Despite not having my luggage with me when I arrived at Kathmandu, I had a face mask handy. My friends, who have been here before, advised me to get one, as the air in the city is very dusty and polluted. I was nicely surprised— the air was not as dusty as I expected, compared to my experience with other cities in the world. But as we drove into the city, I still felt the need to protect my lungs from the car exhaust.
In Kathmandu, cars drive on the left side of the road like in Britain. Some main streets are divided in the center, but in general, there is no concept of driving lanes. Most “roads” on the map are just as wide as the lanes in old Beijing, barely allowing one car to pass, while sidewalks are crowded with street vendors.
Walking on the street is an adventure in itself!! The streets are unevenly paved, and not only do you have to watch where you step— avoiding all kinds of obstacles such as junk, fallen wires, trash, and stray dogs— you also have to keep an eye out for numerous cars and motor bikes that surprise you from all directions.
Taking in the sights
While I was in the car, traveling to the hotel, I told myself: don’t risk my climb with any sightseeing tours in the city. Traffic looked scary, and the air quality was poor. But the next morning, when I woke up early and took a walk before the city really woke up, I found the air bearable. With some care and courage, I even managed to walk down the streets and cross the roads! Soon, I found it comfortable to walk across the city to visit those popular sites. Though street signs are hard to find, it’s not so hard to navigate the maze of narrow roads that appeared so daunting before.
The tourist areas, such as Thamel and Durbar Square, are crowded with shops, street vendors, and pedestrians, both local and tourists. But in other areas such as Patan, I enjoyed walking down the almost empty street where only locals live. Peacefully performing their daily routines— collecting water from a fountain, washing clothes, or just worshipping.
Religion is an important part of life here. There are temples everywhere! What’s great is that different religions coexist harmoniously. You can see people worshipping or praying everywhere throughout the day, and many are waiting in line at temple with a plate of nice offerings such as bananas and flowers. Nepal is also ethnically more diverse than I thought. You can see different nationalities— Indians, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese— all mixing well together.
Another interesting thing about Kathmandu is electricity. Almost every hotel has its own power generator, because the government regulates electricity so that only the hotels get power during the evening/night. That’s why when you walk down the street, you often find shop owners using headlights during the day in their shops!