I would have sum up my first day walking around the streets of old Kathmandu as being horribly depressing in terms of the destructive force of nature in wiping out a great city’s culture. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
I arrived fairly early in the morning from the airport, so after a quick shower and some food and tea in the garden, I had plenty of time to explore the city. I can now see how this city holds 2.5 million people, though it still has a small town feel. I’ve have seen a number of larger buildings at this point, especially in the older part of the city and even some traffic signals (not working) and several pedestrian signals (only one of six I saw was working, but was also thoroughly ignored by motorists).
Which leads me to the traffic situation in this city. The driving is frankly pretty crazy; in my first hours walking, I was sure that there was a good 20% chance that I would get hit by a car or motorcycle during my stay in Kathmandu. However, by watching other pedestrians, I quickly learned that motorists do pay great attention not to hit a pedestrian (unlike like Mexico City where the drivers seem totally unconcerned). As such, my chosen technique for crossing the road now is to crowd behind groups of people who are also crossing, otherwise known as the if-I-get-hit-by-a-car-I’m-not-dying-alone technique.
Good luck crossing that:
I headed down to the old part of the city to check out Durbar Square where they have (well, had) the most impressive temples and shrines of the city. Along the way I encountered a bunch of really neat narrow streets lined with shops. The slightly annoying thing being that even in the narrow roads, cars and motorcycles pour through, blarring their horns as they go along. In fact it seems to me that horns are used as a preventative measure to warn pedestriants that the vehicles are coming.
Some additional shots of the main streets so that you get a feel for the contrast:
These are some shots of the narrow streets in the old city:
This is a neat little mall I ran into with an interesting metal staircase:
And now we get to the depressing stuff. I frankly think the next two pictures sum it all up. The first picture is a photograph of what this particular temple looked like:
And this is what the same temple looks like since the earthquake in April:
What is worse is that at the time of the earthquake, there were hundreds of people in the area because someone had organized a blood drive that day. 90 people were killed and buried under the rubble of that one ruin alone.
Sadly, many of the temples were completely destroyed and most were damaged. The pagoda below used to be a three level pagoda. The wood that you see piled along the bottom isn’t stray wood, it’s the remains of the third level which totally collapsed during the earthquake:
Yet another damaged temple:
Those cracks and support beams are all post-earthquake:
Yet more trashed pieces of heritage:
That being said, what remains is still mind-blowingly impressive:
One of the most interesting parts of the visit was going to Kumari Ghar. That is the palace within Durbar Square where an eight year old girl lives and is worshipped as a goddess:
My guide righly called the practice a form of live human sacrifice. That is because, under the tradition, the little girl is worshipped as a living goddess, but only up until she first menstruates, at which point she is deemed to revert back to entirely human form. And it is believed that if she does not marry prior to the age of 18, it is terrible luck to marry her at that point, and potentially lethal for her groom.
Some additional random shots around the city:
Navigating around the city is pretty difficult. For one, there are very few street signs and those which are present are mostly not in the Roman alphabet making them impossible to understand. Even if you use a map, if you rely on landmarks in any way, it’s very easy to get confused because there is an (unmarked) shrine or temple every second block so it’s easy to think that the landmark referenced on your map is some random minor landmark along the way. My advice would be to bring your cell phone along and use the GPS.
Another undamaged temple:
I finished the night up at a neat little restaurant that is hidden away called Or2k. They serve all sorts of food, but the highlight is really the compfortable seating. This is a shoes off joint with ample cushioning and super low mellow lighting. And as a bonus, it actually has really decent food:
Oh and in the process, I tried out a beer brewed in Nepal for the first time. Great label, decent beer: