Meeting Jessica’s Kathmandu

Earlier in April I took a few weeks out to host my parents on their first ever visit to Asia and show them my life here in Nepal. I showed them the Himalaya at dawn and Durbar square at sunset. I also made them experience both my love of public transport (especially the electric powered three wheelers with their formidable lady drivers) and my cross-city walking commutes as well as introducing them to many of the fabulous people I have the joy to work and live alongside here in Nepal. It was actually much more the latter set of experiences which my parents found most fascinating and challenging, especially in terms of opening their eyes to seemingly parallel universe of my life here.

Luckily for me, rather than trying to articulate on their behalf I am extremely proud to introduce my first guest blog writer; the following post “Meeting Jessica’s Kathmandu” is written by Antonia Stanford (a.k.a. my lovely Mum!) and all photo credits go to her too.

Meeting Jessica’s Kathmandu – by Antonia Stanford

In early April my husband Mike and I set off to visit our youngest daughter, Jessica. We had heard a lot about her life and work in Nepal and now we were going to see it for ourselves. Her friends and colleagues were great and invited us onto their homes and to share their meals. This account is of our first walk across Kathmandu, roughly following Jessica’s hour long walk home from working in the government ministries.

To get to the start of our walk we caught a Tempo, a tiny electrically powered vehicle that has seats for twelve but often carries a few extra. Before we began we had lunch surrounded by this wall of plants;

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Out then onto the well paved streets of this quiet area. The stables of a royal palace made a very inviting tourist shopping stop;

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Lorries are a long time obsession of mine. The Nepal version blew my mind. They are rugged and drive on terrible roads, long distances, in great heat. But they are loved. Combined with the whole language of horns they are magnificent.

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This huge former, royal palace was, until the earthquake, home to government offices. Now it is unsafe to use, would cost a fortune to retro fit and yet holds a lot of Kathmandu history. One of the many buildings, too damaged to be safe, too historic to abandon. One small example of the thousands of difficult decisions facing the government.

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Moving on we had to cross a road with eight lanes of heavy traffic running to a completely different set of restraints than those accepted at home. Everyone is equal. No one entirely has the right of way. Everything from heavy lorries to mothers with small children weave in and out, each successfully and amicably finding their way through the melee. I would never have started to cross if I have been on my own.

Kathmandu is a very, very energetic city. So much is going up or coming down. Date of completion unknown.

mum blog 05Much of the walk was on streets like these. Some of the damage is from the earthquake but most of it is work in progress. I loved this road widening scheme which had hit the snag of a house someone had built in the wrong place. The construction work went up to and around the house leaving the resolution of that specific dispute to a future date.

Through these streets and on down to the Bagmati River. Not long ago this was a pure, holy river. Now it smells, is full of rubbish and has shanty towns of tiny dwellings made of corrugated iron and plastic in which whole lives are lived. In one small stretch it shows the problems thrown up when a city expands quickly. However, just by crossing a bridge over the river we reached a small park where a beautiful girl was being filmed with an interested crowd looking on. Another example of the stark contrasts of this city.

Our walk continued along unmade streets, through small alleyways, past brightly painted schools and small patches of land still being farmed. Eventually we reached Patan, the area Jessica lives in. We passed through some lovely old squares full of historic buildings. For a long time, buildings were limited to the height of three stories, as seen in the old original building under the power cables here, but no longer. Land is inherited equally between sons. Often each son wants to build his own house on his share of the land. As an example of this, the blue house seen above and the house to the right were most probably inherited by two different members of the family and they each built their own slim slither.

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From the square we plunged on into the medieval alley ways. We joined the amicable dance of motor bikes, pedestrians, shop fronts and dogs, taking place in the narrow space.

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Rows of doors butt up to one another and when open show tiny, individual workshops. One with someone hard at work at a sewing machine or next door, using heat and a hammer to salvage and restore bent and broken car parts.

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Look up and some of the intricately carved old windows are still there.

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Dogs are everywhere, usually seen lying asleep. People step over them and simply carry on around them. At night however they coalesce into packs that bark to defend their territory, giving the empty dark streets a very different feel.

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Suddenly we emerged from a small lane onto the very busy road. I admired the ingenious ways bikes were made to carry enormous loads. Some have big trailers and carry even more.

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I never tired of watching the traffic, so very different from that that passes my own front door.

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Jessica makes a quick stop for water at her local shop before we turn down an alley way and come to the quiet space that her flat overlooks, with well-tended gardens and big trees. Hard to believe it is so close to the noise and bustle.

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This is a large part of Jessica’s regular walk home from work. Woven through it all are the glorious textiles the women wear. They are draped, and folded, and pleated, and tucked. Some are made into tunics worn with baggy trousers. They are plain and patterned, striped and flowered, the colours are rich and sing in the sun. Woven through it all is the rich gold that glints in the sun. As an artist working with textiles I could not get enough.

I don’t think I have ever walked through a city where the contrasts have been so many and so great. What I will remember most is the cheerful, energetic interaction of the crowds.

Thanks Jess.

Guest writer; Antonia Stanford (Thanks Mum!)



  1. Em

    Excellent posts today Team Stanford!


  2. Bruno

    Go Stanford! I love the: “Ktm is a very, very energetic city….”

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