Return to Kathmandu



My first trip to Nepal was in 1977 when I trekked to the Everest Base Camp. For more than twenty years, I had dreamed of returning. When I heard about an opportunity to  participate in the restoration of a Buddhist Monastery in the lower Mustang Valley–across the country from the part of the Himalayas I had visited previously–I thought “WOW, let’s go!”.

A friend with Adventures in Preservation had introduced me to the folks at Restoration Works International (RWI). I signed on as the photographer on RWI’s Chhairo Gompa restoration project, traveling to Nepal in late April. First stop: Kathmandu!

The Kathesimbu stupa was still there, attracting pigeons, but much else had changed. Upon arrival, I found Kathmandu to be much larger than I remembered: polluted air, traffic congestion, not nearly the village atmosphere of years past. Masses of electrical wires coiled at intersections and drivers going both directions in the same lane reminded me of my time living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia a couple of years ago. As in that city, knock-offs of every imaginable product are widely available in Kathmandu.

Here are a few impressions from my first days back in Nepal, some things old and some things new.

Traffic is more congested than ever, with plenty of tense moments for drivers in both directions. Nowadays, though, dashboard ornaments have gone high tech–solar-powered prayer wheels, such as the one on the dashboard in the photo above, constantly spin prayers off for good luck.
As in the past, goods are still transported on foot and using tumplines, but instead of fresh food and building materials, movers tote refrigerators and flat screen TVs.
This brightly colored temple in Kathmandu’s Chhetrapati district, with its yellow rooftops and many stupas, is popular with locals and tourists. It gave me some idea of the art and architecture I would find in my travels around Nepal.
Early in monsoon season, rickshaw drivers are creative in fashioning rain gear for their vehicles. It works for a light rain….
All sorts of merchandise is for sale at an impromptu market, like this one, scattered around Kathmandu.
On a dry day, rickshaws line a main street in Tamel, the primary tourist area in Kathmandu
With the coming of the monsoon, the trekking season is almost over, and the number of tourists drops significantly, leaving shop keepers with some reading time.
One thing that was completely new to me: micro-banking. The vendor selling lunch opens her purse to give her “personal banker” (the young man in the green shirt) a deposit of 100 or 200 ($1.00 or $2.00) rupees. The idea is that she banks a small amount each day, and in this way build her savings account little by little.
Prayer wheels are ubiquitous in Nepal. Outside, they bear inscriptions of mantras; inside, prayers are inscribed on slips of paper. I gave these prayer wheels in Kathmandu a good spin for good luck.

At sunset, prayer flags flutter in an early summer breeze, silhouetted against clouds banking in the distance.

One thing that has NOT changed is the omnipresence of Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags. After signing up for the RWI trip as a volunteer, I had booked air travel that would allow me to spend an extra month in Nepal, much of it back in the Everest region. Enjoying a golden sunset on my hotel terrace in Kathmandu, I was so glad I had, and looked forward to new adventures in the Himalayas.

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Thank you Ortovox for supporting my trip with superb cold weather clothing and exceptional rain gear.

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    • We hope the post brought back great memories of Nepal for you! I have heard a great deal about micro credit but had never seen it in action until Kathmandu.

  1. Absolutely brilliant and beautiful!!! The photos are so full of the life of Katmandu!!! Thanks for the trip!!!


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