Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Surviving Kathmandu, A Note On Being Dead In The City.

Top View of Kathmandu Durbar Square
Upon arrival in Kathmandu, I was half-expecting that the airport would not be that impressive as it is known as a poor country. But I admired how they constructed their airport using bricks which I later learned that it was the most basic foundation of traditional and contemporary homes in the whole of Nepal. When I entered the city, I was dismayed by the situation that appeared to me in the streets. It's dry, dirty, chaotic and was just a big mess. As I get to know the place and as I get deep into the cultural heritage that this place has to offer, I was already concluding that people did not really know about how such an important place is this for their history.

In general, people (or locals) are just busy getting by for the day. They flock the durbar square, at any day of the week, begging for one rupee, begging for food and when they have food, they will just throw the wrappers and plastics in the streets without even caring who clears up the mess they made. The streets are filled with motorcycles, rickshaws and people pushing carts selling fruits, spices and everything making a strenuous traffic snaking around the entire city. Taxis are plying in and out of the narrow streets including tourist vans and cars contributes to the congested traffic everyday.

Pigeons are also a source of mess in the durbar squares and places nearby as their shit are just all over the place and smells so bad. The entire city is dusty that were scraped off from bricks used in the buildings and houses. Not to mention the sort of developments being done in the city and constructions using bricks as foundations and walls are also adding up to the suffocating smog built from dust. The roads are not cemented and cars and buses add to the air pollution. Being an elevated city in the valley, fog is one of the regular visitors which mixes with the dust and smoke present almost everyday making it really difficult to breath heavily. Almost everyone uses a mask as a protection from this.

In the 9 days I spent in Kathmandu, I felt like the air condition made me weak and got me sick for a day and a half. I thought the city was dead as the locals did not seem to bother at all at the cleanliness and livability of their home city. They were all just busy trying to get by with their daily lives. Yes the country is poor and the capital is a mess but if people did not take care of it, who else are they supposed to blame. Even though arrival of tourists is high, I have noticed that tourists are more cautious nay cognizant on how to take care of the place than the locals themselves.

On the last day, I really though the city was dead and thought there is not part of the city that has eluded the dirtiness of it in and out until I visited Pashupinath. I called this place Temple Of The Dead. I did not research about this place and just saw this on the Lonely Planet guide. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a wall surrounding the whole area which says World Heritage Protected Site. This is the seventh and last place of WH Protected Site I visited. My expectations for this place is very high as the entrance fee is NR 1000. The best place I have been so far before this was Bhaktaphur Durbar Square which costs  NR 1100 which was really an impressive and well preserved place although air pollution was still present.

When I reached the center of Pashupinath, I saw a ceremony, sort of, for a dead man, who was in a shipped casket, which I am assuming from overseas, and being prepared to be cremated in open air. Nothing prepared me to see this kind of ceremony. Locals still perform this centuries old of Buddhism tradition in this sacred place. But I never thought they would do the cremation right in front of every one, including tourists and bystanders, to witness a what should have been a very private family ceremony. I have heard crying of people who I am assuming of course relatives of the dead man. As the men, probably relatives as well, prepared the dead man to be bathed in the holy river in the temple that passes through the center of the Pashupinath before burning the body, I left.

I left with a thought that despite how disappointed I was for the entire trip, there is still a bit of life living within the locals. They may not have taken care of their city but at least they still managed to maintain that sacred tradition, that belief of afterlife, that a dead man will be reincarnated after cremation and will live a new life. There it was, a little life at the temple of the dead.


J Gerald C Legaspi is the Filipino author of and is currently working and travelling in and around South East Asia but spends most of his time in Jakarta, Manila and Singapore.

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