International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Nepal
visit to Kathmandu, the roof of the world
Marianne de Nazareth
When I was invited for the Third Pole Project: Covering Climate
Change in the Himalayas from August 28th to September 2nd, 2009,
I jumped at the chance as it was a project close to my heart. Over
the past two years I live, eat and breathe Climate Change. It has
taken over my life, I chucked up my career as Assistant Editor in
a leading newspaper, I even teach a module to second year Masters
Media students in Christ University, because I think if we journos
dont spread the word no one else will.
Our planet is in
peril and maybe you could say, oh well who cares, it wont affect
me, Ill be dead and gone. But, just stop in your tracks, its
already happening out there to us, right now. It is already hitting
us with water and energy shortages so, is anyone listening?
The Third Pole project was a programme organised to sensitize us journos
about how Climate Change is affecting the Himalayas. The Himalayas
the pride and joy of us Indians, in trouble. There was no way I was
going to miss the opportunity to go out there and find out first hand
what the issue was all about.
While sitting in the New Delhi airport waiting for my connection to
Kathmandu I was pleasantly surprised that the airport is wifi and you
get an hour at a time to surf, chat and do whatever. I also noticed
tons of firangs (slang for foreigners) with back packs and
boots, all waiting along with me. So obviously Kathmandu has not changed
much since the 60s and 70s as a hippie hang
out I thought. Except that the firangs were not the scruffy kind of
the flower power era, but the better heeled ones who wore swine flu
sitting in the New Delhi airport waiting for my connection to Kathmandu
I was pleasantly surprised that the airport is wifi and you get
an hour at a time to surf, chat and do whatever. I also noticed
tons of firangs (slang for foreigners) with back packs
and boots, all waiting along with me. So obviously Kathmandu has
not changed much since the 60s and 70s as
a hippie hang out I thought. Except that the firangs were not the
scruffy kind of the flower power era, but the better heeled ones
who wore swine flu masks!
As we touched down
in Kathmandu we all had to get into a huddle to fill in Swine Flu
forms, to vouch for the fact that we were not sniffling and bringing
in the virus to beautiful Kathmandu. After which it was a wonderful
feeling to be waved in very politely by a Nepali Immigration official
since I had an Indian passport which is respected in Nepal. Wow! Its
a great feeling especially since we are so used to being traumatised
over getting visas to go anywhere else in the world. I mean my passport
is full of visas and yet if I ask for a visa for Germany or anywhere
in Europe I get exactly the number of days I am going for the conference
in the country! So much for a borderless, globalised world.
Kathmandu is situated in the Kathmandu valley and has two suburbs
Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. We were staying at the Himalaya in Lalitpur
and a free pick up at the airport is one of the nicest things a tired
traveller appreciates, instead of being gouged by mean taxi drivers.
It was also nicer to have Isobel Hilton, one of the organisers travelling
on the same flight into Kathmandu with me.
As I collected my key at the reception of the Himalaya Hotel, I was
told Kathmandu stands at an elevation of 1400 m and surrounded by four
major mountains, Sivapuri, Pulchowki, Nagarjun and Chandragiri. At any
time early morning or early evening, the mountains were always hazy,
seemingly covered by a cloud. Was this the famous Asian Brown cloud
which we had come to learn about, hanging over them I wondered. It was
frustrating not being able to get pretty pictures of them. Brown cloud
is particulate matter which is expelled from burning fossil fuels and
which hang in the atmosphere causing widespread damage to our fragile
planet and especially the glaciers in the mountains.
did not live up to its reputation of being beautiful and well kept.
The roads were messy and clogged with unruly traffic and the buildings
did not seem to follow any norms whatsoever. However thankfully
Kathmandu does not have the autos (three wheeler public transport)
that pollute our roads in India, instead they have ten seater Maruti
vans which stop at intervals. Taxis are the better form of transport
and though they have a meter, unless you insist it is switched on,
they will haggle with you over an exhorbitant price.
is great, cause the Indian rupee is accepted all over the city
but, only in hundred rupee denominations. Apparently the Indian 500
and 1000 rupee are banned and visitors carrying that currency are liable
to be prosecuted! You can be sure I hid mine away as most Indians carry
500 rupee notes for convenience sake.
