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City from Heaven with Pollution from Hell

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One would be miserable without a mask in Kathmandu

If you ever think that San Jose is polluted or is not “green” enough then keep reading… Last February I had a fortune to visit one of the most polluted cities in the world – Kathmandu. Air in Kathmandu is so polluted, you can taste it in your mouth and your skin smells like it for weeks after you leave the place. I am not even being sarcastic, it really was very fortunate circumstances that led me there and it was truly a trip of a lifetime.

Kathmandu is a capital city of Nepal. This magnificent country, situated just north of India, is beautiful, rich in culture and hosts one of the biggest treasures of our planet – the Himalayan Mountains and of course – the Everest, the rooftop of the world.

However, this story focuses on the darker side of that part of the world – overpopulation, pollution and overwhelming neglect of its environment. See, Kathmandu with all of its beauty is situated in the valley, just like the Silicon Valley but the major difference is – it has no ocean to carry the breeze over the valley. It is also surrounded by HUGE mountains, not the small hills we have in Silicon Valley.

P1020157My first day in Kathmandu I will never forget. We landed rather late in the afternoon and after a long negotiation managed to get in the cab. We just asked the driver to take us to Hotel Vajra (there are no addresses in Kathmandu, only directions). We checked in to this truly fine-looking hotel and had to run because that very night we had plans to meet up with some other friends and go visit a Buddhist lama at a local monastery. It was getting dark so we started walking. The streets in Kathmandu are mostly dust and gravel. We started walking the swirly and narrow roads for about fifteen minutes and were soaking in every experience. I was so excited I felt like every pore of my skin was shining with happiness.

We were on hilly outskirts of the city and could see entire city down below filled with people, lights and life. Suddenly, at about 8pm when it was almost entirely dark, the entire city went pitch black. It felt as if someone just pulled the plug on the entire Valley and the city turned into a massive 12th century village. All we could hear were hundreds of dogs barking. It was unbelievable. We later found out that the electricity is turned off “to conserve energy” but the true reason was that because of immense corruption in the utility services, the city had to shut off power because they just couldn’t afford to have it 24/7.

P1020284Ahh you say fresh air for the night right? Well, not exactly. You see, most of the big hotels, monasteries, and anyone that can afford it start cranking up these huge diesel generators to produce their own energy. People also start burning rubbish on the streets to keep warm and have light. If you were there, it wouldn’t require any test from a scientist to convince you that you are breathing a concoction of toxic and nauseating chemicals.

Needless to say, when you wake up the next morning in Kathmandu you have a fresh dose of pollution that you breathe for the entire day. The smell eventually gets to you, it really does, and you just can’t stand it more than a few days.

In addition, the city is terrible about trash collection or cleaning up polluted sites so the garbage ends up everywhere. As you see from some of these photos, the rivers have turned into garbage dumps.

P1020278One night I was just exhausted from sight seeing, the hotel had not turned on electricity yet so I could not heat the room with our stand alone heater. In order to warm I decided light a candle and jump into a warm bath. So I did. I filled up the bath with water and relaxed for 15 minutes till the electricity kicked in and I realized I was bathing in brown water! I jumped out as fast as if I had fallen on a bon fire… See, my nose was already so overwhelmed by the smells of the city that water didn’t smell at all. Needless to say, the bacteria found its way in and two days later the toilet facility became of one my favorite Kathmandu places to visit every half hour. Thanks goodness for Cipro and Imodium!

Anyways, the point I would like to make is that we’re so isolated in our privileges here in US that sometimes we forget how bad it really is for a large part of the world.

P1020549Nepalese are some of the most friendly and welcoming people you will ever meet but immense population, poverty and strive to survive or live up to their western counterparts have left them blind to the havoc they are leaving behind them. Most of the residents of Kathmandu Valley and Nepal in general have it pretty tough. Instead of thinking about Green Living they are just thinking about LIVING. It’s hard to convince someone to care for the environment when all they’re concerned about is where their next meal is going to come from.

You may realize that this is a big problem that concerns all of us. The poverty, the overpopulation and pollution in the rest of the planet affects the western world in an abundance of ways. If you can, find an organization you’d like to support and do something about this. Even better, I invite you to visit some of the Asian countries if you haven’t. Visit some orphanages and you’ll find that most children there are more hungry for love and attention than money.

Do your part as much as you can to live a “greener,” more sustainable life and please inspire others as much as you can. You’ll be happy you did.

Please remember this post only focused on pollution of Kathmandu and is not an accurate or complete representation of the town and Nepal overall.  It is truly a beautiful and inspiring country where I spent some of my happiest days of my life.  If you’d like to read more about my trip you can do so at my old Blog.  You can also find some more photos of my trip to India and Nepal here.

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