This is a photo of a photo, taken at the Climate Plus Change exhibition in Kathmandu last year. Among the collection of poignant, climate-related photography, this exhibit showed a number of before and after pictures taken inside the Kathmandu Valley, documenting the developmental changes over a relatively short period of time.
Can you actually believe that this is the same scene across just 13 years? The only real clues are the shape of the background hills and a small building at the right-hand foreground of the picture. Truly unbelievable. I have been here two years and I know that the sprawl continues to grow, probably at the same rate, its just harder to see when it occurs incrementally around you every day. Its been four years since the lower picture was taken and the Swayambhu area now has literally no patches of green, other than the hill that overlooks it. All this sprawl is in unchecked, unplanned, and unsupported by any growth in roads or services. Its a sad reality.
All through the late rainy season and into the winter cold, every morning when we left our gate we saw this homeless lady. Huddled up in many layers of clothing – including the distinctive fabric and apron of Tibetan clothing — she became a fixture in our community. She had fashioned a head protector from a rice sack, which she wore continually for cover from the sun and rain, and probably the cold too. It gave her a distinctive, almost dignified appearance. I think she must have slept in the little park on the corner of our street, or perhaps on the pavement itself.
I’d often see her huddled against a wall or near a local restaurant’s window, warming herself on the heat from the ovens. I got the feeling that the local shopkeepers took care of her with food and water, but most of the time she just hung around, waiting and watching. She would turn up unexpectedly on the kerbside, or on the distance I’d see her distinctive profile curled up in a squat. It can be hard to tell the age of weather-beaten faces but I think she was fairly young. What was her story? Why was she homeless?
As I was trying to take a picture from our car of another subject, I unintentionally took this picture of her instead. She just unexpectedly showed up in my viewfinder. Then, just as unexpectedly, one day she was no longer around. I wonder what happened to her?
Wandering Cows challenged me to the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge which requires you to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo, then nominate someone else. This is my first entry. I would like to nominate Alex from She Gathers No Moss, who write engaging vignettes from the Philippines and makes me homesick for my time there.
Bandhs are general strikes. They have plagued this country in recent years: closing businesses, banning public transportation, and generally inconveniencing everyone for days at a time. After a relatively bandh-free year, they are back and the Maoists who instigate them called for a three-day ban, starting today. They seem to be having a harder and harder time making them stick…but still managed to take the chaos of Kathmandu down to a very strange kind of crawl today. Motorized vehicles vanished, schools closed, people walked to work or didn’t go at all. The only vehicles allowed were essential deliveries, emergency services, tourist buses and diplomatic vehicles. Those who disobeyed faced the possibility of confrontation or violence, so police were at every street corner. Yet, despite the threat, pedestrians filled the streets and the roads were quiet and more than a bit spooky.
So, in complete contrast to my earlier video of Kathmandu traffic, here’s a look at what happened today:
Daily Prompt: Wrong Turns. When was the last time you got lost? Was it an enjoyable experience, or a stressful one? Tell us all about it.
How funny to return home in the last hour to this prompt! We just got lost in the back alleys of Kathmandu, which was quite an adventure….
Kathmandu at night just closes down, and as the shutters from shops descend at the end of the day, things get very dark. There isn’t a street light in the whole city. It is sort of mesmerizing and scary at the same time. Not really scary in a way that you might fear other people, but scary because you can’t see where you are going in a city where sidewalks have missing paving stones, giant holes, obstacles, dog poop, and gutters with 12 inch drops.
Fortunately we were driving. So it was the driver who feared making a wrong move…which he did by turning right too soon. I knew that…but then I presumed he knew something I didn’t, which is often the case for me. I was wrong ( and he was wrong too), so we got lost. The road grew narrower and narrower and the crazy thing about Kathmandu alleys is that driving down them sort of feels like some kind of computer game. At every turn you see the dead end of a brick wall ahead, and is only when you are upon it that you realize that the road still continues by winding left or right around someone’s property. It always looks like a dead end for sure…but suddenly there’s still a way out…at least most of the time. The organic way that the city developed means that roads were never laid out and no space was ever planned for vehicles. The roads just wind their independent way around whatever property they come across. I lost all sense of direction in no time.
