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Sept 2008: Thamel.
I got caught in a downpour of post-monsoon season and for a while, this held up business all around Thamel. Although I didn’t get to see the top attractions of Kathmandu, it didn’t keep me from walking around and making observations about the cultural differences of Nepalese compared to the U.S.
13 Things to know before you go to Kathmandu
Seeing people dump trash in the streets is shocking at first. You see it collect and it can get unsightly. In Nepal waste bins are not common, so you’ll find many people throw their trash on the ground. Eventually, someone collects the trash in a heap and then burns it. However, not always. Sometimes, the trash just gets scattered.
2. “Brotherly love”
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. Many motorcyclists wear sick masks to protect themselves from carbon inhalation.
4. Open air meat markets
Butchers in Thamel line Thamel Marg street. Skinned goat heads, chickens,… all are laid out on an open-air table for eager marketers, who don’t mind dust on their food. When eating in Nepal, always make sure you go to a reputable or busy restaurant. Nepalese do not have strong refrigeration practices and some food is left out for a day and reused.
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. Instead, I’ll be traveling to Dakshinkali Temple, another pilgrimage spot for worship and occasional animal sacrifice.
5. Nepal has master seamstresses
Anything can be fixed or sewn from scratch with speed and at a low-cost. My pants zipper broke and a local seamstress sewed a new one back on in a day.
Also, clothes boutiques in Thamel offer a variety of artsy-boheme styles with Tibetan, Indian and Western influences. From boutique dresses, to Indian pants, funky knitted bags, jewelry and wool hats, Thamel shops will seduce the rupee from you.
6. Festival Sales
The Nepalese love to shop! During festival season, many shops in Thamel run festival discount prices and you will see streets crowded as locals come out in droves, eager to go shopping. That’s certainly a cause to celebrate.
7. 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.
8. Beware of counterfeit trekking gear and bags
Lonely Planet Nepal guidebooks are a popular brand with tourists across the globe and in Kathmandu, they’re a lucrative specialty for these shops to sell. Some stores ‘Buy Used books’! You can purchase a Lonely Planet Guide, use it and sell it back for half the price you bought it at! But be careful…
Nepal has counterfeit products. If a used book is missing pages, the bookshop owners insert xeroxed pages in its place! For 1500 Rs (about $20), I bought a “counterfeit” book (with xeroxed pages) as my guidebook and souvenir!
Nepal is trekking country, so The NorthFace is another popular counterfeit brand. Bags, backpacks, cargo pants all come with the branded tag, but not always an authentic make. I bought a pair of NorthFace Paramount pants before my trip; it was on sale in New York City for $65. I bought similar NorthFace cargo pants for $16 USD total in Thamel! Now that was a sale.
9. Favorite soundtrack of Nepal
Buddhist monks chanting ‘Om Mane Padme Hum‘. You’ll hear it play on repeat at popular temples like Boudha or Swayambhunath Stupa. The chant is catchy and makes you feel as though you stepped into the movie soundtrack of Seven Years in Tibet. But you’ll wish they would change it the song, so that you can stop imaging wanting to buy it.
10. Pollution and traffic
When you’re on the roads- you’ll see people on motorbikes wearing dust masks to filter out their breathing air.
Tip: Buy a face mask or bring a scarf to wrap around your face to keep from carbon and dust inhalation.
11. Daily Blackouts
There are periodic blackouts at night around 6PM and it goes for several hours. This doesn’t halt shopping or business. The Nepalese work around this through candlelight and electric lamps.
Tip: Bring a flashlight.
12. Monsoon season in Nepal
Between June – August is summer in Nepal. It is also monsoon season and expect it to get hot, humid and occasionally rainy. Best to pack a pair of flip-flops.
Note: Trekking is not advised during this season as the grounds will be muddy and dangerous.
13. Nepalese women do heavy labor
It is not surprising to see a sari-clad woman, working at a construction site, piling bricks into a basket strapped to her head or transporting enormous sacks of grains and sticks back to the farms. In the quarry, women workers have stick tents to shield them from the heat as they hammer down boulders. Oddly however, you’ll find a lot of older men lazing amongst themselves in the shade. Life has never been easy for a women; in Nepal, the life of a Nepalese woman appears physically demanding!
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