This is a land of sharp and strange contrasts.
The breathtaking beauty of seeing an entire range of snow-capped mountains on the descent to Kathmandu Valley; the luggage taking over an hour to find its way to the carousel.
The easy kindness of the hotel shuttle driver, gradually threading his way through heavy traffic. No hurry. The insane cutthroat nature of that rush-hour traffic, leaning on their horns, refusing to yield long enough to permit a vehicle stuck halfway across the road to get out of the way. There are pedestrian crosswalks. No one stops for pedestrians in the crosswalks. If there is empty space on the roadway, and regardless of markings such as lane lines, occupy it as quickly as possible and for as long as you can get away with it.
As a pedestrian, crossing through traffic moving at threatening speed in both directions is a dance of patience, subtle body language, assertiveness and faith. Come to think of it, it’s the same with a motorbike between your legs. Life.
This is a place where cows are sacred; and also a place where “leather boutiques” offer finely crafted products.
It is a place where a government minister can be called before the Commission Against Abuse of Authority (a real thing) for allegedly taking bribes. The same day he can walk free as a bird, which suggests to everyone that the Commission itself is also taking bribes.
ATMs are everywhere. It’s a cash economy. But banks, by law, cannot advance cash on a credit card.
This is a nation of vast (undeveloped) hydroelectric resources. The load shedding schedule, a system of rotating power blackouts throughout the valley, indicates that every “zone” will be powerless for 10-12 hours per day, all between the hours of 5am to 10pm. The schedule indicates power outage for 4-6 hours at a time, give or take an hour, maybe, which you may or may not be informed about in advance. At 10am today, the published schedule indicates that 5 of the 7 city districts (75%) will be without power. That’s more than when I was here a year ago.
Last fall, the nation endured a six month fuel blockade at the overland entry points from India. The economy was crippled and is only now getting back on its feet. Meanwhile, of course, a black market in fuel thrived. Today, as soon as I rented a motorbike, with the fuel gauge on empty, of course (!), I went to what is now one of the very few gas stations in the entire city. It’s located at a large police facility. No fuel. Come back later. Came back two hours later. No fuel.
I speak to the hotel shuttle driver of my predicament. Shortly thereafter, he produced, (viola!) five liters of gasoline for me. A full tank. Of course! This is why there is no fuel at the gas station—run by the police. The price isn’t even that bad. Legal and plentiful fuel is about $.70-$.75 per litre in Thailand. Here, semi-legal is $1.00. That’s $3.75 per gallon. Under these conditions, a steal. Oh, right. Maybe it really was stolen fuel.
This, and the geography of the nation in general, is a great incentive to install solar power. Most of the hotels have some capacity to provide minimal lighting during load shedding periods as well as to provide uninterrupted internet service.
After I filled up the bike, my friend Aryan arrived. We went to an event at his former college, which is really, from what I can gather, what we in the US would call a high school and junior college. The event was a graduation/farewell to the lower level students who were graduating the the upper level college. These are 15-16 year olds. (I did not have my camera. Had to use my slow phone)
They had planned an elaborate dance program. One number after another, singles and pairs or small groups of boys, girls and mixed dancers took the stage, dancing to pounding Nepali music, most of it so familiar to the crowd they were singing along. There was definitely a traditional element, but it was re-mixed as hip-hop. The kids were incredibly energetic, talented, enthusiastically (and expertly) popping and breaking. The fast-paced traditional hand gestures of the girls looked very demure, coquette even, but the hips were speaking the universal language. The crowd of several hundred were shouting encouragement, screaming and dancing in the back of the large banquet hall.
Many girls were dressed up in colourful saris, hair and makeup to the max. Many of the boys were wearing suits and ties, but a good number were also sporting their badass ‘tude, rebels without a cause, denim jackets with (Nirvana!!) t-shirts, all skinny pants and shades and fancy hair. High School Is The Same Everywhere! It was a blast.
This is the school where I did a climate presentation to a group of the upper level students last year. The professor (of zoology) who coordinated it all was a major presence at the party.He was obviously very popular with the students. I stuck out like a sore thumb, with my Adidas hat and shades, as he escorted me to front row seats with Aryan.
The program was followed by a sumptuous buffet in a courtyard outdoors; chicken curry, basmati rice, a yam and green bean dish, dal, tomato chutney, steamed bok choy, naan. All yummy.
It was raucous and beautiful and sweet. What a treat on my second day here, and a world away from the tourist zone!