Today we drove out of Patan, the center of fine art and Buddhist and Hindu culture and crossed the river into Kathmandu, as we ventured up to the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park. In the park, we hoped to document the headwaters of the Bagmati River and the site where the Bagmati River Expedition 2015 collected its water samples. We’ll be using the data from these samples in our project.
Driving through Kathmandu, one experiences the controlled noisy chaos of crowded streets filled with cars, motorcycles, bicycles, carts, buses, Mad Max-looking constructed vehicles and pedestrians trying to find their way through the congestion. Many of the pedestrians wear masks over their mouths to protect themselves from the toxic dust being displaced. There are no traffic signals, but everything keeps moving slowly through the use of horns and everyone taking turns as they precariously move inches past each other. The sidewalks are filled with people walking underneath cobwebs of the thousands of electrical lines that hang overhead.
As we moved out of town, we started to see the Bagmati River more clearly and the poverty that is evident throughout most of the Kathmandu Valley and Nepal. These are the neighborhoods most affected by last April’s earthquake and by the lack of services throughout the country.
As we got closer to the headwaters, we saw mothers washing clothing while others were bathing in the polluted waters of the river. Gardens lined with rows of vegetables and plants border the banks of the Bagmati, as the residents continue to use toxic water to irrigate the already polluted soil. I wonder if this is out of desperation or lack of awareness or perhaps a bit of both. It is clear that these residents are in dire need of assistance and that they struggle everyday; however, in conversations with them, they are filled with realistic optimism and a commitment to do “good”. They are friendly and full of joy. The children always seem be have their arms around each other and are full of love and childish exuberance. It is a bittersweet scene.
Before we got to the national park, we parked our car at the base of the mountain and then walked steeply uphill for an hour past the cliff side businesses that precariously line the rock path to the park entrance. The pollution started to thin out as we approached the national park and soon the Bagmati appeared clear as it flowed down the rock formations into deep clear pools. We hiked upstream a ways until we found the GPS location where the water sample was collected. Jason Dilworth and Dr. David Gillette explored the stream as I shot footage, took photographs and created a quick line drawing of the site.
As I sat very still working on my drawings, goats arrived and began eating the grass next to my hip. I moved to get my iPhone to shoot a quick video, but the goats moved away just as others started down from the hilltop.
We continue to get lost every evening in Patan, because the electricity goes off every night around 6:30pm. We walk through the narrow crowded, pitch-dark, unlabeled streets trying to avoid the motorcycles, as they whiz inches from us while we try to find recommended restaurants. We are rarely successful and seem to end up back at the same cafe near our hotel minutes before the restaurants close down.
It continues to be an adventure every hour of everyday!