A walk in the streets of Kathmandu is really an experience on its own and overwhelming on the senses. These are our tales and photos from this mystical city.
The roads in the centre of Thamel, which is the main tourist district, are mostly dust roads. This means that, they are either full of dust or full of mud, so trekking shoes already come in handy. These dusty streets are also full of shops. So shop owners dust every piece of merchandise, they have on sale closest to their shop door, everyday! There are prayer flags crisscrossing most of these streets whilst Hindu and Buddhist shrines adorn every corner.
Approaching the outer part of Thamel, there are the more local streets and we found one of these streets particularly fascinating. It was a narrow street, full of Nepali people in their traditional colourful clothing, talking, gesticulating, smiling, laughing and shouting. But, they stopped and looked in awe at the three pale human beings in trousers, totally out of sync with the rest of their world, as they walked by. The street was lined with local shops, selling all sorts of pots and pans, meat, vegetables, underwear, clothes, stationery, fabrics and anything else you can imagine under the sun. At the end of this street there was a small square full of spice shops. These spice shops are a sight in Nepal and for culinary fanatics like us, it is paradise seeing just how many types of spices there can actually be in such a small stand.
Going out of Thamel is where the streets are made of tarmac, traffic is dense, the smell and taste of exhaust clogs your throat whilst the scene changes completely. Rich and poor mix awkwardly with a sense of 'us' and 'them', in a caste system that is struggling to vanish, but is still very visible. We noticed the gaze of upper casts, as they look hastily at untouchables and then move quickly away. One thing we remember, was when crossing one of the busiest roads, Durbar Marg through the overhead passageway. There we saw a boy, maybe two years old, asleep on a piece of cloth, at the side of the road. Hundreds of people were walking by, many making last second brusque movements not to trample all over the baby. The mother (or so we assumed) was at the bottom of the stairs, looking from afar with another girl maybe of four years old, climbing the stairs from the outside. She was holding on to the fragile railing as people walked by, moving their hands away from the railing in an effort not to make her lose her balance, or perhaps to make sure not to touch her. She was looking over the boy, as if to make sure he’s ok or checking if he had earned their food for the day.
At night, streets are very poorly lit and some of them, not lit at all. Life does not die down but the scene changes completely. The darkness gave us a sense of anonymity in a way that was not scary. Walking around, we came across a Hindu procession with a big red statue, but we also came across people standing in derelict buildings sniffing on shoe glue and staring at the void.
Our last recollection of the streets of Kathmandu, was waking up early, strapping on our backpacks and walking in the dark dirt roads of Kathmandu to get to our next destination – Sauraha. As our bus headed out, we saw people’s houses, or should I say two meter by two meter metal boxes, totally engulfed in the fine powder rising up from the street, as buses and trucks went by. People burning things, all sorts of things and rubbish, to keep warm, whilst children all clean and prepared for school get out of the metal boxes. What struck us, was not really the poor state of things, or the shiny Vishnu statues on dashboards, or the loud Nepali music that gets into your head and you have to restrain yourself from either dancing or freaking out. What struck us most was that despite all this, all people were smiling and chanting "Namaste" in a way that demonstrates genuine care for each other.
The streets of Kathmandu are a concoction of bitter and sweet, tourists and locals, of happiness and sadness, smells of exhaust and of spices, and of a society that is making its best to move on from the difficulties that the Earthquake of 2015 has brought on. Read more about our adventure in Kathmandu in our article Landmarks of Kathmandu.