We arrived into Kathmandu in whirlwind fashion and the transition between countries was slightly jarring.
A brief 8 hours between the two nations which encompassed two flights and a three hour lay over in New Delhi’s modern airport (which was slightly surreal) before we were in a new country. In a fit of western zeal, perhapse brought on by the shiny shops and the air conditioning of the airport, i ate a Dominos pizza followed by a spicy chicken sandwich from McDonalds for extra shits and giggles. I NEVER eat McDonalds and Dominos is not real pizza as any New Yorker worth their MTA cards will tell you. Go figure. I was prepared to spend a lot more of my western money on tax free goods but thankfully came to my senses and instead sat on my hands watching news of the earthquake which had hit Nepal’s eastern border the night before. I had to reflect on how disasters seemed to be happening all around us for most of our trip. A bomb blast in Delhi a day after we left, a minor quake in the same city, the bus disaster in Kashmir on the same day we were supposed to be traveling there, and now this earthquake. I hoped there wasn’t a pattern developing.
Silly thoughts, and thankfully I didn’t dwell on them long.
Kathmandu required our full attention the moment we landed. I gaffed having forgotten all about requiring a visa to enter the country so we had to deal with that once we landed. The process proved pretty painless and even hilarious. I handed my paperwork to a short round Nepalese man behind the visa counter. He took my documents, looked up and me, back down to the passport, than back up at me again. A huge golden toothed smile spread across his face. “Ohhhhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit” he exclaimed loudly. I could not help but smile in return, totally perplexed. He handed me the papers and stood extending his hand, grabbing mine and shaking it it vigorously. Well, i thought to myself, that’s a good sign. I like Nepal. Neither Amy nor I had any idea what the man was so happy about.
We were mobbed by touts the moment we stepped out from the airport, 20 men crowding about us in every direction. “Here sir i take you to the best hotel for only 500 rupees” one tout announced. He was immediately shouted down by others so that by the time we had taken ten steps the price of the cab was down to 200 rupees. Thankfully we knew exactly where we wanted to stay and only had to repeat it 15 times before the touts left us be.
That evening, after exploring the tourist ghetto of Themal, I immersed myself in a hot bath and thought back on the country i had left earlier in the morning.
Most of my time was spent in northern India, away from the mass of heat, humidity, and humanity that i found in Delhi. I saw so much beauty during those two weeks that i literally can not describe it all. Sunsets in Shimla, from the top of the Silverine Hotel, looking out into seemingly endless rolling green hills. Monkeys playing at Hanuman’s feet in the Jakhu temple rising above the city. Rainbows over the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala. The hand crafts that lined every street stall there, made by Tibetan exiles living out their lives and their religion within India’s hospitable borders. The peace in Manali, again surrounded by majestic green hills, footholds into the Himalayas. Great heights in Leh, snow capped giants standing sentinel over Mosque, Buddhist monastery, and Hindu temple. Three religions meeting at an ancient earthy crossroad. We traveled down a street in Leh hearing the chants to Allah from a mosque while watching red robed Tibetan monks passing by shrines to Hindu gods. Flying out of Leh we saw a massive panorama of the Himalayas stretching out below us. Utterly breathtaking.
Yet behind every beautiful hill, in every nook and crevice, you find garbage heaps. Some of them hidden, so you approach what you think is a beautiful river bank only to look down between riverbank and hill to find gigantic piles of multi colored trash, most of it plastic in nature. A large percentage of it is right in your face insulting your western sensibilities. The story goes like this, and is repeated by almost every tourist i meet. You buy something in a shop. You open it and ask the shop owner where you can throw away the wrapper. He takes it from your hand and throws it onto the street. “This is India” he says smiling at your disbelief. “This is what we do with trash.”
Worse than the garbage tho is the poverty. It stabs you in the heart, the soul, and makes you wonder at the injustice here. How can a government allow it’s people to live in these conditions? How is it possible that a country with as much wealth as India can let this happen? I did not think of India as a third world country but i have to classify is as such seeing how the poor here are forced to live. I sincerely hope that the corruption that grows within India’s stale and OLD government is burned from existence by the young generation coming into power now. Ours is the Fury and i have felt that fury rising hotly with every glimpse of the people suffering here. Wikileaks released some documents telling of an official here who had private planes bring her the newest shoes from Mumbai, once a month. This can not be allowed to exist. If these people rise up I will be here with them.
Which brings me to Delhi. Most of all I reflect on Delhi. My thoughts on that city are troubled. It all started in Delhi, and Delhi ran us out of town in a brief 36 hours. It went beyond culture shock, I think. There was a fullness to Delhi that highjacks all of your senses. Everything and anything was happening at the same time. Incredible poverty in full control of the slums that sprout up almost immediately after driving out of the green airport, people people people and their machines everywhere talking, honking, thrumming, exhaling carbon monoxide, at every street corner food being cooked, oil stoves heating spices of every fragrance possible, the barking of dogs, laughter, excrement, buzzing mosquitoes, the sounds of piss splattering a mud puddle, men walking down the street arm in arm smiling, talking, bullshitting, bull shit from emaciated cows, women draped in every color imaginable floating over all of it, skies at times pissing rain, at times burning down thru the pollution, and the rampant humidity of Monsoon so that every crevasse of your body is damp within minutes of exposure no matter the weather; being sold to, coerced, stared at, talked about, helped, scorned. As much poverty as exists there is offset on the other side of the scales by the obnoxious wealth that moves men to build dining rooms the size of footballs fields equipped with toy trains made of solid gold, delivering salt and pepper and saffron in golden containers to those who dine upon the backs of them who sweep their marble floors. And everywhere the remains of human consumption, the garbage heaps in every gutter, in every alley, on every street. The shit piles in the gutter, so that you can not tell excrement from mud.
Anything and everything and you. You, thrust into the face of EVERYTHING. And it is all happening at once.
It was too much. We were too tired to deal, too confused to make sense of it, too hesitant to embrace the everything. I wonder how long it takes one to adjust to Delhi. I wonder if i could ever adjust. I wonder at those who come to Delhi and find a haven, see heaven where i saw hell. I wonder if i could ever be one of those people.