Blog WHS Visits
Remembering the Kathmandu Valley
|Patan Durbar Square|
|Ready for yet another procession|
Els - 3 May 2015
Bill Duckworth, Montrose, CO 8 May 2015
I think Bodhnath will always be my favorite. I went to Nepal at least 7 times and feel a newness in the old country every time I go
Paul Tanner 4 May 2015
I have just worked out that my 4 visits to Kathmandu were in 1972, 1976, 1994 and 2001 (The first 2 before WH inscription). In 1972 the population of Nepal was c12m – it reached 28.3m in 2014. Kathmandu City was 342k in 1971 and the larger “Valley” conurbation was 600k. In 2011 these were above 1m and 2.5m respectively! So in just over 40 years the population of the country has a bit more than doubled whilst that of Kathmandu and the Valley has increased around 4 fold!
This growth was already visible by 1994 and very much so by 2001 when the valley population was still only 1.6m. In 1972 Swayambhunath was way out in the countryside. I remember cycling out from Kathmandu through rice fields to get to it and cycling everywhere in Kathmandu was a pleasure with little motorised traffic. By the time of my second visit in 1976 Bhaktapur was reached by a new, Chinese supplied, trolley bus system! But this too chugged its way out through rice fields. The Web shows that the trolley system was shut down in 2001 and restarted in 2003 but only inside Kathmandu itself before closing completely in 2008.
Certainly in 1972 and ‘76 there were no entry fees anywhere. I can’t be sure about 1994 but by 2001 tourists had to pay to enter the historic zones. In ‘72 of course the “Hippy trail” was in full swing, having built up during the 60’s. Kathmandu was on the road of inevitable change and the growing impact of low budget travel through the 60’s was already having an effect. “Freak Street” was the hippy centre and contained the well known “Aunt Jane’s” - across the subcontinent and beyond, travellers arranged to meet there to exchange stories and partake of a piece of Chocolate cake in this café started by the wife of a US Peace Corps director! And, after your cake and coffee, “Hash” was readily available for those who wanted it. The Yak and Yeti was still run by the original Boris Lissanovitch, the “legendary” White Russian émigré who was instrumental in getting Nepalese royalty to open the country up to tourism. In those days, although being a bit “upmarket” for Kathmandu eateries, it was still a long way from its current 5***** manifestation with the first hotel “upgrade” not being constructed until 1977 (followed by further extensions). I can still remember in 1976 having a bit of a “blow out” celebration for reaching Everest Base camp with Borscht in the original Chimney restaurant!
But, back to my first visit in 1972. I note that it was only 38 years after the 1934 earthquake but that a further 43 years has passed since then!! Well, the 38 year old “reconstructed” buildings all looked pretty authentic back in 1972 despite their relatively “recent” reconstruction!! I think we can presume that the current destruction will similarly be “erased”. The human deaths on the other hand are irrevocable and are the real tragedy. But that “old Kathmandu” of 1972/76 had already gone for ever long before the earthquake destroyed the buildings!