The real Kathmandu

 Posted by Kristin Schutz at 5:06 pm  Nepal
Dec 092014

Remember when I said this city is pretty clean, not as much trash on the street as NYC? Well I take that back. When I posted that I was in Thamel, the main tourist district of Kathmandu, where everything is nicer. Think Times Square compared to Harlem. Now I am in a residential neighborhood and can see how the average Nepali person lives. While there are many wonderful things here (the people are friendly, the women we teach are amazing, the mountains are stunning), it’s quite a harsh place to live compared to life in the West. I would be remiss if I didn’t paint an accurate picture of my experience. I could fill this journal will sunshine and peaches, but then you couldn’t understand why there is much progress to be accomplished here. So here goes, as objectively as possible.

Trash disposal bascially doesn’t exist, as far as I can observe. I’ve seen a few men pulling wooden carts piled high with plastic bags full of trash, or occaisionally a truck. But that’s about it. Otherwise trash is burned. Every now and then I’ll pass a pile of ashes and semi-incinerated refuse off the road. The rest of the trash lines the streets or washes into the river.

There is a main road that circles Kathmandu called the Ring Road. It’s like the 394-694-94 interstate highways in Minneapolis. This is the main commuter road connecting all the districts. I’ve walked along it every day and come home full of dust! I’m amazed when locals look clean, how do they do it?! The people wear masks here to avoid getting the brown lung. The Ring Road is where all the “buses” are too. I use quotations because most of the time the buses are just 10-person vans, into which they will cram 22 people at a time. There are some larger buses, similar in style to Greyhounds or those tourists coaches. I chose those when I can because they just seem more reliable! The buses stop about every 50 feet to load in new passengers. A boy or a young man surfs on the side of the bus, door open, shouting his route to people on the street, “Balaju, Balaju, Boudah, Boudah, Boudah!” The bus stops, loads whoever is ready, then takes off. Fares range from 15 to 30 rupees, depending on how far the passenger is going. I’ve taken these buses every day so far. And every time I get relentless stares from everyone inside, like “who is this person? Is she lost?!” For the most part everyone leaves me alone. Occaisionally  a curious local will ask me where am I from, what I’m doing here, how do I like Nepal.

There are stray street dogs everywhere here as well. Most of them sleep all day and then bark all night! You could spit in any direction and you’d hit a stray dog dozing in the sun on the side of the road. When awake, they particularly like to hang out in front of the meat shops, hoping for some scraps. One night I was walking back from dinner with the other volunteers and I felt something touch the back of my knee. I turned around to find a dog right at my back. She had nudged me for food. It broke my heart that I didn’t have anything for her. Even if I had, I can’t give the dogs scraps. I have to be concsious of 1) the culture here, and that I can’t have a stray dog following me to the host family’s house, and 2) these dogs have to live here even after I am gone so I can’t let them become dependent on me for food. I’ve met a few organizations already that work to spay and neuter the stray dogs here, fix them up, and try to find homes when possible. So there are organizations trying to help. But for the most part the dogs are ignored.

Then there are the cows. They aren’t as common as dogs, but they too just wander the streets undisturbed, digging through trash for scrap food. Sometimes people will put out old food or leftovers for the cows. One day I walked passed a woman who was blessing a pile of cow maneur with merigold flowers. Nepal is mostly Hindu so the cows are sacred but I’ve had a cheese burger twice already. I guess they make exceptions for the tourists!

The buildings here are  all mixed-use (shops on the street with apartments above, with the exception of the free-standing houses). In my neighborhood there are shops everywhere. Most sell the same things (snacks, drinks, etc.) There are a few salons, tea shops, and electronic stores too.

Kathmandu gets its energy from hydro and solar power. The monsoon season sources the city for the rest of the year. But because this is such a growing city, electricity becomes scarce in the winter and there is load shedding and rolling blackouts. Most families in  the city also have solar power individually for their homes when the city power goes out. Hot watered only comes when there has been enough sunshine to power the heating tanks. So yesterday when it was rainy and cloudy, I had to forgo my shower (although I’m only showering at the house twice a week to preserve water).

I’ve also learned that only Nepali citizens can buy land or property. I can understand this policy as an effort to protect Nepal from financial “imperialism.” However, I question if this policy is detrimental to the country’s economic development. It is not hospitable to foreign investment. But I’m not an economist.

Overall, Kathmandu is dusty, crowded, and loud. Every day is an assault on the senses. But  then on a clear day I can see the snow-capped mountains off in the distance and for a minute or two I find some peace.

Up next: My host family, our visit to Maiti Nepal, and our first week of teaching.

Much Love,


The view from my host family’s roof:

Riding the “bus:”



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