Suprises in Kathmandu too…the good kind
April 4, 2017
Surprises in Kathmandu kept sneaking up on us. They were mostly the good kind. We enjoyed shopping for outdoor gear and eating Nepalese food. We saw a Hindu wedding event and toured some interesting locations. Nepal turned out to have more going it than we thought based on our first impressions.
One of the things to do in Kathmandu is shop for Nepal made “North Face” items. I don’t know how they do it, but they are locally made knock-offs that cost little and look pretty authentic. We saw North Face logos and sizing labels for sale in the shops in our street. I bought a rain coat that had 2 pieces of loop velcro on the hood that were sewn onto the same instead of opposite sides of the closure but my tailor lady in Chiang Mai fixed that for me for less than a dollar.
We had no idea what Nepalese food consisted of. I expected lentils and beans which someone had told me they ate in Kathmandu several years ago. What we found was an international food selection. There was wood fired pizza, fine dining, French bakeries, Irish pubs, a New Orleans cafe, and the Cafe with No Name that donated its profits to Nepalese education.
We also ate at the Momo Hut one day. They served traditional food which consisted of momos and Dahl Baht in a Tarkari set. The Momos were like little pork dumplings you would find at home. These were stuffed with a spicy chicken and served with a creamy tomato based chutney and some hot pepper. You can get them steamed, fried, or kothey-which is steamed and fried. They can be filled with other meat like rabbit or buffalo, vegetables or even chocolate in some places.
Dal Baht is rice and a lentil soup Tarkari Set is when they serve these 2 ingredients on a tray along with curried vegetables, some pickle and meat if you want. You eat everything together. The local custom is to eat it with your hands. It is usually served with chapati. Everest, Gorkha, and San Miguel are the local beers.
While preparing to finish our shopping, we heard noise out in our street. We thought it was more horn honking. The big trucks have a horn that plays a sort of tune with a series of notes. I went down to check it out and discovered a band playing outside. There were about 15 men playing drums, trumpets, baritones and 2 clarinets leading the group. They played for about 15 minutes, amidst the traffic of pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, cars and trucks, who were still honking at anything they could see in front of them. The hotel staff said that it was to call out the bride for a wedding ceremony. He said they would be back again later in the day.
I was returning a backpack to our room later in the day, and the band was playing again. They played, then began to move down the street, followed by several women in beautiful red saris, which is the preferred colour as it symbolizes fertility and life. There was also a wedding car decorated with real flowers. I believe the bride was inside. This group didn’t let a narrow street full of loud traffic interfere with their celebration. Cacophony is the only way I can describe it.
The final performance had the band marching back up the street. There were more people behind them and many were dancing as the moved down the street towards us. The groom was walking but I couldn’t tell if the bride was with him, or she got out of the car at a tiny alleyway. About 20 people crowded into this opening between buildings where the ceremony took place. The band played outside in the street. When the ceremony was over, most people entered into the building from the side and most of the band went home. We heard lots of music throughout the evening from our room. What fun to be able to observe this event!
Other Things to Do in Kathmandu
There are several things to see within walking distance of the Thamel district, which is the main tourist area. The Durbar Square-(an opinion link) area has many HIndu temples as well as the Royal Palace. Many buildings in this area suffered damage in the earthquake, but we saw a couple having wedding photos taken in the palace courtyard.
People also stopped to light a candle, leave flower petals or wipe red onto the statue of Bhairav. It represents the destructive side of Vishnu, a Hindu god who is the truth god and was used by city officials as a place where people had to swear to tell the truth. We saw dozens of people stop by to offer a prayer to this statue in Durbar Square.
We spent a quiet morning in the Garden of Dreams. It was developed in the 1920’s by a man who won a game of chance against his father, the prime minister at the time. He used his winnings to buy the land and turn it into a private garden. It was later restored by an Austrian group from 2000-2007 and is now a public park. A beautiful and peaceful surprise in the midst of this dusty and noisy city.
Our last day was spent packing up all our new outdoor gear, then sitting on the stoop watching the world pass by. We saw fruit sellers pushing their bicycles full of oranges, grapes and bananas. The butcher across the street was slicing off chunks of meat from the chunks sitting outside on a table. He tossed them into a balance scale and would adjust the weights on one side or the meat on the other. The yak cheese seller was in her shop. The counter is at street level and the shopkeeper stands below ground. The buyer has to bend down to make purchases. The cheese is covered with a mesh cloth and it is supposed to keep on the counter for 1-2 weeks.
School children were walking arm in arm off to school and includes boys and girls in Nepal. It is a world away from Rocky Mountain House.
Our drive to the airport required masks for the smog and the horrible amount of dust in the air. Although our plane was late leaving, we were above the clouds in time to see Everest and its tallest neighbors pushing up above the fluffy white cumulus clouds. Our last surprise. Except for the fact that Nepal kind of grew on us once we got over the disappointment of not being able to see the sky or the mountains. The people and their energy captured our hearts.
