I have arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal. A very small rusty blue taxi takes me to my hotel. The road is bumpy. I have to slide down onto my lower back as my head keeps banging against the low rooftop. The two front windows are a bit open and a suffocating mix of toxic gases enters the car. I see a chaotic road where buses, carts, men, women, children and animals all zigzag around each other.
Dusk is falling.
We drive past small hills of garbage bags, endless rows of unfinished concrete houses, a dusty sidewalk peppered with skinny dogs curled up like furry stones.
A mini-bus without a door in the back drives in front of the taxi. Through a little window in the back of the bus I see the beautiful face of a small child popping through. Her round face is encased by a woolly hat and her large eyes are made even larger by a dark circle of black kohl.
A fire is lit along the road and a group of men are huddled around it, warming their thin bodies. In the early evening light everything I see takes on a grayish-brown hue. In the monotone surroundings, very bright colours stand out even more: the red back lights of the cars, the red scarf of a woman passing by and the pink jogging pants of another.
We turn right on an even rougher road.
I see some scruffy dogs waiting in front of the butcher store hoping for a piece of leftover meat.
The driver turns his face towards me and smiles as he proudly tells me: “I take a shortcut”. But soon it appears that his intended shortcut doesn’t work, the road is blocked and he has to ask the way. In the meantime I can take a close look at the small scenes surrounding the car: Under a multi-coloured umbrella a man is selling vegetables, a group of women are examining the cauliflowers, potatoes and carrots on his cart. The man fills little pointed paper bags with peanuts. A female dog rolls onto her back, she wants to be licked on her belly; her nipples have fed many baby dogs. One big black dog obliges and licks her whole belly smooth. We continue our route. The road is narrow and I look straight into the open windows of the houses along the road. In a flash I see bright red threads on my lefthand side. A group of squatting men — with the tiniest bodies I have ever seen — are working behind a loom in near darkness.
The ceiling of my hotel is very low and I keep bumping my head. It is clear that I need some time to adapt, to find out what the pace of life is here in Kathmandu, slow down and learn to take time.
DOGS AND OTHER ANIMALS
There are various categories of dogs in Kathmandu.
One is the chained dog, destined to bark and howl his whole life, waking up everybody during the night. Usually their chain is too short and they probably suffer from that.
Then there are a few lucky dogs that have owners that like them; they get fed regularly and are unchained.
And then there is the category of free dogs who rule the street.
A large part of the day you will see them sleeping, covered by a layer of dust from the stream of scooters rushing along. You will think they are dead. A bit worried, you take a closer look and are relieved when you see that their ribcage is moving slowly up and down. Suddenly in groups of three or more, they wake up from their deep sleep and go on a mission, no-one really knows where to.
Two dogs are sunbathing against a wall. They are surrounded by sharp shadows. Their bodies appear to be strategically placed in between the black squares. I sit down on the sidewalk to look at them. The shadows of passers-by drift over their bodies. An odd-looking woman in an orange sari starts shouting at the dogs. She is encouraging her own dog on a leash to bark and growl at the two friendly dogs who are still hesitant whether to go or to stay. Finally they decide to leave. Then the woman leans against the wall where just a minute before the two dogs were quietly sunbathing. Her dog turns his back towards me and shits right in front of my face. I walk off.
Rice is a nutritious meal for the pigeons. It’s left behind by the thousands of offerings being made in front of temples and houses.
It is a country where children are wild and play anywhere until darkness has fallen. They play ‘husband and wife’, set fire to small pieces of paper, play pingpong and football with a bundle of elastic bands, run ecstatically in any direction. They are also terribly bored and do naughty things; like anywhere else in the world, they laugh at strange foreigners.
ALONG THE ROAD
I decide to drive out of Kathmandu and escape the toxic fumes. The road I take leads up the hill and is like a long line of life stories. Close to the road, people wash, cook, eat, drink, play games, converse or just stare into space. Children and animals are dangerously close to the traffic. The houses are made of mud and there are many unfinished concrete houses. The unfinished part of the houses is used to dry washing or keep other household utensils.
It is sunny. In an empty field, the only object I can see is a deserted wooden cupboard. It’s back is facing the road. At the other side of the cupboard I see a young man combing his hair while looking at himself in a mirror. The sunlight reflects from the mirror onto his face. It creates a magnificent light and looks like the start of a movie-scene.
You see red everywhere. Women wear bright red clothes. Burdgundy red is the colour of the robes worn by the Buddhist monks.
Red bricks are used to build pingpong tables, houses, improvised tables, everything you can imagine.