Getting to Kathmandu was quite an adventure. We ended up having an unexpected 14-hour layover in New Delhi, and because of some visa issues, we were not allowed to leave the airport. Fortunately, the airport is very nice and very new:
After sleeping in Delhi, we caught a noon flight to Kathmandu, which takes only an hour and a half. I have been fascinated with Kathmandu since the very second I arrived, as it is intensely different from any place I’ve ever been before. First of all, it’s beautiful: huge green hills surround the entire city, enclosing Kathmandu Valley. Giant clouds roll over the hills constantly. The city definitely has the feel of an underdeveloped place: there are no stop signs or traffic lights, many of the roads are unpaved, auto-rickshaws whir down the streets, and there are temporary power outages. Still, the city feels incredibly safe. Despite all of the warnings from the State Department about Nepal, it seems to be a very warm and welcoming place. It’s certainly intense and hectic, but so far markedly safe. That’s not to say I’m naive; of course there are dangers. But so long as one doesn’t go looking for them, the city feels very safe (this is something that many others who have traveled to Nepal have noticed as well).
Unfortunately, my internet here is not quite strong enough to upload pictures and videos very quickly. So I’ll try to describe the city in words. Just outside my hotel stands the highest Hindu temple in all of Nepal. Surrounded by statues of Ganesh, Vishnu, and Shiva, it has soaring pagoda roofs and cuts a formidable image against the rainy skies. Walking around the city, ones senses are bombarded by the very bright clothing worn by women (saris and pashminas, mainly), the constant smell of incense burning as offerings to the Hindi gods, and the many varieties of street music resonating out from the wood-carved houses and bouncing off the many temples and brick streets. Everywhere I go, people press the hands together and raise them to head level, and say namaste (literally, “I salute the godly in you,” or more colloquially, hello). At every temple, offerings of rice lay next to burning incense. When Hindus make an offering, they ring a bell. So in the mornings, a constant tintinnabulation permeates every inch of the city.
Walking around at night, women weave clothing in wooden carts by candlelight and cook vegetables on coal fires. There are flowers all over the place, as well as masks and statues of Shiva, Krishna, Galuda and Ram. The food is exquisite, and consists of lentils, meats, and copious spices. Every morning I ascend to the restaurant on the roof of my hotel and drink a small pot of the most delicious chai tea of my life (here called masala tea, which means “spice”), as well as freshly-made mango juice.
On the streets, there are motorcycles everywhere. Traffic drives on the left side, like in the United Kingdom, but there are really no street markings, so it’s more or less a free for all. Many people drive three-wheeled cars, with two wheels in the back and one in the front. There are no turn signals; rather, people simply beep their horns whenever they intend to turn.
Yesterday, we traveled into Kathmandu to visit the Shangri-La Home for Children, a Belgian-based NGO which houses 70 children. The NGO sends them all to private school, and teaches them trade skills of their choice. We took a tour of the home, interviewed its director and social workers, interviewed some of the older children who live there, and then played with the children. Once particular child who was about two years old, grabbed my hand, raised his hands above his head and said namaste. So I picked him up and he took me around the house showing me where he plays, pictures of his friends, etc. Then he wanted to show me how he can write the English alphabet.
Here is a group shot of us with the children and the director of the program:
After visiting Shangri-La, we saw a Buddhist stupa, surrounded by prayer wheels, adorned in prayer flags, and with hundreds of Buddhist monks making offerings all around it: