I just came back to kathmandu after traveling to a few other cities in Nepal which included Butwal, Bhairawaha, Narayanghat, Tandi etc. And Guess what? Kathmandu looked just like an overgrown version of these towns. As we entered Thankot I felt like I was entering a town that was chaotic, dirt filled, dusty, and what looked like a partially finished city with much to go before it became complete. It didn’t look like the city renowned for being one of the most beautiful in the world 500 years ago. Chaos is the ultimate and only organizing force here. I attribute this to one thing – us Kathmandu citizens and our attitude to our lives. We have stopped asking ourselves, what the purpose of our existence is. The collective view seems to have become that of mindless sheep.
As a Kathmandu citizen, it is very easy to blame others for the problems that we face. Whether it is the government, the city authority, the donors, the gulf between the rich and the poor, the remoteness, and the insecurity being one of many plagues. But the primary problem in my opinion is our lack of civic sense and lack of responsibility to our environment. As citizens we have failed Kathmandu. This is a country where citizens actually bribe officials so they can build unsafe houses for themselves and their families.
So how do we turn back the clock? I believe Kathmandu can still be turned around. All we need is to just take care of some of our immediate problems that we see around us. Here are a few ideas and suggestions.
Kathmandu, a heritage valley.
How have we failed as inhabitants of this beautiful valley? Maybe, partly it is because we have forgotten our heritage. Our heritage has been the accumulation of our past, our culture, which was based on simplicity, creativity and communal living and our obsession with ‘creating’. With time, we have simply become lazy copy-cats who have lost faith and insight in a far-sighted vision, building concrete boxes instead of beautiful homes and destroying what little of value we have left. Simple examples of how stupid we have become include building houses that are colder in the winter, and warmer in the summer by using marble or tiled floors and cemented walls. Also, in the past few years, the sky rocketing high-rises being built without proper construction consultations and the lack of homework being done on massive earthquake resistance are very worrisome thoughts. Despite this, every one of the millions living here knows ‘Kathmandu is the number one earthquake vulnerable city in the world.’ There is a very notable lack of developers talking prominently about earthquake proofing when they advertise for the sale of their high-rise apartments, but there is unceasing talk about the superficial beauty aspect and how beautiful the interior of the houses look. Such blatant displays of foolishness!
Don’t you wonder? How we have failed from being creative Nepalese to being lazy boring Nepalese? Just look at the Krishna Mandir and the Patan Durbar square. Built 500 years ago by our very own forefathers, they are by far more beautiful than the houses we have built in the years since. It is hard to swallow that our generation has nothing to show in terms of aesthetics of building. In the span of each generation, we have turned from creators, builders, innovators, and concerned citizens to copiers, followers, and apathetic citizens prone to a passive tendency to be dependant.
Kathmandu, a trash free city.
20 years ago, I don’t recall people dumping their trash out on their street. I would see many of them turn it into waste to put it in their small gardens where they would dispose of these wastes. 20 years ago, there was also enough space for us to plan around. Now people are content cramping around in houses that get smaller and smaller stretching thinly to the sky. What’s more, they throw trash right in front of doorsteps on the street, because they know someone will pick it up. They do this because they think they can get by. With no knowledgeable authority including the municipality or appropriate government body sitting silently actually helping to worsen the situation in many cases. It is time for us citizens to own up, be responsible and act upon our fellow citizen’s lack of civic sense and responsibility. Partner with local governmental bodies to make sure trash gets separated into bio-degradable.,non bio-degradable, plastics and non plastics. Work with your community and make it easier and thus profitable for trash companies to come in and actually profit from our waste.
Kathmandu, a breathable city.
Kathmandu could easily become a leader in alternative energy vehicles. Primarily solar is a good option or use hybrids wherever possible. The issue of dust can be easily handled by holding builders accountable to the effects they cause. You just have to tell them to their face. Kathmandu citizens need discipline. If someone growls back with a stick, they will stop being brats.
