Our flight from Dubai took us over Pakistan and then India toward Nepal. We began our parallel run with the Himalayan mountains on the same longitude with Delhi with first glimpses of snow-capped peaks at eye level all the way until our final descent into Kathmandu.
As we flew over the Nepal border with 250 miles to go, the sheer volume and ruggedness of the range was closer and evident. The morning sunrise cast a glow on the eastern slopes, setting up a sharp contrast to the shadows and ridges of the steep peaks.
“Namaste and Welcome to Nepal” said the airport sign.
We drove through the streets of Kathmandu in a luxury tourist van. While it was crowded and busy, at first glance, it doesn’t look as populated as India. There was a cross section of attire on the streets running from saris to jeans to tons of motorcycle leathers. Plenty of activity – shop owners cleaning or touting or bored sitting on the steps w their phones; buyers walking briskly from and to points unknown stopping only for essentials; mopeds and cycles weaving and bobbing through unpredictable traffic. It was the essence of a developing world passing before us and we soaked up every image learning quickly as we drove.
It seems a drive anywhere takes more than a half hour due to construction. Having just elected governments for the first time in twenty years, the country is making up for lost time with investments in infrastructure. We notice that even though two lanes turn into six everywhere we go, traffic is almost always moving. We haven’t seen any traffic lights. Roundabouts are everywhere and sometimes, in very large intersections, there is a uniformed cop quickly directing movement.
Traffic consists of almost everything imaginable from “tourist busses” (like ours), pedicabs, bikes, cycles, mopeds, cars, trucks big and small. I have yet to see donkeys or hand pulled carriages but it’s not out of the question.
We learned the construction dust combined with street-level exhaust never escapes over the surrounding mountains during the night and settles back on the valley in a dust cloud just as free-flowing traffic begins to stir it up. There were many sweeping sidewalks and doorstops in an attempt to begin the day with a clean hearth. Many were headed to work jumping on vanpools that would pull up to the curb, slide the door open with folks in and out quickly while never really stopping before the door slides shut again.
During a lunch reception, we have a 180-degree view of the roofs of Kathmandu looking east toward the airport approach and south toward Patan. We voyeuristically snapped pics of laundry day and rooftop gardens. Most buildings are four or five stories high with heat-generating kitchens and gathering spaces on the top floors taking advantage of breezes and views. Life unfolds on the roofs of Kathmandu.
Tourists were piled up with backpacks waiting for larger “tourist buses” outside hotels to take them to places unknown. Bicycles and mopeds leaned precipitously on buildings waiting to be boarded. We walked past a group of young people practicing tai chi in a school playground yard, multiple small shop stalls opening the doors and preparing for the day of sales, old and new, school children and older women carrying baskets of eggs and other provisions.
By the time the sun had set I was sipping a local Ghorka beer as strong as the honored soldiers for which it is named. Somehow the chameleon on the ceiling of this open-air pavilion high above the City is comforting. I share this quiet moment with a harmless being – the only other witness to the quiet descending.