“Saarcification” of Kathmandu

“Saarcification” has been going on all month in Kathmandu.  It all about the upgrades that are underway here as a result of the upcoming SAARC conference which is now just around the corner.  SAARC is the acronym for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and is a kind of EU for the group of eight, South Asian countries, giving them a joint voice and a larger global presence.  Nepal is a member, along with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Pakistan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.  They’ll all be showing up here in the next few days, as its Nepal’s turn to host the annual conference and the government has been busy “beautifying” things, essentially to impress the neighbours.   The “beautification” of the city, is a term that I’m hearing over and over again. And it doesn’t sit well with me.  Not just because most of the city is a long way from being beautiful, but also because the way things have been carried out.

I have mixed feelings on what I’m seeing.  On the plus side, its amazing what is happening and the speed at which its all taking place.  Suddenly in a city where nothing gets done, everything’s getting done, and its a testament to what an be achieved with conviction, organization and some well-channeled funds.  Trees are popping up; a few, highly visible stretches of highway have solar street lighting (there is little street lighting of any kind in the whole city); flowers are being planted, trash is being picked up, and new black tarmac stretches of road are appearing overnight.   That’s all a very good thing.

And yet there is a pervading sense of scorn in Kathmandu towards all the efforts.  Many people feel that the government’s effort is disingenuous, doing so much after doing so little, and doing it to impress others, not its own citizens.  The expectations are really low that any of the planted trees or parks will be maintained, or that the trash will be picked up again after its all over.  The speedy repairs and plantings are sloppily done. Haphazard painting over unprepared services and poor workmanship mean that much will peel, fall over or generally fall into ruin after pretty much no time at all.  The walls that I saw being painted a couple of weeks ago are already caked in dirt or sprayed with graffiti.  It doesn’t bode well.  The saarcification of Kathmandu has been fast and sloppy.  True beautification would be a long term commitment made by the government–and its people– to plan for its infrastructure, care for its future and preserve the many rich treasures the city already has.

flag poles

This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen here: flag poles.   Banks of eight flagpoles (one for each SAARC member flag) have gone up all over the city.  They’re a pretty sad effort.  The poles aren’t straight, the flags are disproportionately tiny, and they just look ridiculous tucked behind yards of ugly wiring.  What a waste of money!



This is much more hopeful. Its looks like this park project has been in planning for a long time and — if they do it right — it will be an excellent addition to the local area. They have to finish it though, and someone has to actually water the grass… we will see.

And finally, probably the silliest thing I’ve seen. I guess it only has to hold up for a couple of days, but planting 12″ mums in a gap between the curb in the pavement where people cross the road. Really?!





Weekly Photo Challenge: Angular

How do you depict “angular” in a country where straight lines aren’t the norm?  Where modern buildings are more higgledy-piggledy than angular?  Here urbanization is not planned or designed so much.  Where are the straight lines?

It stumped me for a bit and the most obvious came to mind…angles indeed!



Not to mention the angular traditional architecture:



And even nature’s little creatures can throw up some interesting artistic angles too:


Sorry, what was your name?

forgotten namesI am so bad with names these days.  In general, and especially here.  It takes me something like 3-6 passes to learn a new person’s name – if it’s simple – horribly longer if it’s not.  Aging brain cells are definitely part of the problem, however, it gets a lot worse when you are dealing with names that have no root in Western languages.

For example: It took me a while to realize that I was subconsciously making assumptions on someone’s sex just by reading their name on paper.  I would email someone several times at work, make arrangements to meet them in person, and be completely shocked to discover that when I finally met Punya in person, he was, in fact, male.  Most western languages (especially the romantic ones) have fairly similar rules on name endings: i.e. suffix of -a, is a girl… -d is a guy. That’s not true here.  I can’t spot any trends in defining who is male and who is female from the spelling of their name, and no-one I’ve asked can give me any useful pointers.

So combine my failing memory, with a set of completely alien names, and no clues to help with the process and you have a recipe for social disaster.  As the cartoon points out, you can politely ask again, but there’s a limit.  And don’t tell me that using mnemonics helps… what the hell rhymes with “pragyma” or “aadishankar” or “indrajaytra”…Help!!  Also, the Nepali language has more than one type of Devanagari symbol for the letter “T” or “D” (and others too)…so lots of extra “h”s and “a”s are added in to help distinguish between them.  Before you learn any Nepali, it seems totally random. When you are reading “Thamel”, for example, it’s actually pronounced “Tamel.”  You learn this over time, but the bottom line is that all the extra “h”s really mess with visual memory too.  So, in addition to all the other problems I have to remember that “Shanta” is pronounced “Santa”, “Shrestha” is pronounced “Sresta” and so on…. It’s so hopeless!

