The annual Kathmandu Valley exodus

Nepal’s capital Kathmandu is the most sought after city in the country. Along with Bhaktapur and Lalitpur, the three cities located in Kathmandu Valley account for nearly 10% of the nation’s population.

But every year the valley witnesses a mass exodus of its residents. This happens during Dashain, the biggest and longest festival of this Hindu-dominant country — the festival coincides with Durga Puja and Dussehra celebrations in India.

Most residents who have roots across Nepal leave to celebrate with families by taking part in religious rituals, sacrificing animals and birds, playing cards, feasting, riding swings or flying kites.

Such is the extent of this temporary mass migration that Kathmandu’s bustling and polluted streets become almost empty and the noisy city becomes quieter and cleaner for about a week when government offices, schools, industries and businesses remain closed.

Public transport within the valley comes to a near standstill, taxis are difficult to come across and since most shops and business establishments down shutters — it’s difficult to get essentials.

And if one plans to eat out, they would have to hunt for restaurants as most remain closed due to paucity of staff. Newspaper addicts are also denied their daily morning dose of news.

There’s no exact figure on how many leave the valley during the festival, but estimates say the number could be anywhere between 60 to 80% of the total population of 2.5 million (2011 census).

Transporters say nearly 1.5 million residents have left since Ghatasthapana-the beginning of the festival on October 16 this year. The biggest exodus was on Sunday when 3,500 buses and other vehicles left the valley — the figure is more than three times the number of vehicles ferrying people daily.

Those having own means of transport departed in their cars, SUVs, scooters and motorcycles.

The exodus is good business for domestic carriers too. As a result of the rush for tickets, discounts on air tickets are discontinued and all airlines increase flight frequency or provide charter services on busy routes.

Residents start returning after Dashami, the last day of the festival. Slowly taxis start reappearing, shops open and Kathmandu Valley returns to normal with reappearance of traffic snarls, noise and pollution.

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