Kathmandu- Climbers, Kilowatts and Crud


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Asia » Nepal » Kathmandu
October 14th 2012
Published: October 16th 2012
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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:

1)
MJ and BuddhaMJ and BuddhaMJ and Buddha

Kathmandu, Nepal
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.
Tibetan StuppaTibetan StuppaTibetan Stuppa

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


Additional photos below
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American ex-patAmerican ex-pat
American ex-pat

chatting about life in Nepal
Weavers hard at workWeavers hard at work
Weavers hard at work

we bought a rug
Touring the PalaceTouring the Palace
Touring the Palace

Glitter and Gold
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Call a neurosurgeon

compressed cervical vertebrae warning!!
A sense of balanceA sense of balance
A sense of balance

injury waiting to happen


16th October 2012

Aaaargh!
I've just started to feel settled and then I read this!! Thanks!!! Looks like you're still having an amazing time wherever you go. Planning a trip to Spain????
16th October 2012

Wanderlust can be wicked
Hello Russ, So great to hear from you. We are having a grand time. We have our rhythm down for now. We are moving at a good pace. We do look forward to our time in the Philippines when we really slow down. We will not be heading to Spain on this trip but maybe in the next year or two. Hopefully, our paths will cross. Let us know where you take off to next.
16th October 2012

Yo from the safety of Cow-town
Dave, enjoy reading the blogs. Appreciate the brutal honesty of the last report. I sometimes wondered if all I ever read is the good stuff, or you and MerryJo are two of the luckiest people in the world, or both. Stay safe and keep up the blogs. Gotta Google Bhutan now to find it!
16th October 2012

Wow
Hope you both are fully recovered from your respective illness and injury and ready to push on to a hopefully more enjoyable destination. Know that you both got the very best from the experience that could possibly be had and were able to find the positive in the experience. Take care of yourselves!
16th October 2012

We always learn from the experiences
Nepal has some beautiful countryside but Kathmandu is not for us. I guess we can't be in love with every location. We are very happy to be in Bhutan....and it is lovely...and clean.
16th October 2012

I'm planning a visit this winter to Nepal (a country I've never been to) and India (a country I know very well). Kathmandu sounds like India's slums - in miniature. Maybe I'll give it a miss! Let's hope that Bhutan will be more to your liking and that you both will be well enough to enjoy it to the full.
17th October 2012

Hi Mike
I'm aware of your up coming trip as I have been corresponding with David and Janice. Kathmandu has gone down hill over recent years. You might spend a day or so checking out the main temples and shrines as those areas were the cleanest. I'd spend money and stay in a clean place. We heard the Kathmandu guest house is nice. On our last day in town we read an article in the paper where the head of the roads department stated the roads are dilapidated and dangerous. He stated they would all be repaired in one month's time. We are not sure what he is smoking but it can't happen. The town is a pit. I'm sure you wil enjoy Nepal just don't stat in Kathmandu long. If you read the other blogs we wrote you'll see we had a good time.
16th October 2012

What an Interesting Blog
I am glad you wrote of how you really felt about your time there. I was well written and not unfair from the pictures and your description. I'm glad you found some nice areas to visit and look forward to some more blogs. Enjoy your next stop and be well. I miss you. B
17th October 2012

Hi Brendan,
Yes, we like to be honest about what we see. It does not benefit us or other travelers to paint the wrong picture. I will admit we are cup half full kind of people and look for the good if places rather than the bad. But, Kathmandu is a pit and that is how we see it. There is so much possibility. We were told that graft and corruption are big problems and that is why road projects never get completed. We don't know that for sure so did not include that in our blog but looking around the city it certainly makes sense. Best to see other parts of the country.
16th October 2012

We don't need lip service
So say it like you see it. We loved it 12 years ago but everyone who comes back now says pretty much what you outlined. Disappointing. We did see plenty of people squatting in the streets and it smelt of urine but it seems to have gotten worse. Better head for the hills, and they are impressive hills. Enjoy.
17th October 2012

Head for the hills is good advice
We were taken aback by this town. You never expect Asia to be clean but we could not see any effort to make things better. The locals do not seem to notice. I remember in Vietnam you would frequently see shop owners sweeping and trying to get rid of the garbage. Many people spoke of the down hill slide of the last decade. The roads are craters, ruts and pits.
17th October 2012

not good news...
...about your respective health issues. Merry, that fall sounds scary- your poor head! Hope you are both out of the wars now and keep getting better. xx
17th October 2012

