We were in kathmandu last summer and it hasn’t changed one bit. I imagine it’s a lot like India would have been some forty years ago. Decrepit buildings, roads in a such a poor state the pot holes make up a larger area than the road. It is very apparent that the money coming into the country isn’t filtered down to the local level. The roads are ridiculous, it is quicker to walk, the buildings are falling down, there is litter everywhere and even the gree parts (of which there are few) look tired and neglected. Kathmandu is a city forgotten, yet it remains one of the most fascinating cities in Asia. Ok, it doesn’t have the sprawling grandeur of Bangkok, it’s no Kuala Lumpur and at least a century or two behind Singapore. But it is a city that a million Nepalese call home, the vast majority of them are dealt a daily struggle of trying to survive. It is absolutely no surprise that the Nepalese in Kathmandu are small framed, short individuals. The result of generations of malnourishment.
Kathmandu for us was a base to catch up with laundry, recharge our batteries and relax a little. We leave here to a place called Nargarkot some 30 miles away up a mountain. We then will take the following three days walking back to Kathmandu. I know 30 miles in three days doesn’t seem difficult. But throw into that equation 30+ degree temperatures, high humidity, altitude and all our things and the strain on me will be enough, never mind Charlie and Abi. And so really in Kathmandu we just wanted to have a little rest and recuperation.
Overlooking Kathmandu perched atop a small mountain is Swayanbunath or Monkey temple. We went last year, but this time we decided to walk all the way from Thamel (where we are staying) The funny thing about Kathmandu is that in Thamel it is absolute chaos, its a maze of alleyways and a nightmare to navigate. But walk for just 15 minutes and the buildings get lower, the road cleaner and about 90% of the traffic is gone. The walk took us around 40 minutes to get to the base of the climb up to the temple. Today has been red hot and so the walk became a stroll. The climb up to the temple is around 600 steps all at a sharp incline, I felt it necessary to have a litre of water each at the foot. As we sat rehydrating I saw a boy making his way over to us. He climbed down a wall and I knew what he was coming for.
I have always taken a hardline on beggars, even children. My theory is that if I give him money he will take it back to his mother. Sure of his success she would send him out again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. This boy cannot have been older than 3 years old. His scruffy, dirty clothes a clear indication of the hand of poverty he has been dealt. The desperation in his young face a clear sign that his life will never get easy. He was dark skinned which means he is an untouchable and so unemployable at any age and outcast by society. I knew he would live a life tougher and more desperate than my mind could ever envisage, I felt absolute pity for him. Sorrow on a level that crippled me inside. I took his photo and showed him on the LCD screen, he looked inquisitively at first, but then he smiled. That smile ripped me apart, i gave him a cuddle of absolute regret and some sweets, as we walked away I looked around and he was trying to open the small Mento I had given him. Completely oblivious to the fact that he had almost brought a grown man to tears. Unaware that I would remember his face, and his smile for the rest of my life.
Entry to the temple is the usual couple of hundred rupees and is also home to about a thousand monkeys, on the way up I met a Belgian couple, the temple looks out over Kathmandu which is essentially a sprawling slum for the large part. Why wasn’t the money being put back into the local economy we discussed. The girl was shocked at the poverty she had been witness to and I saw tears in her eyes as she spoke about what she had seen. A large reason is corruption. Another reason is that up until 2008 the country was in full blown civil war, tourists stopped coming and the money coming in dried up. That said 20 years ago almost half the country was in what the WHO consider as desperate poverty which is a family earning less than $1.25 per day. Thats right, any family earning less than £1 per day is deemed to be in poverty. Now 25% of country are below the so called ‘poverty line’ Half the able working population are unemployed and it is estimated that the country needs 1 million skilled workers. But without an education system in place how can this ever be achieved?
The reality is the average wage in Nepal is $200 per year. Thats £128 per year or about 46 pence per day and that isn’t just for a person – That’s for a family.
That is absolute desperation, and before anyone comes in and says “things cost less in Nepal” yes they do. A bottle of water is 14 pence, a Samosa from a street vendor 20 pence. The absolute desperation of the Nepalese is staggering.
The remainder of our day was spent walking the streets just experiencing the fascinating city we were in. As it happened we stumbled across a cinema charging just 100 Rupees entrance, which is around 70 pence. Batman the Dark Knight Rises was showing in English and so we decided to give it a go. Personally I think the movie is about as good as a movie gets, the kids were left dumbstruck and exhausted at how great it was. Seriously, it is one heck of a movie! People stood up and cheered at the end, it was outstanding.
As we navigated the alley ways back to our hotel, the kids convinced I knew the way – Me hoping to find somewhere I recognised, we played I Spy and as I reflect now I realise that days like today don’t become memories, they form who you are. They become a part of you and they remind you of just how lucky you really are.