Cool Kathmandu

My first memory of the word Kathmandu came from a Bob Segar song playing on the radio in 1977.  “I think I’m goin’ to Kat-man-du”  he shouted, I mean sang….I couldn’t have known then that one day I actually would visit Kathmandu many times during a month-long visit to Nepal.

Thamel is a touristy area in Kathmandu, and brick, dirt, and broken pavement form the streets.  The streets seem the right width to handle one-way traffic only, but traffic flows both ways.  Somehow all the bikes, rickshaws, motorcycles, taxi cars, trekkers’ vans and pedestrians share the roads.

As a pedestrian…

I quickly noticed the lack of street signs and so I memorized various buildings and landmarks to learn the lay of the land.  While I’m a lover a maps, sometimes it is simply a richer experience to explore without assistance.   And I’m not sure maps would have been that helpful anyway!

On one street corner I saw a one-hour laundry, and I nicknamed another “the Gurkha knife corner”.  That nickname would later be a mistake because the street vendor who sold the Gurkha knives was not always there! The Barnes and Noble corner was an unfortunate landmark because I prefer to see local, not American, businesses in foreign lands.

It was still daylight when I first saw Old Tibet Road.  Someone told me that people used to just “walk down that road to get to Tibet”, hence the obvious name, but I don’t know if the name was official or not.  Old Tibet Road had hundreds of fantastic shops and street vendors.  Cows, chickens, mangy dogs and dirty children roamed and people hawked colorful spices and beautiful handicrafts.  I knew I would have to return to explore more of the exciting street activity. This place was cool!

When I returned about 8:30 later that night, a mass exodus of vendors was in progress as they were breaking down their stalls and going home for the night.  Such hustle and bustle. The stalls reminded me of trade show booths, each reserved as a space from which to display and sell one’s widgets.  Vendors left trash and food scraps in the road.  Meandering cows ate the cabbage scraps.  Children warmed their hands over a small burning pile of trash in the street.  Streets became dark without street lights.

People were very friendly and I felt very safe, even though it was obvious my friend and I were not Nepalese.   A group of about twenty men, sitting on a small ground level stage area, played musical instruments and sang.  I smiled and gestured with my camera and they readily allowed me to photograph them.  Others volunteered to pose for a picture, and at times beggars or sellers of hashish  followed me.  I learned that by looking them square in the eye, smiling, and saying “Namaste,” they would wander off.

Some buildings that looked like apartments did not have glass in the window openings. Dozens of black telephone and electrical wires hung from balconies and wood or metal poles, and I did my best to not walk underneath them.   I removed my shoes explored an ancient, plain Hindu shrine, where one man removed flowers for the night and another sat cross-legged on the ground and prayed.

Since all the people had scattered and it really was too dark to see much, I wandered into a Nepalese disco at the UPS corner.  I enjoyed a cold “Mt Everest” beer (my favorite) while I watched two costumed dancers and five musicians perform ‘story telling’ on a small stage.  Only men danced, and occasionally a single man would dance alone, with easy, graceful rhythmic swaying.

Back at Hotel Vaishali, the electricity was partially down so I skipped the elevator and climbed three flights to my room.  It had been such an exciting night!  I had spent hours exploring Kathmandu, watching people, glimpsing how they live and simply absorbing the sights and sounds.  My roommate, Maryanne, was glad to see me and wanted to hear all about my cool Kathmandu adventures.  I had much to share.

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