In a city devoid of catalytic converters, car exhaust forms a perpetual brown fog over the crumbling expanse of Kathmandu. This is truly the city that never sleeps. At all hours rickshaws squeak their makeshift pop bottle horns, rusted-out taxi cabs wail, and Nepali people bellow, laugh and bustle through manic, sardine-packed streets.
There are slick mud puddles from which stray dogs drink. Rats with rigor mortis near where children play barefoot. Ten-foot tall garbage mountains on which emaciated cows graze. An incongruous perfume with notes of incense, rotting meat, curry spices and pollution. Rolling blackouts each night. Reading before bed by meager candlelight. Brushing teeth with bottled water. Endless shouts and touts from linen-clad working Nepalis: for wooden flutes, sterling silver, Tiger Balm. For pashminas, marijuana, crack cocaine. Falling asleep in windowless hotel rooms just as the stray dogs wake for their nightly howling shift.
In a city so bewildering, so fascinating, so unlike anyplace else – it’s a wonder things remain so peaceable. The people are hard-working, and though their selling ploys are irritating at first, they’re doing all they can to put one or two meals on the table each day.
Roughly 80% of Nepalis are Hindu; the remaining practice Tibetan Buddhism. Kathmandu is home to Swayambhunath (known as the Monkey Temple for its rampant primates). It’s a giant Tibetan Buddhist temple situated on a hill just west of central Kathmandu. When we visited, the day was hot and the stair climb arduous, but we felt fit as fiddles from our recent three week stint in the Himalayas. Below are a few highlights. Click on each to get the full effect.