When I visited Kathmandu in January 2006 I spent many days just wandering the streets of this amazingly complex yet beautiful city. Taking the time to just literally ‘follow your nose’ leads one to some very interesting discoveries. And always with the camera at the ready.
Central Kathmandu is quite compact and one can see many intersting things in a short space of time and distance. A major feature of the older part of the city near Thamel is the huge range and variety of temples. They come in all shapes and sizes with differing decorations and embellishments.
The one shown in the photo below was a small one on a street corner. In contrast with some others, not many people seemed to be visiting this one.
Sometimes photography in Kathmandu can be a little frustrating. Take the example I’ve posted below. A beautiful and stunning Buddhist Stupa spoiled by all those ugly power and telephone cables strung up everywhere. In some places it was almost impossible to get a nice clear shot of a building. They do not seem to have any code about where things can go.
Mind you, I seem to remember a time not so long ago that the situation was similar here in Australia – and chaotic wiring is still the norm in too many places. There is no excuse here in Australia for that sort of thing. Without a doubt the economy in Nepal prevents such niceties as the undergrounding all utilities. With the political turmoil they were experiencing before, during and after my visit in 2006, they obviously had more important things to do than clean up the scenery for tourists with a penchant for photography. It’s all part of the charm that makes Kathmandu so fascinating.
Despite the ugly scar from all those cables, it is still a beautiful building.
There are many unusual sights in the streets, lanes and alleyways of Kathmandu. One that I found fascinating was the number of tailors (usually men) with their old treadle Singer sewing machines set up as street stalls. Of course there were a few specialty tailors in shops, complete with a wide range of materials to choose from and several resident tailors ready to make your suit, jacket, trousers or glamorous gown.
The street vendors, however, seemed to be waiting for the casual passers by to ask them to do some running repairs or alterations. Most that I saw were just sitting there not working. Trade must have been slow. I admire their patience.
The photo below shows the only specialty sewing machine shop I saw. Obviously the latest electronic, computerised, whizz-bang, all the bells and whistles Husqvana or Bernina sewing machines have not made it to Kathmandu. Perhaps they are far too expensive for the ordinary tailors. Of course, the old traditional treadle sewing machine is ideal for the street tailors. No electricity needed.
Wherever I walked around the streets of Kathmandu I was confronted by a variety of beggars. These ranged from little children with big brown alluring eyes as young as three or four through to cunning and very street wise teenagers. Mothers with babes in arms begging for milk money are also common. Poverty seems to be very much a problem in this nation struggling to come into the twenty first century world. Their political problems of the last decade have not helped. While begging is common place, seeing derelicts like the man in the above photo do not appear to be so common, at least in the areas I visited.
It is worth quoting from my travel journal at this point.
Begging in Kathmandu
Sadly I was pestered by at least four beggars today. They are very persistent but one just has to turn away and walk quickly. Mothers with babes in arms asking for milk for the baby is a common approach. I felt mean but all the guides tell one not to give to beggars here in Nepal.
I also had a very interesting encounter with a canny teenager.
A different approach to begging
Walking back to the hotel I was approached in a different way. A young lad, perhaps 12 or 13 years old, was leaning on the wall of a building with several friends. He started walking alongside of me and struck up a conversation. I was astounded by his general knowledge of the world. His specialty was capital cities of the world. He knew all of the Australian cricketers and many place names in Australia. He said he didnâ€™t go to school but had learned everything by reading books and using the internet. Then came the sting; he asked me for money to buy a drink. I steadfastly refused and wouldnâ€™t give him a reason, even though he asked several times.
I just kept on walking and gently but firmly told him he should go back to his friends. Eventually he did leave me. Twenty steps on I looked around and one of his friends had been following us. Had I given in there may have been far more to contend with. I didnâ€™t feel unsafe; I was just being very cautious. Lesson learned!
Kathmandu is a city of surprises. Many old buildings dominate the twisting and turning streets and lanes of the older parts of the city. Temples abound and one is never far from one of these impressive, and ancient buildings. It came as something of a surprise then, to see this impressive and relatively modern looking tower in the heart of central Kathmandu.The Bhimsen Tower, standing tall like a thin white lighthouse very much out of place, is a dominant feature of the skyline of this part of the capital. I used it often to get my bearings as I wandered the alleyways exploring many fascinating aspects of Nepali life.
The tower, also known as Sundhara, is a popular tourist attraction and people could be seen looking out over the city from the viewing platform near the top. Around the base, tents, marquees and street stalls were being prepared for some festivities the next day.
The tower, originally built by a Rama prime minister, was a part of the city’s first European style palace. It was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1934 and subsequently rebuilt.