Close to three decades ago, I was a small boy roaming the markets of Bihar holding my mother’s hand. Those were the years I got exposed to the chaos of the local markets, its colour, its frenzied energy, the rich religious fervour and oodles of local culture. Three decades later, you can still see that at Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal and a city a few hours north of where I spent my childhood.
I absolutely love its old world charm. By this, I don’t mean its temples or architecture. But, its people and the way they live their life. Rickshaw wallahs and Maruti 800s move in those small lanes along with motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians. There are street hawkers everywhere. There is a bustle. There is some chaos. There is lots of action. And that is something that I miss about our Indian cities that are quickly embracing the mall culture.
Big shops are few and far between. Hawkers sell their wares right on the street and shout at the top of their voices to attract the prospective customer. Be it vegetables, spices, tools, clothes, spices or anything else, everything follows a similar way of sell.
Early morning and late evening hours attract the largest crowds and that is when these hawkers are shouting at the top of their voices. Even though the entire setup looks very dis-organized and clumsy, it is very well planned, laid out and organized. In fact, the crowds seamlessly weave their way around these colourful bazaars.
To get a good feel of this street culture, you have to get lost at least once in any of Kathmandu’s many markets. It is an experience that is tough to write about as it deserves a personal connection.
The people of Kathmandu, who form an interesting mix of Hindus, Buddhists and indigenous tribes are so colorful, religious, humble and laidback. This is one of those cities that celebrates a festival every day of the year and thus the local temples are always abuzz with action. The people offer their prayers, celebrate and enjoy their culture. And by nightfall, the streets wear a deserted look as everyone is back home with their families. The newer generation is bucking this trend, but the bulk of the city is still old-fashioned.
The street food of this city also lives in an era gone by and is a treat especially for a foodie like me who used to like his childhood street food. You can suck on a kulfi, pop in a jamun, chomp on that jhaal muri, or smack your lips after a sumptuous golgappa snack meal, Kathmandu’s street has it all. Jalebis, samosas, lassi and much more are on offer. And when you feel really hungry, you can go for the traditional Nepali Daal Bhaath meal.
A Kathmandu experience is not complete without sampling its street food and irrespective of whether your stomach is strong or not, you should at least give it a tiny try.
Every time you walk the streets of this vibrant city, you will feel its magic. Crowded lanes with busy street action, cars from a different era, smoke belching buses with loud bus conductors, street artists trying to catch your attention, sadhus trying to tie a holy thread on your arm and local people trying to make a living are what you can see in action on any day in Kathmandu.
The religious fervour of this city is bound to enjoy one and all. Whether, it is a Hindu temple, a tribal procession or a Buddhist monastery, most of the people of this city are deeply rooted into their religion and that is something that you will see everywhere around the town.
If you ever want to live this old world charm, spend a couple of weeks at Kathmandu and soak in its archaic magic at leisure.