In short, Nepal is awesome. Easily a highlight of five months of travelling. After China, Nepal felt like a totally different world. It is poor. Like really really poor. Nepal makes even Myanmar look rather prosperous. Almost half of the population lives under poverty and unemployment is rampant. Infrastructure ranges from half-assed to non-existent. Signs of construction are all around, but they appear more like unfinished business than work in progress. Roads are abysmal and traffic jams can occur anywhere and anytime. Travelling is truly slow â€“ covering a distance of 100km may easily take up to 6 hours. Power cuts occur daily according to a load-balancing schedule. Even Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, gets only around 12 hours of daily power. During the three week stay in Nepal, we have not been to a single air-conditioned space. Indeed it is hard to maintain air conditioning with scarce electricity. As a reference every ATM in Indonesia has its own AC unit, probably to make you feel rich whenever you withdraw cash.
However, the biggest problem of all is piss-poor hygiene. I had managed to avoid any stomach problems for four months, but after three days in Kathmandu diarrhoea got me immobilised for several days. A major advertising point for many tourist restaurants is hygienic food. Eating out is a gamble, whether your next meal results in a bad stomach or even worse a full-blown food poisoning. Meat is best to be avoided altogether, as refrigerators are not necessarily connected to backup power generators during power black-outs. Tap water is outright poisonous and even locals advise against using tap water for brushing teeth or rinsing vegetables, let alone drinking. It is wild world out there.
Kathmandu has got all the signs of a terrible city: dusty and dirty, noisy and polluted, full of traffic jams and just plain chaotic. When it rained, streets were covered with mud. On the other hand, when it was hot, mud turned into dust and rose into air by strong winds. I could not decide which scenario was worse, while pondering a whole new born appreciation for cities made of concrete and stone. But despite all this Kathmandu is surprisingly enjoyable and does not scream “GET OUT OF HERE NOW” on every corner. Thamel, the main tourist ghetto, is pleasant enough, although a bit hectic for my liking. It is an excellent place to shop for pashminas of dubious quality, yak wool products, singing bowls and trekking equipment. If you prefer quieter environment, hotels on Paknajol Street not too far away from Thamel are the way to go.
Tourist sights of Kathmandu are interesting enough, although at this point of the journey we had little interest to go see them. Additionally a dual pricing scheme was a major turn-off: free for locals and $10-15 for tourists. Especially when a sight in question was just a public area, where locals lived (such as Kathmandu Durbar Square as well as Patan and Bhaktapur towns). We spent a lot of time discussing that concept of fairness and put much effort into finding alternative ways to get in. All in good faith.