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I VISIT KATHMANDU, NEPAL

visit Kathmandu- Temples- nepal

I VISIT KATHMANDU, NEPAL

Kathmandu is a unique, extremely interesting, exotic old city. It’s what I imagine a medieval city to be like, however close or far from the truth my imagination is?  Kathmandu is almost entirely red brick: the streets, buildings, numerous city squares, temples.  All brick.

At the time of my visit, I’d been living/ traveling through Asia for over 10 years but had never encountered a brick city before. That made Kathmandu quite exotic. Streets are narrow and lined with 3-4 story brick buildings, all built butt-up against each other. Essentially, a Kathmandu city block consists of one long un-separated building lining each side of the street.

Kathmandu temple

Kathmandu temple

The city is quite hilly. Roads are in fairly poor condition, marred by hundreds of potholes and rubble. (Though as I discovered later, they’re in great condition compared to roads outside Kathmandu!)  Overall, the city is in a state of serious disrepair.  Everywhere there’s rubble, dilapidated buildings, broken-up sidewalks and disheveled roads. It’s all quite dirty and messy. (especially from my perspective of having recently spent 3 months in Japan, the ‘sparkling-clean-country of the world’)  Kathmandu’s disrepair, rubble, debri, and mess is one thing that ‘put me off’ of Kathmandu. I much prefer clean, truth be told.

Boudhanath Stupa plaza- Kathmandu

Boudhanath Stupa plaza- Kathmandu

On the other hand, Kathmandu presented many intriguing cultural elements: Indian culture, Hinduism, and a large Tibetan community. Kathmandu’s mix of cultures render it entirely different from the countries of SE Asia that I’d been traveling through, most of which are Buddhist. A few countries are Muslim, except Bali, Indonesia, which has its own unique form of Hinduism.

In Kathmandu the people look Indian or Tibetan, are generally darker skinned, and dress in traditional Indian or Tibetan clothing. Their faces, skin tones, clothes, jewelry, decorations, make-up and mannerisms are all different from what I’d grown accustomed to in SE Asia and Japan.  Aside from my visit to Myanmar, which has some Indian influence, Kathmandu was my first venture to a predominantly Indian culture.

Indian food

assortment of Indian curries

Food is also different.  Indian food dominates, but some Nepali and Tibetan restaurants are scattered around. Thamel, the main tourist area, is full of foreign restaurants: Italian, general Western, Mexican, Thai, and Japanese. However, that is not the norm in most parts of the city or the rest of Nepal. During my month-long visit, I enjoyed eating mainly Indian and Nepali food, as my custom is to live on local foods of whichever country I’m visiting.

Tibetan painting

Tibetan painting

Kathmandu is packed with interesting shops, selling all sorts of amazing merchandise. First are the numerous shops selling Indian wares: saris, traditional men’s clothing, Indian music, incenses, kitchenware, temple accessories, and gazoodles of toiletries, including soaps, make-up, hair accessories, bindhis, oils and body lotions, hair products and skin products.

There are also loads of Tibetan shops selling beautiful, exquisitely-crafted Tibetan paintings, banners, prayer flags, mandalas ( spiritual paintings), embroidered bags, clothes, prayer bowls, brass ornaments, an amazing array of musical instruments, an equally vast array of religious ritual implements whose function I don’t understand, books and postcards on Tibet/ Tibet Buddhism and Tibetan music. Finally, some shops sell Nepali goods such as books on Nepal, traditional music cassettes, and the popular wool hats with ‘ears’ that have become famous in cold mountain climbing areas.

Because Kathmandu offers so many amazing products, the city is a big center for European exporters. Buyers go there to pick out large orders of stuff at wholesale prices to ship back to their home countries. In that regard, Kathmandu is much like Chiang Mai, Thailand; Hanoi, Vietnam; and Bali, Indonesia. Because of the huge wholesale ordering, many small ‘factories’ have sprung up in Kathmandu, specializing in making clothes, hats, embroidery-wares, and other merchandise.

Lash hiking Annapurna Circuit

Lash hiking Annapurna Circuit

Besides European exporters, huge numbers of travelers and mountain expeditioners go to Nepal to hike the Himalaya mountains.  Since Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal, all hikers/ trekkers/ expeditioners begin their journey in the city. Thus, Kathmandu is full of mountain climbers and hikers preparing for their treks or recovering from completed journeys, as well as loads of shops selling/ renting hiking gear, offering guides and porters, and selling package trips.

Local musicians practicing in Kathmandu

Local musicians practicing in Kathmandu

When it comes to tourists and travelers, Kathmandu still has a hippy / back-to-nature / peace-and-love / save-the-planet / help-thy-fellow-humans kind of vibe. There are plenty of NGOs based in Kathmandu and scattered around Nepal, helping poor Nepalis with health care and medicines, schools and education, agriculture, and infrastructure. The whole scene is quite different from most travel destinations in SE Asia like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. In SE Asia, most westerners are simply traveling or vacationing, enjoying their time off work or school. In Nepal, many westerners have other missions- trekking expeditions,exports, or volunteer projects .

Sadhu in Kathmandu

Sadhu in Kathmandu

Because of the all the western visitors, Kathmandu has become invaded by super-pesky guides and touts.  Actually, they aren’t so many in number, but wow are they persistent and annoying.  The most numerous touts are trying to organize hiking, trekking, and mountian climbing expeditions. Others are trying to sell white-water rafting trips, trips to Tibet (!) and other ventures around Nepal. Then, of course, there are the usual touts trying to sell merchandise and take tourists shopping.

I don’t know about you, but personally, I prefer to be just left alone. If I need assistance with trekking, I’ll go to the travel agent or hiking guide store. If I want to go shopping, I’ll just walk into the appropriate stores. I suppose most Westerners prefer that? In any event, Kathmandu’s touts were especially hard for me to deal with after just coming from Japan where everyone- thank goodness-  leaves westerners entirely alone.

Aside from Kathmandu’s dilapidated, filthy condition and pesky touts, it’s an extremely intriguing city full of unusual cultures, unique architecture and amazing artwork, handicrafts, and merchandise. I highly recommend a visit during your own world travels.

WHAT”S YOUR PERSPECTIVE?

Have you been to Kathmandu? If so, what did you think of the city?

If not, would  you like to go?

1 comment

1 ping

  1. RUPESH

    m vry fond of hippies & their travellings in search of God lives in the Himalayas,

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    […] My Visit to Kathmandu […]

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