Yesterday marked the end of our first week in Kathmandu. I think the “honeymoon” stage is officially over and reality is starting to kick in. Nepali winter has finally grasped it’s hold throughout the valley and everyday we are accustomed to layering ourselves with clothing that not only accommodates the various temperatures throughout the day (5 degrees in the morning, 25 degrees by noon, and then 12 degrees by the late afternoon) but also battles the city elements – pollution, dust, and vehicle traffic.
“Dust” in the city
I promise, this is the only thing I will whine about (aside from the occasional cold showers – you can ask Tlell about how I deal with it). So right, dust. Not just occasional dust but part-of-your-daily-life-in-Kathmandu dust (road dust, garbage dust, everywhere-dust-DUST!). I read about it and heard about it from other travelers’ but I never expected that it would impact me so much. There is very little ground vegetation and many of the roads and alley ways are not paved or they are simply dirt roads. Some of us wear breathings masks or scarves while walking around the city. Dodging motorbikes, taxis’, buses, and tuk tuks is an understatement and part of our daily routine as well.
Oh do I often yearn for home, when I would venture outside for long walks, inhale the fresh, clean air and enjoy the natural scenery. Kathmandu does have spectacular views of the mountains that literally surround the entire valley and I hear most volunteers who also live in the city often escape to them every weekend. Similar to living in most cities around the world, you don’t have to travel too far to reach the rural or natural areas.
The general rule of thumb is to always bargain with the merchants. It seems like they enjoy the banter and the challenge of getting a decent profit from every customer that enters their shop. Bargaining doesn’t come natural to me but I am quickly learning and getting used to putting on my sly-give-me-a-good-deal persona.
It is always amusing when merchants see that you are a tourist (or if you attempt to speak Nepali with a western accent), the price automatically doubles or triples. For me, I tend to have the upper hand as Nepali merchants initially think I am actually Nepali. However, after the first few Nepali phrases (or if I look like a deer staring at car headlights when they talk to me), I am pretty much discovered … of course, not before I already got the Nepali price for the item.
I will always look around and/or hold out for a bargain. But most of the time, I often pay a little too much. I find that if you keep pressing or hovering around a store long enough, merchants will eventually lower their prices. Also, if you are “fortunate” to have a merchant follow you with an item, you will find that the longer they follow you, the lower their prices will come down as well.
I really enjoy attempting to speak Nepali and confidently saying the phrases that I already know with anyone I meet. So far, the Nepali language is fairly comprehensive to understand, pronounce, and construct compared to the English language. We had 3 full days of language classes and I am very eager to learn more.
Starting tomorrow and for the next 4 weeks, our in-country training reconvenes at the Chetana Training Centre in Budol – two hours outside of Kathmandu in the rural mountainside of Banepa. The road we are taking is the actual road to Tibet (very cool) and Tlell and I have our own personal taxi (long story). There, we will meet up with the rest of our VSO volunteer group and resettle at another guest house for 3 weeks. On our last week, we will actually be living with a Nepali family in a near by village where we will undoubtedly only communicate in Nepali.
My next entry will probably be in a few days or so, but until then, here are some photos from our first week.