It is dark in Kathmandu valley. The aerial picture it presents to those arriving after sunset is that of a million little illuminated dots, as though a pointillist painting. These dots are houses spread across this bowl like valley. The city is covered in darkness, with barely enough streetlights marking the roads. Only a brightly lit stream of moving lights along a straight, wide line catches attention. This is the only highway wide and spacious enough in the valley to hold a large volume of vehicles. Other roads pass off as weak streaks of light. The city could do with more energy and more lights. Where will that come from in a country dependent on its neighbours for most of its critical needs. Meanwhile, observant passengers can catch a glimpse of Boudha Stupa with its soaring prayer flags, even as they barely make it off the runway to the dimly lit arrival halls of the airport.
Kathmandu at night is a different face and in daylight is a different person. This can be said of many other cities of the world. But Kathmandu’s face and character is unique. For some there is a compulsive urge to be housed only in its tourist ghetto of Thamel. Nowhere else. The royal capital’s Durbar Marg , or the Kingsway, doesn’t cut it. Grand hotels, with their imposing premises will not hold appeal either. It is only in the tightly packed lanes of Thamel, holding within its press the stories of adventure, memories of expeditions and a few aging tramps, that one finds the character of a city that has been the doorstep to Himalayas. Squeezing through its narrow lanes, Elton John’s Sacrifice plays in a cafe. The year in these lanes is any that you want it to be. Walk the past decades in Thamel’s lanes, but be sure to not cross the wide road. There Kathmandu’s present is shaping itself, stepping around this nebulous tourist swell.
In these visits, I cross that wide road everyday. I participate in the present with its young and committed people shaping the city’s services. I return to the Thamel’s fold afterwards, walking in step with the backpackers, vagrants, tramps and breaking-out, moon-faced travelers who arrive and continue to stay for its cheap prices and welcoming people. Each day here, I live two lives.