Written by student Doug Michael
Sunday Dec. 23rd (2012), 6:00am
The plane was mostly full of Nepalis; when Kathmandu came into view, one of them unbuckled and sat on his friend’s lap to see the landing better. After we had safely landed, he quickly hopped back into his seat. There was hooting and hollering from the Nepalis and a general good feeling among the passengers. Landing in Kathmandu is exciting, and will always be a bit of a culture shock. The airport is surrounded by shabby looking multi-story brick tenements arrayed in a seemingly random assortment of patterns and colors. We were greeted on the outside of the airport by a man holding a sign with my name on it. He brought us over to our van taxi, and we loaded our bags. There are always dozens of Nepalis at the front door of the airport who are more than willing to help you with your bags – and then they demand a fee. I figured that the man holding the sign worked for the hotel we were staying at, but I was wrong. He demanded some money and at first I refused. Eventually we relented and paid him 500NRS. The drive to the International Guest House was chaotic – it is a miracle that traffic moves in Katmandu, but somehow the brave truck, taxi, and motorcycle drivers adapt to each other and the rough streets. There are far more motorcycles and mopeds in Katmandu than any other vehicle. The steets of Kathmandu vary from paved to potholed to dirt and back again in a hundred feet. There is no semblance of order in the way traffic moves; center lane markers may be present, but they are roundly ignored. Where there is space to maneuver, there are several vehicles and bicycles all pointed in that direction. Some traffic cops monitor the major intersections, but most of the time they are chatting with some passerby on a motorcycle who has stopped to chat. When we arrived at the International Guest House, I think we were all relieved to find a quiet space and rooms to store our bags. The IGH is a beautiful six story building on the outskirts of Thamel. The lobby is filled with beautiful and ornate woodwork, and flowering vines cover the walls. The roof is a balcony with a view over western Katmandu; Swayambu can be seen in the distance. The air in Kathmandu is horrible. My nose fills with soot so that when I blow it I can almost taste the dust, exhaust, and burning plastic that fills the air. To keep warm at night, people on the street burn whatever they can find – plastic seems to suit them just fine. The mountains are barely visible each time I’ve been in Kathmandu, and I joke with the girls that we’ve breathed in the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes on our drive from the airport to the hotel.