Kathmandu

Kathmandu. How can you describe it? How can I explain what I’ve seen in these last few days in a few short paragraphs? Jesse has been to Cambodia and other countres in SE Asia, and yet he could not compare them to Kathmandu. I have previousy been to India, and would say it’s similar to Kathmandu, though still very different.
In the course of the last few days my adventurous spirit has taken us walking to the furthest Kathmandu corners we could reach.
Our hotel room, perched above the tourist centre of Thamel is a basic room with a small TV, desk, two hard single beds pushed together, and what I would call a toilet/shower/basin combo room.
Outside, the streets of Thamel are slightly more civilisd than others we’ve encountered, mostly filled with young men offering taxi rides and pashminas to sell. On our first day out we ventured onto one of the main roads, Kantipath, and headed west in search of supplies. I saw many Nepalis wearing face masks and we sooned learned why. Streets crowded wih vehicles, dusty, dirty roads, fire smoke and incense caused a choking fog on the sidewalk wherever you went (if you were lucky enough to get a sidewalk). I quickly also bought a mask but the flight had taken it out of me and it was already too late – I have a cold 😦
The further west we went, the more we got out of the tourist areas and into the depths of kathmandu. We began to pass legless beggars, destitute mothers and people and dogs laying listless on the side of the road(were they dead or sleeping?).
Every street was full of buildings, some more decrepit than others, begging the question of whether they were partway through construction or destruction?
The old town was a lively centre of streetside markets where we could see many varieties of vegetables and grain on offer if we found a place to stand long enough wthout being barraged by an onslaught of motorbikes, bicycles, cars and rickshaws vying for a place on the narrow streets.
On our way to dinner the other night, we were stopped in our path by a guard who demanded we pay the US$7.50 fee to pass through the tourist attraction on route to our destination. Not wanting to pay a large fee just to pass through, we took a backstreet down a dirt road where adolescent children were still walking to hammer bricks into the surface of the road. Further along this quiet street we saw a woman throw a bucket of water out a window and children playing with balls and hoops in the streets while they practised their broken English with us “Hello what is your name?”. It was dark by the time we decided to head west back out of the side streets to our destination, and the only light in our pitch black, 4 foot wide alley were the headlights of oncoming motorbikes. As we walked past windows and doorways and disturbed the curtains shrouding them I saw tiny alcoves filled with benches and tables, a gas stove and plates of different vegetable curries and rice. We finally found our destination and had a meal in a smoke filled hookah lounge that blared Nepali music along with Adele and Linkin Park remixes.
Seeing the sights of a new place is always great, but for me, my favourite experience is seeing how people live their daily lives and to connect with them a little bit.
On our second day we visited the historic Newari (traditional Nepali) village of Patan. Once a kingdom of it’s own, it had now merged with the urban sprawl of Kathmandu. After seeing many temples and stupas we eventually found ourselves off the beaten tourist path where Nepalis stood to stare a little longer and children began to be interested in our presence. ‘Hello, what is your name’ a brave little girl asked as her friends giggled around her. ‘My name is Cara, what’s yours?’ We were a little lost, so I asked her where our next point of call the Kumbeshwar temple was, and she pointed us bacl in the direction we had come. We said thank you and she and her friends ran giggling off to the childrens park.
It felt so nice to get out of the intense city scene of Kathmandu, where tourists are just another part of life for the Nepali peoplethere, and feel like we could connect on a more shared human level. I had a familiar self-consciousness, that I had experienced in India when as a naive 17 year old I visited a family in the slums of Delhi dressed in a pink, silk Indian outfit – I couldn’t have got more attention. I was so humbled and almost embarrassed for what I had, I wanted to communicate with them, understand what they thought.
Now I was the outsider.
I still want to connect more with the people – I think it would take a heart of stone to not be moved by some of the sights of Kathmandu. But when you want to help or volunteer you have to be careful, firstly that you don’t get scammed by a counterfeit aid organisation and do more harm than good, and secondly that you don’t disrespect an ancient, noble culture. All we can do now is be here, continue to learn about this nation, and keep our hearts and eyes open for opportunities to help.

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