Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Greetings from Kathmandu!

Namaste! Being in Kathmandu for 4 days now, I've learned that this term is much more than just what we say at the end of my yoga workouts. "Namaste" is the way the Nepalese people greet people and it reinforces the philosophy of oneness. I was told by a shopkeeper today that using this term to greet someone is like saying "I recognize the God in you". If you think about it, it really is a beautiful thing. the Nepalese people are deeply spiritual and they are some of the most positive people I've ever met. I've learned that Nepal was the world's only Hindu state, but in order to negotiate with Maoist rebels they had to drop this status. Despite this historical problem, every person you meet will tell you that Nepal is still the world's only Hindu state. That is a face that they are proud of. They are equally as proud of the fact that they are the only state in South Asia that hasn't been invaded or ruled by the British. They couldn't be happier about this and they make it known.

After traveling for nearly 20 hours via Dubai, where I wanted to empty my bank account because of the copious amounts of shopping, and Delhi, where I witnessed a French protest, I arrived at Kathmandu airport, only to wait in line for a visa for nearly an hour. I made my way to the baggage claim, only to find that my bag was no longer on the conveyor belt. Luckily, a man who had been on my flight saw the look of fear on my face and pointed to the bags that had been placed on the side. Among the crowd of people, I saw my bag, covered in stickers and a million baggage tags, looking as if it had gone through a combat zone. We had made it, my bag and I, and I couldn't have been more relieved. Little did I know, the world outside was about to shake me to the core.

I stepped outside the airport into the 80 degree weather to see a sea of Nepalese men holding up signs for various hotels and organizations. There had to have been at least 75 people standing there behind a small railing. All of them were yelling and all shaking their signs so quickly that my jet-lagged mind couldn't think straight. To my right, another group of men was trying to lure me to their taxis to take me to where I wanted to go. As I stepped into the street to cross over to the sea of men, a bus leaned on its horn and swerved around me. That was just the beginning of the battle with the traffic in Kathmandu. I was initiated. After sprinting across the street, avoiding motorcycles, bikes, buses and cars, I stood for a minute among these men, craning my neck to see a sign that said PRIO-IDSA (the conference I was going to). Naturally, I couldn't find the person I was looking for and I started worrying. Much to my surprise, a man popped out in front of me, held the sign in my face and said, "you look this conference?". He was my saving grace and he must have seen the look of distress on my face before he popped out of the crowd and scooped up my baggage. As I hopped in the van, I was among other conference goers, many who work for NGOs and think tanks, as well as their own governments. When they found out I was a student, they immediately took me under their wings. I knew it would all work out. The hotel is in the heart of the Patan neighborhood, which houses many international NGOs as well as the UN. After weaving through traffic (driving in Nepal is INSANE), we eventually made it to the hotel where I ordered dinner and passed out for 13 hours. I've never been more tired.

The next few days were full of conferencing and eating. Legitimately. The schedule went like this: conference, lunch, conference, dinner, sleep, conference, lunch, conference, dinner, sleep. The conference was on the security implications of climate change in South Asia and it was absolutely fascinating. I learned so much about water resources in South Asia as well as climate change in general. I met all of the prominent people in the field, who are all incredibly sweet and brilliant. There were people there from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Norway and the UK. I really couldn't have asked for a better experience. I was nervous about coming, especially because it is so far away, but the experience has been worth it. The first night, we went out to Dwarika's Hotel, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for a 12 course traditional Nepali meal. Yep, I said it. 12 courses. You had to take your shoes off when you walked in the door and we sat on very low chairs, almost reminiscent of Japanese style dining. We also had to wear these bibs that were basically aprons. It was hilarious at the time. It felt as though we should have been cracking open lobsters. The courses were all very small but it got to the point where I could only eat a bite of each one. There was just too much food!  Last night, we walked to a restaurant near our hotel in Durbar Square in Patan. Since there are no street lights at night, we all walked very close together by the side of the road. Of course, as I was walking, I looked up and slowed down because I saw something in front of me. Luckily, a car drove by and illuminated my path because I would have walked right into a cow that was eating trash on the side of the road! Welcome to Nepal.

Today I ventured out on my own. It was quite an adventure. I took a cab to Thamel in Kathmandu proper, which is known as the touristy area because it's where all the trekkers stay. I actually really enjoyed it. I met an amazing shopkeeper, after I had wandered into his antique shop. He began explaining everything to me and he offered me traditional Nepali milk tea. It's DELICIOUS. I want to say that it's similar to chai, but since I don't like chai, I must say it's much better. After parting ways with him, I browsed in some shops and grabbed some lunch in a nice garden cafe while writing some post cards. A fly landed in my tea and died immediately and I was too shy to ask for another cup. My lunch was delicious but it would have been nice with some tea. After eating, I haggled a good price with a cab driver to bring me back to Patan to Durbar Square. After refusing to take my offer, I proceeded to get out of the cab to find another, forcing him to eventually gave in. I've come to learn the ways here. We drove through Kathmandu's Durbar Square, which I grabbed some pictures of as we flew by. I'm lucky I don't get nervous about bad drivers. Most normal people would need a sedative to ride around Kathmandu.

I arrived in Durbar Square in Patan, which is a gorgeous square with a view of the Himalayas behind it. Durbar means "temple", which is why many areas have Durbar Squares. This one is the most beautiful. The king and queen used to live there. I had a personal tour, which taught me so much about the country and the area. We saw the temples, the palace, the Golden palace, which is a monastery, as well as a few other things. Finding it hard to breath by 2pm (the air is horrible here), I decided to head back to the hotel for a nap. My guide negotiated a good price for me in Hindi and I was off.

Sadly, I am leaving tomorrow. Although Kathmandu is crazy and you risk your life just crossing the street, I have really enjoyed it here. Traffic laws don't exist, pedestrians have no rights, and people are often driving on the wrong side of the road. The sidewalks are broken and cracked, if there are any, and cross-walks don't exist. Motorcycles drive on the sidewalks too. There are no rules. I've found that the best way to cross the street is to follow a local. It's kind of like a game of frogger...if you remember what that is. Cars don't slow just need to adjust your speed to the cars whizzing around you. Don't worry Mom and Dad, I still have all of my limbs. I now have the constant sound of beeping horns in my head. There are animals everywhere from chickens to cows to even monkeys. I couldn't believe my eyes today when I saw monkeys walking down the street. I hope that I'll be able to come back to do a trek and to see the Himalayas for real, as opposed to just way in the distance. Although Nepal is littered with political, social and environmental problems, the people are some of the most compassionate people I have ever met. They have an unwavering hope that is very inspiring. It was so refreshing!

Since I don't have any pictures uploaded yet, I wanted to show you some of the pictures that my friend Matthew took of me, which were submitted for the On the Rocks festival in St Andrews. Check out his site {here}! There are some really great pictures!



1 comment:

  1. love hearing about your travels! pictures are gorgeous - such a world traveler! ps. did you dye your hair?! namaste, xoxox