I have to start the story in a tight transit ally that separates the British and Indian Embassies in Kathmandu. We were in a panic. My producer and I had spent six hours sitting in the gutter waiting for our bribe visas to be fast tracked. The day before we had cut a deal over a small brown desk, and before we knew it our passport and the fate of our trip was out of our hands. With an hour to spare before we missed our ride to New Delhi, the Indian Consulate finally stormed out of the Embassy and into the adjacent cramped office spaces to sign the sticker on our passport. The yellow string-hung sign on the sliding door waved him farewell as he slammed it behind him and stormed back to what technically is India. The sign read, ‘Photocopies, Passport Photos, and Flights to Dehli’ but said nothing of express visa processing.
We were in a panic because our visa stickers were in the wrong passports. The ally was a crammed frenzy of scooters, pushbikes, trucks, and us, with our passports pinned to the blue concrete wall as we carefully peeled our visas off the page. I took a breath and looked up at the razor wire decorating the top of the blue concrete wall of the Indian Embassy and thought to myself, ‘If this rips, we are screwed.’
And that exact feeling is ‘Kathmandu’ – adrenalin heaving through my chest, as I embraced the chaos that was happening around me. Nepal sucked me in, it demanded my attention, held my focus, and it expanded me. As an outsider I had no control over my surroundings and no real comprehension of what life is like for the Nepalese. And when I gave in to it, rather than ogle at it from the comfort of an airport taxi to my hotel, the chaos was charming.
I walked. I just picked a main road, committed to it, and walked. I actually couldn’t process anything fast enough. The insanely busy streets happened around me at first. I found myself in the way of motorists and pedestrians. I held up traffic as a teenager hanging from the side of a van tried to convince me to get on the bus for 10 rupees. I felt like a rock in a blender full of fruit – everything else soft enough to slice and spin. It wasn’t until I stopped to take stock and two men fixing a motorbike came over and struck up a conversation, that I started to feel the ‘flow’.
They asked me where I was from, I said, ‘Australia.’
The older man said, ‘Ah, Australia, beautiful.’
I said, ‘It is.’ Happy they knew where I was from.
Before I had time to continue, the younger man shouted, ‘Nepal, beautiful as well.’
I could not help but smile and agree. Nepal and the Nepalese people are beautiful. My first single serving friends in Kathmandu. I took their photo, and then they continued to fix the motorbike. The words mulled in my mind, ‘Nepal is beautiful as well’!
I stayed on the same road until busy roads and incomprehensible roundabouts squeezed into small stalls and dirt tracks, and further into foothills of mountains. People slowed, and began to stare, and smile, and wave, and stare. The photos I have are what I saw, but what I felt was peace. I walked, visually intoxicated, until I couldn’t walk any further – and then I turned around and walked home. If I have any advice, it’s pick one road and walk… you’ll experience it all – and you’ll be able to find your way home.