Today I went down to the holy Bagmati River to take some photographs. I find serenity by bodies of water. The river is a five-minute stroll from my room in Thapathali. Once I cross the brown clumpy waters of the Dhobi Khola canal, I am in Buddhanagar, although I can’t be sure of this. Thapathali is also the neighborhood farther west of here, closer to the main road of Ramshah Path. I tell taxi drivers to drop me off in Buddhanagar because our road isn’t accessible by car from Thapathali. I don’t think the house has an address because the roads have not been named. Most of the maps of Nepal are published in foreign countries, in foreign languages, which makes me wonder if foreigners are the only ones with a need for them.
To walk the roads in Kathmandu demand a bit more attention than I prefer to give and today I had to side step the huge puddles left over from last night’s rains. If I avoid getting hit by bicycles, motorcycles or vegetable carts, I’m often tripping over big rocks, mounds of poop or sleeping dogs. Before moving here, I invested in a nice pair of New Balance walking shoes. Like most Nepalis, I get around by walking or public transportation. Unlike most Nepalis, I have the proper foot support. Or rather, I am fortunate enough to afford the luxury of proper foot support. I’m self conscious of this and wish my feet wouldn’t hurt so much after a day of walking in sandals. Perhaps a Nepali’s threshold of foot pain is higher than my own.
Today was particularly bright and I was surrounded by colors. The tiny shops I passed were bursting with crackers, toothpaste, vegetables, cooking oil; all haphazardly arranged on shelves from floor to ceiling. Kathmandu is a beautifully vibrant city when the sun is out, completely photogenic. I don’t mind the clouds, though, because the sun can often be unbearably hot. The monsoon won’t allow continuous sun or continuous rain for anyone to be confident in weather predictions. This afternoon, a slight breeze helped to stifle the heat, but intensified the stench of the river, which in addition to being considered “the sustainer of life” in Hindu thought, is also a city dumping ground. It’s not uncommon to see clothes, tires, bags and even carcasses floating down the murky brown waters.
The area near the river, I was surprised to find, was swamped with school-aged children. A footbridge, whose stairs had never been built, took those agile enough to climb from the Kathmandu side to the Patan side. Usually the children would be at school, but today the transportation entrepeneurs of Nepal called a strike against the government’s decision to allow student a 45% discount for travel on public transportation. Days before, the students had called a similar strike against the government’s decision to increase travel fares 45% due to the increase in fuel prices. The entire country shut down; no buses, no taxis, nothing. The Kathmandu Post had pictures of tourists walking to the airport, suitcases in tow. Even the gas station owners did not open their businesses.
The color of my skin set me apart from the usual company kept at the river and soon I had a flock of curious eyes around me. Phoebe’s HDV camcorder attracted an even larger crowd. Some of the younger ones pulled on my clothes to take pictures of them while the older ones scowled from a distance. Some reached out to touch the camera. I thought it best to walk away from the crowds down to the water. Perhaps I would be forgotten and I could begin to snap some photos. I read a few days ago that the average Nepali makes approximately $28 a month. That means he would have to work around 15 years saving every penny to afford the cameras we had.
I’ve found solace before near bodies of water, but there was little reassurance here. We thought it best to not stay long, so we put our hands together in a namaste and made our way back through Buddhanagar or Thapathali to our room. By that time, it started to rain anyway.
Posted By Therkelsen
Posted Jun 27th, 2008