We can easily clean the now toxic Bagmati River, if we just organize ourselves better as neighbors and use the huge advances in waste technology to treat our own waste better. The key word here is for neighborhoods to unite with themselves and with local governments. Lets do our part towards being responsible. Lets stop just demanding our rights, for a change. Open up routes .
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Kathmandu, a green city.
If you have been to New York, they have a beautiful park right in the middle of the city. They call it Central Park. This is true in the most developed and beautiful cities of the world. They have a lot of open green breathable space. In Kathmandu, many of us complain about the lack of it, yet if you look closely you will find there is a lot of space here being misused or un-used. We have our central park right here in the city. Imagine the public space if you joined Tudikhel, Ratnapark, Rani Pokhari and link it to the former Royal Palace. You could have a huge Park that serves as a beautiful open space where Kathmandites can relax, enjoy, meet, run, and take their children. This is possible to do today, and the parks existing but barred from entry are already there. If Garden of Dreams was possible, this is definitely possible. There are also plenty of religious spaces like Pashupatinath, Syambhunath, and many others, which could easily be used as clean space used to rejuvenate our inner self. Just like how we turned the northern Shivapuri hills into a national park, let us turn all the hills around into places to hike and wander in nature’s beauty. We can conserve the water supply to this ever-increasing city. If we take action and we harvest rain water we may not need donor injected projects like Melamchi, which divides us Nepalis, and makes our elites greedier, narrower, and lazier.
Lets open more public land for citizens. If we already pay for this, we deserve to use it, don’t we? As a Nepali, I want to be able to freely access Singha-durbar and walk around. This access reinforces my trust as the government being servant of the citizens, and not the other way around. It’s something I feel as I pass by its huge restrictive outer walls these days.
Kathmandu, a 24 hour city.
Kathmandu is even more beautiful during the night. It is small, and you can reach corners of the city within a half an hour in most places. Did you know that our weather is perfect most days of the year? Why don’t we open, ‘Saajha Bus’ and other public transportation systems to operate in the evenings so that we diffuse traffic, which would be great for tourists and thereby businesses. As we interact more with each other, more ideas, more innovation starts creeping into our culture and we might just have a place people love to come and hang around 24 hours a day. It also becomes a statement of how we slowly can become a friendly, trust-worthy, safe city. These attributes are what most world citizens are attracted to, on any given day, when they feel like visiting a place.
Kathmandu, an energy filled city.
Don’t laugh. If you think we are energy starved, then yes you are right, but we are because of our own choice. We choose to be energy starved. We never realize that we have clear sunshine most days of the year, But instead of harnessing the solar energy, we are on a spree to buy gas-heaters. We complain of load-shedding, yet the alternative, the sun, shines upon us almost 12 hours a day every day. Instead of using efficient light savers, we use energy wasting ones, we steal electricity, we abuse it. So, rightfully we get what we deserve. It is time to change our ways and harness the power of the sun. If the government works with citizens on this one, we can get to the holy grail of becoming energy independent in this generation, not in the next.
Kathmandu, a wanderlust city.
A few weeks ago I walked from Patan to Maharajgunj. It took me less than 2 hours. So I realized Kathmandu valley is not all that big. In-fact with its exciting alleys, and back streets we have a perfect place to walk or bike around. We can sort out the honking horns and traffic violations by just being stricter on violators and educating them harder. We can brand our city as a walking city. A lot of tourists would love to wander amidst our peculiar, rich wonderful culture. Wandering around Kathmandu maybe the best way to explore, if we can just manage to cut out the honking horns and irresponsible driving.
In summary, Kathmandu valley can be changed, and changed back fast. I believe we can bring it to the glory of 500 years ago, when it was one of the most beautiful cities of the world. It is our moral duty to restore Kathmandu’s glory. And this will only happen, if we, Kathmandu’s citizens unite and work hand in hand. Let this be the gift of our generation back to our generous benefactor the environment. Up until now, we haven’t given much back yet, have we? Lets take up this challenge, demand for local governance, and start off!
Let us bring Kathmandu to its rightful place as one of the most beautiful cities of the world. Yes we can! It’s upto you!