Culture Shock

Trip Start Jan 04, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Nepal  ,
Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Arriving in Asia, after a 3 year hiatus, always involves a bit of culture shock for me.  This is especially true for a country like Nepal which, after leaving the Middle East, almost seems like the start of an entirely new journey rather than a continuation of the current one.  Kathmandu is definitely a change of pace from my previous location in Beirut.  The narrow streets are filled with all manner of vehicles from cars to cycle-powered pedicabs, which share the space with pedestrians as there are often no sidewalks.  The worst are the numerous Indian motorcycles who often would cut me off while I was walking and then stop abruptly in front of me so I almost toppled over them.  A cacophony of constant horn honking kept my blood pressure elevated and intensely aware of all approaching vehicles.  

After negotiating for taxi I headed for an area called Thamel to find accommodation.  On the way the driver mentioned that I had arrived the day before the Hindu festival Maha Shivaratri or the Great Night of Shiva, which is held at a large temple complex called Pashupatinath.  Arriving in Thamel I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place and number of hotels, restaurants, shops and trekking companies.  If you've ever been to Khao San road in Bangkok it is similar although 10 times bigger.  I must admit that I have no idea how the tourism industry in Nepal can support all the businesses crowded together in Thamel.  It is absolutely enormous.  Still the place has some great deals, especially for accommodation, if you bargain hard.

The following day I left my hotel early in the morning and walked to Pashupatinath.  Arriving at 10 am the place was already filled with an ever-growing, eclectic crowd of worshipers, cannabis smoking Sadhus (Holy Men) from India, tourists, local teenagers (also smoking cannabis), artists, performers, food vendors, security police and plenty of monkeys.  In some areas people were waiting in long lines to enter various temples while in another, by the river, dead bodies were being cremated on stacked wood funeral pyres.  The place certainly had a great deal of local color and was an enjoyable place to spend the afternoon.

That night I visited the impressive Durbar Square, the temple district in Kathmandu.  The temples dedicated to Shiva there were also surrounded by people and huge bonfires built on the street and towering into the air as more and more wood was added to them. 

I spent several days in Thamel but upon my return to Kathmandu I moved to an area called Jochhen, also known as Freak Street from its popularity as an anything goes place where hippies on the Asia circuit stayed in the late 60s, which had unsurprisingly more relaxed atmosphere than Thamel.  It also was a good base of operation to use for exploring a few other places around the Kathmandu Valley. 

The first place I visited was Patan, basically part of Kathmandu today but once was a separate Kingdom in the valley.  It also had its own Durbar Square but was less crowded and many of the temples here seemed to be in a little better condition, and quieter, than those in Kathmandu.  Next, I spent a day marveling at the huge Buddhist stupa in Boudhanath, the largest in Nepal and even more fun because you can climb on it and at sunset join the hundreds of people endlessly circling it in a clockwise direction.

The final place I visited in Kathmandu Valley was Bhaktapur for the start of the Nepali New Year.  It is considered the oldest city in the valley and is also the best preserved thanks to a hefty $15 entrance fee levied on tourists.  To kick of the multi-day celebration a lively game of tug-o-war is fought between dozens of local youths.

All-in-all Kathmandu was a wonderful, head first dive into Nepali culture and an interesting and chaotic place to begin my exploration of the region.
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Maxine Martin on

WE always enjoy reading your well written travel blogs! I feel like I have been there with you when I read them!

Pat Borrok on

Neat travel log, Dan! Glad you are saving the description of all you see.

Betty Stephens on

So very interesting, Dan. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I have so many questions as I read your entries! Be well.

Fred on

Dan, it might be said that we share some inner compulsion to always wonder what's over the next hill and horizon. Hope to get there too someday! I admire your passion for discovery.

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