As the plane flow over southern Nepal I was happy to see the peaks of the mountains breaching the clouds. As we approached the city, I could see a few houses sprouting up randomly from the wilderness. Then we approached the urban part of the city and my stomach had a few butterflies to see how under-developed the city was. Houses without roads leading to them, the vast majority of roads still dirtroads, and many unfinished or deteriorating buildings.
Kathmandu’s pollution is trapped inside the valley walls. The city gets very smoky and for this the citizens wear black face masks and scarves. These face masks resemble the Japanese masks, but in Kathmandu they are a necessity more than a formality. The air in the urban center has a respiratory syndrome named after it… Cough cough (I’m fine)
Something curious about being in a valley is that leaves from high on the mountain can blow through the air. Traveling kilometers before finally hitting the ground.
When I first hit the runway, I was greeted with broken plane shells and a large UN aid cargo plane. I wonder these will be waiting for me at every underdeveloped airport.
The border security was an old man, who needs new glasses, a large book, and a sheet of passport stickers. After paying the senior 100$ to enter he gave me a sticker to put in my stamp and sticker book.
I exited the airport immediately, because basically the border was almost the front door. I came across a mobile phone stand outside of the airport and I sat with the workers there for two hours. They were really friendly and excellent at English. They fixed up my sim card and talked with me. They even brought me behind the counter and I sat with them like I worked there.
Nepal has a really interesting way of topping up phones. In Nepal phone credit is sold on scratch off cards with concealed codes. These cards can be carried to very very remote places and sold by 3rd, 4th, and 5th parties. The mobile phone company doesn’t need to accept direct payment. This system works well for a country with a remote population, no credit cards, and a ‘difficult’ postal system
India had an interesting system as well. In India, one had to visit a registered dealer and pay the dealer cash, who would then pay the company. This worked well because almost anyone could become a dealer and this system circumvented the impossibility of Indian billing addresses. In New India the people all topped up with their credit cards. There are two Indias
Sitting with the phone guys I learned a few interesting things. First one being that there are only three universities in Nepal. Almost all three are in Kathmandu. The educational development of this country has a long long way to go.
The second lesson was that although Indian currency, of which my pockets were bursting, is accepted in Nepal. The 500 Rs notes are not accepted. The number of counterfeit 500Rs bills is so high In Nepal that they are banned. So here I am with 18,000 useless rupees. Damn… (Later on, I was able to exchange the rupees with a man in the tourist center of the city. )
The mobile phone guys watched as Nepal played its first game in the Cricket World Cup. Thank goodness I had watched the World Cup in India the night before and was able to banter a bit with them.
Then my friend Radha ji appeared. He looked happy and healthy. he was all smiles and cheer. He welcomed me to Nepal and we rode a taxi to his home. It was wonderful to be greeted a friend and treated like a friend.
The streets were dark because the power was out. In Kathmandu the power is out 50% of the time. There where also a bunch of idle unemployed young men. These are the type of bored and curious people who might one day make trouble for me. Let’s see…
We left the pavement and bumped along steep, rocky, dirt roads. I had never seen such bad roads before. Even in the mountains of India the roads were better then this. I couldn’t believe that our little 80s Suzuki taxi’s tires weren’t popped. We drove over sharp rocks and deep pits. Namaste Nepali roads…Namaste
We arrived at Radha’s beautiful house. Radha’s home is very nice. It is a three story house with hot water, beautiful bathrooms, brand new electrical outlets, a back up power generator (only for lights). A beautiful stove, sofas, cable TV. He has a brand new motor bike, a gate, a garden, two large porchs, computers, and all sorts of great things. His house is much nicer than my beloved bachelor pad in Bangalore. It even has a hot water standing shower! I haven’t showered in a month!
I reattahed my jaw after taking the tour of his home. Then I met his extended family. There were eleven people in his home that night. They had come to visit a man who was receiving medical treatment at a nearby hospital and staying with Radha ji.
