I Spent A Week In The City Of Kathmandu

I Spent A Week In The City Of Kathmandu

A story of homecoming.

It doesn’t matter how long you lived in Kathmandu in the past, the city always feels strange and alien if you are visiting it after a long time. I visited Kathmandu last week after one and half years and some of the times, I felt like an alien in the town. But, many things looked familiar. The streets of Kathmandu still got occupied by a giant crowd of people — men and women hailing from different parts of the country. The air was still dusty and polluted. People were still in hurry. And there was still a unique vibe—the smell of fried foods mixed with dust and smoke, young men selling clothes in the streets at a very cheap price, people referring to each other not with their first names, but as “brother”, “sister”, “uncle” or “aunt” according to the age, small tea-shops and snack-corners at every nooks and corners of the city, intense traffic jam and public buses filled with a crowd of people — the kind of atmosphere you can mostly find in the South Asian metropolis.

I came to the city of Kathmandu for the first time in 2011, and for the last seven years, I have always found the city under construction. There is something always going on in the city. Currently, the city is still recovering from the devastating earthquake of 2015 in which about 9000 people lost their lives. And there are few ongoing constructions works aimed to widen the streets.

Kathmandu is a beautiful city to live in, but the problem with Kathmandu is the unplanned urbanization — which now would be very difficult to manage as this would mean the reconstruction of the entire city. In Kathmandu, within 100-200 meters, you can find a residential area, a marketplace, maybe one high school, and a small health clinic (if not hospital), and in most of the places, private houses are built without following building norms and codes. The cities and small towns in the west, I have felt, designate specific parts of the cities for the specific purpose — it is rare to find a marketplace or 3 lane streets just in front of your house. It is common to find “everything at one place” in Kathmandu.

My Indian friends say the problem with most of the cities in India is like the problem with the city of Kathmandu. One of my Bangladeshi friends claims Dhaka is worse. I believe unplanned urbanization, centralization of resources, fueled by rampant population growth is the root of all the problems you face in some of these cities in South Asia.

It is not that all parts of Kathmandu are dusty and crowded. There are still some of the places in the city which are clean and less crowded, and these are the places which attract a lot of visitors throughout the year. There are other cities in Nepal including Pokhara and Butwal — which to me — are a lot more managed.

As soon as I landed Kathmandu, I felt I was at home, but the unpleasant reality of the city also came to my mind which I couldn’t escape.

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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The Gift Of Birthright

You're right, it is a free trip. It is priceless!

To those who are unfamiliar, a birthright trip to Israel is courtesy of a non-profit organization who sponsor a 10-day, jam-packed opportunity for young adults of Jewish heritage. This trip is a huge privilege that I am grateful to have experienced first hand this winter.

To some, Birthright simply means a free trip. Which it is.

But from my experience, it is so much more eye-opening.

Birthright is spending over a week learning about your heritage, your people, your ancestry.

Birthright is cultivating friendships with 40 other Jews from all over the country, whom you may have overwise never crossed paths with.

Birthright is educating about the Holocaust so that the same mistakes never repeat themselves in history.

Birthright is waking up at 5:30 in the morning to ride camels as the sun rises, or eating in a Bedouin tent.

Birthright is living out of your suitcase, in preparation to move to the next hotel which means new and exciting things to see or do.

Birthright is traveling and spending time on the bus, listening to music, and taking it all in that you're in Israel.

Birthright is sightseeing the land and connecting to the events that happened at each point.

Birthright is discovering or re-discovering your Jewish identity.

Birthright is being given the chance to pray at the western wall.

Birthright is getting to know Israeli soldiers, and discovering that they are not only the same age but have a lot more in common with yourself than you may have thought.

Birthright is Jeeping down the Golan Heights, and seeing the geographical land boarders that have been set over time.

Birthright is spending nights out to drink in a new city.

Birthright is taking pictures and making memories that you will never forget.

Birthright is visiting Masada, and learning that there is more to this landmark then just the hike up or down.

Birthright is eating falafel or shawarma every single day, and not getting sick of it. Birthright is floating at the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea.

Birthright is looking outside your window, and seeing a magnificent view at every crossroad.

Birthright is discovering the beauty of Israel, and motivation for us to keep tradition alive.

So go, take the leap, step out of your comfort zone and see for yourself what the fuss is all about. You definitely will not regret it!

Cover Image Credit: Twitter

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6 Tips For Those Traveling To Asia

Just some helpful advice for those going on some new adventures.

Over this past winter break, my family and I traveled to Asia to meet my sister who studied abroad during the fall semester. After long flights, fun adventures, and exhausting days, I have compiled a list of tips for others considering a similar trip. Please keep in mind these are my personal opinions and only pertain to the places I visited including Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Hong Kong.

1. Get a Trtl Travel Pillow for your long flight.

When my mom first presented this thing to me, I could not believe that something so weird looking could be so comfortable. Not only is the material soft, but the Trtl Travel Pillow also allows you to place your head in different positions with easy adjustments. It prevents that strain in your neck and you never have to worry about repositioning the thing every five minutes because it velcros into place. GREAT purchase, props to Mom.

2. Wear the flowy pants.

For some, these pants seem just plain silly, however, they are one of the most convenient clothing items I got in Asia. To start off, you can easily find these in markets for less than $5 if you barter correctly with the sellers. The first day I arrived in Vietnam I wore shorts and felt completely out of place.

Most wear pants that go over the knee. It is also a good idea to get these because all of the temples (a beautiful and popular thing to visit) require visitors to cover shoulders and knees before entering. If going to Cambodia and visiting the well known Angkor Wat, this is especially important. These “flowy pants,” as I call them, not only satisfy requirements for touristy activities, but also are light enough for the heat.

3. Learn to barter.

Learning to barter is pretty crucial in the markets in Asia. Though the starting price is still below what you would pay in the states, it is still considered a rip off. Try asking for about 50% of the sellers original asking price maybe even a little lower.

They know they are trying to charge you a significant amount more than what the actual item is worth because you’re a foreigner. If they won’t reduce the price more, put down the item and begin to walk away. Most of the time they will chase after you and give you the price you were hoping for.

4. Bring bug spray or wipes.

Because of the humid and warmer climate, we found there to be more bugs than where we come from. My sister got bitten numerous times during her trip to Thailand, and everyone found themselves scratching and swatting at mosquitoes especially in Cambodia. I suggest the bug spray wipes. With these you don’t have to worry about TSA taking them away and they are much lighter to carry.

5. Screenshot addresses.

When it comes to using taxis or other modes of transportation, it is EXTREMELY helpful to have your address already in your phone and TRANSLATED. Most don’t have sim cards if they go on a short trip to another country, when this happens you are only able to use internet where you can get wifi. If you need to go somewhere, look up the address and start Google Maps before leaving the wifi area, it will still work once you get outside of the area.

Another good idea is to have the address of where you want (obviously), but we found it helpful to Google translate it as well because most of the drivers could not speak English.

6. Get an adapter.

Adapters are important for those chargers, my friends. Not all the outlets are the same in each of the countries. I found an adapter that has multiple options within it, not just one.

These are just some tips I found helpful and wish I had known before going abroad to Asia. I hope this assisted you and I wish you safe and fun travels!

Cover Image Credit: Eliese Haerle

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