Bob Seeger wrote the song Katmandu when he was tired of his profession and wanted to escape. Hippy days are gone, but an observant person will notice marijuana growing wild in empty lots and alleys. Let me emphasize that you don’t need drugs to be high in Katmandu, because this city overloads your senses without a single enhancement. This is a place of extreme opposites. People wash themselves and their dishes from a roadside spigot. Modern appliances are taken home on the back of a bike. I found clarity and focus in Buddhist thangka art opposed by lung defying air pollution.
Traffic jams from hell don’t prevent appreciation of unspoiled mountain landscapes. The entire valley is a UNESCO site for important pilgrimages and monuments amid massive filth counter-balanced with beauty.
The profane competes with the revered and sacred. The ancient trade routes for salt, wool and silk continue to run through Katmandu. The amount of diversity and fusion of cultures left in the wake is unsurpassed.
Katmandu is the odd, bizarre, benevolent, always in a hurry, yet most compassionate and loving place on the planet.
Is Katmandu schizophrenia or extreme reality? It is really entertaining or downright controversial. I can’t imagine anyone not loving it here.
Fifteen minutes out of the airport I saw my first cremation at the river edge. While flames consumed the body, little girls walked in the muddy water with magnets trying to find offerings in the funeral ashes. Despite this macabre observation, I had a profound experience talking with a Brahman priest who spoke about our mission in life and karma. He blessed me, touching my heart with a force that I still feel today.
Monkeys’ ran around stealing cotton candy. Strange men who call themselves Holy pose around the stupas coaxing tourists to take pictures, for a price. It seemed like a creative way to be a beggar, but who am I to cast accusations? My guide made an astute observation, “Don’t all religions want to be paid?”
Soak it all in. Stop to see. Touch. Smell. Taste using your fingers the local way. Chant mantras with the background roar of motorcycles. Listen to singing bowls and inhale incense. Still your breath. Calm your mind amongst chaos. Dance with joy on the street with someone you don’t know. Reach out. Embrace. If I ever get out of here, I’ll go back to Katmandu.