Trekking Nepal
A City of Contrasts
see caption
Bicycle rickshas are an easy way to get around, but unless you spend some time bargaining, it will cost you about the same as a cab.

The scene was intense. Rickshas, three-wheeled taxis, tourists, and peddlers all squeezed into a too-narrow street packed with shops. I could buy just about anything I needed—trekking gear, a city map, digital videotape—and a whole lot of stuff I didn’t.

This was Thamel, Kathmandu’s main tourist district. Neon signs advertised Irish pubs, Tibetan paintings and carpets, money exchanges, international telephone services, and river-rafting services. Cybercafés and satellite dishes reminded me that Kathmandu had, for better or worse, entered the 21st century.

see caption
Neon signs light up the main street in Kathmandu’s Thamel district.

A few blocks away from Thamel, in a scene equally crowded, hand-pulled wooden carts, sacred cows, mangy dogs, motorized scooters, ancient men, and barefoot, snot-nosed kids all competed for the road. Vegetable merchants bartered their wares, piled high and spread out along the ground.

It was exhilarating to wander into the “real” Kathmandu. I took refuge on an unoccupied corner as dusk began to settle in. In front of me was a small temple, where a woman was making a puja—ritual offering—of flower blossoms, ringing the bell to alert the gods.

see caption
Small, neighborhood temples are found on many of Kathmandu’s side streets. Leaving offerings here, such as marigold blossoms or uncooked rice, is part of daily worship to appease the gods.

As I set up my tripod it occurred to me that my camera was worth five times what the average citizen of Nepal makes in a year. But I was shown over and over again as the trip progressed that, despite extreme poverty and substandard living conditions, these people are spiritually rich beyond measure.


Close window.

© 2001 National Geographic Society.
All rights reserved.