Kathmandu: The good

PAUL PURCELL
Last updated 05:15 21/07/2014

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48 hours in Kathmandu

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

How better to describe the two sides of the tourism coin that Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is built upon than the opening line of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities?

In five years of travelling I have never visited a city so divided socially, geographically or culturally by foreign money.

Centred around the northern Kathmandu region of Thamel, the burgeoning tourism industry directly and indirectly employs more than 1.2 million Nepalis and contributes nearly 10 per cent to the country's GDP, according to World Travel & Tourism Council figures from 2012.

But the country welcomed less than 600,000 foreign visitors in the same year.

Which may be explained by my experience in the tourist hub.

During my short stay in the capital I was harassed, spat at and was the intended victim of attempted scams more times than I can count.

Was it my fair skin, my dirty blonde hair or my blue eyes that attracted this unwanted attention?

But the fault doesn't lie with the locals individually.

Thamel is a victim of its own success, with the bright lights and pulsating shopping scene attracting an influx of young Nepalis.

Most flock from the countryside to make their fortunes.

Many I spoke to in the rural shanty towns outside the capital believe the only way to make serious money is by getting a job in the tourism industry.

Which means competition amongst vendors is fierce. And with two jobs dependent on every foreign visitor, the desperation to make a sale is almost palpable.

While this may be good for bartering, it comes with a sadder trade off.

Sometimes the price isn't good enough. Sometimes you only have a passing interest in an item. The response to a declined offer is at first apprehension, followed by fury.

And on more than one occasion, being spat on.

This, by no accounts, applies to all shops in Thamel but it was an experience I had more often than not.

Nepal's tourism industry is forecast to grow to 1.9 million jobs by 2023, accommodating close to 10 per cent of all employment.

So the problem is bound to worsen.

However this doesn't mean you can't enjoy your Kathmandu experience.

The city has so much to offer, tourist favourites Swayambhunath, Boudhanath and Durbar Square are worth the airfare to Nepal alone.

But for a truly authentic experience, one in which you're appreciated as a traveller rather than a cash cow, head to Patan.

The ancient town sits south of central Kathmandu and embodies the best of Nepal's rich cultural heritage.

Locals are friendlier and more interested in your person than your money.

Then you can appreciate Kathmandu for the mysterious and truly captivating city it really is.

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- AAP

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