Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kathmandu, or, Where have all the seatbelts gone?

(originally written Friday, July 18)

The last few days have been an insane whirl of activity. Shortly after I finished my last blog post, the other three ETAs arrived at our gate in the Delhi airport, where we proceeded to sleep on the ground, wrapped around our bags, suffering through the last of the 12-hour layover together.

A kind AirIndia agent assigned our seats on the left side of the plane, assuring us of a proper view of the Himalayan Mountains. Despite heavy cloud cover, we spotted a few snowy islands just below cruising altitude. I cannot wait until monsoon season is over, because then the mountains will be visible from the ground. Descent granted us the coveted first view of Nepal. I was struck by how textured and tiered and hilly and green it was.

We arrived in the tiny Kathmandu airport a little after 9 am Nepali time, and by the time we reached the Fulbright commission at 10:30, my travel time reached a grand total of 32 hours—a solid ten hours less than the girls who traveled all the way from Seattle. Luckily, we did not stay long at the commission, as we were asleep on our feet. After purchasing tiny basic phones and SIM cards, we stopped at a restaurant with a senior Fulbright researcher and his wife to snag our first taste of daal bhaat, the primary meal of Nepal. There are variations, but it always consists of rice (bhaat) and lentil stew (daal), often accompanied by pickled vegetables.

The commission provided us with an apartment in the Lazimpat neighborhood of Kathmandu. It is the perfect size for six girls, and it even has a Western-style toilet AND sometimes, hot water. Tomorrow we plan on exploring and hopefully purchasing some essentials, like towels and facemasks.

A word (or few) on Kathmandu traffic:
I might have to say that in most ways, the driving situation in Nepal is worse than it was in Naples, where seven lanes of interwoven traffic seem to be quite common. Kathmandu roads have between one and four lanes, marked with clearly visible white lines. However, Nepali drivers always take the more convenient route, even if that means driving on the other side of the median. The trick is to pretend that you are on a ride in Disney World and that nothing could possibly go wrong—although, at least amusement park rides have seatbelts.

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