Kathmandu, Nepal is the capital of Nepal and its largest city with a population of about one million residents, although the entire surrounding Kathmandu District has a population of closer to two million (the total population of Nepal if about 28 million). Kathmandu is a big, sprawling, noisy, dusty city of low buildings with continual bustling traffic of bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, taxis, cars, buses, and trucks on the streets, and endless streams of people walking on both sides of the roads. Nothing can quite prepare one for the chaos that is Kathmandu. Located in a bowl-shaped valley, it is also one of the more polluted cities in the world with dust, smog and other particulate matter in the air—many people wear surgical type masks daily for this reason—along with bad water. The place is dirty; trash is strewn everywhere. Electricity is rationed and there are daily blackouts. Despite all this, Kathmandu is strangely stimulating city and rich in sensory experience.
The Kathmandu airport is where most visitors first arrive in Nepal, and navigating one’s way out of the airport is one of the first signs that “You are no longer in Kansas, Dorothy.”
Most tourists opt to stay in Thamel, the city’s main tourist district, which is a warren of narrow streets and alleyways lined with guest houses (hotels), restaurants, and tiny shops. The shops are generally are about twelve feet in width, consisting of a corrugated metal door that is rolled open in the morning and closed at night. Because so many tourists come to Nepal to go trekking, in Thamel there are a plethora of shops selling trekking gear, generally all the same exact items. Most are cheaply made and many are knock-offs of major international brands with prominent labels such as North Face (commonly called “North Farce” in Thamel) and Columbia.
The Nepali currency is the Nepali rupee. At the current time one US dollar equals about 103 Nepali rupees. Except for the totally naïve, bargaining is expected on any purchase except for food items. A taxi ride from the airport which is initially quoted at 800 rupees can be obtained for 500 or less. A supposedly authentic Ghurka knife, which was offered at the equivalent of $55, I eventually obtained for about $15 and probably still paid too much. A t-shirt costs the equivalent of about $3.50.
But what strikes one about Nepal is the severe poverty and the hardship with which people struggle each day to survive, to scrape out a living each and every day, particularly once you get out of the Thamel area of the city. Needless to say, we are so blessed in the United States and take so much for granted; so many people in the world couldn’t even fathom having a fraction of all that we have and to live in the relative luxury in which we live. A woman like someone’s aged grandmother makes her way down the street carrying a huge heavy basket of papayas on her back hoping to sell one for the equivalent of 30 cents. A shopkeeper sits in front of a tiny storefront selling a few pots and pans and a stack of plastic buckets. Another tiny store sells zippers and buttons. And despite all this, everyone seems fairly happy and content. They just get on with it.
Kathmandu is also home to countless religious shrines and temples. Unfortunately, many of these were severely damaged or destroyed by the 2015 earthquake.
Here are a number of photos of Kathmandu in no particular order showing a tiny fraction of this interesting city.
All photos by the author.