Nepal Update Week #1

After a wonderful 5 months in Utrecht, the Netherlands taking courses for a Master’s of Science in Sustainable Development – International Development, I departed for a research internship in Nepal on Monday February 8th from Amsterdam to Delhi. Following an 8 hour flight and an interesting night in the Delhi airport, I flew to Kathmandu on an Indian airline and arrived about 5 hours late after delays in Delhi and after the pilot missed the runway in Kathmandu due to fog and rain on the first attempt. After we successfully landed I was off to the Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel, a touristy area of Kathmandu. I met my research colleague from Utrecht, Giulietta, who was already in Kathmandu, and we wasted no time organizing a short guided trek on the ridge of the Kathmandu Valley.

We started on Wednesday and Saturday we finished the 3 day trek. After the first trekking day of 12km through small mountain communities and forests I arrived at the remote and windy mountain village of Chisapani located in a national park. Once the sun set the temperatures were below zero C inside and outside, but I managed to sleep a bit. As the hotel was on the east face of a ridge of 2400 m elevation, the sunrise over the Himalayas was incredible; with a whole range of colors against a clear sky, the silhouette of mountains to the east with the sun behind and the glowing 7000+m snowy mountain peaks on all other sides.

We hiked 17km the second day to a more touristy town called Nagarkot, which was nice for a short stay and brought another amazing sunrise. During the third day we hiked through small villages, visited two Hindi temples from the 3rd and 4th centuries, and eventually arrived in the ancient city of Bhaktapur. Friday was the festival of the goddess Shiva, so there were celebrations and dancing all over the city. To celebrate the women visit the temples and say prayers, while the men hold parties. We watched a bit of both, though did not participate. In Bhaktapur I visited the Royal Palace, pottery district, and enjoyed some excellent meals. Saturday we found our way to Kathmandu by public bus and reached Patan, an area in the south of Kathmandu near the UN-HABITAT office where I’ll be working over the next 5 months. After trying a few hotels, we found a guest house in Patan near the Royal Palace (Patan Durbar Square). As Sunday was the Tibetan New Year, I visited the Bhoudanath, which is an ancient Buddhist temple and one of the biggest in the world. It was very impressive and also is the center of a Tibetan refugee village in Kathmandu. 

Monday I started work with UN-HABITAT! I met my research supervisor, Mingma Sherpa, a PhD candidate from AIT in Bangkok, Thailand, and also other researchers from Switzerland and the UN-HABITAT staff. The office is very nice and all the staff have been very helpful. The first few days in the office have gone slow as we’ve been reading and organizing logistics for the stay. Tuesday Mingma and Raju, another researcher from the office, helped us find an apartment near the office. Wednesday we moved into the apartment and continued to begin our research on sanitation projects in Nepal. In the afternoon we met with a manager from the government Department of Local Infrastructure Development and Agricultural Roads (DoLIDAR) who provided details on government sanitation programs which we will be able to assess.
Overall, everything in Nepal has been great so far. This place is beautiful with ancient architecture and art, great food, amazing views, and a unique and interesting mix of cultures and religions stemming from Tibetan and Indian roots. But all is not perfect here. Tuesday I spent much of the day in bed with stomach sickness, probably due to something I ate in a local restaurant. Air pollution is a serious problem here with very high particulate matter (PM) throughout the Kathmandu Valley. Electricity is only available 11 hours each day, on for a few hours during the day and more during the night once the sun is down.

First day of trekking when we reached the highest point of the area at about 2500 meter. The point was marked with traditional Buddhist flags as well as earth mounds. The flags represent moon (yellow), fire (red), earth (green), water (white), and sky (blue). Our awesome Nepalese tour guide, Bihm, made the trek very relaxed and enjoyable.
Sunrise on the next morning over the silhouetted mountains to the east and glowing mountain peaks on all other sides. The photo was taken from the remote mountain village of Chisapani situated at 2400m on an exposed ‘mountain’ top.
View of the village of Chisapani about 1 hour after sunrise as we started the second day of trekking.
During the second day of trekking we walked through many small agricultural villages. Farming in the mountains requires terraced slopes.


The sky was on fire before the sun rose above the mountain peaks to the east on the second morning. The picture does not do the sunrise justice. It was beautiful.


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Bhaktapur was the final destination of the trek, and it was the festival of the goddess Shiva. The two buildings are ancient Hindu temples in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The image on the right is one of the tallest Hindu temples in the world.


Near the Royal Palace we found a dance celebration with two Hindu gods acting out scenes. The crowd was very excited.


The Bouddanath is one of the largest Buddhist stupas in Nepal. I visited this site in Kathmandu on the Tibetan New Year, so there were people coming to say prayers.