Nepali Times
All hail, all hell


I live next door to the UNESCO Monument Zone of Patan Darbar Square. The neighbourhoods surrounding the palaces, temples and courtyards of this exemplar of Malla dynasty's golden age are a living, breathing blend of Newa commerce and culture more poised than the overrun sprawl of Kathmandu and the sterilised preservation of central Bhaktapur.

Yet I treasure the back gallis and bhattis of Mangal Bajar and Thaiti as much as I do the constantly evolving cast of restaurants and bars in the twin cities fronting the Bagmati. I appreciate the eclectic expression of western and Nepali cultures across the Valley as manifest in the galleries, concert halls and thoroughfares. I love the stray dogs dozing in the winter sun, the eagles wheeling across the blues skies, the obtuse bulls planted on city roads. And I couldn't do without the pockets of serenity around such indicators of the Valley's ancient history as Taudaha and Nagdaha, and the getaways stowed into the ridges and furrows of the guardian mountains ringing us.

After some time abroad, I've also come to the conclusion that this year's errant rains notwithstanding, the Kathmandu Valley has some of the best weather in the world. It's a privilege to share these mostly balmy climes with family, and friends old and new, Nepali and pharen. The longer I linger, the more I feel at home.

But as I crossed the Bagmati the other day, peering right into sewerside slum life, I was forced to ask myself: would I live here if I weren't Nepali, and hadn't grown up here?

The answer, I was surprised to learn, is no.

The whole of the Kathmandu Valley has been designated a World Heritage Site on account of our seven Monument Zones, but these cultural treasures are havens besieged by urban squalor. Traffic jams occupy the Valley's inhabitants, as garbage heaps do our stray dogs, eagles and holy cows. Sleazy dance bars and massage parlours constitute the Valley's chief entertainment, jazz and film festivals be damned, and proclaim their ubiquitous presence ever more boldly. There are precious few green or farming spaces left as the rush for unreal estate continues apace with the wholesale levelling of the natural landscape. It's a measure of how perverse the capital's living experience has become when it takes a bandh for us to reclaim our streets and breathe freely.

It's no use shuttling visitors to the Valley from one darbar square to another, one stupa to another, hoping they'll be blind to the incredibly offensive clanging clamour of our modern capital city. Rather, open your eyes to what we have become accustomed to. How casually we walk past an expanse of rotting garbage, how hopelessly we accept bandhs, how callously we flout traffic rules. How little we do to change things because we feel we can't change anything on our lonesome. How would the reality of Kathmandu appear to someone visiting for the first time?
It saddens me to concede that Kathmandu could really be Crapmandu, not Catmandoo. That the probability of my being here leans heavily on a certain nostalgia for times gone by and the ease of being 'from here'. But I'd like to think my being here also aspires to a revival and rejuvenation of those times we once knew, and a little more
than that.

Where then to start this new year and decade? There is so much at stake for the national polity in the months to come it may seem futile to imagine attracting state support. But not to imagine how to make the Kathmandu Valley livable again is even more so. The Nepali habit of evacuating bodily fluids into the environment may keep bodies clean, but transpose that philosophy to society at large and you get Kathmandu - spotless houses submerged in a sea of sewage.

We might start with a little civility on the streets of Kathmandu. When did honking ever clear a traffic jam? We might start with more responsible waste disposal. Compost your veggie waste if you have a garden, and cut down on plastic bags. We might start with neighbourhood organisation for better roads, better drains, better street lighting. But we have to start somewhere. If we don't, who will?

1. R RAI
Fantastic writing, absolutely fantastic.There is a lot of passion in it apart from all the necessary concerns. Undoubtely,our Kathmandu has all the potentials to be one of the best cities in the world.The unfortunate reality is we have turned it into CRAPMANDU. who should we blame? When I descended into the valley on a bus from east Nepal some 30 years ago I could not help falling in love with Kathmandu - it could be partly my young age but KTM definitely had so much to offer and mesmerise any visitor. It was not at all crowded with no traffic problem and air pollution.Local great Newar culture could be felt everywhere and you did not see ugly hoarding boards and paan marks.It appeared a unique south Asian city with its pagodas,temples,stupas and ancient narrow allies. Sadly nobody in power had a vision for KTM.Few parks and open spaces could be planned and created. If we do not act seriously straightaway KTM will turn into a cancer like pathological growth with dying rivers,choked population with moral degradation and no civility. Let us act now.We need passionate activists-I personally do not trust our stupid politicians.

2. me
"If we don't, who will?" yep, who will. that's the attitude =)

3. Satya Nepali
Kudos to the writer. Sad and pricking, but enjoyable. Look forward to more. suggestion. There are neighborhoods that have organized to improve their 'tols'. If the writer could write about such 'tols', and how they did it, it may inspire other neighborhoods to follow suit.

4. Sanket Tandon
Great writings and the Kathmanduties should realize this.

5. Mero Desh
Well very inspiring article. People absolutely don't realize how tolerative they have become to every thing bad about Kathmandu and Nepal. The biggest irony for me is that there seems to be abundance to leadership to lead and inspire people for absolutely wrong reasons (Nepal bandh, Chakka jam, tyre burning to name the few), but none whatsoever to inspire people and lead in the right direction.

