Kathmandu, the dusty capital
This is my third visit to Kathmandu and it feels dirtier, dustier and more crowded than ever before. What is this city like? Once I called it a "gateway to the heaven" refering to it as starting point for all Himalayan trips an treks. It doesn't look like heaven, on the contrary, very far from it. Once inaccessible "Shangri-La" transformed to bustling hub for independent travellers over last two decades.
Traffic is absolutely horrible. Car and motorbikes horns make my head explode, crossings are getting congested while there doesn't seem to be any order or traffic rules. It is May and weather is hot. Despite relatively high altitude temperature rises up 30 degrees Centigrade this time of the year. And most of all, there is always present dust. Everywhere. Not all roads are paved and even those that are, seen better days. There is lots of half finished or crumbling houses everywhere. It sort of looks like war zone . Trees supposed to be lush green but covered under thick dust layer they look yellowish bland, lifeless.
From photography point of view, this is a heaven. No matter where you point the camera, there is something interesting going on. During the hot midday it is probably a good idea to stay indoors. Light is harsh, not very pleasing. Early morning is the best. Streets are still relatively quiet and air is cleaner. Well, as clean as possible given the circumstances. Early morning stroll on the streets always presents good photography opportunities. Late afternoon, even the low sun can be quite harsh, even it has a nice warm colour to it. Haze levels are much greater.
There are many places of interest. Most tourists stay in Thamel district which is very old, colourful part of the city. Little bit of stroll of main streets and you can get good glimpse of Nepali way of life in the city. Main attraction here is the ancient Durbar Square, Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple) and Boudhanat.
Boudhanat, the biggest Buddhist stupa in Nepal is located about 10 minutes taxi ride from Thamel. Early morning is the best time to go when most of the prayers and religious ritual are happening. Boudhanat itself is a magnificent structure. This area is relatively clean compared to the rest of the city. It suffers from same problem as for example Durbar Square. Pigeons. There are hundreds, thousands of them. They can be annoying, leaving lots of dirt behind.
I love the narrow streets of Thamel. There are plenty of shops and small businesses in this area. People selling food, garments, trekking equipment or services. Almost every house block seems to have a shop of some sort on ground level. This is very interesting place to photograph. Narrow streets can get quite dark even in daylight or other thing to be aware of is extreme high contrast between sky and building. But I am sure you know how to go about it. I noticed few dental ambulances with door wide open. Nothing to prevent dust from going in. I guess it is not good idea to get toothache in Kathmandu. People are often watering their shops front but it dries up quickly and dust is back. Goods in shop are dusty. Food in supermarket is covered with dust. Even bottled water has a dusty after taste. Kathmandu is a very dusty city.
There is abundance of interesting characters on the streets. Some locals dress up as tourist attractions and they hunt for tourist with cameras to be photographed for financial reward. Especially on and around Durbar Square. There are others who are more genuine. You generally get the feeling who they are. If they don't speak English you can be pretty sure they are genuine. I always refused those "hunters" as I am interested in genuine life, culture and people. And life happens right on the streets here. Eating, cooking, sleeping or game of the chess right int he middle of the human traffic.
There was this particular street in Thamel, that was so dusty it was literally unhealthy to be there. Even locals walked through with faces covered by scarf. It was my favourite place to photograph on this trip. Last sun rays created a nice backlit scene with all that dust in the air. So I just sat there for hour or so while it lasted and tried to survive the environment. It amazes me that even in place like this people cooked right on the street. There was a butchery shop with all sorts of meat and fish displayed right next to road. When care or motorbike went by it triggered huge tornado of dust all around, falling right on the precious meat. Not to mention all the flies there. I guess it is a good idea to go fully vegetarian in Nepal. Photographically the scene was just mindblowingly beautiful. All this poverty and dirt rendered into beautiful golden lit photographs. Good example that it is important to "see" not just look at something. Number of tourist passed the same street and none of them took a single image.
As sun disappeared behind horizon it was time for some rest, dinner and then back to hotel. As much as I enjoyed walking around and taking photographs, the hotel room was a nice escape from all that buzz, strong sun and dust. It is time to download and backup all the images from card. Also a time to give the camera and lenses some cleaning love.
I hope you like these few photographs I have chosen for this post. This stay in Kathmandu was part of my trip to Mera Peak. If you haven't see the post and video from the trip, you can check it out here.