After traveling 30+ hours from Chicago to Kathmandu, I was so exhausted by the time my plane touched down in Nepal. Jet-lagged and sleep-deprived, I told the three men who bombarded me with questions that I had forgotten the name of my hotel, and didn’t have any money to pay their taxi driver. “It’s okay,” the one who seemed to be in charge told me, “we’ll drive you to the ATM, and find internet for you. And if you don’t figure your hotel name, it’s fine, we’ll take you to another.” Although I knew I was walking into a tourist trap and about to be ripped off for the ride, I didn’t care too much – I was in a foreign place, alone, without money and without a way to contact anyone. I got into the taxi eagerly, because depsite being over-tired, the exictement of being in my new home set in.
“Alright, here is the ATM,” my taxi driver told me, “it’s busy, so I’ll drive down there and turn around to pick you up.” I jumped out of the taxi admist the rubble of Kathmandu – the ground resembled more of a garbage dump than a sidewalk, and immediately I realized I was not in the United States anymore. A wave of sensory overload hit me in the face as if I had just been splashed out of my jet-lagged state with a bucket of cold water. The tiny shopping area was overcrowded with dogs, scattered with barefoot people sitting in the dirt and decorated in signs in the devnagari script. As I walked up to the ATM I was approached by a man who informed me that the bank was no longer accepting VISA cards; skeptical, I attempted to withdraw money anyways. After the machine displayed an error message I ran back to the safety of my taxi, escaping from the polluted streets of Kathmadu.
My first impressions of Nepal are hard to conceptualize. I had heard the city had a serious problem with pollution, but didn’t really understand what people had meant until I had breathed the air – a thick substance, combination of smog and dust. The streets were littered with all kinds of garbage, from food scraps to animal waste to plastic bottles, and you could definitely smell it. I searched for even a faint outline of the majestic mountains I knew were hiding somewhere, but the monsoon clouds prevented me from finding them. The hunt for a working ATM turned out to be a long one (perhaps due to the crazy traffic of Kathmandu), so my taxi ride ended up being a great opportunity to see the city for the first time. While sifting through the images of a crowded, polluted, fast, crazy city the overwhelming thought that trumped all other notions of my new home was how absolutely beautiful it was.
While my first impressions of Nepal may not have been the mystic land of mountains and spirituality I’d been imagining, I was overwhelmed by the beauty I found in this city I will be spending the next four months in.