Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kathmandu Part I

And so on to Nepal and Kathmandu - the power cut capital of the world. And it’s bloody great to be here! Arrived via Delhi - kudos to Delhi airport for having limitless recliners for in-transit passengers on 7 hour layovers. I’m hoping that the city will be as kind to me upon my return some 2 months hence. So I find myself in Thamel in a guesthouse that looks a hell of a lot better on its website than in reality but it’s done me whilst I’ve slept off the flight. Will go in search of pastures greener in a couple of days. So, what to say about Kathmandu?
Remember that scene in Great Expectations when Pip rips the curtains down from Miss Havisham’s dining room to reveal a room covered in decades of dust? Well that’s Kathmandu. One big, filthy and neglected urban sprawl but absolutely wonderful because of it. Random Kathmandu events on my first day here include the sight of a monkey, either unobserved or ignored by everyone, clambering along the power lines on the main street in Thamel and the fact that what adds to the traffic congestion in this city are the random cows who roam the streets in search of pasture. Bizarre.
You can measure a city’s grittiness by the behaviour of its rat population and on that basis Kathmandu is hard. Kathmandu’s rats own the fucking joint - and daring daylight breaks through Thamel’s streets are all in a day’s work for them, sending scores of tourists jumping and screaming as they scurry past.
The city is a warren of the narrowest streets - I think that nominally there’s a one-way system in place but nobody cares as one, two, three and four-wheeled vehicles fight for the right of way. If you happen to be in the way, you’ll know. This vehicular backlog leads to the worst pollution imaginable, so bad that even the drivers wear masks. What Trabants are to Eastern European streets so shitty ‘70s Toyotas and even shittier ‘80s Suzukis are to Kathmandu's clogged routes, each of them emitting Yeti-sized carbon footprints.
Naturally everyone’s here for the mountains so if it’s knock-off North Face gear you want, then literally every second store is here to cater to your needs. Today, for example, I decided to go around and haggle hard for some rip-off gear and it’s amazing how the prices drop. Nobody denies in the slightest that what you’re buying is not really The North Face gear but, you’re assured, it’s the highest quality fake North Face gear available in Kathmandu. Today’s quest for a waterproof, windproof and warm jacket which would do me crossing the Thorung La pass saw me try 12 different shops, receiving quotes ranging from 9,000 Rp to 3,500 Rp for the exact same jacket. It’s hard not to be lulled by the prices when the gear you hold in your hands looks exactly like the real thing but 3 weeks in the mountains will test the folly or otherwise of my largesse.

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