Since we arrived in Kathmandu in the dark of the night, I wasn’t sure what to expect the first morning. Once we made it out of the confines of our hotel, I was immediately overwhelmed by it. It was an exhilarating shock to the senses. The narrow streets were packed with people, rickshaws, stray dogs, cows, traffic and new smells and sounds. I had read in my guide book that most travelers develop a throat infection the first few days due to the heavy pollution. When I read this I thought…how bad could it be? Well, I learned it was that bad. My eyes began to burn and my throat itch as soon as we walked out the door. This was the start of my love/hate relationship with the city.
Equipped with our Lonely Planet guide-book, Brian and I decided to take the recommended “walking tour” to see some of the major sites. Problem is, there aren’t street signs in Kathmandu. It was incredibly confusing and Brian and I began to get frustrated. As we stood on a street corner, dodging traffic and stray animals, going back and forth about the direction, a sweet smiley young kid in his teens approached us. He struck up a conversation with us in his perfect English. Where were we from? How long had we been in Kathmandu? Did we like it? He said he was a student and an artist. This was my first real taste of Nepali people. They are wonderfully open and friendly people. We answered his questions happily and made polite small talk, but after a few minutes we tried to keep moving- we had stupas to find! It was no use though, because he just walked with us and kept talking. In pure Kate fashion I kept the conversation going because I didn’t want to be rude. Brian, of course, was less engaged, opting instead to take pictures of me making conversation.
After twenty minutes, I realized that not only was he not going stop talking to us but he was also now taking us on a tour of the city himself. I wasn’t quite sure how this happened but I was pretty sure it was going to cost us something. Two hours later we were buying his family groceries and let me tell you, a two ton bag of rice isn’t cheap. I’ll admit it- we got taken. We must have had a huge sign on our head that said “these two idiots just got off the plane and are totally overwhelmed- they’re primed for the taking!” Our unrequested tour wasn’t all bad though and I doubt we would have found our way around town without a little help!
My first taste of the history and culture of Nepal was intoxicating. Mixed in with all the chaos, grime and dirt, you find beautiful medieval alleys, Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas. Ancient history lives on every corner. You’re walking down a dilapidated street and all of a sudden you’re in front of a golden temple.
Swayambhunath up next!