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.