"I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult." E. B. White

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Splice of Kathmandu

Liam, Anna, me, Katie, and Aly stop at Himalayan Java for a juice
This morning we signed up for a walking tour of the local Nepali markets including the spice market, farmers market, bead market, pottery market and various other local areas of the city.  The tour was called A Splice of Kathmandu. Our group consisted of six housemates - me, Anna, Aly, Liz (who arrived a few weeks before us), and siblings Katie and Liam (who arrived only a few days ago).

Of course, before our tour we first stopped at Himalayan Java, our preferred coffee shop, for smoothies and other morning treats.

Our walking tour was led by a lovely local woman who spoke English with a great vocabulary and clarity. It was really interesting following her through crowded city streets and tiny alleyways into hidden courtyards as she discussed the history of the city and the culture of the people who live there. I feel like I learned a lot.

The best way to share this experience and the true nature of this colorful, chaotic place is through pictures with detailed captions.

Much of Kathmandu looks like this. The streets are crowded with pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles all sharing the same small pathways. Vendors line every street, and everywhere is a full assault of the senses - everything smells of spices and pollution, colors cover the pathways in the form of pashminas and dresses, cars honk and people yell from their shops for your business, and your shoes and feet are constantly covered in mud. But before Kathmandu looked like this... 

Kathmandu used to look like this. Homes were built around courtyards, where all of the neighbors would gather to celebrate festivals, socialize, or perform morning and evening prayers. As the city expanded, many of these old "open space" housing areas were demolished to create space for bigger streets and bigger housing facilities. We found this old courtyard quietly hidden away in the middle of a bustling market. 

Children in the courtyard. The little girl seemed curious about us and the little boy sat and made faces. After I snapped this first photo, they began posing in hopes that we (my fellow travelers and I) would take more. 

No explanation necessary.  I just couldn't pass up this photo op. 

The doorways and archways in older part of the city were intentionally built to force those who passed through to crouch down. Despite how it may appear, this is not a tiny doorway to suit the many short people in Nepal. Instead, when one enters someone else's home, it is customary to bow and put your hands together near the chest as a greeting and a blessing. By creating smaller entrance ways, people are forced to automatically bow as they enter.

We walked into the spice market and found dozens of farmers and vendors selling their products in flat, woven baskets. These tiny peppers are apparently extremely hot. I chose to take his word for it. 

Peppers, garlic, ginger, and other spices and seasonings at the outdoor market. I was also surprised to see (and unfortunately, smell) several people selling small dried fish. As there are no oceans nearby and the rivers are grossly polluted, I found the fish to be highly suspect. 

For those who prefer their spices pre-packaged, a vendor has prepared everything in sealed, labeled bags.

A spice merchant sits in his shop watching the passersby.

The spice market leads to a small section of the city, where vendors sell kitchenware. Cups, pots, pans, steamers...anything you might need to make a full Nepali meal.

After passing through the food markets, we walked through the nearby fabric market. Here, men sell yak wool blankets by hanging them from the steps of a temple. Yak wool isn't particularly soft, but it is extremely warm and cheap.

More vendors selling yak wool blankets. They range in price from $3 US to $10 US from what I can tell, and are useful in the cold winters or for trekkers venturing to Mount Everest.

Our next stop was the bead market. It was wonderfully sparkly! I can imagine being a child in this place - all of the colors would have seemed really magical. In Nepal, woman are given red beaded necklaces by their husbands when they marry, and they wear the necklace every day in the same way that other cultures wear wedding rings. 
Merchants in the bead market string necklaces using their hands and toes.

I loved the bright colors as this young boy approached and attempted to sell us cotton candy.  He spoke a few words of English - enough to communicate with tourists - but most of his words consisted of, "Buy this," or "Give me money."

A woman near the fabric market sits up on a temple near her flowers watches the busy street slightly below.

The pottery market gets all of its goods from Bhaktapur (refer back to my post from last weekend). This market sells everything from flower pots to shot glasses to popcorn poppers (yes, terracotta popcorn poppers). Everything is remarkably inexpensive and almost all of it is hand made. 

Katie, Liam, Liz, Anna, me, and Aly in the pottery market. It may not look like much, but getting a picture without ten random people walking in front of the camera was quite an achievement! 

Our walking tour continued through a primarily-Buddhist shopping street. Anna and I have seen these flags several times, and were told today that the flags each have prayers written on them. That way, when the wind blows and the flags move in the wind, the prayers are also blowing out into the wind. I think this is a beautiful practice.

This little lady could not have been under 70 years old or more than four feet tall. She sat chain smoking in the courtyard of the temple and I liked how she looked so small compared to the giant door beside her. 

On our way back to Thamel, we passed a Hindu temple (front) beside a Buddhist monastery (gold roof in back).  This is another example of the two religions living together as neighbors and incorporating each other into their spiritual lives.  
All over the city, we see power lines that look...well....like this.  

I'm so glad that we spent out last weekend in Nepal exploring Kathmandu. It was a side of the city I hadn't yet seen, and learning from a local made the experience all the more authentic and valuable. She was kind enough to offer to meet us again if we wanted any assistance negotiating prices while shopping, so maybe I'll see her again before we go!


  1. They look like that everywhere! Except those are high enough to walk under. In some places, the power lines sag so low that people step over them. Safety first.