Beyond the dusty streets, Nepal’s capital is a vibrant, beguiling mosaic of cultures and architecture.
Dust billows in the air as our car jerks along a rugged dirt road. The way ahead is shrouded in a gritty haze and we can barely see the car two metres in front of us. We try, in vain, to roll up the windows. They’re broken. “Nepali powder,” the driver says, with biting sarcasm. He raises his hand in an impersonation of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, followed by a regal flick of the wrist. “All for free. We’re lucky.” We fall out of the car to find our skin, hair and clothes veiled in a light film of dust. Lucky, indeed.
I’d been warned the Nepali capital was “a real sh*t-hole”, that it was “dirty, dusty, a dump”.
It can certainly seem that way at first. The unpaved roads are in dire condition, seething with beeping cars, screaming motorbike engines and rickshaws. Crumbling building façades drip with mould.
Power outages are random and frequent. Yet visitors quickly discover the label is perhaps overly simplistic, if not inaccurate.
Once one of three city-states in the Kathmandu Valley, along with Bhaktapur and Patan, Kathmandu has over 2,000 years of history and is home to 12 per cent of the country’s population and more than a dozen ethnic groups, including the country’s first settlers, the Newars. It is this diversity that makes Kathmandu everything it is: frenzied, chaotic and astoundingly exasperating, but also rich and vibrant. Indeed, Kathmandu takes thousands of forms. Narrow, dilapidated alleys open into broad ancient squares. Dusty streets thump with a colourful parade of roaming hawkers,