Thanks for the concern for our health
We are going for 90 minute massages today.....medicinal purposes only. Yes, the bump on my head was pretty nasty. Dave was concerned because when I fainted I was completely out for a few seconds and not responding to him. Before I regained consciousness he had time to wonder if I had broken my neck. Hopefuuly no mor face plants on hard surfaces.
17th October 2012
They can be mean

the troupe leaders can be particularly nasty, but I still have a soft spot for monkeys :)
17th October 2012
They can be mean

That is why they are so dangerous...
They are cute so you want to trust them. I'm always surprised how fast they can move. Next thing you know they are giving you an ugly look or coming after you.
17th October 2012
They can be mean

yes they are still essentially wild animals trying to survive in harsh city conditions. andrew's not a fan of them either, but I love watching them - they never fail to amuse, shock or disgust me - just like humans do I suppose. the best part of my zoology degree was spending hours 'studying' monkeys at the melbourne zoo :)
17th October 2012
They can be mean

Hi Ren,
I didn't realize you had a degree in Zoology. I understand your interest in these beast. We enjoyed them in Bali at the Monkey Forest in Ubud. Dave is like Andrew and just doesn't care for them...or trust them.
17th October 2012

No Monkey Fan Here
Like Dave, I can't bring myself to trust monkeys. Had a bad episode with them right there in Kathmandu some 12 years ago! But what a scare about your fall. Sorry to hear about your ailments, you two. From Nepal to Bhutan -- some dramatic changes there. I'm sure you know what I mean. Enjoy Bhutan.
17th October 2012

We did struggle with issues in Nepal.
So far Bhutan is much better. Monkey's are unpredictable. Chat soon.
17th October 2012

Couldn't agree more....However...
I think things must have got worse since Kingy was overthrown and the Maoists took over. I was in Kathmandu on the day that Nepal became a republic and still have a Nepali newspaper as a keepsake, who knows...it might be worth something in 2000 years time ;) I remember Pokhara being nice and clean and Kathmandu slightly less so, but it seems that things have certainly gone downhill over the last few years, which is a shame. Merry Jo, I hope you bought Dave a nice big kukri knife so that in the future, he will be able to whip the caps off of his beer bottles (to the awe of everyone around him) with consummate ease? I was so taken by them that I ended up buying six!
18th October 2012

No knife
Nick, we didn't get a knife but now that we know what you use yours for I guess we should have. Yes, our friend who has been going to Kathmandu for 30 years confirms many things have changed in the past decade. We really liked Pokhara but Kathmandu didn't hold much interest for us and we were happy to leave.
18th October 2012
Buddha is looking at you

LOVED THIS BLOG
Dealt with many issues that I need to consider as we were planning to be in Katmandu for a special occasion in 2013. Very helpful thank you. The health issues may be associated with the prevalence of garbage...not a vista I enjoy. Keep well & bluesy.
18th October 2012
Buddha is looking at you

Informational
For a special occasion I would not select Kathmandu. A couple of days there to scurry around doing all the tourist sites (that are fairly clean)-- we can send you a list. I would spend the special occasion in Pokhara which is a much nicer town. We spent 7 nights in Kathmandu and saw more than we wanted. We recommend staying at the Kathmandu Guest house rather than where we stayed. We went over and looked at it and it looked nice. We talked to a couple of people who stayed there and they were happy. We are now in Bhutan and having a great time. A very nice country. Let us know if you want additional details.
19th October 2012

Oh Dear
Sounds like I won't put that on my list - I also heard bad reports form a freind who had been there 20 years ago and she was very dissapointed in the changes today. Good luck with your further travels. Lynne
19th October 2012

Hi Lynne,
Good hearing from you. Traveling many parts of Asia is wonderful and there are some lovely places in Nepal if you read some of our previous blogs. If you decide to travel to Nepal I would get in and out of Kathmandu quickly. Vietnam, Lao and Cambodia have a lot more to offer for my time and money unless you really want to see Mt. Everest or something specific in Nepal.

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