Sunday, April 24, 2011


Kathmandu: Garbage and Traffic

     The garbage situation in Kathmandu is impossible again.  As I walk down the muddy, pot-holed side street from the Ganesh Himal Hotel, the rancid smell permeates the air even before I turn the corner on to Nhyokha Tole, the main road.  The monthly requisite ever growing pile of garbage at the corner of Nhyokha and the roundabout that rings the Chhetrapati bandstand has grown expendencally over night.  The local black bull that roams the district daily stands contentedly eating from what is becoming a massive pile of vegetable shavings, cooked leftovers, general refuse, plastics and plastic bags.  His rear extends out into the traffic, heavy with honking cars, bicycle-rickshaws, motorbikes, and pedestrians trying to cross the intersection.  Yet all the mechanical conveyances and individuals give the macerating beast a wide berth, as he noshes his way through his morning fare.  Occasionally, in his ardor for the best offerings, he or one of his compatriots in other garbage piles around Kathmandu accidentally eats a plastic bag, which if caught in their intestinal track, would be his death sentence.  But today, the bull busily munches his hearty brunch with not a care in the world, while I, taking my life in my hands as I do daily, circuitously maneuver my way across the five streets that meet here.

  I swallow hard, and began to cross the last street past Chhetrapati Chowk (the bandstand) to Chhetrapati Tole, when a motorcycle bangs into my arm as it rushes on its way through the jam of mangled traffic. The driver heads further into the morning crush unaware that he has hit my arm, which is bleeding profusely.  Upon safely reaching the other side, I wipe off the loose blood and check that all my other body parts are in tack. Then I whip out a handy bandage from my billfold, paste it on my arm and head on my way toward the center of Thamel and my local hangout, Green’s Organic Café. 
 While the ‘Ohm’ prayer musically blasts out from the corner DVD store reassuring me that God, Buddha, Ganesh and the rest are protecting the bull and me.  That he will get his monthly garbage feast and I will again get across Chhetrapati safely and carry on with my endeavors as if it were a walk on the clouds.

The above was written in 2007

I am now on a return trip (2011) to my beloved Nepal and things have certainly changed.  The street from the Ganesh Himal Hotel to Nhyokha Tole has been paved although it has acquired new potholes.  The garbage problem has been tackled, so there are no more massive piles of garbage on street corners.  I have missed seeing my friend, the black bull, but as there is nothing for him to eat; there is no longer a reason for him to be wandering the Thamel streets of Kathmandu. 

Many streets have been made one-way and there are also police directing traffic at peak traffic times.  Occasionally, I have actually seen drivers of both motorcycles and cars receive traffic violation tickets.  And although it is still dangerous, crossing Chhetrapati Chowk is no longer a life-defying event.  The greater hazard now is pollution.  I read in the  Kathmandu Post the other day that in 2008 there were 28,000 cars, and now there are over 50,000.  The roads, the buildings, and the human lungs are not equipped to handle this amount of dirty air and both locals and tourists including me wander the streets wearing facemasks as protection. 

 Green’s Organic Café is still open.  Their vegetable, shaved cheese and nut salad is still wonderful, the Chicken Chili is some of the best in Kathmandu and they still make the world’s very best rice pudding.  The Garden of Dreams has opened a lovely café, Mitho’s Restaurant just off Chhetrapati Chowk and Chez Caroline (for molten chocolate cake with ice cream) are also great choices for good food. The best shopping at the best prices is still Patan with its lovely Durbar Square and numerous little workshops tucked here and there in little streets and ally ways.   Yet, the silversmith at SUN & MOON Jewellery Work Shop on Ihahity Kwabahal in Kathmandu, if you give him a sample of what you want, still does lovely work.  Fire and Ice still has the best pizza, and although expensive, Pilgrims still mails packages rather than have to go 20 minutes away to the post office. As the designs never change, I secretly believe that in the Thamel shops are selling some of the same clothes that hung here in the 1980s.  They have probably dusted off and the same ones and they are still on display in 201l.  Bicycle still rickshaws riddle the streets with tired old men and fresh young ones cycling hard to get tourist and locals around the Thamel area.  Porters still carry 100 kg loads on their backs though out the Thamel streets; with straps across their foreheads they carry refrigerators, carpets, five or six trunks, couches to list a few things.   United Bookstore is still the best for trading used books, and for a few hours out Kathmandu chaos and Thamel craziness the lovely Garden of dreams is the place to go. 

Kathmandu still suffers with a revolving electrical grid schedule, which means each section of the city only gets electricity eight hours daily.  My favorite hostelry, Hotel Ganesh Himal, has installed a generator so the only time they do not provide electric might be a random night between twelve midnight and seven A.M.  The rooms are very pleasant with a beautiful garden, which is not only restful but also wired for WFI, with a staff that never leaves.  Rinku, Maya, Anju, Mukhiya, Kancha and the gang here make me and all the other guests right at home when ever I come.  And they serve the best curd (yogurt) in the whole wide world.  The Ganesh Himal Travel Desk is at the same high quality as the hotel run by Plalson Gurung and Prakash Upreti, they give great value in flights over Everest, treking destinations and excellent guides.   I’d rather fight then switch.

Treks are just as exhilarating and the Himalayas just as magnificent as ever.  Fortunately I will be returning again in October, which I am told is the best month of the whole year.  

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