Travelling through the remote villages of the Kathmandu valley, you lose the sense of time and space. Cities, suburbs, and fields are embedded in a valley surrounded by the world’s most famous and highest mountains: the Himalayas.
A tub full of people, temples, rice paddies, monasteries, children, dogs, monks and vendors, old trucks and noisy scooters. A little ‘bowl of humanity’, covered by a thick layer of dust and smog. Or of humidity and smog, depending on what time of the year you will travel. (dry season from October to March; wet season: April to September).
While visiting the Valley, I tried to alternate early visits to anonymous and remote villages to more prestigeous – and inevitably touristy – sites. I walked through bloody ceremonies (excuse the expression) at Dakshinkali where Hindus still sacrifice male animals to bloodthirsty Goddes Kali.
I saw corps burning on traditional funeral-pyres at Pashupatinath, mourned by the their beloved ones, gathered for the solemn farewell. I was moved to the guttural sound of the monks in prayer at Swayambhunath, and I took pictures of lovely couples courting on the steps of the old temples in Bhaktapur at sunset. When I moved away from the valley and climbed higher, I stood in front of the Himalayas, mesmerised by its grandeur. I woke up at dawn to watch the sun illuminate the white peaks on the hights of Nagarkot, and from there I contemplated the white mists dissolving and turning into gray smog on the city of Kathmandu, in the distance.
When I finnally got to Kathmandu, the bustle of its markets, the anarchic traffic and the rambling crowds disoriented me. I got lost in the chaotic streets of Thamel and soon longed the quiet of the remote villages I left behind. I sought peace in the quiet courtyard of the Kumari’s 2-storey house, where I arrived just in time to see the haughty 9-year-old half-goddes overlooking a carved window and spare her blessing stares over a bounch of devotees.
In this kaleidoscope of humanity, western tourists visiting Nepal stand out in two major categories.
The climber or trekker: the super-equipped and water-proof dressed specimen, wearing thermal Gore-tex© outfits and heavy boots even to go shopping downtown or to dine in a restaurant. People who face long journeys to challange the Mountain and conquer the roof of the world. Those with the tanned nose, the mark of mirrored goggles, and a proud smirk on their faces like ski instructors.
Then the intellectual tourists, the radical-chic indolent traveler (like myself!). These people have difficulies even climbing up the steps of the bright coloured Tibetan monasteries. Travellers who came to see ALL of the medieval temples listed on the Lonely Planet and their complicated newari architectures, only to exclaim: ‘These temples looks all the same to me!’ and shop further.
Some of them, ipnotized by the incessant sound of the bells, close their eyes in meditation, letting go a sigh, announcing proudly: “You know, I’ve been doing Yoga for 3 years… “.
These tourists, moved by the irresistable gangs of snotty-nosed barefoot children, hurry to donate them money, sweets and shampoo sachets from the hotel while squatting among them for a quick Selfie. Later then, they will bargain over the price of a yak-wool shawl up to the seller’s exhaustion to save few $s, deep inside thinking the ‘misery tour’ in this poor country made them feel sooooo lucky!
Nevertheless in Kathmandu a more inquisitive traveller can make incredible encounters. While researching for my trip looking for an other ‘angle’ in Kathmandu, I stumbled on the web site of the Sattya Media Arts Collective and their sustainable projects. I contacted few members of the Collective who live and work in the suburbs of KTM via Facebook, and they invited me to meet them.
So, thanks to the much-discussed social network, on a January afternoon I met with Praful Lal Shrestha and Priti Sherchan in the headquarters of the Sattya Media Atrs in Lalithpur, in south Patan. After a visit to few of the murals, I listened to their story on how they started their first project. Kolor Katmandu was a two-year project started in 2011 and involved local and foreign artists that produced more than 75 colorful murals all over Kathmndu (Map of the Murals).
They told me how they engaged suburb residents on the value of the murals as a form of collective and sustainable art, and how the community turned from hesitant to enthusiastic, donating the walls of their humble homes to be used as canvas. I learned about the difficulties they found in collecting materials (colours, bamboo canes, brushes and ladders), climbing on improvised bamboos scaffolding to decorate tall buildings, or dealing with suspicious policemen questioning over these weird paintings then finnally helping them to hold the ladders and canes. Soon foreign writers flocked from all over the world to contribute with graffitis and valuable ideas and the finished project was published in a book, and the the murals look amazing.
This brief encounter with young nepalese artists made me reflect on the meaning of art in the era of ‘glocalization‘ and social networks. This group of people that want to emancipate themselves from the work of the farmers and craftsmen using social networks and new media to produce art, design and sustainable innovations, made me feel – at least for few hours – less of a shallow ‘misery tourist’, and more a Citizen of the World.
INFO TRIP: KATHMANDU
PHOTO ALBUM: KOLOR KATHMANDU