Sept 29,2008: Thamel. Today the weather was not great.
I got caught in a downpour and for a while, this held up business all around Thamel. No grand notions of seeing the tops sites of Kathmandu, but it didn’t keep me from walking around and making observations about the cultural differences of Nepalese compared to the U.S.
10 Things to know before you go to Kathmandu
#1. Trash in the streets
Seeing people dump trash in the streets is shocking at first. You see it collect and it can get unsightly. Who cleans it up? Actually, in Nepal people collect the trash in a heap and then burn it.
#2. Male-to-male affection is natural affection
Similar to India, men in Nepal show their friendship affection by holding hands and showing physical affection. This is considered normal and acceptable in Nepal. It does not necessarily mean homosexuality.
#3. Motorcycles are everywhere.
It’s popular with the contemporary Nepali youth and boy, can they pack people on it. Thamel during peak traffic hours will lend itself to a butt-to-butt lineup of loud impatient motorcyclists, honking and farting black exhaust fumes. It lends to the surprising amount of pollution surrounding Thamel.
#4. Butchers lay out their slain livestock.
Skinned goat heads, chickens,… all are laid out on a table for eager marketers, who don’t mind dust on their food.
Tomorrow nears Dusain, one of Nepal’s biggest festivals, which is also known to have a lot of goat sacrifices. Over a hundred goats will be sacrificed in Durbar Square in Thamel in honor of this festival. Tomorrow I am going to Dakshinkali Temple, another pilgrimage spot for worshipping and sacrifices.
#5. Nepal has excellent seamstresses.
Anything can be fixed or sewn from scratch with speed and at a low-cost. The clothes in Thamel can offer a variety of styles from Tibetan, Indian, Western but my favorites are the kinds of hip styles that hippie, artsy boutiques carry. Knitted wool or felt bags, hats, purses or clothing stitched in boheme or Nepali fashion.
#6. Expect to haggle, but not too aggressively.
Haggling in Kathmandu is like a courting ritual of friendly persuasion. Sometime,s when you haggle too low with your first quote, you find you’ve offended your seller a bit. The Nepalese area proud, saving-face country.
#7. Counterfeit clothes and bags are sold.
Lonely Planet guidebooks are a popular brand with tourists across the globe and in Kathmandu, they’re a lucrative specialty for these shops to sell. Some bookstores even ‘Buy Used books’! You can purchase your Lonely Planet Guide, use it and sell it back for half the price you bought it at! But be careful…
Counterfeiting is something the Nepalese are good at. In fact, they’re pretty professional about it. If a used book is missing pages, the bookshop owners insert xeroxed pages in its place! I could barely tell a difference until a shop owner pointed it out.
For 1500 Rs (about $20), I bought a “counterfeited” used book as my authentic Nepal guide and decided to keep it as a coffee table souvenir!
Nepal is trekking country, so Northface is the second most popular counterfeit brand. Bags, backpacks, cargo pants all come with the brand tag, but not always the authentic make. I had just bought a pair of Northface cargo pants before this trip. I got it on sale in New York City for $65. I sent it to get laundered in Thamel and they accidentally broke one of the zippers, so I left it with a seamstress to get fixed.
In the meanwhile, I purchased two similar Northface cargo pants for $16 USD total!
#8. Favorite soundtrack of Nepal : Om Mane Padme Hum
Buddhist monks chanting ‘Om Mane Padme Hum‘. You’ll hear it play like a broken record at tourist-known temples. While the deep monk chanting, makes you feel like you’ve just stepped into the movie soundtrack of Seven Years in Tibet, you get to wishing they would change it so that you can stop imaging that you want to buy it.
- monkey temple.
#9. Pollution and Traffic can be bad
When you’re on the roads- you’ll see people on motorbikes wearing dust masks to filter out their breathing air. For myself, I have to wrap my scarf around face as if I’m in the Sahara, to keep from inhaling the fumes.
- 10 Things to know about Kathmandu before you go: Traffic in Thamel
#10. Blackouts are a daily occurrence.
There are periodic blackouts at night around 6PM and it goes for several hours. But this doesn’t halt shopping or stores from doing their business. The Nepalese have learned to work around this through candlelight and electric lamps.
10 Things to know about Kathmandu before you go: Daily blackouts don’t stop shop owners from doing business
At the end of the day- my peasant feet.