If Nepal is the roof of the world, Kathmandu is an underground garage in which all the cars have their engines running. At an altitude of 4,600ft, surrounded by the pure air of the Himalayas, the atmosphere is unbreathable: a thick porridge of dust and smoke and carbon monoxide. The narrow streets are a two-way torrent of scooters, motor bikes, bicycles, rickshaws, taxis and trucks.
There are armed soldiers everywhere. A cow wanders through the crowds with an anxious expression on its face. Every traffic policeman wears a face mask. So do some Nepalis and all of the Asian tourists. The western hippies and trekkers do not. They are living the dream. It would spoil the illusion to wear a face mask. Every second shop offers “treks” or “guided tours”. A battered metal sign reads: “Consulate of Belgium. Guided treks”.
From mid-morning, the distant frieze of the high Himalayas vanishes in the haze. It is, I learn, the Kukur Tihar festival, which is devoted, among other things, to the worship of dogs. Garlands of marigolds are everywhere. The slender, mangy dogs on the street seem unaware that they are being worshipped.
I ask the man at my hotel counter if Kathmandu is more crowded than usual because of the festival. “No, no,” he says. “It is relatively empty. For the festival, many people have gone home to their villages.”
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