I decided to visit Nepal on a whim, and did not know what to expect. Not surprisingly, I was so NOT ready for all the weird and wonderful things Nepal had to offer. Below are my Top 5 favorites:
1. The air never smells so fresh… in your own country. While most people know Nepal as the home of Mount Everest, the rooftop of the world, probably not many know that its capital Kathmandu is the third most polluted city in the world after Tetovo (Macedonia) and Cairo (Egypt), according to the latest Pollution Index ranking. I have not been to either city in the top 2, but have experienced other cities in Top 10 – Manila (Philippine), Delhi (India), and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam). I can testify that Kathmandu is head and shoulder above all those when it comes to air and water pollution.
The unbelievably polluted Bisnumati River. I almost threw up when we crossed this river.
2. Nepal can easily and effortlessly lead the Earth Hour movement. Power outage is part of life. Electricity supply in Nepal is so pathetic that the whole population lives without electricity for half a day every day. This is baffling to me, as its neighbor Bhutan could subsidize education and healthcare for all of its citizens by selling hydro-power to India. The two countries are so similar geographically, but so different economically.
3. The Nepalese Government is very “high tech”. While power supply is sporadic, wifi availability is mostly good throughout the day. But people need power to charge their phone, so that they can use wifi to check the Government’s Loadshedding App to know when they can charge their phone again. Yes, you hear it right. The Nepalese Government has an app to inform its citizens when power is on and off. How cool is that?
The Loadshedding app tells Nepalese people when power is on.
4. Taking a hot shower cannot get more exciting than this. When I booked accommodations in Nepal, I was often offered 2 options – Standard or Deluxe room. The difference? Standard rooms get hot shower during the day only, Deluxe rooms get hot shower 24/7. I did not quite understand why, until I got into the country. Because of limited power supply, most guesthouses install solar panels, hence the daytime hot water availability. Paying a little bit more, and you will get the most luxurious form of shower in the country – the gas shower. A gas cylinder is connected directly to the flowing gas water heater without any mixers. Every time you turn the water on, you hear this ‘click click click’ sound, and then boom, you see fire lit up inside the heater, yes, fire literally. In some places, they place the rustic gas cylinder right inside the bathroom, so you can see how the whole system functions. Fascinating stuff! My imagination just ran wild every time I took a shower. What if this shitty gas cylinder exploded and blew me into smithereens? What if the gas level just shot up suddenly and boiling water poured down my head? What if there was a leak, and the room was filled with suffocating gas? So many creative ways to die in a bathroom on top of the world.
This is my gas shower in Ghorepani. The water was so hot, I did not dare to wash my hair.
5. Flying in Nepal is probably the most thrilling adventure you can have. When the check-in staff of Simrik Airlines told us ‘every seat is a window seat’, we knew we were in for a wild ride, or more correctly a wild flight. Our Kathmandu-Pokhara flight turned out not bad at all and we made it safely to Pokhara and back. But the Nepalese aviation industry is notoriously famous for its poor safety records. There are a bunch of tiny private airlines with tiny fleets of super tiny airplanes. Most of them are not even included in AirlineRatings’ list, but the three that make it are simply outstanding. Nepal Airlines, Tara Air, and Yeti Airlines all score only 1 or 2 out of 7, and are in the bottom of the safety ranking list. To be fair, flying in tough mountainous terrains of the Himalayas is super challenging even to the most skilled pilots, and should not be benchmarked against regular commercial flights in well-established routes operated by large airlines. But when flight crashes make regular headlines, you probably should think twice before buying tickets (I did not know any of these before my trip, hence booked a return flight out of ignorance). And make sure you buy a good travel insurance package before boarding.
Our tiny plane
There are less than 20 seats on board. Each row has two seats, one on each side of the only aisle. Every seat is hence a window seat literally. The space inside is so small, you cannot stand up right.
But what I remember most about Nepal is its people. While daily life continues to be a struggle for most of them, the country exudes an easy-going and unhurried vibe. Even in the bustling Thamel area, you can see men leisurely sit around chatting with others. Street vendors often read newspapers instead of nagging customers. Restaurant chefs may take an hour to prepare your meal fresh. Hotel owners chant prayers and perform elaborate rituals every morning for good luck. People walk slowly, talk gently, and smile broadly. Namaste, Nepal!
First day – walking around Thamel
Most of the roads in Thamel are small and full of potholes
Young guys hanging outside a tea shop
A shoe shiner in Thamel
Ice is a luxury item in Nepal, so fish is simply displayed like this. Shopkeepers splash water on the fish every now and then. Not sure how long they can keep fresh though.
A very dusty intersection
No traffic rules at all
A beautiful door
The cracked feet of a rickshaw driver
A homeless man
Temples are everywhere
A cloth vendor. Notice the mask on his face? The air quality in Kathmandu is so bad that most people walk around with a thick mask.
A Buddha statue on a rooftop
Buddha statues around Kathesimbhu Stupa
Carving on a temple gate
An outdoor market
Beautiful blue doors
A man cycling past clothe shops. See the man in the background delivering gas cylinders on a wheelbarrow?
A man resting in front of a Ganesh statue
A local woman sitting in a courtyard
A beautiful bell
This is a tooth temple. People stick their hands into this tooth symbol and pray for good teeth 🙂
None of the pillars of this tiny house looks vertical. Not sure how longer the house can stand.
I did not see any Coca Cola cans, only bottles
Not sure who this guy is
Lots of small mom-and-pop stores
Grains and spices
A vendor in his tiny shop. See the two red triangles on his newspaper? It’s actually the Nepalese national flag. As far as I know, Nepal is the only country in the world without a rectangular flag.
A vendor reading newspapers
The small streets in central Kathmandu is teemed with local vendors
A busy intersection
A woman walking by an incense and spice shop
Locals praying outside a temple
Another busy intersection
Beautifully carved windows and balcony
A man sitting among the rubble, cutting tin scraps
A Ganesh statue among the rubble
A beautiful Buddha statue
A temple gate
Candles and flower offerings
Intricate temple carvings
A street hairdresser and his customer
Temples are truly everywhere in Kathmandu
Even though Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha, only ~10% of the population is actually Buddhist. I only saw one monk during my 10-day trip.
Beautiful temple carvings and decorations
A typical street scene
So many beautiful doors in Kathmandu
Buddha statues covered in red tikka
A man passing a souvenir store
A local woman in traditional outfit walking past earthquake rubble