Destinations / JOURNEY
I WAS TOO TIRED to ask the taxi driver to slow down. The
congested roadways whipped hurriedly by, leaving me unable to register anything other than people, people every where. I soon realized
that his style of driving was the rule, not the exception. The streets
were a choked game of transportation Tetris, though rather than
ultimately stationary, these parts were in constant motion, cars
weaving thoughtlessly into any suggestion of space as motorbikes
snaked through the scene like trails of ants. Death-defying ants. I
closed my eyes and pictured my guesthouse, which I imagined would
be positioned atop a quiet hill, sectioned off from the fray of these
city streets. A still point within this madness.
Instead, the taxi skidded to a stop on a street teeming
with motorbikes and pedestrians, all busy narrowly avoiding
imminent collisions, each wheel and shoe kicking up a collective cloud of dust. We had arrived. As I made my way through
the tranquil courtyard and up to my second-floor room at
Pilgrims Guest House, the soundtrack of the streets — horns
honking, friends shouting, dogs barking — was ever-present,
like a mantra.
This was Thamel, a tourist hub in the heart of Kathmandu.
Shops lined the labyrinthine streets, with restaurants stacked on
top, offering views of the chaos below. Small, open storefronts were
crammed with goods that flooded out onto the streets: flowing garments, mala beads, North Face knockoffs and enough Buddhist and
Hindu iconography to make any aesthete consider conversion.
I had three days to see what I could see of Kathmandu Valley
before heading to the rural region of Nuwakot. I exited the guest-
house with caution, but my exhaustion made me stoic, and an
aloof expression is the best expression to have when strolling
solo through a district that resembles a page torn from a Where’s
Waldo? book. I holed up in Or2K — a recommended restaurant up
a hidden flight of stairs featuring comfy cushions and Wi-Fi — to
plot my sightseeing mission. Unkempt hair and fancy pajama
pants seemed to be the uniform of the Western tourist, and each
time I looked up from my journal, sets of sleepy eyes looked back
at me. I wondered if I would have time to see what they had seen.
It turns out, I did. In the company of Mr. Lama, the hotel’s
zealous but ultimately helpful manager, I hired a taxi driver who
EVERYTHING IN KATHMANDU burns. Smolders. Piles of trash, the pungent musk of incense, hearts for god (or gods), the dust in your throat. An entire city on fire. The powdered grime that obscures the air is built of filth, and of the ghosts of the countless buildings that crumbled in 2015, when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the country. At the time of my visit, it’s been nearly two years since the disaster, but the tiny particles still coat my windpipe, as if demanding I articulate their shared story.
I know that the earthquake, which rolled through in the late morning of April 25, killed 9,000 people, with another 22,000 left injured.
I know that it was the deadliest day in Mount Everest’s history, 21 souls engulfed in the snow shaken loose by the tremors. I met two
Australians who were traveling separately through Nepal when it hit. One found safety in a field on the outskirts of Kathmandu, befriend-
ing a Nepalese boy and taking refuge in his family’s home until evacuations began. The other was trekking, exploring mountain ranges and
rugged terrain, and still flinches at the sound of prayer flags blown too hard by the breeze. And despite the harrowing experience, each was
pulled back to Nepal by an enigmatic desire to revisit the broken, but eternally hopeful, country — and to help rebuild.