Namaste from Kathmandu, Nepal

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Kathmandu, a name derived from three other words, Chaotic, Manmade, and Dump. China’s little neighbour yet a solar system away from China’s hitech super cities, Kathmandu is a mixture of deep cultures surrounded by complete chaos.

We arrived early morning after a 6 hour mosquito filled layover in Delhi, flying into a small dull airport. The flight in was beautiful as it provided stunning views of the Himalyan range, snow peaks towering the horizon. Taxi touts are of course the first introduction to the people. We manage to get a little ripped off on our way to our hotel, the Elbrus Home in the Thamel district of Kathmandu. Thamel itself, especially our street is a chore. No paving slabs to speak of, the dusty roads are lined with broken concrete, bricks, rocks and rubbish. Traffic manages to flow at a frightening speed through the district’s narrow veins while tourists and locals alike avoid losing elbows to wing mirrors. The shop fronts either side if the street are dark and dingy, completely dust ridden tables of produce, like a row of derelict spaces being used as mini markets. Butcher shops look like coal sheds, black and dirty, chopping warm meat on large wooden chopping boards under one pale grey energy saving light bulb while flies enjoy the free meat. Kathmandu, as well as a lot of Nepal, have to endure ‘load shedding’. A term that I believe simply means blackout. Constant programmed power outages happen multiple times a day, and people just have to put up with it, leaving many businesses working by candlelight or by a small generator lighting even dimmer bulbs. Refrigeration is pretty much nonexistent without the support of generators so we avoided meat where possible. Kathmandu became the place where I discovered the virtues of vegetarianism.

Veronica’s illness took a turn for the worse after our long flight and wait in Delhi so we didn’t get to explore as much as we would have liked. We will admit at first Kathmandu, as an introduction to Nepal, came as a bit of a culture shock. We have been so conditioned to the oriental way that the sudden change in lifestyle was hard to adjust to, exasperated by illness and complete tiredness. Regardless we still managed to explore a few cool areas within the city.

Firstly we checked out Pashupatinath, a Hindu place of temples and death, connected to the banks of the Ganges river. As the Ganges is considered holy Pashupatinath is where the dead are burnt and ashes float down the Ganges. A huge body of water in India, the Ganges here is more a miserable trickle of dirt, with dull green water. Large cows and buffalo wander along the river bed cooling off in the dirty water while along the banks multiple human bonfires pollute the air with burnt DNA. This supposed world heritage site is a mess, litter everywhere, people hocking and spitting, monkeys ripping open bin bags and beggars shuffling from tourist to tourist. We got a guide to quickly show us around and explain some of the history of the site and the history of Hinduism. Dotted around the place, are the Holy Men, men so devout in their religion that they are in a constant state of enlightenment, painted in ash with elaborate orange and gold facial markings, sitting in Yoga positions and being generally…well…holy. We had heard that there are some that demand money if you photograph them, and apparently may not be legit Holy Men. I asked for some photos and they agreed but they did ask for money, getting like 60p for 6 shots. They asked for more, per person, but I refused walking away with no issue. I suppose they need to keep up the facade that they are ‘Holy’ by not getting angry at tight fisted tourists Later I saw them counting their notes. Disappointing but still providing a great photo opportunity. Fake or not they make an effort.

We made a quick visit to a pharmacy to pick up some medication and later ended our day at Boudanath Square, a huge circular dome shaped Buddhist monument decorated with flags and large eyes overlooking the crowds of people walking its circumference while praying. Again religion is alive and intense, with a few people walking two steps kneeling, lying down and repeating while praying Along the base’s circumference, inset into the walls are hundreds of small spinning barrels engraved with Buddhist scripts. The praying public walk and spin these in order to spread the prayers into the air. Prayer flags flutter above again inscribed with scripts that the wind carries.

Veronica and I got some great seats in a rooftop restaurant with views of the entire square, allowing us to people watch and absorb the atmosphere from a distance. Awesome falafel and beer followed and we made it home before dark followed by a disturbed sleep due to yet again more building site work. That’s the problem with developing countries, they are always in a state of development. Half the time in Kathmandu it’s difficult to tell if the buildings are being built or being ripped down. Rubble is everywhere.

Our next few days followed suit again, visiting a few religious sites and dealing with the general hectic atmosphere. People here are relatively friendly. A mix of Nepali people and Indians, they all coexist without issue, with respect for each other. We often were approached by over friendly locals asking us a lot of questions about us, sounding seemingly interested, that was of course until they then offer you drugs. Declining drugs they offer accommodation. Declining that, bus tickets, taxi services, porter services, guide services coming next. Eventually we begin to ignore their advances in the first place.

One square we visited was home to a Living Goddess, a young 9 year old girl who is worshipped as she apparently the reincarnation of ‘Karie’ (sp) a Hindu Goddess. Having to pay a small fee to enter the building where she stays, a small crowd gathers looking up at a wooden window which eventually opens to reveal the young goddess, indeed a young girl dressed in ornate clothing and gold, with intense eyeliner she stares out at the crowd. Quite a surreal experience but the story of how they become is much more surreal. Speaking with a random people, I gathered that apparently they select multiple girls and subject them to pretty horrific tests. For example, and this may be incorrect because so far it’s currently from word of mouth rather than research, but they have to pass a series of tests where they slaughter live animals in front of her in a room. She must not react to the insanity. Then she has to sleep in the same room with the decapitated animals, again to show strength and endurance. The end of these tests will determine whether or not they have found the new Karie and they live for next few years as a worshipped idol, religiously sitting and revealing her face to her followers. Once her first period arrives then she is denounced and they subject new girls to this same ritual. Ain’t religion great!

That evening, after a few too many beers and gins I decided to get a haircut on our way home as I was looking a little disheveled. I found a random grubby barbers beside our hostel and through broken translation and animated hands, combined with intoxication I managed to leave with my head shaved, which wasn’t the intention at all. Once he understood the word electric razor he set about scalping me leaving me looking like a neo Nazi with a ginger beard. Or as I hoped, a young Walter White. Veronica laughed.

Our final night was again disturbed as we were caught inside a huge storm that was brewing for days. Thunder and lightning cracked overhead, so loud that we jumped and panicked like children during their first storm. The thunder was so close overhead that it vibrated the building sounding like a war had erupted between the Gods. Rain relentlessly gave Kathmandu a much needed wash and our next day, we grabbed an 8 hour bus ride out of Kathmandu towards Pokhara, a much needed escape from crazytown.

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