Thursday, July 28, 2011

KathmanDON'T

We've liked just about every city we've visited on the GT, even ones that other travelers had told us weren't so great.  CairoDelhiBangkok.  All of them good places.

But try as we might, we just couldn't learn to love Kathmandu.

I had always been intrigued by Kathmandu.  It seemed like such a fantastical place, so exotic, almost fake - the city you refer to when describing a place as being really, really, crazily far away.

But Kathmandu was just gross.  It was dirty, it was grey, it was rainy.  The power cuts somehow seemed so much worse than they did in Pokhara (in Kathmandu, as in most of Nepal, there were only two 4-hour blocks of power per day).  The tourist neighborhood, Thamel, is a place that has collected everything bad about backpacker/tourist areas (endless stores of junk, relentless touts) and has eliminated everything good (except for the incredibly expensive and delicious coffee at La Dolce Vita. That place saved my sanity).

The drive into Kathmandu is a real foreshadowing of what to expect from the city.  We passed fields of rubble, with smokestacks spewing thick black clouds of pollution into the atmosphere.  On our left, as we rounded a corner approaching the city, was a deep ravine full of twisted, smashed carcasses of buses just like the one in which we were riding.
Wow, I can't wait to breathe that air. 
Crossing an incredibly un-scenic river.
There was a lot of India-ness in the streets - dusty, dirty, filled with garbage, lacking in sidewalks, crammed with cars, trucks, rickshaws and motorbikes.  Maybe it was the weather that made it all seem so much worse.  Or maybe it was the fact that there was no delicious local food to ease the pain.  Either way, take a look at the photos below and decide for yourself!
Street corner.
Typical alleyway
A bright spot of color in otherwise drab surroundings.
I love how her outfit coordinates with her watermelon slice.
Sadly for them, school was open despite the strikes
There were a few charming parts of the city.
Wandering through back alleys, we discovered courtyards accessible by small, dark tunnels.
What is this, a tunnel for ants? 
A quiet alley
A bustling alley
These dogs are so flat!
I can't imagine what its like when they have to bring a piano in.
Not the most appetizing market I've ever been to
I've mentioned the strikes in Nepal a few times.  When we were there, in May, the country was constantly shut down by strikes (here's a BBC News article about it).  There was no working government.  There was no constitution.  The country was days away from running out of fuel.  There were only eight hours of electricity each day, despite "excess" power being sold to India.  People were angry and frustrated with their government and their country, and I think that feeling was palpable.  It was certainly apparent to us, as stores were often closed and private vehicles were banned in the streets.  The newspapers were filled with stories about the upcoming, and laughable, deadline for a new constitution.  A teashop owner slapped a Maoist lawmaker over the failures of the government and it was front page news for days.

Riot police on hand during one of the many strikes that shut down the city
(You'll see that there actually aren't many cars on the roads in these photos.
That's because of the strikes.  On the upside, it made it a lot safer to walk!)

All of this perhaps helps to explain our negativity towards Kathmandu.  The government was a mess, the people were unhappy - and all of that rubbed off on us.  But the next post will be much more upbeat.  Because tucked away in hose dingy alleys are ancient treasures, religious artifacts, and truly impressive temples.  

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