A Walk in Kathmandu

'A Walk in Kathmandu' is a 1000 word essay describing a walk I did with my family in the city of Kathmandu. Kathmandu is the capital of a third-world Asian country - Nepal. In this piece I try to portray the hardship and poverty these people live in, as well as the absence of some of the things that us living in the first world (or me at least) take for granted - food hygiene for example. I hope that those of you who have been similar places can relate to my descriptions; and those who haven't, build a picture of what it's like. Enjoy!

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1. A Walk in Kathmandu

 

    The city of Kathmandu cooked in the dry heat of the midday sun. Mopeds crowded the narrow dirt roads, their horns setting an irregular beat to the rushed flow of city life. On the cracked sidewalks tramped every class of Nepali society - from beggars to businessmen. The worn out clothes matched the dust on the ground and the smog in the air, a painting of only one colour.

    The smell of raw meat, so strong it could be almost tasted, accompanied the crunch of bloodied cleavers held by weary men sat on hard stools - butchers were common. Often passers-by would stop and rummage through the pile of fly-covered meat, looking for the best bits to buy and cook. By the end of the day, who knows how many unwashed hands had touched the last pieces left on the blood stained counter. These scraps were fed to the flea ridden street dogs that sat hopefully by the doors. These mongrels were everywhere. They prowled around the city with their heads hung low, as rocks were often flung angrily at them.  Occasionally, an eruption of angry barks could be heard, but fights were uncommon, as no-one wants an injury.

    We came to a crossroads. The left hand road wandered up a slope of unsupported banks. The right was more Kathmandu, more noise and more dust.  A school lay ahead. It’s stained concrete walls and collapsing timber roof contradicted the claims of excellence on the ripped banner that hanged on the front of the building. Nepali schools were run down and under funded: most kids were earning pennies for the family, or just too poor to afford books and uniform - the government was too corrupt to cover these costs. My dad looked at the map in his hand and indicated that we should go left: the monastery that crowned the hill was our goal. We crossed, walking slowly and steadily forth so that the manic drivers could weave in and around us. Everyone was rushing but the small road was blocked up with too much traffic so progress was slow.

    The road had no sidewalk so we trudged up the edge, panting like the dogs that surrounded us. A large truck decorated with Buddhist and Hindu figures came slowly down the hill, with unreliable brakes and a heavy load of bricks, concrete and timber planks. Dozens of mopeds beeped angrily behind him, ants in comparison. Luckily, the road was wide enough and our being there caused no disruption to the descent of this beast. Nearing the top my sister called for a break, so we paused, catching our breath and downing some water. A old and tired cow, holy to the Hindus, was chewing on some dead grass by the side of the track. These cows aren’t owned or looked after but left to survive on the edge, reproduce and die. Some rebar was strewn across the ground, tangled and rusted. It’ll never get used. Above us, the monastery squatted on the hilltop; it looked like a forgotten antique collecting dust on a high shelf.

    Steadily we trudged on, absorbing a culture so contrasting to our own. We passed a local restaurant teetering on stilts, suspended over the hillside. An old and broken wooden sign sat quietly beside the door; reading nepali writing and prices a fraction of those we usually pay - Chowmein, momos, other dishes I’d never heard of before, were priced at 10 or 15 cents. My mouth watered as I thought of some slow cooked dumplings filled with tender buffalo meat and tasty home grown vegetables, but I knew the food would make me sick, as food hygiene wasn’t the Nepali’s highest priority. A few children passed us. Namaste! They shouted, continuing on their way. It occurred to me that it was school hours and I felt sad as I thought of how so many Nepali children are deprived of a proper education and well paying job to support their families.

    On we continued, the monastery ever closer. Namaste! A old man with no teeth was looking at us. He was wearing the same dusty clothes as all and squatting on the hard ground - an uncomfortable Nepalese position. In his hands was an English atlas, evidently the property of his young granddaughter who peered uncertainly at us from behind his back. With a leathery hand, he signed that we should go up an old, dark pathway that split off from the road.

    ‘Monastery,’ he mumbled, in a barely understandable accent. We ascended, then walked along a contour of the hill. The path was paved with worn cobble and had decades of fraying prayers flags strung along the sides. The view of Kathmandu was a sea of two storey, run-down concrete buildings under a dusty orange haze of afternoon sun and pollution. Continuing on, we came to the towering monastery gates, where a group of men, including a guard, were bantering and smoking cigarettes.

    ‘Can we go into the monastery?’ My mother called.

    ‘No enter, ma’am. Monastery closed.’

 
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