It’s come to my attention that I’ve posted almost zero pictures of Kathmandu. I’ve been living here for nearly four months and have written all about mountains near and far, yet nothing of the city itself. I said that when I arrived here, I realized I had no idea what Kathmandu actually looked like. Regrettably, I’ve made no real effort to photograph the city outside of my own neighborhood of Patan. So this is the beginning of what’s gonna be a series of posts in which I’ll endeavor to photograph and share my impressions of the majority of this city. If I go too long without posting a new Streets gallery, someone give me a friendly WTF.
So let’s get started.
I spent several hours walking around the metropolitan area of Lalitpur. It’s technically its own city, but the urban agglomeration of the valley is usually called Kathmandu, so I’m counting it. I started on the ring road south of Patan and walked north until I hit the neighborhood called Koteswar, which is in the larger Baneshwar ward. I turned west towards the center of the city until I hit a major road called Pulchowk (which is also the road I take to the school) and then went south back to Patan.
So basically, I covered the loop on the bottom-right quadrant of the city — the ring around Patan in yellow, green, blue, and that rainbow bit. There was some twisting and turning in there while tried to get un-lost.
The Ring Road
Generally speaking, the ring road is a place that you only go if necessary. It’s not dangerous by any means (unless you count the insane traffic), but it’s essentially a barrier that separates inner Kathmandu from the rest of the valley. Traffic is dense at most hours of the day, the sidewalks are lined with garbage and the occasional garbage fire, and the dust is on another level. It’s the Kathmandu triple crown — busy, polluted, and dusty.
That said, it’s still a positive addition to the city, and much of the dust and business can be attributed to the fact that it’s not finished yet. It’s been under construction for years, and progress quickens and slows with each of the government’s frequent changes of power. When it’s finished, it’s going to be a major asset to Kathmandu.
The ring road is also the only place in Kathmandu where I’ve felt a little uncomfortable walking alone. It’s a bit of a no-man’s land. The interior of the ring road is urban and what I’m familiar with. Everything outside it is basically just semi-rural suburbs fading quickly into villages. But the road itself is like a net that catches what foreigners like myself don’t notice (or don’t want to see) in other areas and puts them on display. As I walked down the road, I saw businessmen stepping around children begging for money. Beggars with still-bloody bandages where their hands or feet once were. More dead dogs than I wanted to see. Things that you just don’t see when you grow up in America.
I’m not yet sure what my thoughts on all of this are, but I feel like it’s important to see these things. I could go on for a long time about this, but that’s for another time. For now, take a look at what I saw:
Once I got off the ring road, I immediately got lost. The first few turns brought me back to place I started. I was trying to go further north, but I just could not find a way to go that direction once I got off the main roads. Kathmandu is a lot of things, but well-organized is not one of them. It’s like a case study on how not to plan a city.
It took probably 30 minutes to even find a way to keep heading north without going back to the ring road. During that time, I crossed the river twice, accidentally went back to the ring road, and was nearly hit by several motorcycles and microbuses. But I got far enough north to hit the main road that cuts Kathmandu in half. I ended up basically repeating the route I took when I got lost while getting creative with my commute.
The interior of the ring road is, in a word, diverse. But not overtly. On a superficial level, much of Kathmandu seems like it all looks the same. If you showed me pictures of Boudha, Baneshwor, and Nayabazar (neighborhoods that are not close together at all), I probably wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. But each and every district of Kathmandu has its own unique feel to it. Even though much of the city looks similar, the subtleties of each neighborhood make them undeniably distinct. Hundreds of things that you’re not even consciously aware of, producing a series of atmospheres with tangible boundaries.
Lalitpur is greener. Naxal is busier. Half the businesses in Nayabazar are mechanics. Newroad is downright claustrophobic. Sanepa is the quietest. Boudha has some of the worst roads. Thamel has the most foreigners. Every part of Kathmandu is unique in its own way, yet it’s very hard to pinpoint exactly why that is.
I’ll be doing this again. There’s still the majority of the city to go, and plenty more interesting things to see. For now, here’s a start for what Kathmandu actually looks like. Stay tuned for more over the coming weeks!