Dawn in Kathmandu still contains the linger of a different night
The air is still filled with the night fires that burned throughout the old city. Heat, food and light are scarce during the dark hours of this ancient capital. Smoke still hangs thick in the entrapment of Kathmandu valley.
With clenched teeth I throw back my heavy blanket and quickly jump into layers of cold humidity filled clothes. It’s 4.30 am and I am on my way to Durbar Square, old Kathmandu’s center point, before dawn to watch it come to life.
Returning to a country like Nepal is time to catch up
It’s not strange to be back in Nepal. I came prepared not to see old travel friends here. I knew it would be like a restart session for me. The people staying at my guesthouse are indeed not like the last group so it gives me a chance to dig a little deeper into this amazing country. The real project of exploring life in Kathmandu moves on.
Pre-dawn empty streets in Kathmandu
It’s hard to imagine the rickety dirt roads and streets of Kathmandu being empty. But walk them at 5am and you will find few people there. It’s also pitch black. Pot holes, and vast quantities of rubble mean a torch is needed. There’s noise everywhere though. Dogs barking. People spitting from the shadows and the clatter of metal from somewhere.
I’m a little nervous as I’ve seen what lies behind the shadows of Kathmandu. Rabies from the dogs is real. Gangs of street children and the odd person up to no good.
In the pitch black life is different everywhere.
Then the morning ladies appear. Straw brushes in hand to sweep the streets. The sky becomes white, and a bluish haze appears. The smog is with us once again.
Durbar Square before dawn
There is no man looking for tickets as I enter the old red stone square. There are a few clusters of men standing around open fires in various corners. Burning plastics and the faintest smells of the underworld fill the air with a heavy morning scent.
I take the opportunity to climb up the center temple for a bird’s eye view of the old square. No one cares, it’s not as though the place will be teeming with people in a few hours anyway.
At the top I see old WWII era bicycles rattle by. A few lone souls in heavy blankets appear from every corner. They all walk to several meeting areas hacking up the morning air as they go.
Watching the beggars arrive
Begging is a way of life in Nepal. In a caste system it’s near impossible to get away from this “occupation” once your are forced to be in it. And, like any occupation you have get up, and go to work in order to eat.
First “anything” of the day is important in Nepal too. Paying alms to various deities is a morning ritual for many. Turning your back on a person in need is not a good start to the day.
Many have coins ready to hand out. A few look for food. Others just go about their business.
One ladies start to the day
I follow a lady who is no more than skin and bone. She is not old. Maybe 40, though I suspect younger but with years added due to a harsh life on the street.
Many women whose husbands have left them, died or run away are left to fend for themselves. In one of the poorest countries in the world this is not easy. In many places in Africa or Asia the family would take them in. But here there are a huge number of women and children who are cast out for bringing shame on their families for not having a husband.
Every culture has its way. Nepal is no different.
The lady walks a limping walk with no shoes. Huddled in layers of thin blankets and shawls. She makes her way passed people setting up roadside stalls. Some selling no more than buttons and small bundles of firewood.
She makes her way to a place where blessings are being given. And then gently sits to the ground in a lump. One hand is outstretched and her head bows down. Here she will stay until late afternoon.
Watching the world wake up
There is so much to watching a city wake up in the morning. You see a part of life that many take for granted. It is the preparation for the day for many.
For others it is a rare glimpse of reality and the people before the war of their day begins.
Want to know more about Durbar Square? Check out my free Kathmandu Durbar square travel guide for tips on the best time to go, prices, tips and much more …
Kathmandu’s Durbar square at dawn: Part II a burst of color