Kathmandu: A Whirlwind of Wonder
January 1, 1970
by Cătă Lin
The adventure begins abruptly, as I get off the plane and into the taxi to find my hotel; I have already found myself in the middle of whirlwind of people, colors and sensations! As the taxi drives on the bumpy roads on its way to our destination, I stare in awe outside the window at the new world I was immersed in; what busy people, what diversity, what new smells and sights to behold, just 10 minutes of being off the pane and on the ground and I am already in love with this wonderful place!
The streets are so crowded, teeming with people, each and every one hurrying in a different direction doing something else, there is a distinct blend of traditional clothing, business attire, fashion and tourists, rich and poor the mixture is on one hand overwhelming and on the other intriguing! Just…WOW!
The choice is yours where you want to stay, depending on your planned budget, you can choose from 5 star hotels, and I do mean 5 star hotels by any means; to renting a room in a local’s house for a few days. Luxurious hotels, hotels with ancient architectural themes, middle class hotels, really cheap hotels, hostels; they have them all! The blend between modern day architecture and the old buildings is amazing and somehow goes well together to create an intricate pattern.
We picked a 4 star hotel for our stay, as we entered the hotel we were greeted with cold tea to clench our thirst, on the house of course, and a place to sit and rest until they made the paperwork; as a foreigner, wherever you go you have to present a visa and passport to rent a room at any hotel so you are registered, like a foreign people tracking system. :))
After a short rest and unpacking at the hotel of choice, I went solo exploring the streets of Kathmandu, no knowledge of anything, no leads, just went cold turkey! The first thing I saw is that hand made things are everywhere, literally everywhere! From necklaces, rings and clothing to cookware, ornaments, paintings, decorations and whatever you can imagine a human being can craft with his own hands was already sold there with a handy craftsmanship and traditional aspect with vibrant colors.
After just one hour of wandering around I got the hang of how things work around there:
When it comes to shopping, be very careful because many untrustworthy tradesmen try to fool you with the currency, not being used to the banknotes, the exchange value, they try to take your money, count it fast and then give you the change in such a way that most of the times you notice you got scammed far away from the point you can actually do something.
As a general rule, everything can and must be bargained for and I will share with you a trade secret:
Supposed you see something you really like, like a ring or a beautiful stone proceed as follows:
- Ask for the price of the object.
- Bargain for it starting from 30% to 50% of the price the merchant says.
- Play this game and mingle with the price and other items until the merchant is not willing to drop the price any more. (Most of the people stop here, but here is the interesting part)
- Play it cool, act like you are thinking about it, almost giving in, but at the last moment say something like: “Hmm…nah it’s OK, I will keep on searching” or “Meh…I got a better bargain from a guy down the road.” It is at this moment most of them break, they know that you will get that thing or something similar from somewhere else so they will prefer to sell it to you and make some money, rather than losing a client and getting no money at all.
Using just this simple method I managed to buy all the stuff I liked for 30% to 40% of the original price, most of the time; but keep in mind some tradesmen are really skilled in this art, so go on and practice to find your perfect bargaining method; you know what they say: “Practice makes perfect!”.
*Also never take promises from anyone, cash and goods up front, never let anyone get out of sight with any of your possessions or your money, it is the golden rule!
One funny story that I will share with you: I had little money and I found a Moon Stone, a sparkly white crystal that has a mesmerizing light blue shine across its surface when put under the sun’s rays, the stone was much more expensive than what I could have afforded and the dude selling it was not going to bargain it down to the price I wanted; at one point seeing I won’t quit until I get my stone he says: “I like the shirt you are wearing!” So now I had some leverage on the situation, it was a cool shirt from Element that cost me like 25$, the stone was roughly the same price, so after a bit of more bargaining I traded with the jeweler: my shirt for this incredible stone! Win-win, right?
The Street Gurus:
If you ever need anything, from transport to information or goods of any kind there is a mysterious kind of people that roam the streets day and night, I call them “The Street Gurus” others know them as “the rickshaw drivers”.
These guys are to the streets of Kathmandu what are red blood cells the body, these guys know EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING! Can’t find a cheap hotel to stay the night? No problem! Ask one of the guys, you don’t even have to travel with him, he will gladly give you instructions for a small fee. Marketplaces, crystals, souvenirs, bars, handcrafts, mediums, banks, witches, police stations, hospitals, restaurants, museums, and monuments they know it all! Just ask a Street Guru! (still can be bargained with, no problem with that)
Sights, Museums and Monuments:
There are some museums in Kathmandu, you can go visit for a small entry fee, the fees are usually of two kinds: for locals really cheap and for tourists more expensive; and I do understand this, they have to promote their culture to their own people and make some money on the side, it is all worth it, trust me. But on the other side Kathmandu itself is one free gigantic museum, at every corner there is a statue or a sculpture, turn another corner and you will find an incredible mural depicting some deity, everywhere you go there is a temple or a praying spot. The most interesting things are the sanctuaries for animals, for example there is a cat sanctuary where there are housed, fed and cared after some thousands of cats; monkey sanctuary, it is the same but you have to be on guard for monkeys trying to steal your food for a quick snack or something shiny off you as a decoration!
As stated before if you want to go somewhere in particular or just want to find a cool sight to see, ask a rickshaw driver! (Street Guru) or just wander around, get lost find something hidden that no map or guide tells you about, be creative!
The food here is one of the best things I have ever encountered; there are the classy restaurants that serve traditional food or any other variety of dishes you can conceive, served in a professional manner in luxurious locations. Or as I tried: dining with the locals, because I like seeing the human element in everything; you can dine in someone’s house, literally some locals open their living room and cook in their kitchen a limited number of dishes, sometimes in poor hygiene, but that does not matter because that is the real traditional homemade taste, comparable to the taste of what you would eat at grandma’s house!
This is a unique opportunity to taste and smell the life there also you can meet all kinds of people that will talk to you, interacting in a genuine human connection, not a local-tourist fashion, you can meet wonderful people and hear incredible stories that you will never read in any guide book or in any internet article! In this way I met some cool people with witch I still keep in touch on social media networks or e-mail to this day.
The general attitude to visitors is that of trade and nothing more, but if you search you will surely find some people out there that are interested to stay with you at a cup of tea and share stories, they have a lot of curiosities and want to learn a lot from other cultures too; the most controversial subject that I encountered with the youth there was the planned marriages that are still a pretty popular thing among the parents, so when someone hears you are free to marry or date anyone you like, there will be a lot of questions about how and why. The dialogues which I had with the different people have been eye opening and heartwarming at the same time, the topics ranged from society, money and culture to spirituality, home design and history! I met students, young workers, homeless men and women, doctors, lawyers, business man and hustlers that I talked with and shared some of the most incredible stories of my life that I will sure be remembering throughout the years!
So in summary: Kathmandu and the whole country of Nepal is a place everyone must visit, if you have the opportunity to do so, go there and prepare to be amazed! Go there without expectations and be careful, but do get lost in the whirlwind of color and action that is Kathmandu!