Whole Foods, Kathmandu style. The red thing is a pig being sold by the cross-section.
Kathmandu is one of the most overwhelming cities in the world. When my mom and I traveled there two years ago, we needed to take a nap every time we returned to our hotel. The dark alleyways are barely wide enough for the intense foot traffic, let alone the constant rush of beeping mopeds and the occasional car that would push through, making the pedestrians squeeze up against the sides of buildings to avoid losing a toe under the wheel.
Would you walk next to this with 100 monkeys swinging from it???
A thousand sticks of incense burned all around us, blurring our vision and stinging our noses. Monkeys swung from the electrical cables over our heads. Store owners yelled at us to see their merchandise, grabbed at our arms, and whistled. I can’t tell you how many times random men would open their coats in front of my and I would wince, thinking they were flashing me, but really they were just showing off their wide array of stolen watches and tiger balm. Yes, tiger balm. I was getting offered tiger balm so often I began to think it must be code for something.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think Nepal is one of the most beautiful, interesting countries in the world. I even wrote about it in my top most amazing countries series. Just make sure you pack a ton of Tylenol if you go there.
On our last day in Kathmandu I decided that I was too tense and wound up for the 20 hour plan ride home. I left my mom in the hotel and searched the streets for a place to get a massage. I wanted to use up my last few rupees (about $30 worth). Ignoring all the tiger balm hawkers, I went into all the fancy hotel spas, but they quoted me prices that were way out of my budget. I walked deeper and deeper into Kathmandu, through alleyways where the buildings were so close together the sun never touched the ground even at high noon. Finally, I saw a sign that said, “Cheep Masaje.” Considering the typos, I figured it would be affordable.
The river where most of the funerals take place.
I walked up two flights of stairs until I saw the sign again. I pushed the door open only to find a family eating dinner in their kitchen. I apologized profusely, and began to step out, but the mom grabbed my arm and pulled me in.
“Pretty lady, I give you massage,” she said, plopping me down into a plastic lawn chair. I could feel its legs buckle under my weight. “But first I give you paint.” She pulled a ziplock bag of nail polish out of her pocket. She searched the bag and decided on an electric blue color. Before I could protest, she was already lacquering my nails. Her four daughters surrounded me, playing with my hair and touching my cheeks like I was something magical.
“Oh so pretty,” she said, blowing my nails dry. “How much you want for massage?”
I pulled out my remaining wad of rupees.
The woman looked at the money and nodded. “Take off clothes.” She yelled something to her daughters and they scurried out of the room. She pointed to a dirty cot in the corner of the kitchen. I cringed thinking about the possible source of all those stains, but at that point, the lady was already pulling my shirt over my head.
Traffic on the main highway.
“OK, Ok, I can do this,” I said to her, grabbing my shirt back.
She raised an eyebrow and got up to turn off the light. She turned on the boombox that was on the kitchen counter, and new age music filled the room. She step out and closed the door behind her.
I moved to the cot where their was a folded sheet and towel. I laid out the sheet, and then rested on top of it, covering myself with the towel. I closed my eyes, and tried to relax. The smell of cooking oil overwhelmed my senses.
A minute later I heard the woman enter the kitchen again. I took a deep breath, praying the massage would be better than the ambiance. She put her hands on my shoulders, and I was surprised by how small and delicate they were. Then she folded the towel down to my belly button. I thought this was strange but I had never had a Nepalese massage before so I figured it was normal. It took me a second to register the bizarre fact that she was pinching my nipples. I shot up.
The impressive Buddhist monuments.
“Whoa, hold up,” I yelled. Opening my eyes for the first time, I saw that it was not the older lady, but one of her young daughters. She couldn’t have been older than 10. I held the towel to my mouth to keep from throwing up.
I scrambled to the floor, and got dressed as quickly as possible. The little girl just stood there whimpering. Her mom came in, turned on the harsh halogen lights and began yelling at her daughter. I grabbed my purse just as the mother came in barreling towards her daughter. I ran out of there as fast as I could.
Moral of the story: don’t be cheap when you’re getting a massage in another country.