Trekking Nepal
A City of Contrasts
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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.

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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.

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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.


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