navigating nepal

Kathmandu might be the “real deal” of urban Asia, with heat, pollution, and poverty, but I can’t help but observe that the city defies both logic and reality. Or is this reality? Here’s why, with varying degrees of detail (I hope to elaborate a bit in the next few days as I continue to adjust):

-Unfathomable traffic jams: in a narrow alleyway, I clung helplessly to a storefront to avoid being crushed by a car that was attempting to pass motorcycles and hordes of human beings, both locals and tourists;

-HERDS of motorcycles: I’m not talking about Harley gangs here, either; just endless, endless, endless motorcycles…with whole families riding together on a single bike, women’s saris blowing in the hot breeze…;

-Men carrying loads at least 3 or 4 times their body weights, hoisted by straps across their heads: can you say occupational health hazard? OSHA would shut down the entire city…;

-Cab drivers pulling over to ask tourists if they would like a ride somewhere: can you imagine NYC cabbies behaving in this manner?;

-In this dirty chaotic, poor place, hipsters dressed in loose, linen clothing, cigs perched eternally between their lips, trying to emulate…something. Note to the barefoot bohos around: it’s easy to “love this place as an outsider, but what about those born into dirty, chaotic, wonderful Kathmandu and bound to it for life? It’s much easier to be on the outside looking in than on the inside looking in, right?;

-In a hotel room, a group of tourists from the subcontinent and beyond in Asia leaves their door completely ajar for hours at a time, wide open through two showers and two hair blow-drying sessions;

-Sporadic sidewalks, faded crosswalks, not a single streetlight to be found. Instead, armed guards with machine guns at every turn;

-Child beggers, legless men, boy workers huffing out of brown paper bags;

-A cursory security guard at a possible entry point to the city’s Durbar (“Palace”) Square stopping innocent, eager tourists and informing them of an entry fee of 500 Nepali rupees; meanwhile, a few steps to the left or right yields quick entry, gratis;

-A security team member at the Tribhuvan International Airport who occasionally decides to man his post at the arrivals baggage area, thus only screening the luggage for half of our flight from Bhutan. I promise I didn’t import/smuggle any fruit from there (it doesn’t even seem to exist in Bhutan), but I’m sure as hell toting and hanging onto my remaining trail mix americano, my saving culinary grace on this wild adventure;

-Knock-off adventure gear; much better to have a personalized “North Face” duffel bag than one that’s actually waterproof, right?;

-90’s-era CD stores in the Thamel (the “tourist ghetto”) blasting “Hey Soul Sister” and Taylor Swift…they know us Americans all too well…;

-Phone call down to the hotel front desk to report a pungent gasoline odor, which has wafted through the entire hotel; desk apologizes and assures us that they will come up to the room to “remove” the smell…meanwhile, the hallway smells unmistakably of fried chicken…;

-Scary-ass dogs roaming freely, weaving through traffic jams, some appearing seriously dead in their curbside “slumber”;

-Loss of electricity a part of the daily routine…

And yet I’m feeling myself fill with genuine energy and buzz after Bhutan and its national quiet time…or is that supposed to be national happiness? I feel pretty happy here


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