The Cow of Kathmandu

007Katmandu bustles, to put it politely.

Dilapidated cars, motor scooters, trucks, rickshaws, bicycles, dogs, cats and farm animals jostle with thousands of people to fill — and I mean fill — dusty, winding, potholed streets from building to opposite building.

Not from sidewalk to sidewalk, because there are no sidewalks. And not from gutter to gutter, because there are no gutters, either.

The direction of traffic is whichever the traffic chooses at any given time, and it changes from moment to moment. Everyone and everything go every way all at once. You have to watch all directions simultaneously, else you get run over. The cacophony assaults you.

One evening in Katmandu, I calculated that the risk in crossing the street was too high. I finally gave up, turned around and returned to my “hotel.”

Electricity in this part of the world comes and goes several times a day. There are only a few stoplights. In the entire city, I saw only one that was actually operating. No one paid the slightest attention to it.

One big “industry” in Katmandu is counterfeit goods. You can buy an inexpensive North Face or Marmot jacket except that it’s fake. You can even buy a whole roll of fake North Face or Marmot labels and sew them on yourself.

A million people crowd the streets of Katmandu, some begging, a few urinating and all of them littering. The water is so polluted that many are sick. The air is so polluted that many wear masks. A couple of hours outside burns your throat, stings your eyes, deafens your ears and breaks your heart.

In this, I came upon a big cow sitting in the middle of a road. I initially thought this cow was foolish, even by the standards of a cow. Then I realized that this cow was injured.

It apparently had been struck by a car. It was sitting in the middle of the road because it was unable to walk to the side. Traffic swerved around it, sometimes bumping its big flank or running over its legs or tail. It sat waiting to die.

Thousands of Hindus to whom cows are sacred, and thousands of Buddhists to whom all life is sacred, and one Christian newspaper columnist, passed this cow and did nothing to help it. After all, you see, cows are heavy.

We leave what is sacred in the middle of the road dying. I am haunted by Katmandu and a cow.

(Published in The Aspen Times on July 20, 2014 at

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