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Nagarkot and the Case of the Missing Mountains, Nepal

A trip out of the pollution and noise of the city sounded just right.  Time to hit the countryside and head out to Nagarkot, Nepal, a place known for its spectacular views of the Himalayas.

 

We leave Kathmandu by taxi for Nagarkot.  It’s just a 32-kilometer drive but it takes an hour-and-a-half and ideally about 100 valium pills to endure it, because the roads, while paved, are super-scary with traffic.

 

View from Nagarkot

 

As we wind up the hills, to the village which sits at 7,200 feet, I’m excited to share the thrill of seeing the Himalayas with my mother.

 

Arriving at our hotel, it’s clear that we’re perched high up on a mountain and there is a canyon below.  But that is all that is clear.  A thick haze obscures the view beyond the first range of hills.  Air Pollution.

 

Undaunted, we think positively about the potential for a glorious view at sunset and spend the next two hours on the hunt for ice cream.  In a country where electricity is off more than it’s on, we might have had better luck looking for the Ark of the Covenant.  Nevertheless, the goal provided us the opportunity to tour the small village of 3,500 people, which primarily survives on its reputation as a scenic viewpoint.  We never did find ice cream.

 

Sunset in Nagarkot, Nepal

Sunset in Nagarkot, Nepal

 

At sunset, we convene with Kaji and Krishna and walk to the viewpoint to see a dull yellow ball in the sky.  On the bright side (no pun intended) it’s the first time I’ve ever been able to look directly at the sun without my corneas frying.  That was never on my bucket list but I’ll pretend it was.  Check!   On the downside, it completely sucked.

 

“Where are the mountains?” I ask.   “I mean — hypothetically.”

“Over there,” Krishna says as he sweeps his arms broadly across the whole horizon.

This is the moment when my overactive imagination really comes in handy.

 

“There is always tomorrow.”

Or not.

 

We wake at 4:30 AM.  I rush to the balcony to see the view.  Haze.

 

Like morons, we get dressed.   How awesome is it to be going outside at 4:30 in the morning when there is no hope of seeing anything?  “What a fantastic morning!” I exclaim to my laughing mother.  She is a very good sport about a very stupid situation.

 

We trudge up the hill to a small partially-completed temple.  A pack of dogs is there to greet us.  Ten other hopeful morons also wait for divine intervention and a glimpse of the mountains.

 

I note the temple offerings and the metal tridents (associated with Shiva) stuck in the dry ground.  Dried blood clings to a rock where clearly a recent sacrifice was made.

 

Tridents of Shiva offered at the Temple

Tridents of Shiva offered at the Temple

 

And the sun?  It came up.  But the haze remained and not a mountain to be seen.  “Mom, just imagine that there are these HUGE mountains over there.”

 

And while our experience was comedic in its failure, what is not funny is the very serious problem of air pollution in Nepal — a problem that is ignored by the Nepali government and makes Kathmandu practically unlivable.  Definitely unlivable by Western standards.

 

Nepal’s Air Pollution Crisis

Within days of my arrival in Kathmandu, I had severe respiratory problems.  I quickly understood why nearly everyone wears a face mask.

 

A 2014 study by Yale University ranked Kathmandu 177th out of 178 countries in air quality (Bangladesh was worse).  Nepali people are dying in increasing numbers of disease that was once only experienced by smokers.

 

This pollution is caused by unregulated factories spewing particulates and poisons, unregulated cars spewing exhaust, widespread and necessary burning of all trash (there is no government pickup of trash), the widespread use of wood for fuel, the diesel-powered generators needed because of constant power outages and road construction that kicks up massive amounts of dust.

 

To show how committed the corrupt Nepali government is, I’m told that the government’s stations for monitoring air-quality have been broken for over six years.  No readings have been taken by the government.  Surely, they don’t want the actual statistics.  That would make them morally liable for the slow poisoning of their citizens.

 

And even here, in Nagarkot, a place that is known for being pristine, the pollution, diplomatically called “haze”  creeps in and destroys.

 

For visitors like us, it’s just a case of disappointment.  For Nepalis, it’s a grim fact of life.  And death.

 

This is not the pristine Nepal I’d imagined.

 

Photos of Nagarkot:

One Comment

  1. It’s inspiring ! Thanks for posting which may encourage people to Visit Nepal/Help Nepal

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