Thursday, July 23, 2015

First impressions of a vibrant country: Nepal

Descending into Kathmandu I felt a sense of calm anticipation; a trip to somehow help with the aftermath of the quakes and to connect with this vibrant country. Kathmandu airport is an experience in itself - customs does not really appear to exist and the visa system was one of the most laid back I have ever experienced. We were greeted by our driver outside the airport to take us to Thamel district to the Annapurna guest house where we would spend our first night before heading to Changunarayan. I have come to Nepal with Sam McKenzie of Timaru, and Steve Trevella of Christchurch - both builders who were keen to get involved on some level in helping the Nepali recover from this devastation.

Driving from the airport I was struck by the smell of damp air and spices while Kathamandu streets showed us the first glimpse of earthquake damage. 

I wake at 5 a.m to roosters calling, birds circling noisily ahead; doves right outside my window cooing; the odd dog bark, car horn and the silent rumble of the city slowly awakening. As I sat at the window watching the clouds gather then go, a man in the house next door drags a stool to his roof top garden and sits to brush his teeth whilst a noisy crow makes its presence felt.

The view out the guest house window is amazing; layers of houses; prayer flags; colour; noises. It's stunning. On the street below three women wash a duvet on the road, which later will hang on a balcony to dry below a line of doves sitting on the eves above.

I see we are surrounded by a myriad of hills and as far as I can see there are brightly coloured buildings which seem to go on for ever. I decided to take a look around the area by the guest house and wander out into the narrow lane where the women wash the cover; they look at me - "Namaste" I offer; they all smile and reply "Namaste" and go back to their scrubbing. Right next door to the guest house a group of men have gathered at a destroyed building. The stench of sewerage is strong as there is a water tap below into which people have dumped rubbish - the smell is putrid. The men start to remove bricks and I watch. One man comes to ask what I am doing in Kathmandu and then tells me about his building and the people in it - all of whom were killed in the April quake that rocked Nepal so severely.

Later we head out onto a busy road in search of food. It is a cacophony of colour, heat, cows, dogs, beautiful wooden doors, people, motorbikes, impossibly narrow streets and cars determined to squeeze down them. 
This is Thamel - buzzing.

I am followed by a street peddler who tries to convince me I will bring him good luck if I buy from him and be his first sale of the day. Thamel is the tourist district and its suffering from the lack of tourists - people desperate to earn a meagre wage from selling their products. It's almost impossible to turn a blind eye and walk away. They haven't seen many foreigners lately and are keen to cajole us into  anything they can including one man who thinks I should buy a wooden flute, and another who has a wire game that I also must have - apparently.

The area is incredible - it has a fantastic vibe and is well worth a visit, but tourist prices prevail so being prepared to negotiate a fair price is an important part of of doing business here. I could have stayed there all day just walking around but Changunarayan was calling and actually it was sweet relief to get away from the bustle of Kathmandu.

1 comment:

  1. So glad you are enjoying Kathmandu, Changunarayan and Nepal. You are such a wonderful help for my neighbors. They've received so little since the quake; a blanket, a sheet of aluminum, some rice and a tarp.

    I'm so grateful for all you are doing for Nepal. I'll be posting this article on my blog at