Kathmandu, Nepal - 2018 Nepal and Tibet Study Tour
• 1768 – the Gorkha family establishes a kingdom which will become the modern Kingdom of Nepal. The Gorkha rulers were anti-British and often
fought off influence and the presence of the British East India Company.
• September 14, 1946 – Kot Massacre – brought to power the Rana family who were pro-British. From this pro-British stance came European
influence into the city’s art, architecture, technology and education.
• Kathmandu reflected the changes in Nepal through the influence of the newly independent India in 1947 and the Chinese Communist takeover of
Tibet in the 1950s.
• Today Nepal is a Parliamentary Republic.
• April 25, 2015 – Nepal is hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake and Kathmandu suffers quite a bit of damage. Many historical and tourist sites we
affected by the earthquake and not all are completely rebuilt.
I felt that my opinions of Kathmandu changed several times before, during and after the trip. I've divided up my reflection below.
Before the trip I had read the Lonely Planet guide, I had put together a Kathmandu city guide, and I done a few Google searches. I envisioned Kathmandu as a busy, capital city that most likely had heavy traffic and a "developing" country feel, but also many beautiful temples and gardens. I was excited to travel, for the first time, to South Asia, and I was equally as excited to gain some additional knowledge of Hinduism.
Once I arrived in Kathmandu, I immediately noticed the traffic and the wild driving (which I expected) and also poor quality of the roads. Kathmandu was much grittier than I expected and the earthquake damage was far beyond what I could have imagined. I try to be an optimist when I travel and I want to really like everywhere I go, but, at first, I wasn't so sure that I liked Kathmandu. It wasn't particularly clean, the roads were a mess, it was chaotic, and filled with pigeons. I was expecting a lot of this, but I was not prepared to see trash at the temples. I thought the sacred spaces would have been kept neater. I struggled to see past the exterior for most of the three days we were there. I was however, impressed with the amount of English being spoken and I really enjoyed the Sisterhood of the Survivors project. None of this is to say I left Kathmandu disappointed...I just felt differently about it than I thought I would. My feelings would drastically change over the course of the trip.
Once we were in Tibet I saw the clean, smooth roads that I wished for in Kathmandu, but I quickly realized that cleanliness did not equate to happiness or freedom. While Tibet was relatively clean (ok, bathrooms excluded!) and lacking in chaos, it was restricted and controlled. I reflected back on Kathmandu and realized that the absence of organized structure was a city that was enjoying freedom from strict government control.
Upon returning to Kathmandu from Tibet, I found myself far less critical of the conditions and more appreciative of the bumpy roads, but fun little shops,and more excited to explore without the shadow of large posters of previous and current leaders.
Coming home from this trip was definitely the most difficult "re-entry" I've had (and I was only gone for two weeks!). I later told my husband that it was like being on this 14 day academic high and then plummeting down to discussing mindless Real Housewives episodes... I came home after two long flights to two excited toddlers and a mother who was anxious to see my travel pictures. I was jet lagged and tired, and since I know my mother well, I knew the pictures would not be a success. To my mom, travel is a pretty vacation with lots of color and flowers and shopping. My trip was not any of those things and the first pictures I had were of Kathmandu. She was immediately appalled and wondered why I would leave my family to travel to such a place. In my exhausted state, I bit my tongue, and fiercely defended Kathmandu to my husband later. How could she not see the cremation platform at Pashupatinath temple and wonder about burial ritual? And the Stupa at Bodhnath surrounded by prayer flags (which she later thought were discarded plastic bags...)? And intricate architecture on the buildings in Durbar Square? Once jet lag, and a mild case of pink eye, wore off, I forgave her negativity and recognized that I had seen Kathmandu initially the way she did: only the exterior.
So, if my mother wasn't impressed, and my husband was politely listening to my stories, what was I going to say to my students? I knew I had to somehow show then Kathmandu beyond the grit, dust, and trash. I had learned so much in the four days that I was there, but could anyone else see things from my perspective? Should I photoshop my pictures (well...not seriously, because I don't really know how...)? Instead, when I teach South Asia this semester (sometime in November), I will show them my souvenirs and pictures and explain that Nepal is a country that is newly experiencing democracy and modernization. Kathmandu is the capital city that is working out the kinks of infrastructure and while it may not look "pretty" it is chaotic, yet vibrant. This is the picture of a culture that is advancing while retaining customs, but also struggling to rebuild from a natural disaster. I suspect I will be defending Kathmandu in front of my students, but I believe my challenge, as a teacher, is to encourage them to look beyond the exterior and see what life is like across the globe.