Kathmandu! First impressions

So the backstory is i visited Kathmandu towards the tail end of a year long adventure in 1995. Quite the highlight of my year. Three months. Trekking. Whitewater rafting. Drinking.

In 1998 I returned and my buddy Gary (a Canadian whitewater guide I met in 1995) introduced me to the family of Sunil, Bishnu, Sagar, Sabina and Korfina.

I spent many days with them in 1998, 2000 and most recently in 2006. So it’s been ten years. Our relationship has continued and my first goal was spending time with them. I arrived a few days ago. I am staying wth them a ten minute walk from Thamel. The irony is Sagar, Sabina, and Korfina are all living and working in other countries to make life work. But Sagar’s wife and two year old daughter are here.

Kathmandu continues to feel like a shit hole when you arrive. This might have been the first time I had a clear day landing. Even my first time here I was like WTF? Gross. But as you’ll see the place grows on you. And it changes you.

The population has exploded. Introduction of antibiotics years ago, lack of family planning, and migration to cities for jobs has Kathmandu being like the Mexico City of Nepal. But smaller scale. Nestled between soaring peaks at about 4500 feet, the pollution becomes apparent as you drop down from 35000 feet into the bowl. Whoa. I was warned.

It seems every single street is broken down except for the ones in the tourist area, Thamel, and the big ring road. It also seems like every single person now owns a moto, wears a mask when driving and, quite honestly, think walking would be a more efficient method of getting around. The traffic without any traffic lights (that I’ve seen) is like motocross on steroids. I mean I have NEVER seen that many motorcycles. Even in Beijing but that was 22 years ago.

I said back in 1995 never trust an overweight Nepali or one who wore jeans. Haha. Well, not too many overweight ones but jeans and smart phones and motos are ubiquitous (there’s that word again) and normally all three are combined.

The normal conservative dress down culture is gone. For the most part. Still there are men in traditional clothes and hats and women in saris. Now add to that stretchy pants, tons of makeup and new hair styles. Leather jackets.

I still think the Nepali people are the most visually stunning in the world and definitely the most friendly. From maybe 12-15 years old to around 40, they are striking. A mix of Indian, Tibetan, Chinese. All very different. Add in the sometimes jet black hair and high cheekbones and there are both men and women that are runway worthy. They rarely grey or lose their hair. And as they age they just become more regal. Get to 60 here and life makes you stunning again.

Namaste with hands pressed together. I salute the god in you. Incredible.

It’s mainly a subsistence economy here. Lots of corruption and bullshit. Tourism is massive as you can expect. Trekking and rafting and homestays. It keeps the economy afloat. The earthquake in 2015 broke my heart as I was helpless to do much but it didn’t break the spirit of these deeply spiritual people. Temples on every corner.

Walking through Thamel was like walking back in time for me. My old hotel, Hotel The Earth, has been closed for ten years but other mainstays are still here. The Kathmandu Guest house. Yin Yang restaurant. Ultimate Descents rafting though the owner died years ago. Fire and Ice Pizza. I am still expecting to just run into an old raft guide buddy, someone I bought hash from or an aging Sadhu that hung rocks from his dick. Yes. It used to happen.

In 1950, around the time Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay started dreaming of climbing Everest, the population stood at about 100,000.

Today it’s over 2 million for the valley. Go outside of the Thamel playland and it blows you away. The twisting turning roads of Thamel are just so cool still. I told Pandora there was probably 5000 shops here today when we spoke. Then I revised it down to 1000. I’m revising back up. You can get ANYTHING you want from the Himalaya regions here. Anything. And most people do. I could buy ten buddhas, ten tapestries, ten thankas. I mean the stuff is all gorgeous. The incense. The burning wood. The sewage. The fumes. You just can’t beat the place. Even though its idyllic veneer fails to address the massive inequality, poverty, child trafficking, drug trade (hash doesn’t count but for the record I don’t smoke anymore!) and dramatic environmental devastation (Sir Edmund Hillary said before he died he regretted building the airport in the Everest Region) that comes with both tourist consumption as well as the consumption associated with pleasing and carting said tourists and their shit up Everest and other trekking peaks. Yes. I’m a trekking snob. Big time. And I’m gonna carry my own shit up here by myself until I can’t carry it anymore. Or they carry me out. But I contribute to it just being here.

Google Maps sucks here. They can’t keep up with twisting turning roads (and likely some user error) and I kept failing trying to find where to get my trekking permit. So I succumbed to a rickshaw ride to get there. Yep. They are still here. Not the most crowded shot but you get it.

So i went ahead and said it. I’m going to trek to the Khumbu from Tumlingtar to Namche Bazaar (at least) on trails and through villages I’ve been many years before. More on that later but my heart is swelling with happiness to be able to do this. It just means so much to me. I’m not sure if I even realized it.

For the record I don’t need permits for my route. No one goes that route for some reason. Exactly.

My heart is so full and so emotional for this place finally. This place and these people have had such a profound influence on my life it’s hard to describe.

And i am so happy to be here.

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