Kathmandu, Nepal

It has been a long time since I had a curfew or shared a dorm room. It has also been a long time since I tried to learn a new language or find my way on crowded local buses to locations filled with twisty busy streets. Kathmandhu is unlike anywhere else I have ever been. I will admit to some culture shock but I’m not sure how much is living as a student where I am the oldest by far or the culture of this big Nepalese city.

I flew here on Air India, switching planes very quickly in New Dehli. I enjoyed looking out the window as we landed, my first glimpse of India. The transition to my other plane was a very hasty one, running through the airport with only a glance at the fancy shops filled with perfume and booze, looking more like a French airport than an Indian one.

As I boarded the flight in my convenient aisle seat, a man wanted to sit next to his wife so I gave it up for his seat in the middle on the other side of the plane. It’s all about karma here in these Hindu countries and mine proved advantageous as the Nepali woman next to the window said to switch so she could sleep and I could look out the window. Like a child on an airplane, I love looking out the window and seeing the Himalayas for the first time was a thrilling sight! I would have missed the view entirely from my old seat. Not only that, but my seat mate has invited me to her house for dinner. So did a woman I met on the bus here today after I played peek-a-boo with her young child. The people here have definitely lived up to their reputation as friendly ones.

I also had the privilege of meeting my sisters-in-law’s friend who they met when they were here to adopt their infant 8 years ago. I spent a very interesting afternoon learning about her work with child trafficking and domestic violence, both way too prevalent here in this country. We also discussed the atrocities of the Maoist uprising that lasted for 10 challenging years in Nepal. The stories were horrifying. It has been about 7 years since then and things have settled down here with a new government. I also got to see their brand new hours old puppies just delivered that morning as a surprise to all.

My first moments in the airport here were challenging. I had miscalculated the cost of my visa – $100 payable in U.S. currency. Without enough cash, I put my bank card in the ATM only to have it say it was invalid. With a pit in my stomach, I tried my credit card and was happy to have that work, although the interest charges are outrageous. Without internet or a phone, I wasn’t sure how I would straighten out the mess but it seems to have resolved itself. I got money out of the ATM near my hostel yesterday and you can imagine my relief. Now I have my daughter’s Indian phone fired up with a new sim card. If I get lost, I can call the hostel for help which makes me a little braver with my explorations.

In some ways, surprises are representative of life here – unpredictable and sometimes challenging. My first glimpses of the city as I rode through the city with Lee, a volunteer just arrived from South Africa, in the car of our language teacher, were shocking. Even after being in Indonesia, the traffic was loud and busy with no apparent rules. At one point a group of cows came toward us. In Nepal they are considered sacred and wander where ever they wish. The road was pitted with potholes, there was trash all over the sides of the roads and lots and lots of people in front of the shops.

The turnoff to the hostel was a dirt road, almost impassible from the ruts. We moved slowly through the people walking up the hill and then turned off into a smaller road barely wide enough for the small car. Again, trash lined the streets and buildings with stoops ran right up to the road. There were lots of stray dogs and an occasional chicken and I spotted a few goats as well. As we backed into the hostel gate, I could barely get out as the door opened only a few inches.

Keshav led us into the hostel. The classroom is about 8×10 with 3 small benches, cushions to sit on and a white board. The “dining room” is about the same size with a few tables and chairs. The kitchen is dark but serves lots of traditional food – rice with vegetables and lentils as well as some pasta to ease the transitions of the foreigners.

My bed is a board with a thin mattress and a thick comforter. The first night I had on all my warm clothes, things I haven’t even looked twice at since I left Vermont. I shared the room with a girl from Scotland. The next night we added a woman from Switzerland and when they left for their projects, Debbie from Belgium arrived yesterday and Eva from Germany came after hers finished. Now I understand why I never got a roster of volunteers. There is lots of coming and going every day as people are all in different stages of their programs.

It’s an international crowd. In addition to those already mentioned, there have been people from Australia, California, Russia, Denmark and Finland. My “class” consists of 3 men, Debbie and me. I am the oldest by about 30 years except for an Aussie who is scheduled to leave for 8 weeks in a monastery teaching English to monks. We will all leave on Monday for our various next adventures. Two brothers from Australia were scheduled to leave at 5 a.m. this morning for an Everest trek to base but instead one is in the hospital sick with a fever, vomiting and diarrhea. I didn’t feel very well last night either but today is much better.

Yesterday, 8 of us came into Thamel which is the area of the city for backpackers and foreigners. This is where trekkers buy their supplies and tourists their souvenirs. It’s a warren of narrow streets but also have some internet cafes so I can write today! We wandered through Dunbar square with its temples, had chocolate cake on Freak Street, the scene of the hippies in the 60’s, and shared some beer in a rooftop cafe. To get here, we took a crowded little bus filled with locals (our hostel is on the edge of the city) about 40 minutes and then walked about 20 minutes. Debbie and I found our way back here today so we could catch up with friends from home on our computers. I’ll be able to check email closer to the hostel at the internet cafe there but without wireless there won’t be any pictures to post. While I was here, I bought a pair of Nepalese cotton pants to supplement my 2 pairs. They were about $5.00 after a lot of bargaining. It gets down into the 40’s or so at night and without heat in the hostel, I’m wearing my fleece all the time. Today I braved a cold shower and washed my clothes in a basin to hang out on the roof.

