from the airport was our first glimpse and our impression never really changed all that much. This is a city that
is extremely dusty, filthy and could only best be described as a health hazard in wait for all the unsuspecting denizens of the city. Not just a little dust that could be taken care of with a little rain. Major dust and garbage…..wherever you look. The fact that Kathmandu is located in a valley between the mountains only excaberbates the issue.
Garbage is everywhere. Of course, the smells at times can assault your senses as well. Sure, you may be thinking that it is easy to make this statement which might best be construed as an over generalization. That is simply not the case. No matter where you look on most of the main roads, garbage is strewn everywhere and it appears that no effort is made to clean it up. People just live and go about their business among it all.
Many trucks and buses spew out dark emissions that no finely crafted micron mask could filter this out of your lungs. The traffic crawls as the roads are narrow and cannot come near accommodating all the vehicles and pedestrians.
We quickly learned there are two traffic laws:
MJ and Buddha
I got here first, and
2) I am bigger than you
And by the way: Rule number two always wins.
There are no traffic lights, no apparent rules of the road, and to make matters even more challenging, either city or national government officials decided it was time for action and ordered the streets widened. At this juncture, the work has begun and you have to seriously question the wisdom of a decision in which they simply came in and started ripping up so many sidewalks next to the roads in preparation for the project. Not just a section, mind you, but seemingly everywhere! Now there are no sidewalks on the roads under construction, which means even more people are in the filthy streets. They have taken people's property from them and torn down all buildings that were in the way of where they wanted to enlarge the road. Eminent domain is not a plausible theory here.
David, the American ex-pat tells us that Kathmandu was in much better shape ten years ago. Others reading this may agree, but the city is growing rapidly and suffering as a result.
Largest stuppa in the world
The challenges of making life better for a city of about a million people, most of whom don’t make a living wage, is daunting to say the least. Kathmandu has its work cut out. Not only that, this city’s population has roughly doubled in the last ten years. Any urban planner will tell you that this creates some serious infrastructure issues, which are not evenly solved. We believe Kathmandu (and Nepal) has great potential that is going unrealized.
We spent our first four days in Thamel. This section of the city is where all the trekkers seem to be along with all the distractions they need as well. In our neighborhood, we can find almost anything we need, from clothing to rides to food to massages to illicit drugs. This section of the city is a cornucopia of wants and needs. Not a bad place to jump off to the beckoning mountains.
This is also where we discovered the event that is known as the rolling blackout. Seems these daily events have been going on for the last ten years or so as the nation’s power grid can’t keep up with demand.
These blackouts last at least 4 hours and sometimes up to 12 hours. The nicer establishments have compensated with back-up generators. The rest of the city sits and waits for the next scheduled, or the more likely non-scheduled power interruption. We spent our first few days in a budget accommodation and they did not have a generator. That meant no air-conditioning or lights for extended periods of time if we were in the room.
While in Kathmandu, we visited………
Kathmandu City- the temple of the Living Goddess, Swayambhunath- a Buddhist Stupa that is said to be 2000 years old , Boudhanath- one of the largest stupa’s in the world, Khokana & Bungamati- Newari villages and Patan. These are tourist areas and are the cleanest the city has to offer. Actually, they are in very nice shape. Too bad they don’t care about the rest of this sprawling city. We are glad we took the time to visit these popular sites as we realized there is a corner of the city that is well cared for.
Our recommendation is to spend minimal time in the city. Save your explorations for the countryside
because it has so much more to offer. This is the place to jump off for mountain or jungle exploration, but that is about it.
One of the things we wanted to do while in Kathmandu was get together with David an ex-pat acquaintance who lives in Savannah, Georgia most of the year and has been living in Kathmandu several months a year for the past 30+. He loves the people and so they pull him back. He confided in us that there is a small ex-pat community here because the life is tough. We didn’t experience the attraction for this city that he has but his passion is evident when speaking with him.
We spent several hours with him hearing about his life in Kathmandu over the years. We were invited into his home where we met a woman who is renting a room in the same house. She is from Chile and has some political connections. She is in Nepal working on women’s issues. They tell us child prostitution and child human trafficking are common issues. It was interesting to hear about the work she is doing and experience the passion she
has for these issues.
We had dinner with David the ex-pat, at a place he enjoys frequenting called the Yin Yang Restaurant, which is run by an ex-pat from Switzerland. He joined us for dinner and it was interesting to hear his views of the city and how it had changed over the past 16 years that he has lived here. We love talking with locals to hear their impressions and how it compares to ours. They told us stories about the politics and corruption that abounds in Nepal. Come on now, this can’t be too much of a surprise, can it?
Being nurses we always like to get the inside view of heath care in each nation we visit. David introduced to an administrator and a nurse who run a medical clinic an hour out of the city. They also offer a home stay program for medical volunteers and teachers who volunteer. They are working with two schools in their community to teach the children about basic health care, like brushing their teeth and washing their hands. Most of these children suffer malnutrition and worms. They are working to provide clean water and
education to the people of their community. When we return to the states we hope to assist them in finding some funding. If we had realized what kind of program they had set up we would have spent some time volunteering while we were here. For whatever reason we did not fully understand the good work they are doing and the kind of assistance they can use. Nepal has not been kind to either of us concerning health issues.
Early in our visit here MJ was very sick from food poisoning for three days. In addition to all of the gastrointestinal issues she fainted and fell on a ceramic tile floor. She got a big knot on her head and had several bruises on her body. Meanwhile, Dave took a spill described in an earlier blog and took quite a bruising. We are both looking forward to Bhutan and hoping for better health. Places we stayed:
Hotel Blue Diamond- Thamel- budget accommodations $25 a night
Park Village Hotel
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