From our plane, the city looks as if some fitful child scattered all of his Legos across a blanket of green.
Every colored block, some red brick, pale pink, or sea green—is home to a family or two or three, a shop or restaurant, probably cows and goats, too. And all these homes, multiplied by thousands, form a city upon the world’s largest landscape, the whole of it tilted upwards—up to the high afternoon mist and beyond to the world’s greatest mountains.
Kathmandu airport is bare brick and only half-built. There are no billboards with bank ads—only a golden Hindu goddess on one knee, facing east with blank eyes.
We go to the temples in the last hour of daylight, but the gods and monsters and towers and gongs are an afterthought to the real spectacle of Kathmandu. On the street, women are winnowing rice, pouring the pale grain from flat baskets, separating away the husks from the raw kernels. School is out, and uniformed schoolboys pour from the gate, jubilant and running straight to a nearby internet café, where they crowd around a half-dozen computer screens. The blue light of their video games flashes onto the square, where street dogs nap on the pavement and everybody is selling something: mandalas and Made-in-China prayer wheels, carved yak bone trinkets and T-shirts that read “I ♥ Nepal.”
This country has been here forever, but tonight, for us, it’s only a layover—a pit stop between Oman and Bhutan. Night falls fast and the city turns into a billion blinking lights and buzzing mopeds.
At the hotel, we are greeted by a line of young Nepali girls wrapped up like Christmas presents in red and gold silk, wearing more mascara than Cleopatra, all screaming, “Namaste! Namaste!”, as if we are watching the great karmic minor leagues and our favorite player, last name Namaste, is up to bat.
Out in the courtyard, floating candles light floating flowers in massive pots of water. Every flat surface holds its own row of candles, so that even now, tucked away into this calm and inner refuge of the city, we find ourselves amidst a starscape of golden candlelight—our very own infinite universe.
When we fly out the next morning, some of my readers cry out, “Too soon—you haven’t seen all of Nepal, yet!” And I think, of course we have not seen all of Nepal yet—that is never the goal. I have not even “seen Nepal”, or really truly visited.
But—I know Nepal better today than I knew it the day before, and though I hope to return for a much longer and deeper exploration, for now, we can all add this one night in Kathmandu to the story of my life.