Nepal…to visit or not to visit?
March 23, 2017
Visit to Nepal
Before getting ready to head back to Canada we took a last holiday from our holiday. We decided on Nepal for a few reasons
- Peter had wanted to go there for 40 years.
- It was much less expensive to fly to Kathmandu from Thailand than from Canada
- We needed to leave the country one more time before our visa expired
- Tourism is down in Nepal since the earthquakes 3 years ago. We wanted our tourism dollars to help make a difference.
- We thought it would be a good place to escape the burning season of bad air in Chiang Mai.
Four of the five reasons were good reasons. The last one proved false as the air in Nepal is even more polluted than when we left Thailand. Fortunately, we had bought Vogmasks to filter out the most dangerous particles and wore them most of the time we were away.
Reasons to visit
- The people of this country are happy and kind. They work very hard to make a living. Even before the earthquake though, 1/3 of the economy is from local efforts, 1/3 comes from money sent home by those who leave to make a living, and 1/3 is from tourism.
- There is a wonderful energy here. I am glad we had time in Thailand to have some experience with city living or this might have overwhelmed us.
- Our hotel, The Tibet Peace Inn, was very good value at about $35/night. They could not have been more helpful. They picked us up at the airport, provided a hot breakfast for $3 a day and arranged our itinerary for the time we were there. The manager booked our flight and driver for our trip to fly by Everest. He also booked a driver and hotel for our trip to Pokhara for 2 nights and even let us leave some of our things in our room in Kathmandu when we were gone. And not only that, but they had the best hot, high-pressured shower we have had since we left Canada.
- You can hire a private guide and driver for a whole day of touring the villages near the city for about $80. We had a great day with Ranjan Mishra, our guide.
- You can buy any knock off clothing gear that you want, all made in Nepal. I got a mid-weight down jacket for $20 and waterproof duffel bags for our camping gear for $35.
- We stayed in the Thamel area. It is the tourist area and has lots of restaurants serving food from every country, including Nepal. Local beer is also cheap. $4 for 620 ml.
- The country is primarily Hindu with many Buddhist and some Muslim. They have a strong influence from India which we could see in the women’s dress. Having heard many Hindu stories at Angkor Wat was a big help to understanding the culture here.
- There is a very strong sense of community here. Children hold hands as they walk to school. They play in the streets with whatever they can find. People smile and welcome you. Parents play with their children and laugh with them. I saw lots of dads carrying their children around
Reasons you might not want to visit
- Air quality. It is not only very dusty, but the skies register over 150 ppm of 2.5 micron particles which is above the dangerous level.
- Traffic-There is too much traffic for the roads. There are no traffic lights at all in the Kathmandu valley. Many streets are not paved due to mismanagement or because of the earthquake. These roads are full of holes. If a mudslide occurs in the mountains, the traffic must drive around it. The unpaved roads also result in lots of the dust.
- There are many people who walk here, especially compared to Thailand although are almost no sidewalks in our neighborhood. 40% of traffic fatalities are pedestrians.
- There is not a central government that knows how to help its citizens. Although building techniques must be adhered to when rebuilding homes after the earthquake, money that was promised has not arrived. They dig up roads to add someone to a water line, but don’t replace the road. There are power poles that are half a meter into the road because roads people and and power peope don’t work together.
- Local people we talked to feel that too much of the country’s money goes to corrupt officials. If you want a certificate stating you are a trained plumber, you can just buy one.
- It is hard to see so many poor people living in tents and shelters. Children say to visitors, “Give me a chocolate.” Many people in the smaller villages share a community water well or spigot.
- Garbage is often dumped into the river or pushed down a hill or piled up in a yard. Infrastructure is very limited
- Public school is only free up to grade 5. The children look great in their uniforms of skirts or pants and sweaters with ties, but their education is very much like ours was in the 50’s. Punishment for creativity and very much rote learning with workbooks of homework.
Hope for Nepal
We met a couple of locals who want a better future for Nepal. Our guide wanted to share what he loved about his land, but wants a government that is accountable to the people.
Our driver lived in a village that was mostly destroyed. He left his brother behind to look after their old father and moved to Kathmandu with his and his brother’s children so they could continue to go to school.
A young man running a nightly movie on the upper level of an Irish pub, Cinema under the moon, has many ideas for Nepal. He wants a trades school that is accountable to the employers that the students will have needed skills. He wants to use the hydroelectric power available in Nepal for electric cars and has read up on Elon Musk’s Tesla battery. Depak lets tourists message him on Facebook if they feel they are being taken advantage of by anyone in Kathmandu.
These thinkers make me feel positive. They also get me thinking much more about, “What should I be doing? What is my role as a citizen of the world? We are here for a few more days. I will continue to ponder my responsibility as we see and learn more about Nepal.
I will include some more pictures of the devastation and rebuilding from the earthquake in a travel subheading in the next couple of days , as well as some photos from our flight by Everest. Check back.