On and on we wound, until finally we turned right towards the main road and there it was….a giant dug up ditch the size of the whole street. Piles of dirt lined its edges and concrete drainage pipes sat waiting to be laid inside. It was completely impossible to pass. We couldn’t back up, so we turned left. On and on we wound some more, only this time we were heading in the wrong direction, at least I thought so. My internal compass isn’t great at the best of times, but in the dark, down endless alleys, it was hopeless. After about another ten turns, there was another car in front of us, heading in the opposite direction. It wasn’t going to back up..so we had to.. and we backed up around corners –much to the entertainment of onlookers – for about 50 yards until the road was wide enough for two vehicles to pass. Phew! And finally…God bless him… the driver found his way out of the maze and back onto the main street again. We laughed and it was an adventure. But I don’t need to do it again soon.
So that was my Wednesday night, how was yours?!
So having made ourselves a nest here, the routine at home has felt normal for a while now. But once we step outside our gate, its quite a different world of instant noise, traffic and chaos. Once you close it behind you…there you are…in the thick of it. Making the streets of Kathmandu at home is a lot different than arranging a few carpets and pillows. However, about three months in to our new life here in Nepal, even the crazy external things are starting to feel normal in their own kind of crazy way. Odd things like cows on the street, dust, bad paving, non-existent paving and giant potholes, for example. Or crows, stray dogs, hoards of motorcycles, piles of rubbish, dust clouds and street vendors… While not “normal” they are no longer extraordinary. I still have to walk looking down most of the time so I don’t kill myself…but walking and looking down at the same time, well, that’s starting to feel normal too…… And its funny, when the first challenges that you encounter at a new place start to feel be absorbed as predictible, a new layer city detail opens up and as you stop having to work so hard at those first, new challenges.
This street is a pedestrian nightmare. But the bricks I now know are hope that the street will be paved soon and they form the edging that will be the street gutter
An ugly wet cement mess. But someone sprinkled the cement dust with water which stops clouds of dust rising in the rainy season. Ugly…but a gesture I know recognize and appreciate..
These types of steps outside shops are common but very difficult to walk on. The drop is considerably difficult to walk up and down without tripping but they give lots of clearance from the dirty road.
Oh the pesky motorcycles. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to those!
Kathmandu has so many infrastructure challenges. But it the short few months I’ve been here, we are seeing some roads getting paved and others in progress. It becomes a matter of focus. The job of fixing the city is so huge and if you only look at the long list of jobs to do everything feels so overwhelming. The really surprising thing about Kathmandu is the little courtyards and gardens hidden down alleys and behind the most unexpected locations. They really feel like the promise that the city could be so much more than it is…one day at least. But for the time being I’m enjoying the surprises and learning how to live with the messes…except the motorcycles that is!
Well we made it through the first few days of settling in, survived jet lag, filled in a million different forms and encountered the minor difficulties of the newly arrived. What’s it like everyone is asking me? So to illustrate, here are a few pictures taken from our three rooftop terraces showing the area around our home:
From our upper rooftop….I’m so glad that we have some views of the mountains. I hear they get better later in the year.
Not so many trees but little pockets here and there….and occassionally open views to the distant countryside that remind you that Kathmandu is not so big
View from my lower rooftop. Crumbling house next door is still occupied. Note the broken satellite dish with pieces missing on the roof and the newer, smaller one alongside. Abandoned yard behind has overloaded persimmon tree and a pomelo tree.
There’s some smarter looking homes in the other direction. But generally speaking our central location is a mish-mash of old and new, rich and poor, all thrown in together. As far as I can tell there isn’t really a smarter area of town.
View of a neighbour’s yard. What is that? Well I think it is sort of a ostentatious temple to wealth. I guess you could throw garden parties in it….but talk about incongruous.
Outside the gate things there’s plenty going on. After Manila, the traffic volume doesn’t seem nearly so constantly high, but I’ve been here for five days now and have yet to see a traffic light anywhere. You can imagine what that does to intersections. Here are some snaps around Kathmandu from the car as we take our first drives around the city:
Driving with motorcycles. There’s a lot of them. Not as heavy as Jakarta (Kathmandu doesn’t have the road infrastructure) but they are everywhere and fearless…
Crazy wiring is everywhere. You should see the route of our internet cabling over other people’s rooftops…
Typical street scene. There are a few main arterial streets and a ring road but most streets are smaller like these.
Lots of produce loaded bikes around. I think these guys had picked up produce from the nearby wholesale to sell at the their own stands.
Although the river water’s polluted, it still looked like a river which you could imagine flowing to a cleaner place. It was full of garbage but still cleaner than rivers I have seen in provincial areas of the Philippines.
…and finally, stray cows. I had been warned but saw none for days. Today they were everywhere. Three brown cows walked three abreast today in the middle of the road outside my gate. Of course, I didn’t have my camera, so these garbage-eating cows at a local market will have to do.