So to any Nepalis that I have asked too many times or if you’ve spotted me skirting around name introductions because I’ve forgotten yours…I’m so sorry!  It’s slowly getting better ,as I am building friends and colleagues with names that I recognize and they are added to my vocabulary, but I am afraid that I may run out of time here before I run out of new names!!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Achievement

The Kevin Rohan Foundation, here in the Kathmandu Valley, does amazing things for the local community. I visited them recently and watched as the final stages of their community-built town hall was coming together. This massive structure was built by locals from bricks they had fired and, amazingly, the walls incorporate recycled bottles to give them strength and let in light. Bottle houses are strong, cheap to build and eco-friendly.  The whole community is a fantastic example of what can be achieved with team work, commitment and the clever use of what you have.


The community townhall coming together. The letters you can see are the initials from the Foundation’s name spelled in bottles.   At night – if  there is power- the name will be lit up through the glass!


A bottle wall up close.



The little version of a “bottle house”  Here the bottles are reversed with the necks facing out.  Its less attractive that the bottle bases but the light inside the house is fantastic!



Sleeping babes! Even the local nursery building is constructed from bottles.

This post participated in the Weekly Photo Challenge: Achievement.


Travel Theme: Arches

Archways are often grand statements or a supporting part of intricate architecture.  For my entry in this week’s travel theme: arches, I decided to take a look at a different kind of arch that I’ve seen around quite a lot.  I’ve noticed a surprising similarity between towns in the Philippines (barangays) and some districts in the Nepal. There is often some kind of archway as you enter the town. Its a welcome to visitors and an announcement of where you are.  These arches are grand in their own way I suppose.  Here are a few interesting examples:


A typical town archway in the Philippines

Entrance to Namobuddha stupa

Is it really an arch if it’s not curved? This square “archway” is at the entrance of Namobuddha stupa, outside of Kathmandu


This ornately painted archway is at the entrance way into Sankhu, a town in the eastern part of the Kathmandu valley

Entrance to Woolwich market

And finally, when I was walking on the Thames Path in London, I noticed this archway over the entrance to Woolwich Market. It reminded me of the Philippines. The sign dates Woolwich market back to the 1600s. I wonder if signed archways used to be a thing in the UK back then too?

Sick Day


My garden is coming along!

When we heard we were getting Nepal as our next post, the stories of “Delhi Belly” were rampant and I thought the upside might be a 20 lbs weight loss on the “Amoebic Dysentery diet.”  Surprisingly, nothing like that has happened (so far, knock on wood) and, apart from a couple of 24 hour bugs, I haven’t really been sick.  Yesterday evening my tummy didn’t feel right and the short version is that I had a bad night’s sleep.  The next morning I was exhausted and still wasn’t feeling confident enough to go back to work, so I took a sick day.  The plan was to go back to bed for a couple of hours and catch up on sleep and make sure that I recovered for the rest of the week.

That did not happen.  Our Didis showed up, the door bell started ringing.  A team of guys showed up to fix our bedroom window.  Another team showed up to fix the generator fuel supply.  The water truck came.  More delivery trucks.  The phone rang and rang.  I got no peace and no sleep.  I headed outside to the 75 degree November sunshine to sit in my favourite porch chair, look at my little flower garden and watch the butterflies.  It didn’t last long.  The horns blasted away outside, the generator kicked on, and the neighbours lit a fire to burn their stock pile of plastic. (A terrible, but common practice around here.)   It was a strange mix of peaceful insect buzz inside and chaotic honking outside.  But I did stop and takes some photos for a little while before the acrid fumes drove me back inside the house.

Here are some insect and flower shots that give no clue of plastic fumes or car horns. I’m very glad they still hang out with us anyway:

Nepali bean

Bean flowers from the feral Nepali bean vine that is growing over our wall. We’ve had a crop of about 10 kilos so far!


Marigolds.  The most Nepali on flowers!


The dragonflies were everywhere.