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Namaste! Initial Impressions Of Kathmandu & Arranged Marriages

(This it Thamel – the area were most tourists stay. It’s lined with stores selling singing bowls, pashminas, jewelry, rugs, and fake Northface gear.)

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.  😛

(I flew right by the Himalayas enroute to Kathmandu. It was a breathtaking glimpse after 2 connections and 33 hours!).

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.

(The hustle and bustle in Kathmandu never ends.)

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.

(A group of monkeys busy picking up scraps.)

(People and livestock…. living harmoniously.)

Tiny stores with even tinier doors.  Random small fires on the street burning garbage.  Vendors selling fruits from old, rusty bikes.

(It’s amazing the amount of stuff they can fit on a bike.)

Rickshaws waiting around for riders.

(A row of rickshaws waiting for customers along Kathmandu Durbur Square.)

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.

(Men are found around the city just sitting around, talking to friends, or sleeping.)

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).

(So much eyeliner!)

The city is smoggy and dusty.

(Small stores are everywhere.)

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.

(Imagine that trash… but all over the city!)

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.

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Trevor - May 9, 2013 - 9:35 am

Sounds like an amazing trip already. Can’t wait to see/hear more.
And great pic of the monkeys! At first I thought they were braiding each others’ tails. =)

Just Wanderlust - May 9, 2013 - 5:37 pm

hey T-Rev! The trip is just getting started but so much as happened already… will be updating soon.

Mark - May 11, 2013 - 3:52 pm

glad to hear you made it there alive!

the idea of the man providing for the family and the idea that men just sit around, all the time doesn’t quite compute for me. 😉

have a great time! keep updating!

Just Wanderlust - May 12, 2013 - 12:35 am

Mark – I agree. I think that can be explained by the sheer number of people here. With as many people as they have crowded into a small space, there will be some men that are just lounging around on the streets and others are working, I’m sure… that said, I’ve yet to see any woman lounging!

[…] […]

Madhab - August 1, 2015 - 10:00 am

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