Ah, the roof. That’s where you can see the snow covered mountains on a clear day (not so often in hazy Kathmandu), the lower “hills” higher than the mountains at home, as well as the other rooftops and buildings nestled together in our area. People chat from their balconies or rooftops to neighbors, you can see everyone’s laundry hanging as well as their flower pots and water tanks. There is a boy across the way with yellow rimmed sunglasses who always waves to me and yesterday got together a wild soccer game in the dusty driveway. I watched one woman during her laundry in the alley way and after a couple of hours, she was still at it.

Walking around the neighborhood, there is a school for high school age kids wearing their blue blazers, lots of little shops selling everything from cell phones to bananas, many homes and little narrow mazes of streets. It’s not far from the Kalinki intersection, a major intersection where buses both local and regional gather, a market on the ground of vegetable sellers and skywalks across the road. Crossing streets is a challenge given the traffic so that makes life a lot safer there.

Going with the flow is the name of the game here. People’s projects change all the time and despite the flurry of emails I had with the people here from home, now there is a new plan. I will be at the hostel for the first week, doing daily language classes. I’ve learned some greetings, pronunciation rules, names of food and some history of the region and its people. These will continue until Monday when I leave for a couple of nights in a village homestay to experience more of the culture. From there, I’ll have one night back in the hostel and then south to Chitwan National Park for some rafting and other things. Then, off to Pokara for a week long trek and then back to the Chitwan area for my 2 weeks in a homestay and work in an orphanage. At least that’s the plan for now…

One of the challenges here is that the electricity is turned off for awhile in a seemingly random schedule. So that I know I can “post” this, I’ll end here. I’ll check my email some time in the next few days but I’m not sure when I’ll find wireless again. Thanks again to all of you for your comments and e mails. Time restraints make it hard here to respond but know I appreciate them and will respond when I can.

Now, the next challenge is to find our way out of this warren of streets back to the bus stop. This will be my first time with Debbie to do it alone. At least I know how to ask directions now!










Leave a comment


  1. Joanne

     /  March 13, 2012

    I am reading your blog aloud as we have our morning tea/coffee. Glad you started out in Bali and eased into this leg of the journey. karma/ flow.. karma/flow…

  2. Joanne

     /  March 13, 2012

    Oh yes.. Johnny is working daily on his Italian Rossetta Stone program .. he says ” Ellen ha le palle grandi per la viaggi a India. “

  3. Donna Dearborn

     /  March 13, 2012

    Ellen- enjoy your time in Nepal!! I will be in Kathmandu March 31 to Apr 2 at Kathmandu Guest House if you’re in the city then. Would love to see you. Donna D.

  4. Debbie S

     /  March 13, 2012

    I know that Delhi airport well, and most times I have also just run through it. Your descriptions sound like so much of what we have seen in our travels in India–trash everywhere, rutted streets, crazy traffic. Enjoy your time there. You are sure getting some varied adventures! Debbie

  5. pam perkins

     /  March 13, 2012

    Auspicious, indeed. Keep it up!

    Your experiences so far are awesome. Thanks so much for sharing aspects of countries, Ellen, that most of us who travel a lot never get to see (except the trash!). Be safe.

  6. I love hearing about your adventures! Sounds like you are having an amazing time overall! Gotta say I love that last picture of the tiny puppies! What an amazing thing to be able to see!

  7. Candice Stein

     /  March 13, 2012

    Amazing photo, Ellen.

  8. Barbara

     /  March 13, 2012

    It’s amazing how different each of your experiences have been so far! Good thing you are a very patient and flexible woman….good for karma, too. Your stories and descriptions continue to make me smile and often laugh……over the video of the zip line!
    Stay safe.

  9. Patsy

     /  March 15, 2012

    Wow! What a far cry from rainy, drippy, sun-less Oregon! The days look the same, 6am or 6pm! I’ve been home 2 weeks from Costa Rica & have had a virus for much of that time, hence my gloomy attitude & my sheer delight while reading your posts! It is like a mini-vacation & I am there with you in spirit……….sure glad we got off that elephant before it rolled over in the river! Keep ’em coming, gal! Love, Pat

  10. margery

     /  March 15, 2012

    Dear Ellen, wow! This is not the Kathmandu I remember. It has changed considerably since the late 70 s.. Talk about culture shift and shock! I know you will embrace all of it. Your next few weeks sound intense. I will hold you in my prayers and. Heart as you continue on this amazing journery. With much love, Margery w


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