Kathmandu is a shit hole
Not because it’s overcrowded, filthy, noisy and your life flashes before your eyes with every taxi journey. I mean I’m not saying I like sucking on exhaust pipes, on contrare mon frere, my gag reflex has definitely been put to the test. But you accept these things with a sense of empathy for a small developing country, battered by one of the biggest earthquakes in recent years. A country shit sandwiched between the two biggest economic powers in the east, always flexing their muscles. That’s China and India btw for the geographically challenged.
And definitely not because it was reduced to ruble by the earthquake last year. It’s sad as hell, a lot of people are still suffering and I empathise greatly with their situation. A lot of the infrastructure has already been rebuilt and there are few signs of earthquake damage in central Kathmandu. Durbar square is a different story. Most of the earthquake damage can be seen on the outskirts and into the neighbouring districts.
Kathmandu is a shit hole because of the people it attracts. Because when I step of out my ironically named Tibetan Peace Guest house, i feel like I’m in a warzone. Within 30 seconds, I’ve declined my first offer for hash. Seconds later I get approached by another dodgy looking dude asking me if I “wana buy something something”. I’m assuming he’s not selling Oreo flavoured ice creams so i politely decline. He counters with “I am guide. I have trekking company, I give you good price!”. So i look like more like a druggy than an athlete? Cheers mate. You can shove your trekking company up your ass. I guess someone should have told him to switch up his routine. Or maybe he just has more hash than trekking permits. Who knows, I’m not keen to find out so I wave a “talk to the hand” type gesture and walk the fuck away. It’s a 10 minute walk to coffee shop where I’m meeting my friend and I’ve been offered drugs 7 times, physically and verbally dodged about 15 dudes trying to sell me overpriced trekking deals and tried to avoid eye contact with another 100 or so salivating ‘entrepreneurs’ ready to pounce as soon as you swerve in their vicinity.
These people make a living praying on tourists. Hassling. Begging. They have an air of bitterness and envy. They see tourists as walking piggybanks. They are so far removed from the rest of Nepal that even locals say that Kathmandu is nothing like the rest of Nepal.
I am not naive. I know we are richer in the west. I know that people flock to the city in the hopes of a better life, sometimes with good intentions of just earning enough money to provide for their families. And they see tourists as a means to that end. But that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your culture and your ideals in order to get there. We are also richer than the people living in the mountains or the valleys, with nothing but their family home and a small shop. They still sell things to tourists — food, lodging, selfie sticks…but they do it with a kind hearted Namaste and a smile on their face instead. And that’s true for everywhere I’ve been in Nepal. Except Kathmandu.
And yes, you got me, I’m mainly talking about Thamel — the tourist trap of Kathmandu. It sucks you in like a moth to a flame. Everywhere you look there are signs of lost souls stuck here sucking on bongs all day long and talking about how they were gona go trekking 3 months ago. That’s why I avoided Alobar — the main backpacker hostel — like the plague! I feel like trekkers just get in and out. And that’s what it should be like. Buy your gear, book your trip and escape to the mountains. Or the jungle. Or a temple. Anywhere but here!
If you want to be cultural, go to Patan. That actually feels like Nepal. You can observe people going about their day to day business without getting harassed. You can interact with locals and get a warm welcome and a funny story rather than a sales pitch. You can look at old temples, museums and learn about the history and religion of Nepal without masses of crowds. It’s awesome and it’s where I would have stayed had I known what Thamel was before I got here.
Saying that, if you accept Thamel for what it is and can deal with it for a few days (I got stuck here for a week — way too long), there are some cool backpackery places worth checking out. A restaurant called ‘Places’ has great veggie food and super fast Internet. A Mexican restaurant called ‘Maya’ has probably the best Mexican food I’ve ever had and some great Spanish tunes. Himalayan Java Cafe is a more chilled version of Starbucks — super western place with good coffee where you can instagram your temple selfies. If you need trekking gear, go to ‘Shonas’ and let them sort you out. They know their shit, are super friendly, won’t oversell you or be pushy. They also rent sleeping bags and down jackets. And I’ve been told Alobar is actually pretty chilled and a good place to meet backpackers despite my moaning. Just watch out for the stoned brits in the corner.
I probably hung out in Thamel for too long and grew to hate it. For me it represents Kathmandu. It is Kathmandu. Even walking around the neighbouring areas I got a similar feeling, perhaps less intense. But everyone who travels to Nepal will end up in Thamel, even if just for a little while. It’s a nutty place where only the hippiest of travellers will feel at home.
Kathmandu is not Nepal.