Live from the Himalayas (2): Nepal Diaries Kathmandu

27. Aug. 2021

The Airbus is landing on the runway of Tribhuvan International Airport and it feels like the giant bird has landed on a farmland. It rumbles and crashes because the runway is broken and is being repaired in the patchwork. A small foretaste of the city, where chaos and improvisation dominate everyday life.

The Buddhist stupa in Bodnath is one of the cultural treasures of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the valley of Kathmandu © Trail Angels

“Twenty years ago, the greater Kathmandu area had a population of 300,000; now there are three million. And during the winter months, there are an incredible eight million. Because many rural people from the mountainous regions spend the winter in Kathmandu.” Tells Tapas Neupane, the country director of ENNOVENT, our partner in the Fair Trails Himalayas project. In such a fast-growing third-world city, chaos is inevitable. The sheer endless traffic jam, the equally adventurous but almost accident-free way of driving of the Nepalis, the more than daring construction and power lines where it is surprising that a light is burning anywhere at all. Stressed Westerners, with thin nerves and lack of insight to accept this colorful chaos, should give the city a wide berth. Those who want to experience a clean, orderly big city should take a look at Singapore.
Panoramaweg Südalpen Panorama am Hochplateau
Trail Angel Günter Mussnig with Saurabh Battarai, our project manager for Fair Trails Himalayas in front of the Stupa in Bodnath © Trail Angels
Embark on the adventure
Those who come to Kathmandu with an open heart and serenity will be fascinated by this melting pot. For hardly in any other city in the world do tradition and modernity meet as conflict-free as in Kathmandu. Here the countless temples (an old quote claims that there are more temples in Kathmandu than people), the load carriers and rickshaws and the colorful lively markets; and there the young western-dressed Nepalis with their smartphones, the tourist stores and hip restaurants and bars. Kathmandu is truly unique and those who do not succumb to its magic should seriously work on their cosmopolitanism and tolerance.
Panoramaweg Südalpen Panorama am Hochplateau
What a good idea: foster station for stray dogs in Bodnath © Trail Angels
“Things are changing and getting better” Tapas tells us, “because for several years now a stable government has been steering the country” Tapas tells us about the improvements of the last years. From the (alleged 😂) ban on horns to the investments in the sewage system and the power supply (the constant power outages are really a thing of the past). But it will probably be many years before the planned subway is built….
Panoramaweg Südalpen Panorama am Hochplateau
Chilli, cucumbers and tomatoes as far as the eye can see: the Kalimati vegetable market © Trail Angels
Panoramaweg Südalpen Panorama am Hochplateau

Power lines in Thamel © Trail Angels

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I accept the chaos. But I am not sure if the chaos accepts me..

Bob Dylan

Today I was on the road with Saurabh Bhattarai, our new project manager (we will introduce him in more detail here) in Kathmandu. Our first destination was Bodnath, the largest stupa in the world. Bodnath is the Tibetan quarter of Kathmandu. The place exudes an almost magical Buddhist serenity and we took enough time to observe the pilgrims and prayers who were already preparing for tomorrow’s Nepalese New Year Chaite Dakhain. For this purpose, the stupa was also just whitewashed in brilliant white. 

The next day welcomes us with bright sunshine. It will be a special day in any case, because within a few hours we will go by car from the evergreen monsoon forest through all kinds of landscape levels up to the already Tibetan highlands. The road, which remains spectacular, has meanwhile become accustomed to us, although the rapid succession of impressions – one is simply much faster on the road by car than when trekking – almost overwhelms me. Near Timang, we enter an enchanting rhododendron forest that is in full bloom. The many shades of red and pink of its blossoms contrast delightfully with the brilliant white of the glacier giants. A few kilometers later, the landscape changes again: from Koto, dense coniferous forests replace the rhododendron and one feels reminded of the Rocky Mountains, if the narrow valley were not overlooked by ice giants. And at Pisang, we are now already over 3,000m high, the valley suddenly widens into a wide U-valley, revealing the whole splendor of the Annapurna Himal. Several times the jeep track crosses huge avalanche cones, the witness of the massive snowfalls last March.

Author

Günter Mussnig

The graduate geographer is one of the founders and managing directors of Trail Angels, which is responsible for the web platform Bookyourtrail.com. As a trekking & outdoor freak, he is one of the fathers of the Alpe-Adria Trail and has been exploring the Nepalese Himalayas for more than 25 years.

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