Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Katmandu, round 3

Well, I have to admit that my first two visits to Kathmandu were a little different than I had expected. You hear so many things about this Nepali city that bring to mind the exotic, the timeless, the spiritual. Yet when I first arrived and wandered around for a couple days, it seemed awfully similar to the polluted, chaotic, concrete-filled cities of other Asian towns that have expanded simply by laying more rebar and asphalt.

This time, however, I was goaded into visiting Bhaktapur, a preserved population center on the outskirts of Kathmandu, an area known for its historical buildings and lack of intrusive roads. We got out of the taxi and walked into what I had been envisioning all along.

Narrow streets, tiny doorways, old wood carvings, neighborhood temples, round wells, woodcarving or pottery or cobbler's shops... It is easy to imagine that these buildings, these paths and gathering places, haven't changed much in several hundred years. Stone carvings on temple stairs, rows of bells hanging from the eves, intricate forms hiding in wood in the shadows - all of these things seamlessly and un-selfconsciously a part of daily life

And I have to imagine that the whole of Kathmandu had this air about it when it was "discovered" by the western world in the 70s. In the early 50s, there were no roads that accessed this place from the outside world. (There were cars that had been taken apart and carried in, but you couldn't drive there!) The city in 1970 must have been so incredibly different from the West in ways it simply isn't now. I took a right by the Nike sign and went upstairs to get a 3G modem for my computer this morning. A little different, 40 years later.

But tomorrow we are on the first plane out to Lukla, back to a land that has changed in some ways, but not in others. The mountain trails are still steep and rocky, and yaks and people still carry everything that has to move up and down the valley. Follow the Everest Base Camp trek at www.alpineascents.com/everest-trek-cybercast-spring10.asp

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