Its been a week since we’ve returned from the trek and since I’ve written. After a day in Pokhara, we took a “microbus” (a large van in the US) to Kathmandu. Microbuses generally take 4-5 hours (since they don’t stop), but our trip lasted 9 hours thanks to tons of traffic. It was a bad start to our stay in Kathmandu.
As much as I looked forward to this city, I’m pretty disappointed. That kind of sums up my feelings about Nepal too, minus the trek. But Joylani points out to me that we came to Nepal to trek and that experience far exceeded our expectations. And for that I’m grateful and happy. On the other hand, Kathmandu has greatly fallen short of my expectations. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Istanbul was an incredible city, so I assumed that perhaps the other end of the so-called “Hippie Overland Trail,” of 60’s and 70’s fame, would be equally enthralling. Instead, I found one of the most polluted and touristy places I’ve ever been. Although relatively small with only 750,000 inhabitants, it was one of the most polluted cities I’ve ever visited. The fumes from traffic-choked alleys and constant road construction left me consistently coughing and nauseous. The other thing was that its overly touristy. I’m not just referring to the tourist district of Thamel, but the entire city. The main attraction in town is Durbar Square, a collection of buildings several hundred years old set in the middle of the city. Despite being a major thoroughfare and a public square for Nepalis, foreigners are charged to enter or even transit through the square. Not to see anything, just to be in the square. I was trying to imagine tourist police patrolling for foreigners in NY’s Times Square or SF’s Union Square, trying to make them pay. We were also asked to pay at the nicknamed “Monkey Temple,” despite the fact that it’s a religious site and Nepali’s can enter freely. Not only that, but the temple was filled with stalls selling the same junk you can buy in town. Even walking around in non-touristy areas, we couldn’t even buy fruit as Joylani was quoted ridiculous prices (higher than the US even). I don’t mind paying or paying a little more than locals, but Nepal’s really rubbed us both the wrong way. Why should we pay to transit through a public space? Why should we pay ten times the regular price for fruit? Why should we pay for things that are free for Nepalis? Again, it’s the seemingly widespread mentality of “lets leech off the foreigners” that bothers me. The thought of ‘lets provide good product/service and profit from it’ is substituted with “the foreigners are coming for the mountains, lets leech off them as much as possible while they’re here.”
touristy Thamel Durbar Square
Durbar SquareI understand bargaining and all that, but lying to us is another thing. People have lied to us about everything from the weight of our laundry to lying about transportation options. We’ve met a few honest people, but the majority of people we’ve dealt with have been dishonest. And some people have been honest with us about some things, but then try to shamelessly rip us off later. We’ve traveled all over the world, both on this trip and previously, and Nepal is the first place where there seems to be so much widespread dishonesty. Nepal has really left a sour taste in my mouth. I usually try to skirt my negative thoughts on places and not to really write too many negative posts, but the preceeding paragraph is a testament to my disappointment. I truly hope that our bad experiences were anomalies and/or that the way we were treated is limited to the few places we visited.
Nepal had its positive aspects too. The trek was amazing. Trekking in Nepal is even worth dealing with all the other crap I’ve just written about. Kathmandu even had its redeeming qualities. Despite having a relatively short history, Kathmandu looks like an old city with lots of old buildings and antiquated (in a good way) architecture and artwork. Going back to my Istanbul allusion, Istanbul has about 1500 years on Kathmandu as a major city, but Kathmandu looks older is many respects. Lastly, many travelers we’ve met on this trip have commented on how Nepal is like India, but nicer. I can see what they mean- there’s less litter everywhere, most buildings have toilets, its not as crazy, and people seem pretty friendly. And its touristyness has resulted in plenty of good restaurants offering international fare. Those things have been nice, but I’ll have to end this somewhat negative meandering post by saying I’m not too sad that we’ll be leaving Kathmandu tonight.