Most of the things I have come to love were introduced by my mother. Whether it is the rang-kada-chini-kam chiya I like to sip first thing in the morning or the printed silk sarees I long to drape around my body, my mother has played a huge role in making me fall in love with them. Among many of these ‘things’, is Kathmandu, the city I was born and brought up in.
Tracing back the roots, my dad’s family have been living in central Kathmandu for more than 400 years. That is almost 13 generations. I haven’t come around to ask about my mother’s side yet. But knowing that they have been living here for the same amount of time, if not more, makes me feel indebted to its land.
But here’s the thing: all my life, my friends from outside the city or Nepal, have complained about Kathmandu. They have found it too crowded, noisy, and dirty. All my life, I have witnessed the deterioration as days passed by. As trees got cut down and old buildings got brought down, in the name of development. Kathmandu that I knew as a kid is no longer the same and this has resulted in the development of hatred I feel towards it.
But they say, if you have a love & hate relationship towards something, then it means you feel at home with it. And that’s what I have been feeling with Kathmandu. That no matter how much I get annoyed by the noise and the traffic, it will always be home for me. It will be a home to return to after a trip. A home to wander aimlessly because you trust your feet’s memories. A home to rant about. A home to love unconditionally.
I remember feeling home with Kathmandu when I arrived from a month-long trip abroad. I knew exactly which cafe/bar to go to (depending on the mood, it’s mostly Chikusa in Jyatha or Basecamp in Jhamsikhel) to start writing about the trip. For someone who journals a lot, it is very hard for me to write about the place when I am still in the place. Because I feel like I am losing my exploring time in writing unless I am in Kathmandu.
In Kathmandu, whether I am exploring the dark alleys of Bhaktapur or looking at the murals in the walls of Patan, I am always impressed by the ancient and the modern amenities coming together and living side by side, as neighbours. When I am in the middle of the chaos of Basantapur, especially during Indra Jatra, as hundreds of musical instruments play at the same time, I am more mindful of my own breathing. When I am out with my friends, I know exactly which place to go to, whether we want some quiet time or we want to disappear among others or if I am by myself, I know which cafe or square makes me feel less lonely.
And after this pandamic is over, when we can all go out without fearing the virus, I have a long list of things to do around the city that I’ve missed doing while staying home. This includes going for a momo-hunting trail in Lalitpur, wandering around the streets of Kathmandu, dropping by my favourite art stores and visiting my squares like Shreegha, to sip on the hot drinks and watch people pass by. This is my usual list of things to do before and after a long trip. Because I realize whenever I am out of Kathmandu, as much as I enjoy travelling, I miss waking up to the bells of worship ringing and the horns of motorcycle honking, the street dogs barking and the street hawkers shouting. I miss knowing which turn to take without being aware while walking. And I miss my Saturday morning breakfast of jeri-swari and gwaramari with chiya. I miss the perfectly made buff momo with jhol achar. I miss coming across a traditional wooden window and a random temple of Ganesh in every neighbourhood. And mostly, I miss writing love letters to Kathmandu and love poems about Kathmandu.
And that’s why, the first thing I do when I come back from a trip is to take a day to wander around the familiar streets, tracing the brick walls in my fingers, smelling the ghee filled traditional confectionery, listening to bhajan in a temple square, or watching the world pass by from a public falcha. And that’s why when I am travelling, I find myself replicating the same experiences in one way or another and finding something that reminds me of Kathmandu, my home.
Text by Shuvechchhya Pradhan
Shuvechchhya is an enthusiast of heritage, history and old houses, she loves to travel, write as well as tell and collect stories of ordinary people. She is also a big fan of Nepali chiya.