The first thing I always notice is the faint smell. Its a mix of spicy body odor, incense, hemp, and perhaps a whiff of burning trash. The smell of a place faraway from home. Brilliant colors dance before your eyes: women are dressed in bright red, yellow, and blue saris festooned with gold trim, giant gold earrings, sparkling bangles and henna hands. Storefronts bristle with rainbows of baggy pants, technicolor hemp shirts and hats. Souvenir stands overflow with Ganesh statues, Buddhas, beads, rings, brass lotus candle holders, and sharp decorative Ghurka knives. It is hippie shopping heaven.
And to much the amusement of the locals, the Westerners dive right in and emerge looking like they could walk any hippie catwalk with pride. The alleys are covered in a maze of misspelled signs announcing trekking shops, hiking gear, nutty T-shirts, internet cafes, bars, and restaurants of every kind.
|Little goddess... or abused child?|
Travel Durbar Square with your mouse
|"I like to collect heads. From gods."|
Walking back to Thamel you might wander into an outdoor market, little ancient shrines and temples, packs of novice monks, and lots and lots of rickshaws. A good way to navigate is by the trash, directions might consist of "Take a left at the 2nd garbage pile." And you will definitely notice a lot of scary "dentist" shops selling fake teeth that look like vampire fangs. But none of this compares to Pashupatinath, a huge temple complex alongside the Bagmati river to the East. Cremations occur every day on the ghats, holy cows wander around, naked kids swim and play in the nasty water, and you can meander for hours taking pictures of all the temple goodies. When I was there last time, there was a festival and hundreds of women dressed in blood red saris were giving offerings at the river and jumping in.
|KGH is where its at|
But the best part of Kathmandu are the travelers who come there. Thamel's alleys are mercifully free of the three banes of Asian travel: 1) Packaged Asian tour groups stampeding in and out of shops and tourist sites, 2) Couples on honeymoon, and 3) Old Germans looking for sex. The first two types stay in high-end resorts that drive out mom and pop B&B's and blow cash in a way that attracts the worst kind of aggressive hawkers. And the 3rd type attracts pimps, prostitutes, drugs, and crime. Nepal is an oasis, people who come here are here for different reasons. They are hippies looking for enlightenment (and hookahs), fit Colorado types who love trekking the mountains, blissful young girls teaching yoga, and older people looking for something new and different. Everyone has a tale, everyone is a proper traveler who has been-there done-that in Europe. Afternoon tea or a night out always leads to good conversation and interesting stories.
Excitement crackles in the air. Trekking among the vast mountains of Nepal energizes people in a strange way. Those who have just finished have cameras bursting with once-in-a-lifetime photos, those about to leave can't wait to go.
|Everest from Kala Pattar|
Truly the most wonderful place on Earth. An unspoiled jewel hanging on in a world that might soon pour in and ruin it. Hopefully it doesn't change anytime soon, but ... I know it will. And I don't like to think about the fact that the glaciers are melting like an ice-cream on a summer sidewalk.
If you want to visit, better come soon.