Radha’s wife, Manu didi, was very kind. She doesn’t speak English, but she is very kind to me and she smiles. Radha’s daughter Ashma is very very good at English. She is better than her father and he lived in America for many years. She also likes American pop music. I over heard her singing T. Swift when she thought I was out of earshot. She is very friendly and I am certain that we will get along well.
The first night I slept very well. The next day after another delightfully pickled and sour Nepali meal, Radhaji and I went for the tourist area. Just before going to the tourist area we stopped at a public school and spoke with the head master about me helping out there.
There was a two day general strike. Nepal is almost a majority communist parliamentry democracy so strikes are very common. So we went by Nepali Auto, which is an enormous and haphazard version of the Indian auto. It seats eight people and more cling to the back and ontop. The people in the auto pass there money to each other and eventually to the driver.
The tourist area was a bit more developed than the gravel roads and dust present on every other street. We toured the old palaces and temples of Durbar Square. We met with Radha ji’s best friend, Padam ji.
Then we went home by auto. There is really no functional centeral transit system in Kathmandu. The micro-buses and autos are operated by ambitious citizens with an announced route. There is a bus system, but it is on strike and not suited for the expanding city. So even though we took an auto we still had to walk for an hour before we reached his home.
We walk in the dark without street lights and without electric light coming from the nearby houses. We walk over and under steep hills. The power is out most of the time, but the people are accustom to it. Bathrooms have candles and gas ovens still work.
The next day I awoke to learn that Radha had gone five hours away to a village to attend a funeral pyre. In Nepal a funeral is the witnessing of the body burning beside a river bank.
Since Radha ji was out I spent the morning with Ashma and her cousins. They taught me Nepali and we played games like the ” cup game” and ” boom snap clap”. It’s fun to introduce these games to new people.
Then Padam ji arrived and took me by motorbike to another school 30 min drive from the house. It was fun to buzz around smokey Kathmandu in a formal shirt and pants. When we arrived at the school I met with the principal. Every educated person in Nepal speaks great English.
The principal offered me to live in the boys hostel and be fed by the school. However, that would come with a curfew and isolate me from Radhaji’s family. I like the school very much and I appreciate the offer by I think I would prefer to live with Radha ji.
Padam ji and I sat in his home to wait out rain before biking to Radhaji’s house. Padam ji is an industrious man who exports his wife’s handicrafts to Europe,USA, and Japan. He works in rural France as an apple picker for part of the year, does real estate development, and even guides mountain trekks. It’s amazing to the see the variety of things a person has to do just make ends meet.
In America if you work for one hour even at minium wage you can eat a meal with meat. Nepal you have to work for a whole day to afford even a simple meal with meat. Sometimes some of the realities of Nepal gets be a bit down when Radha ji, who I admire so much, tells me in confidence.
Transport is so underdeveloped that I had to walk thirty mintues even after taking Padam’s bike. So nowadays I’m trekking Kathmandu. The air is just OK. Kathmandu is a valley so it traps the pollution inside. Also this is the dry season so rain is infrequent and black smoke is everywhere from home fires, homemade automobiles, and regular cars. I guess this is what 1800’s industrial air was like in London.
When I arrived home, I talked with the family in broken Nepali and I taught the girls Uno. I carry those card everywhere. There are about ten people saying in the home this week, so it is very lively. Also the general strike is still going on so Asma’s school has been postponed.
The girls invited me to a carnival on Saturday. I’m excitied to see what that will have in store. The power has been out all day and my phone was near death. I keep my phone plugged onto the outlet, encase power comes back when I’m out or asleep.
As I sleeping the lights came back on around midnight. I took the opportunity to post photos. Then when I woke up the power was out again. Now it is Friday morning. There is no water now, because with the power out the pumps don’t work. There is still some water but it is carried around the house in buckets.
Today, I will walk more around the village and visit a monastery, Radha ji will take me to a Monkey Temple. continue to negotiate with the schools and explore. From now on I will call Radhaji by his nickname Shiam.
When I got off the plane in Kathmandu, there was a sign in English that read, ” things take time in Nepal, chill out”. We all live by this mantra here.