Urban sprawl in Kathmandu

My perception of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal was quite different than the reality. I had envisioned a metropolitan city, neatly maintaining the balance between the old and new, cobblestone pathways leading to the Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas where peace and fresh air fills into your lungs, streets of restaurants and bars where hippies, adventurers and spiritual seekers gather in the evenings sharing their stories….it was none of this!

First impression of Kathmandu reminded me of a hill station in north India. Narrow streets, traffic, pollution, old buildings, slums, dirt, tiny shops selling everything from plastic toys to gold jewelry, restaurants advertising Indian and tandoori food, constant honking of horns, animals and people sharing the same roads, temple bells and chants ringing in your ears, dogs barking. If I have to describe it in one word, that would be “chaos.”

One of the main roads in the city

The infrastructure in Nepal is perhaps one of the worst in the world. The best road in the country is broken, bumpy and less than optimal to say the least. There are no traffic lights, lanes or even driving rules. You will often come within inches of another car or bus while driving, or even walking down the streets. Drivers do not look out for pedestrians so it’s only in your own interest to be extra vigilant and get out of their way.

The noise and air pollution in the city compares only to that of Mexico City and Beijing. A face mask is highly recommended. Locals and visitors are found covering their nose and mouth in all public areas Bring ear plugs of you want to get some sleep in the nigh, especially if your hotel overlooks a main road. Ipods also come in handy to drown the noise.

Thamel (the tourist area) in Kathmandu

The most surprising element during my visit was the people of Nepal. They are the friendliest, most sincere and helpful I have ever come across anywhere in the world. Everyone from my waiter, shopkeeper to taxi driver would start making a conversation with me and go out of his/her way to ensure my comfort. I never felt unsafe or had a fear of being cheated the entire time I was in Nepal.