Today, after a horrible day travelling to the capital on roads best suited for animals and hybrid bikes, we woke in Kathmandu, feeling irritated that neither of my roommates had closed either the door or the curtains before going to bed. Consequentially, today I’ve been discovering insect bites from across my skin as well as bemoaning my lack of sleep thanks to the sun. But anyhow, enough about me.
After a truly bizarre and unpleasant breakfast of boiled egg, undercooked rice, fruit muesli and hot milk, we set out for a proper day of exploring this city. This began with a walking tour led by John Male, courtesy of Lonely Planet, and during this time, we split to explore the city’s temples and to begin haggling with locals, at times reluctantly. Despite, negotiating the price of a travel chess set from $30 to $2, there was to be no purchase. In fact, the only purchases made in the morning were those allowing access to the royal palace, which whilst not worth the 1000 rupees, provided money to help with the rebuilding of many of the famous temples following the Earthquake of 2015. Across the city, there is constant building work but it is unclear whether each project is a reparation project or a new build. Perhaps this best demonstrates the devastation and damage the Earthquake caused.
At a glance, Kathmandu appears damned. Damned by its geographic location, bordering a largely inhospitable mountain range and lying in a tectonic plate boundary – therefore setting itself up for natural disasters in the future. Damned also structurally. Such has been the rapid globalisation and industrialisation of the region, the city has rapidly built on top of itself and is sprawling with people. People whose living conditions, without severe structural overhaul, will continue to be below the poverty line as they scramble to survive in one of the most polluted cities in the world (after two days, mucus turned black). Such overhaul appears unlikely without external investment due to smaller government budgets.
However, there is far more to see in Kathmandu than what can be seen at a glance. The city is only as strong as it’s people and it’s people are what keeps this city moving. On a small and large scale, there appears to be an in-built pragmatism in the conscience of locals. When roads fail them and lanes vanish, residents self police their flow of traffic and order of business. When an Earthquake causes impossible amounts of damage and despair, it is the residents who work to rebuild the city and temples before international aid and political statements come near. Environmentally there are short and long term concerns and rightly so but the residents have prepared and frequently don face masks to protect themselves from the worst of the air. Bicycles and rickshaws also make up a significant proportion of transport modes alongside the famously packed buses. Vehicle free streets are also being predominantly maintained
This afternoon, as we returned to Thamel, the city’s commercial district, sellers were friendly and good natured. As we hunted down gifts for families and/or self, at no point did we feel threatened or in danger despite the mania of the roads and the unknown of a third world city.
There is a lot to be said for Kathmandu’s people and a lot of that is positive. The biggest hope for it’s future is the long term structural investment to improve the city’s connectivity and reduced pollution, as well as Mother Nature looking more kindly upon it.
As for the rest of this evening, it was our last night before departure so Pizza seemed appropriate. My evening was spent accompanied with Hayley M, Cranberry juice and conversation which could turn hypersensitive to hysterical at the flick of a switch without fear of judgement of what either one of us said. It was an enjoyable evening, aided by good food which lacked both the devil’s vegetable and cauliflower – which has been a bizarre addition to recent pizzas.
Tomorrow sees us travel so who knows when I will conclude these diary entries and then publish them. Anyhow, if these articles have been as engaging as tonight’s conversation, then I must’ve been doing something right.