What's it like to visit Kathmandu in 2019?

April 18, 2019

by Eeva Metssalu

Namaste! Imagine Nepal. When I closed my eyes and thought of the country, I saw a pristine mountain region, colourful temples and smiling people. After all, it’s described as one of the happiest nations in the world. And indeed, it’s possible to find all that in Nepal but most journeys start from the capital city Kathmandu and what you’ll find there is completely different from the calm, beautiful dream.

I arrived in the city with almost no expectations at all. I’d visited several chaotic Asian cities before and thus, imagined it will be something similar. However, already jumping to the conclusions, I must say that I loved it and I was very surprised by how much. Partially, it could have been due to the low expectations I had beforehand, so let’s talk about what it’s actually like to visit Kathmandu as, admittedly, this is not a place for everyone.


Kathmandu is extremely polluted

kathmandu, nepal, view

The heavy vehicle congestion, uncontrolled emissions as well as dust from ongoing road works and factories have all contributed towards the very low air quality in Kathmandu. Even though the city is high enough that it would, in theory, be possible to see the surrounding mountains, on most days these will not be visible. Thus, it is almost mandatory to wear a mask. These are so common that you’ll find even fashionable designer face masks available.

To add here, apart from the Garden of Dreams, there are hardly any parks or trees that would help with the air quality, around.


One of the least urbanised capital cities in Asia

Expect to see frequent holes in the roads and driving in a car feels more like being on horseback. Except that there will be smoke and all kinds of trash everywhere – industrial garbage is not handled effectively and sometimes just ends up being burned or piled up on the streets. I remember a kid saying: “Namaste! Chocolate!” and me having a debate in my head where I’d like to hand it to her but at the same time know that the wrapper will just end up on the ground next to her.

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Bagmati river in Kathmandu

It will also be common to see cows on the streets. I did not see this but heard a story of someone having witnessed a person putting their palms under a peeing cow and then washing their face with it. Thus, make sure to approach Kathmandu with an open mind.


Take care of your stomach

Out of the 17 people I visited Kathmandu with, 13 of us got food poisoning at some point. This is not to say that the food isn’t delicious – because it is. However, make sure to carry a hand sanitiser, have some vaccinations done beforehand and approach local spicy food with caution.


Prepare to have fun

If you manage to approach all of the above with an open attitude (You’re in Kathmandu and not at home) then you’ll be likely to enjoy it a lot more. Try to notice the colours and symbols all around you.

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A shopkeeper in Durbar square explaining how to recognise a good quality painting.

I had a lot of fun just because of the craziness of it all. There was a separate ticket for goats to board the cable car for Manakamana temple. There were kids playing traffic control and charging anyone for crossing the road during Maha Shivaratri festival in March. There is the living goddess at Durbar square who you don’t want smiling at you as this means bad luck.

It was observing the everyday life of the friendly locals that made it all so interesting. And best of all, although there are touristic areas, the local salespeople are not pushy at all. Sure, there are the occasional tuk-tuk drivers trying to sell you hash at night but most people just left you alone to explore on your own. Thus, the experience will be what you make it out to be.

Eeva Metssalu

By Eeva Metssalu

I've been lucky enough to have been injected with the travel bug since childhood - this yearning has carried me across the world always looking for the next adventure. Along the way, I've also spent time living and studying in Wales, France, China, Singapore before moving back to my native Estonia. After having made the decision to move back, buy an appartment and build a more stable life for myself, I still cannot seem to stop moving around. This here is my attempt to figure out why - what is it that keeps the soul looking for another journey and the mind dreaming about a job as a National Geographic expeditioner.

Read more at eevametssalu.com

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