Kathmandu: polluted and bizarro

Flying into Kathmandu, we got a glimpse of green hills dotted with houses. But Nepal is not a bucolic, South Asian Switzerland. Kathmandu is more polluted than even Delhi -- a local resident explained why. Apparently, in an attempt to make Nepal more environmentally friendly, the government had increased excise taxes to stiff amounts. A Maruti van which sells for 3 lakh rupees in India sells for 13 lakhs in Nepal! Naturally, the people adjusted by simply running their old, inefficient cars for longer. The upshot is that five minutes in Kathmandu, we were all coughing. And things only got worse. By the end of our four days in Kathmandu, we all had got serious colds.

Something that always strikes me whenever I go to Canada is how derivative Canada is, of the USA. Nepal strikes me as the same. Even the ice-cream brand sold by the pushcarts is Indian.

But some things were bizarro. The pagodas that I initially took to be Buddhist temples turned out to be Hindu temples. In fact, all the Hindu temples in Nepal were pagodas. The Buddhist shrines were more like stupas. It was always unsettling to enter a pagoda and see that the roof supports were Hindu images; and equally unsettling to peer closely at the stone statuettes in Buddhist shrines and realize that they were Boddhisatvas who happened to look remarkably like Hindu engravings.


  1. Why is a mix of religious influences "bizarro"?

    In Bali you have a religion is a unique blend of Hindu, Buddhist, Javanese and ancient indigenous beliefs. In Nepal the Hindu/Buddhist blend is also evident. Christian, Jewish and Islam faiths share most of the same prophets. Christian adoption/adaption of pagan holidays ( winter soltice Christmas, spring fertility Easter) shows the same kind of religious blending of more ancient and modern faiths.

    I'm not sure what is bizarro about that. It's human nature to work with what you've got around you.

  2. bizarro = topsy-turvy, i.e., upside down

    Of course, it's a matter of perspective. A Nepali might think that Hindu temples in India look remarkably like Buddhist shrines!

  3. "But Nepal is not a bucolic, South Asian Switzerland" It seems like your conclusion is based on your visit to Kathmandu alone. I would encourage, if you ever visit there again, try getting outside of the valley and observe the real beauty of Nepal.

    Also, Gautam Buddha (the founder of Buddhism), who happens to be born in Nepal, is considered as the eight incarnation of Vishnu (a Hindu God). It is neither surprising, nor anything bizarre, with the fact that they both have common beliefs and values. These beliefs influenced the culture including artworks and architecture in the late 15-18th century. Having Hindu temple alongside with a Buddhist stupa, or even having hindu arts inside a buddhist stupa and vice-versa, is very common in Nepal.

    Your analysis of the ice-cream brand was very interesting. However, last time I checked, "Amul" products are exported in many other countries within the South-Asia region and outside. According to your analogy, almost every countries that sells Coca-cola could be called the derivative of the USA.