Rough Guide to Surviving Kathamandu

By: Rhijuta D

ktmKathmandu has great energy. This is why there are so many young people choosing to return back even if they haven’t spent much of their life here. There are also a number of foreigners who have chosen to come and live in Kathmandu because of this exciting buzz this city has.

If you are of a Nepali background and contemplating coming to Nepal, you still need to know that Kathmandu has just as many downs as ups. The city’s hustle and bustle is not for everyone and there are certain things from your first world comforts that you will certainly miss. People who have returned to and chose to live in Kathmandu have adapted to these quirks and/or are learning to accept them.

  1. Learn to smell and gauge

You need to have quite a strong nose if you want to survive in Kathmandu. I don’t mean so you can smell bagmati or a pile of rubbish that has been left out for a while. If you, like me, used to throw your food in the bin after it’s been out of the fridge for a while… you will pretty much starve yourself in Kathmandu or end up spending a lot of money. With extraordinary amount of electricity blackout and invertors (backup electricity) not being able to handle fridges, your fridge is really used to being turned off and on. This means the food in there isn’t in the freshest state so you need to be good at sniffing and figuring out if your food is worth eating or throwing in the bin.

  1. Walk slowly

If you’ve lived in the west, you’re used to walking from A to B pretty quickly. Especially places like London where everyone is always in a rush. Here you’ll notice that only motorbikes and micros are in a rush. Everyone is walking leisurely. If you walk fast, the chances are you’ll fall over because of uneven pavements or lack of pavements.

  1. Be prepared to give up your personal space

Whether it is at bus or while queuing up at a checkout or even when you’re just walking somewhere, there is going to be someone you don’t know VERY close to you. In a space that just makes you wonder if the District line in rush hour was ever so bad (London tube reference).

  1. Do NOT move your plates

You’ll learn pretty soon that there is a hierarchy in everything and things like cleaning up after yourself is not done by people who have enough money to hire other people to do it for them.

  1. Go with the norm

If what you are saying is against the norm, you are better off keeping it to yourself. For example, if you think that short curly hair can look good on younger women, you may be the only one saying this because even the hairdresser disagrees with you and is reluctant to cut your hair.

  1. Dress like a local

The chances are you will still be stared at (probably because you have a short hair). Even if it’s hot, cover your cleavage area either by wearing super baggy clothes or tons of layers. The best option may be to walk around wearing your winter jacket. Also be careful wearing anything that gives shows your body curves, unless it’s a kurtha or a kurthi. Also, bra straps should not be shown.

  1. Women are not equal

It’s a country where women cannot pass their citizenship to their children. Here Emma’s (Emma Watson) speech is nothing but exactly what it is, a speech. It’s a place where more than your personality, you cooking skills determine whether you’ll make a good daughter-in-law. Every festival measures women’s ability to cook.

‘Laaj’ or shame is something women should feel more than the men that lure at them. It is not surprising considering, less than 100 years ago, women were burnt alive in their husbands’ funeral pyre.

  1. Learn to distinguish between baahuns, newars, chhetris, marwaris, madhesis, janajatis and …

So there’s stereotyping everyone. EVERYONE. When someone asks you for your surname, they are trying to figure out what your alcohol tolerance level could be. Also, don’t get upset if it turns out people don’t really like your kind because they think your ancestors may have oppressed others in the past. It doesn’t matter even if your ancestors were too busy farming their tiny land to feed their large family.

9. Quick shower 

Because there is no other option unless you want to stay in fancy hotel and pay your month’s salary for one night.

*Photo credit: Rhijuta D.

 Disclaimer: This is meant to be a tongue-in- cheek attempt to highlight some of the issues that I have observed based on personal experience. I apologise if this causes offence to anyone.

6 thoughts on “Rough Guide to Surviving Kathamandu

  1. Richa P says:

    Hmmm, all these are so true! It brings me back to the days when I lived in KTM, it was definitely not easy for me. I got sick a lot. I got used to super quick lukewarm showers and dressing like a local. I probably dressed worse than a local because I wanted to cover everything up. The personal space was the hardest for me especially on public transportation, I tend to get motion sickness and having people all around me was very hard. Anyway, I survived, hopefully I will have another chance to try again to live in KTM.

  2. Great little guide. Haha.”Dress like a local”. I agree with the bra straps thing, bit too much for those prying Nepali guys. Do u think women can’t show off their figure though? I thought Kathmandu was getting a bit modern. Jeans, shorts and all that. Yes?? No?? and LOL when you said women should still wear layers even in the heat. poor nepali women.

    • Rhijuta D says:

      Of course Nepali women do show their figures.. and people do in their saris and kurthis and even western clothes but sometimes it’s a matter of how much you want to be stared at and it’s a lot harder if you are walking around or using public transport to move around. It’s a completely different story if you have a ride and you are going to a nice restaurant. But I do find that if you have bigger breasts, it’s bit awkward to wear clothes that is figure hugging and that may show the shape of your breasts… and I find that some people wear shawls etc to cover their breast area. Either that or lose a ton of weight. 🙁

    • Richa P says:

      I think you can wear whatever you want but there will be prying eyes from everywhere. What has been you experience in KTM?

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