Friday, April 11, 2008

On Asan Tole, Kathmandu

Two Views from Chhetrapati, Kathmandu

Maoist on Election Day, Kathmandu

Hello from KTM!

I'm not sure these will be quite so "literary" as last time. Or even as proofread. Or even proofread at all.

I'm safe and sound in Kathmandu, staying at a guest house in the neighborhood of Paknajol--right next to (what is essentially) the tourist district of Thamel--and just starting to get myself acclimated to the new surroundings. The last two nights I've fallen asleep right about 9:30 and awoken at 3 am, unable to sleep again till 5 or later, about 5 and a half to six hours' sleep. The water coming off the Himalayas is low right now, so the city, dependent on hydropower and waiting for Indians to finish (by rumor) 20 dams of different sizes, has a "load-shedding" schedule, essentially the same as rolling blackouts. In Zone Two, where I am, the power was out 5 to 9 am on Wednesday morning and 4:30 to 8:30 pm that evening, 5 to 9 pm last night, and will presumeably be out sometime today as well. I seem recall that tomorrow's outage is from 4 to 8 am, but I could be mistaken about that.

Some poorly sourced stats: Tom (the founder of Wrench Nepal) called Nepal the 9th poorest nation in the world; and I read somewhere that the per capita in come is about 9300 Nepali rupees, or about $150. The exchange rate this morning was 62 Rs/USD. Foreign aid is the biggest sector of the economy; and according to the Lonely Planet--which every expat here uses--tourism is the 3rd largest.

Some prices: A handful of grape tomatoes costs 5 rupees; a bottle of water--a necessity, here, because of contamination--is 25. Breakfast this morning was 77 and was a small omelet, a small cup of black tea, 2 slices of toast, and a few baby potatoes. Internet is 30 Rs per hour. My guest house is 400 Rs per night; the cheapest I've heard of was 150 Rs per night, but was negotiated by an Israeli named Nir who has no scruples about extracting every last rupee from the Nepalis at the market, at the hotel, and at shops all around town. I find him distasteful.

Despite concerns and predictions otherwise, Kathmandu was totally quiet and calm during yesterday's elections, and since all traffic was banned from the city because of the holiday it was actually a real pleasure to walk around. You walk in the street here, even when there are sidewalks, and even though it's chaotic it's actually much safer than the US--at least in daytime--there are no streetlights, really, just light from houses and businesses, and not much nightlife--because cars can't build up any speed. That, and that everyone walks.

I'm not sure I can accurately describe Kathmandu, other than that I imagine it's similar to Rome before Mussolini. The buildings are mostly 3 and 4 and 5 stories, made of concrete with walls of poorly mortared brick. The streets are narrow and winding, and most of them don't have names; even when they do have names, there are no streetsigns to help you. Tons of people around, and yesterday at least they were clustering around radios and televisions to get news of the elections. There are lots of bikes altered to carry huge flats of things, or blue plastic water tubs, or to serve as street food stands. And bicycle rickshaws, everywhere.

Picture(s) to come when I find a place with the bandwidth to upload them.