From our war & peace correspondent Andy Klein who was last there in 1971.
Kathmandu is exactly the same as it was in 1969 except it has 3 times the population. There has been very little infrastructure investment; basically the same airport, highways, power grid (the neighborhoods look like Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon; a patchwork of homemade electrical connections at head height), with 3 times the population. The crowds, the traffic, the pollution; the pollution! It would take your breath away. I have never experienced air quality like that before; not in Benares, not in Sana’a, or Istanbul, not even in Ahmadabad. Nowhere else. An urban mess of staggering proportions.
We loved it. The people were the Nepalis of old; great folk.
They were hospitable, friendly and curious, of course plenty of semi-obnoxious hustlers, but not to worry, they were reasonably cool too. The cultural artefacts! We circumambulated Swayambunath from both top and bottom of the mountain, and it was wonderful. But my 1969 cooled out hippie scene in Swayambu was gone; just some new shacks at the bottom, and no hippie restaurants and dopers. No hippie scene in Swayambu; all the hippies are basically day-trippers in Thamel and Durbar Square, although obviously there are some cool scenes tucked away somewhere, but you would have to know how to find it. I searched high and lo for old friends in Swayambu and they were no where to be found.
Boudnath was great, although the same as Swayambu; lots of tourists and native merchants, few hippies.
I kept thinking that I would find a cool place to spend the month of July in; maybe in Boudnath, maybe rent a house in Kath or Swayambu; but by the third day I realized that living in Kath was a labor of love probably beyond my current capacity; very difficulty to get around, unless you’re walking. Heaven help you if you get sick; In India, they have accessible hospitals, but if you find yourself in the Kathmandu hospital, better call for the mortician right away. Don’t get wobbly, weak, or dizzy in Kathmandu! “The cops don’t need you, and man, they expect the same.” I gotta say, for my money, Thailand is so much easier if you want a nice Buddhist country (which I do). I think this summer we’ll do Chiang Mai, check out Laos and hopefully Cambodia, and do a comparison.
Finally, there were still some foxy hippie chicks on the street and that looked nice. You single guys could do well there.
Andy Klein travelled to India from the USA in 1967 and visited and lived in Kathmandu between 1969 & 1971.
He is currently on the Faculty of the School of Business & Management of The American University of Sharjah, UAE .
He took the weekend of Eid Mubarak (2009) off to revisit Kathmandu for the first time since 1971.