One evening after a day at the conference we decided to take a trip
to the Patan Durbar square which was a few minutes drive from the hotel.
So Huma and Raina (two Pakistani journalists), along with Anna from
Delhi and I, took off before dark and were stunned by the beauty of
the place. Weaving along a regular road, the taxi stopped at the square
which seems to be in a time warp of the 12th and 18th centuries when
the palaces were built. Patan Square and its surroundings reflect ancient
Newari architecture. There are three main courtyards in the square:
Mul Chowk, Sundari Chowk and Keshav Narayan Chowk. Mul Chowk, the oldest
one, is at the centre of Patan square. The square is a world heritage
site and no wonder, the temples and statues seem so surreally beautiful.
Saturday is the weekly general holiday in Nepal, so the square was full
of holiday makers sitting around and probably watching us goofy tourists,
snapping pictures and shooting footage with our digi cams.
were allowed into one temple as the others had clear signs
"Only Hindus allowed. We laboriously climbed up the steep
stairs and itched to ring the lines of bells which hung around the
idol. " You just watch, they will know I am from Pakistan,"
said Huma, and sure enough as we walked into the temple she was
asked just that. I was stunned because to me Huma looked a typical
Indian muslim with an elegant veil.
Photos done and
since darkness had descended, it was time to break Humas fast.
It was the month of Ramzan and she had been fasting since the morning.
As we gorged on Momos and other delicacies we were treated to a stream
of retro rock from a nearby bar being performed by a live rock group.
An hour of Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Queen et al and I was sure the 70s
are alive and well in Kathmandu!
The Prime minister of Nepal set the tone at the start of the conference
we attended by saying, " We in Nepal recognize that Climate Change
has become possibly the greatest development challenge of our times,
and it is in the Himalayas that the impact will be severely felt. Few
in the world recognize that the Himalayas which store the largest body
of ice outside of the polar region, are the sources of the worlds
greatest rivers which supply water to the worlds most densely
populated plains," he said. " The glaciers in the Himalayas
are retreating faster than any other glaciers in the world. Increased
investment from developed countries and international organizations
for the conservation of environmental resources of this region to address
the adverse effects of Climate Change, should be the guiding spirit
behind international co-operation to cope with the crisis." We
sincerely hope so, as the glaciers are melting and their melt is forming
lakes which are a threat to human life in the various valleys.
whole of Kathmandu is sprinkled with Buddist stupas with their trademark
khol lined eyes. So inbetween the conference at the Hyatt, we took
a taxi to the nearby Bouddhanath Stupa which is a world heritage
UNESCO site as well. The Stupa is massive and dont be surprised
if you are blown away by its sheer size. All around the Stupa are
140 niches in which three prayer wheels per niche are found. As
you walk along one is expected to whirl the wheels for luck.
Shops line the periphery
of the stupa and all sorts of Tibetan handicrafts are available on sale
from key chains to brass figurines of Buddha and other deities and ofcourse
the famed pashmina shawls. But dont be misled, they are not cheap.
Bargaining is the name of the game!
Kathmandu is a great place to visit for a holiday, but remember if you
are looking for views of only the Himalayas preferably choose the dry,
summer months, where hopefully the brown cloud dissapates. I guess I
will have to go back to do that!
© Marianne de Nazareth September 7th 2009
There are several airlines operating to and out of Khatmandu.
I took Jet Air from Bangalore to Delhi preferably an early morning flight.
Take your connecting flight to Khatmandu to reach comfortably by 6pm.
Jet Air out of Khatmandu at 4:25pm which brings you in for your connecting
flight out of Delhi by Jetlight into Bangalore by 10pm. Use the airport
shuttle, its cheap and convenient to and fro Bangalore airport to central
roads in the city. Then catch an auto home.
There are a variety to suit every budget. Check them out at the information
centre at the airport.
INR equivalent to 1.60 Nepali rupee
$ brought in 77 Nepali rupee per dollar
Marianne de Nazareth
in Nepal recognize that Climate Change has become possibly the greatest
development challenge of our times...'
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