What You Need to Know About Traveling to Kathmandu, Nepal

Report from 5/29/18

I woke up this morning feeling a bit better than I did when I first arrived. The excitement returned, and I slept off some of the anxiety that accumulated. However, that does not mean that anything changed Kathmandu is honestly a city that is very loud, dirty, and traffic is absolute nonsensical chaos. I knew all this going in, but it doesn’t matter how much prep and research you put into it, nothing will really prepare you for your first time alone in a 3rd world country. And that is exactly what I am going to debrief you on today: The ugly, and the beautiful.

This morning I met my one other climbing partner that signed up for the same date block as I did. I do feel better that I’m not alone. Besides us two, our team will consist of 2 guides and 1 porter. There will also be a cook and staff up at Island Peak Basecamp. After our briefing meeting this morning at the Himalayan Glacier Office, our awesome guide took us to a few iconic sites. (I will tell you his name when I figure out how to spell it).  As excited as I was walking through the beautiful streets of Thamel that morning, here is where it gets interesting and my blood pressure probably shot through the roof: We had to take a taxi… in daytime Kathmandu traffic…

First off, I would like to say that after what I survived today, climbing a giant mountain is going to be easy! Now, you’re probably asking yourself “wait, what?!”. Let me explain… I am a very anxious person. I like the mountains because of the solitude. I hike alone most of the time because I like the quiet, and peace that comes from being in those mountains. I love that I live with trail heads in my backyard. I HATE going into the city. It’s stressful, fast paced and crowded. I’m not a fan. Anytime there is some sort of event, or party or something that forces me to go into downtown Salt Lake, I cringe, I complain, and I get stressed out. I deal with it, and I’m just thankful I don’t live somewhere like New York City or LA. Kathmandu is a very crowded, and very densely populated city. For those at home Kathmandu Valley is much like Salt Lake Valley… only half the size and double the population.

So, I put a crazy amount of faith into this taxi driver as he drove us all over town. This is what I learned about Kathmandu Traffic:

  1. There are no rules of the road… not really anyway. There are lines on some streets, and there are these weird giant pillars in the middle of certain intersections, and occasionally you will see traffic cops helping move things along on the busiest streets, but really, there is nothing like you see back at home. No street signs, speed limits, not even stop lights! Everyone just kind of goes. 
  2. Nepali drivers are probably the best drivers in the world, and Utah drivers really are probably the worst. Despite the seemingly organized chaos on the streets of Kathmandu, Nepali drivers have mad skills. They have to be extremely attentive. It’s like you’re driving through a neighborhood and kids on both sides of the street are accidentally kicking their balls into traffic, constantly. They are also incredibly aggressive and assertive drivers. Now, I don’t mean angry or road rage-y, I mean they find any window of opportunity and take it. There is CONSTANT honking, flashing brights at each other and weaving around cars and bikes, but non of it is with hostility, it’s all done as almost like a note of “hey I’m here” to bigger cars or pedestrians. 
  3. Traffic RARELY comes to a standstill. In rush hour in Salt Lake, there are several areas of the Valley that come to a complete standstill. In Kathmandu, because everyone is forcing there way around everyone, traffic is always moving.
  4. Car accidents are rare and if there ever is a car accident, it’s usually not a big deal. We have a max speed limit of 80mph in Utah. People die… all the time. Wrecks at home are often horrific. Because of the attentiveness of everyone on a bike or in a little Suzuki driving around Kathmandu, nothing really ever happens. There appear to be close calls everywhere to the untrained eye, but once you figure out how it all sort of “works” you realize that’s normal traffic for them. 
  5. Cows chill in the road. So do goats and monkeys. 

Now for the cool part. The part everyone scrolls down past all the other stuff to read right?

First we went to the infamous Shree Pashupatinath Temple. This is the giant, iconic and recognizable Bhuddist Temple in Nepal. Back in 2016 when the earthquake hit, the top of the temple completely crumbled. They have since rebuilt it and the site looks as if there never was an earthquake. 

We circled around the temple taking a million pictures before heading to our next stop, Swayambhunath, also known as The Monkey Temple. This is where the internet sometimes gets confused. This is because the sites look very similar however the monkey temple is much, much smaller and has more architectural features. Many mistake Shee Pashupatinath for Swayambunath and vice versa. In fact, I myself thought that was the case. But names aren’t important, all that matters is the beauty that comes from these sites. It is indescribable. I had seen pictures of both, and for years I dreamed about it, but nothing compares to the real thing. The smell of incense in the air, prayers being offered, and despite the crowds, it is a peaceful place and completely worth the crazy drive.

A question I’m sure some are wondering, as I wondered myself, how is Nepal doing since the earthquake? Well, they are healing, but there is still a lot to be done. I’m sure I will see in the mountain villages later, as I have heard the status it is much worse , but in Kathmandu, the buildings that took the most damage were old, brick, and poorly structured. most of the city still stands. However, there are signs of damage and hurt everywhere still. as we drove around, there were lots that were still a pile of rubble that have yet to be rebuilt. Some sites were still in the rebuild process, many sidewalks and roads are still damaged, and there is a huge homeless problem. as we drove buy these beautiful temples, on the outside were dozens and dozens of people seeking sanctuary and refuge begging for rupees. It is a hard, sad, and humbling site to see, especially as I am there for leisure. The one thing to avoid is feeling guilty. Nepal thrives on tourism. By traveling to this country to visit, and showing interest in the historic sites, paying entry fees, paying permit fees for climbing, and buying local fare, that money helps their economy get back on track. I remember when the quake first happened, I wanted to jump on the first plane out here to help, but it wasn’t even aloud. Planes were grounded for days and no one was allowed into the country. Now, they appreciate the help, but they also just appreciate people coming to visit and taking an interest in their home country. Nepali pride is evident everywhere and as much as I enjoyed the temples in town, I cannot wait to see the mountains I came here for.

2 thoughts on “What You Need to Know About Traveling to Kathmandu, Nepal

Leave a Reply