6. Sundeep
Kathmandu is center of everything in Nepal. That needs to change. One way would be build fast lane highways to multiple places in Terai and elsewhere. I hope Army will do a good job (or politicians will let them do a good job) building that new multi-lane highway with couple of kilometers of tunnel to Terai. Kathmandu needs more of it to decentralize away from Kathmandu. With that said, there is always a possibility that Crapmandu might just grow into Crapal if Nepalese don't start building sense of community. Well if you want to make it Bob Seger's Catmandu again then Nepal will need to make something legal that it made illegal sometime back. Nepalese lawmakers can always refer to Netherlands' law if they want to do that!

7. American
I'm American, and I would live in KTM. (Actually, I have before and hope to again.) But of course you're right. KTM could be a wonderful city, and should be at least semi-wonderful. As it is, it takes a certain kind of person to choose to live there. To be a foreigner who thrives in KTM, you not only need a weird sense of humor (and perhaps a dose of insanity), but also the vision to see what it is under the surface, what it could be, and a lot of interest and energy to put into making things better. Quixotic, perhaps, but hey, it can keep you going. Of course, though, what KTM needs isn't more quixotic foreigners like me with an offbeat sense of what's interesting, but a few more Nepali Kathmanduites who are willing not just to call KTM "Crapmandu" and blame the "people in power" but to go on to DO SOMETHING about it and, as R Rai, said become a passionate activist. If you're sick of protests where unimaginative dweebs burn tires to get a piece of power, how about creative (and non-toxic) protests in favor of parks? How about figuring out how to take back the neighborhoods, one street at a time? It may not make it Shangri-La, but you really could have a pretty liveable place there in, oh, a decade or so. It can happen. But not with a defeatist attitude, and not if you expect the politicians to act. Perhaps the biggest problem in KTM isn't traffic or smelly streets. Perhaps it's the defeatest attitude and the passive waiting for politicians to be the ones to "do things."

8. mona perdue
Interesting to read your blog. I was literally shocked by Kathmandu when I arrived in November. The road between the airport and Durbar Square looked...I don't even have words for it. Ladies were dressed in beautiful clothing. Children proudly wore their school uniforms. The roadside seemed to be accepted as it was and might always be. There weren't workers around. Instead the Nepali wore masks (many in fashionably matching colors) and climbed over the filthy hills of debris. Having traveled in India each of the past six years, I had no idea there was a place even "worse". Sorry for thinking this, but I'd just come from Paro, Bhutan, a pristine place on earth. The car that picked me up insisted on my tipping the poor fellow who grabbed my bags even though I screamed no. This was after I'd managed just fine on my own through the airport which had no working ATM so I had nothing for him. A poor beginning.....but it all got better eventually. I loved a lot of what I encountered. The 6-hour drive to Pokhara took 8 hours, but the small villages were delightful. The full-day tours I'd paid for in advance lasted but 5-hours each. I'm good on my own so made the best of it, yet felt somewhat cheated. Just information from my point of view.

9. R RAI
I would like to add one more thing if I may - of course Kathmandu needs more green parks , better roads and sewage disposal system but equally important if not more important thing is it must not earn a bad reputation for a city rife with sleazy dance bars and "massage parlours".KTM should strive for a decent image to attract decent visitors.

10. Saggy
A well-chronicled monologue. Fantastic writing, Rabi.

11. simonne
Grateful citizen Good article. I spend several months in Bhaktapur and often wish it was a little more sterilized. People tell me its such a clean city and then throw garbage into the streets at any time of the day and anywhere. Constant cleaning up by the municipality can encourage lazy habits. There is so much wasted food thrown into the streets especially on feast days (every day). I refuse almost all plastic bags and always get a little smile and comment about my foreign habits for doing so. I still hope it makes an example but somehow doubt it. I try to tell my friends not to leave rubbish in temples and fields when we go on picnics but I rarely get them to understand why and just end up collecting it myself. All the same I think I am one of the luckiest people I know because I have been able to live in such a beautiful and culturally rich city before it all disappears. I can never be grateful enough for all this place has added to my life. I agree, please act before its too late.

12. A native of Kathmandu
I can't be more agreed than with the author's proposition to "start with neighbourhood organisation for better roads, better drains, better street lighting. But we have to start somewhere. If we don't, who will?" We have leadership, resources, and man-power. We have everything. But the practical problem is how, when something is missing in many of us - "will" to cooperate.

13. jukka sepperi
Finnish. I Will came to Nepal march. So i Will see it for my first time! I tell you what my experiance were.

14. Devendra Pant
Ancient Greeks used to say one learns from the city or town where one habitates. Kathmandu valley used to be the shining gem of Nepal thanks largely to the unique contribution of the local Newari culture. An ancient city with a self-sustaining man-made and natural ecosystem in harmonious balance. A unique example of religious and ethnic tolerance; a fertile land located at 4200 ft high above the sea level, and behold no malaria! Tony Hagen excellently described the seasonal climate change impacting the trade dynamics-- the trans-Himalyan passes opening up in summer and the tropical jungle and big rivers in Madhes being accessible in winter-- KTM was the bridge linking Tibet and Northern India. The Valley used to be a great center of art, culture and architecture. Master Architect Araniko represented the culture and art of the Valley to China during the rule of Kublai Khan! Building of the White Pagoda in Beijing--what a magnificent export of ideas and imagination! Alas, the glorious past has vanished into the blue. Things have changed so much during the last six decades. The decay of KTM valley portrays the moral, cultural and political decay of our Nation. It represents the best example of the worst management over the decades. What do our cities and towns teach our kids today? Is it not time for awakening from the deep slumber!!

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)