Destination: Kathmandu

World Travel Watch: Travel Insurance Now Required in Cuba, Maoists Shut Down Kathmandu and More

Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

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World Travel Watch: Protests in Nepal, Tensions in Nicaragua and More

Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

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Escape From Thamel

On hawkers, banana pancakes and tourist ghettos from Kathmandu to Bangkok

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A Flight From Kathmandu to Tumlingtar

Photo by Rob Verger

It’s been gray and drizzly for a few days now in New York City, and this dreary weather gives me a kind of itchy wanderlust. The airport beckons. It makes me nostalgic for what was perhaps the most adventurous flight and trip I’ve ever taken, now almost a decade ago.

I suspect that many travelers out there have such a trip in mind—the kind that, while it may have been grand and seminal for you at the time, might live on even larger in your mind in the years afterwards.

I was studying abroad in Nepal at the time, and we had reached the point in the semester when we all were required to pursue independent study projects. I had decided to venture out and try to collect legends about something called the Khembalung Beyul in northeastern Nepal, which is a Shangri-la-type “hidden valley” that exists more in story than in actuality.

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Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

kathmandu temple REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Monkeys sit on a stupa at the Swayambhunath temple in Kathmandu.

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Kathmandu, Nepal

kathmandu REUTERS/Gopal Chitrakar

Hindu devotees cross Bagmati River at Pashupati Temple to pay homage to Lord Shiva during the Hindu festival Shivaratri in Kathmandu.

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Return to Nepal

Return to Nepal Photo by Rob Verger

Rob Verger spent a semester studying in Nepal. Years later, he returned, alone, and found a different place.

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Interview With Rory MacLean: ‘Magic Bus’ on the Hippie Trail

Frank Bures asks him about the classic journey from Istanbul's pudding shop to Kathmandu

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Pico Iyer: On Travel and Travel Writing

Two decades after boarding a plane for the trip that would yield "Video Night in Kathmandu," Pico Iyer talks to Matthew Davis about fact and fiction, books he wishes he hadn't written and his humble beginnings as a travel writer.

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No. 8: “Video Night in Kathmandu” by Pico Iyer

To mark our five-year anniversary, we’re counting down the top 30 travel books of all time, adding a new title each day this month.
Published: 1988
Territory covered: East and South Asia

A collection of 11 essays chronicling the cultural fusion of East and West in the 1980s, Iyer’s literary debut is an answer to all those critics who claim that great travel writing died once the terra incognita was mapped. As this Asia-themed collection shows, the final frontier of adventure isn’t located on some distant mountain or impenetrable jungle, but in the intimate (and often comical) cross-cultural fascinations and discoveries that arise from an ever-shrinking world.

Amid his sharp reportage and analysis, Video Night in Kathmandu‘s greatest strength is Iyer’s refusal to draw prim moral conclusions as Western popular culture bumps up against the traditions of the East. Instead, he casts things in terms of a tenuous romance.

“When Westerner meets Easterner,” Iyer writes, “each finds himself often drawn to the other, yet mystified; each projects his romantic hopes on the stranger, as well as his designs; and each pursues both his illusions and his vested interests with a curious mix of innocence and calculation that shifts with every step.” Moreover, the author’s eye for ironic juxtapositions—Rambo-inspired musicals in India, baseball fever in Japan, Mowhawk haircuts in Bali—proves so keen that he practically inaugurates the now-common “cultural-contradiction” travel-story template. Even if the specific cross-cultural obsessions of “Video Night” (Michael Jackson, Rambo) seem a bit dated, the ensuing rise of globalization and reach of the Internet have only underscored how relevant Iyer’s observations were.

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