After a grueling 33 hours, I made it in one piece to Kathmandu, Nepal. Prior to seeing this place in person, I had no idea what to expect. My only knowledge of Kathmandu was from the show “Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego?” Apparently, Carmen San Diego was always jetting around the world and more often than not, with a stop in Kathmandu. 😛
Given my lack of expectations, I was shocked to a find city unlike any other city I’ve ever seen. EVER. In fact, it took me a few days to even formulate an impression… and honestly, even now I am not sure how best to describe it all. For starters, it’s the year 2070 in Nepal (they have their own calendar) so while they are “57 years ahead of us”, the place is like 200 years behind us – maybe more. The city is a melting pot of people who look Indian and South East Asian and it’s chaotic, crowded, and congested.
There are rolling blackouts in an attempt to conserve electricity. There are tons of cars on the street that move as slow as molasses because there are no traffic lanes, too many cars, and narrow streets. People share the street with monkeys, cows, chickens, and stray dogs.
Tiny stores with even tinier doors. Random small fires on the street burning garbage. Vendors selling fruits from old, rusty bikes.
Rickshaws waiting around for riders.
Tuk tuks and busses crammed with so many people, they are literally spilling out from the open doors. People carrying enormous loads of pots, boxes, and probably the kitchen sink on their backs (where are they going?) – all of whom can walk faster than I can even though I only have a day pack. Men sit idly on street corners and in shops. This is a place where the men are always just sitting around; I don’t get it.
Women, on the other hand, are on the move. They are washing clothes in pans and buckets on the street. They are filling buckets with the water from water spouts. Others are carrying babies (often with bare butts exposed). There are also lots of uniformed school children roaming around in the middle of the day. Girls as young as five are wearing eyeliner around their upper and lower lash lines (presumably to ward off bad spirits).
The city is smoggy and dusty.
There are constant horns honking and birds chirping. It is loud. It is also over 80 degrees and everyone is covered head to toe. It’s a conservative country like that. There are occasional wafts of decaying animals, urine, and smoke. Finally, the most disturbing thing of all, however, is there is trash EVERYWHERE. Empty soft drink bottles, crumpled papers, old water bottles, snack wrappers – you name it – it’s on the street.
The stimulus from the sounds, the cars, the people, the filth – it is a lot to take in. For the first couple of days, Kathmandu gave me ADD and it took a lot of concentration for me to even pay attention to my guide.
My guide, by the way, is super considerate and nice. He called his friend in Immigration for me when I told him that my passport wasn’t stamped when I entered the country and I wasn’t sure if it would be a problem (it’s not). He also treated me to tea the first day and brought me to pick up a replacement charger for my Mac. Incidentally, authorized Apple resellers are selling Mac Pro chargers for $130; I just about collapsed when I got that quote. Damn, Apple products! Given the chaos of the city, I can’t imagine being here without a guide to help maneuver it all as well as to shed light on the culture and living situation. In fact, I’ve learned so much about the culture just chatting with him over lunch… and because I get to essentially “hang out with a Nepali” while I’m here it’s been great to ask him all the questions to help me make sense of everything I see. In case you’re curious, the rampant trash is due to the lack of education in the country – unfortunately, people just don’t know any better. Some other random things I’ve learned while chatting with him:
- The caste system is alive and well in Nepal.
- The dominate religion is Hinduism but there are many Buddhists as well.
- Nepalis do not eat breakfast. They usually eat a meal around 10am, snack in the afternoon, and have dinner.
- The majority of marriages are arranged (he predicts 80% are arranged).
- The divorce rate is super low (he estimates a 2% divorce rate).
While I’m on the topic, the whole concept of arranged marriages fascinates me and this led me to delve into a deeper conversation with him about his own life. He told me that his grandparents (who also had an arranged marriage) didn’t talk for 6 years after the wedding since they didn’t even know each other when they married! There’s also a lack of communication in his own marriage even though he’s been married 15 years. 🙁 Marriage is for reproduction only, and it’s expected that a year or two after you’re married you’ll have children or else everyone will assume something is wrong with the woman or the man. I can’t imagine trying to have babies with someone you barely know! Finally, he mentioned that while growing up, girls learn that their role is to be a homemaker, bear children, cook for the husband, and take care of the kids. Boys, on the other hand, learn at a young age that their role is to be the provider for the family. They should take care of their wife and support the family financially. I don’t have issues with the roles or even the idea of an arranged marriage since I believe every culture has their own way of doing things and there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to do anything, but I was deeply saddened when I asked him if he’s ever even been in love before and he said nonchalantly, “no”. OMG. Really?! I can’t imagine being robbed of that! The ability to love deeply is one of life’s precious experiences. I can look past the chaos in the city and appreciate that life here is so different from what I’m used to and I am taking it all in; I love to travel and part of the reason is for mind-opening experiences like this. But, honestly, after hearing he’ll never know what it’s like to be in love – I think that has been the most shocking thing so far! Mind. Officially. Blown. But in a sad, sad way.