That’s a weird question to either qualitatively or quantitatively quantify right? But someone asked me what is Kathmandu, not how is Kathmandu but what is Kathmandu. And I’m not sure that’s a question that could be answered in one or two sentences. An answer that fits a single spectrum is hard to come by, because Kathmandu is a rainbow of different colors. Whether it’s the culture we have or the landscape or even religion. Wait! Let’s not forget the food, and I’m definitely not talking about those rainbow colored momo’s! They’re weird!! But to start up with what is Kathmandu I will start with What is Nepal
Lying in between two of the heavily populated and two of the biggest countries in the world, Nepal is a small landlocked country. Drive from North to South and vice versa in any direction for 200-300 Kilometers and you’d end up either in China (Tibet) or in India. Or Drive around 1100 kilometers from East to West and you’d end up in India. But packed within that small area are landscapes that you’d not find in the biggest of countries in the world. Starting from as low as 72 meters to the South the Highest elevation goes as high as 8848 meters within the span of 200-300 km , at the roof of the world- The Mount Everest. Endless mountain ranges are packed within those short spans. The southernmost part of the country, known as the Terai (flatland) is the most fertile part of the country- The bread basket of Nepal. The lush green forest of the south is immensely rich in biodiversity. Not only that, the richness is equally matched by ethnic and cultural diversity. Move to the north from there and the flat-lands are slowly replaced by the mid-hills, ranging from 1000 meters to 3000 meters gradually. And another 100 kilometers or so will take you right to the base of the mountains. From the majestic Bengal Tigers in the South to the elusive Snow Leopard in the Mountains, from the amazing birds of the subtropical to the snow finches of the mountains. The strangest thing is, we don’t even call it a mountain if it’s not at least 6000 meters. And we have about 1300 mountains which are higher than 6000 meters. The big mountains of the world, the so-called “Eight Thousanders’ ‘, i.e. the mountains that are higher than 8000 meters, there are 14 of those in the world and 8 of them are in Nepal. Nepal is a huge domain of beautiful ethnicity, culture, tradition, religion and music.
What is Kathmandu?
Kathmandu is that vast diversity of food, not just the preeminent momo’s but the local Newari foods- The Choilas and Baras or just the Daal Bhaat! Kathmandu is Haadigaun ko Jeri and Barfi. Kathmandu has a vast diversity of culture and tradition too. The diversity of color and energy in the streets of Asan before Dashain and Tihar, the swarms of people, the smell of candles, the fruits and the nuts, the weird dried fish smell opposite to the Annapurna temple. The overhanging mannequins and dusty new clothes on the streets. The packed streets of Bhotaihiti and the loudspeakers marketing branded shoes for 100 Rupees. The traffic in Ratnapark, Oh! The dust and the pollution in Ratnapark, the shopkeepers cramping up the sidewalk in and around the city, the hustle and the noises. Over crowded micro-buses with people hanging from the doors and almost all the windows too. Oh those lovely holes in the streets, especially during the monsoon or any rainy days, riding a bike and falling into those holes unknowingly, jerking your whole vertebra, that is Kathmandu.
Kathmandu is a bowl of energy and rush, some might say it’s dust. But, close your eyes and just think of it, the streets of Jamal, the intersection in front of Tri Chandra, the busy streets at Pradashanimarga or the Zebra crossing at New Baneshwor, I don’t know but there’s a life in that city, I always feel like Kathmandu has a life! I’ve been to many cities as of now and never have I felt that a place has life or at least that energy. That ambience and that vibrancy, I’m so not religious but that endless queue of people in and around the temples on Saturdays, the colors, the sounds of the bells, the flock of pigeons hovering around in search of grains, and the clueless children on the ground running after the pigeons and enjoying their life to the fullest. A break in a city that literally never stops, but well that’s done in a rush as well. The bumpy roads, the dust, the insane microbus drivers, the unnecessarily loud horns or the cows and bulls netflixing and chilling right in the middle of the streets. Well, the drama they’re watching would be the drama of the humans. Well wait, isn’t that what we watch on the actual netflix as well?
Kathmandu is a music, and nothing adds to that melody to Kathmandu than the local festivals, the Jatra. The crowd and the energy of Machhindranath’s jaatra, the excitements of Hadigaun’s jaatra. The traditional instruments, the local music, the culture, that’s what lies in the heart of Kathmandu. The colors of festivals, the colors of tradition and culture and the blend of western cultures and traditions, the open-book that Kathmandu is. The rush of Dashain and the lights of Tihar, The New Years- the both ones,the calmness of Chhat and the mindfulness of Lhosar and also the Christmas.
Kathmandu is hundreds and thousands of temples, the endless tiered roof temples. The architectural beauty, the traditional houses, the handicraft shops of durbar square. The crowded streets, the mandalas, the narrow alleys leading to old houses with a well in the middle. The Kumari house, Katsthamandap, flower venders outside the temples. Kathmandu is an art.
The monsoon rain, the clear sky next morning and the icing on the top of hills around the northern part of Kathmandu with a vast range of mountains stretching from eastern to western ends. The blue sky and the warmth, even during winter, the goddamn hot summer, well not that hot but still. But the cold lassi of Basantapur and the DDC’s Ice-cream. It’s not even good to be honest, but it’s not about the ice-cream it’s about who you eat it with I guess or where you eat it. Next time I’m there I’m going to binge on an endless cup of ice-cream even if it’s winter. Kathmandu is Basantapur ko Chiya (Tea), it’s more than a tea- it’s a flavor of bond that you share with your friends and the flavor of home and blend of temporal and spatial cultural homogeneity. Reminds me of the hot lemon of Sankata, Sigal. If you guys haven’t had those, go have it right now! Thank me later.
The ups and downs, the hills and the flat part, the diversity of landscape within such a small place- That’s Kathmandu. The 360 degree hills around the bowl, the hiking routes around the city, the monasteries on top of the hills, the tiring walk to the top of all the hills for no reason. The view from up there, the mismanaged congested houses that look like match boxes that have fallen out of order. But that’s the beauty of it, not everything that looks perfect is beautiful, sometimes imperfect is all you need for it to be perfect for you.
Kathmandu is Momo! I’ve never tasted a good momo outside of Kathmandu. And I eat a lot, and most people who know me know how much I eat and how much I have travelled in Nepal, but I’ve rarely had a good plate of momo elsewhere than Kathmandu (Well, that’s my view, if it doesn’t match your view then I have nothing to say). Especially the Bhyaarbhyaare, damn, the smell of the bhyaarbhyarae, the steam that blows your nose right off when you enter the small shops, the surge of warmth in that steam lights up the inner lining of your oesophagus as the stomach gets ready for the momos, the gastric juices wait impatiently as you wait for the owner to bring those magical ball of meat and flour to you. Your mouth waits in anticipation with saliva almost ready to drool out of the corner of your mouth. The worst part is when the person sitting next to you is munching on the momos but you’re waiting patiently, at least outside, but you’re going crazy inside. Oh the Bhyaarbhyaares!
Kathmandu is everything! Be it dusty, polluted or noisy! Kathmandu is love ! Kathmandu is HOME!
P.S. I don’t even know why I am writing all these haha! I was just asked that question and I replied in a few sentences, but I wanted to say all these things and many more, but well, Time!!
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