Kathmandu. It’s a fascinating place.
It’s dusty, and smelly. Roads out of town are choked, as they wind down from the Kathmandu plateau, switching back over precipitous drops. It’s one lane in each direction, and any breakdown or collision either way spells a long stay by the roadside. When this happens, everyone gets out to have a gawk and provide advice and additional arm-waving. It’s either that or sit in your un-airconditioned shit-box Suzuki and steam.
Driving, as in most third world countries, is perilous. They pilot their vehicles at breakneck speed, in, out and around oncoming traffic like it’s a video game. Busses carry tourist on roof racks, and occasionally plunge into ravines, scattering them like dead leaves.
In town, roads are under constant construction. The government is given grants by foreign countries to improve their roads and infrastructure, so that cars, vans, scooters, motorbikes and bicycles ply their cacophonous trade cheek by jowl with road workers bearing shovels and jackhammers.
By the roadside, every building is a shopfront with an unfinished residence atop. The roof of each building features a few stumpy beams and ubiquitous protrusions of reo-bars, as if the whole town intends, at some unspecified future date, to grow an extra three metres.
The shopfronts themselves seem to be on repeat. There is a motorcycle repairer. An electrical store. A phone shop. Cooking equipment. A general store. Cheap clothing. Repeat. There are never any customers – realistically there couldn’t be with that much competition.
The proprietors squat outside, smoking and talking to family while their children play in the dust. Above their heads a noodle tangle of legal and illegal wiring provides irregular electricity, while at their feet the street is littered with, well, litter. There is no rubbish collection in Kathmandu – the neater citizens burn their refuse (adding to the smell and smog) – but most people just throw it on the streets.
On occasion we see a fresh food vendor. For meat, it’s usually chicken (I don’t know why, but the preferred cut of chicken seems to be the neck). Once I saw a merchant standing on the street with two goats. He casually slaughtered one of them while the other looked on, bleating pitifully about the fate of his friend and the regrets of his life undone. I’m sure such a thing would be against the Geneva Convention.
It’s a beautiful but gritty ballet.
I was in the city with the University of Sydney law school, and there was a certain excitement in the air. As it turned out, a week after the Field Trip was due to finish, an international music performer was scheduled to play in the national football stadium. From all reports, this was unprecedented. Never before had a star of this magnitude graced this poor landlocked nation, and as far as I can see it has never happened since. One can only guess how it came about.
Bryan Adams. There were posters up all over town.
Let me step in here to clarify something. I am not a Bryan Adams fan. As far as can recall, I have never purchased one of his albums. In my more tender years I did learn to play ‘Summer of 69” on guitar, but that’s it. I promise. Don’t judge.
Nevertheless, it was a big deal for Nepal, and I was keen on seeing the spectacle. It meant that I would have to extend my stay by up to about a week, but if my flight ticket could be changed, well, why not?
(Next week – Part 2: Ticketing issues, and an open sewer)