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Skin Test: A Brief Experiment in Air Quality

There is absolutely no way in hell that I would drive a motorbike in Kathmandu.  An endless stream of obstacles faces the intrepid Kathmandu motorcyclist: taxis, cars, cows, thundering TaTa trucks with 15 different horns (I’m serious), cows, potholes, open sewers, kids, adults, floods, puddles, etc… The list could go on.  Despite my refusal to drive a motorbike myself, many of my friends who live in Kathmandu are seasoned pros in the motorbike driving department, so I often find myself on the back of their vehicles.  Anyone who goes from Point A to Point B on a motorbike in Kathmandu will probably notice a few things:

1) If you’re not wearing sunglasses, your eyeballs start to feel as though they’ve been ripped out, dipped in cornmeal and then placed back into your head.  This feeling stems from the incredible amount of dust and dirt and smog in the air.

2) If you drive across town on a motorbike, then go home and blow your nose, the “residue” on the tissue will most likely be black from the aforementioned smog, dust, dirt and pollution.

3) If you open your mouth at all when riding in Kathmandu on a motorbike, it will likely feel as though you’ve just chewed a mouthful of sand (also due to the dust and dirt in the air).

I’ve noticed all these things throughout the many months I’ve spent in Kathmandu being ushered around on other people’s motorbikes.  So, this evening I got home from a rather long ride.  I was outside of the Kathmandu Valley last night for a magazine story and returned to my home around 6 p.m.  The route that my colleague (who was driving the motorbike) had to take to get me from the village where we were staying to my  house basically took us all the way across Kathmandu city.  When I got home, my face felt like it normally does after a long motorbike in Nepal’s capital: gritty and disgusting, but nothing out of the ordinary for an intercity ride.

I decided to conduct a brief experiment.  I took out one of my facial wipes that I carry for plane rides and wiped exactly half of my face clean and then left the other half as it was after the bike ride.  I proceeded to take a picture.  Now I have photographic evidence of the havoc Kathmandu air (and long motorbike rides) wreaks on the skin.  This picture makes me think that I either a) need to buy a face mask for motorbike rides, or b) I need a facial.

EXHIBIT A of Kathmandu’s Horrendous Air Quality:

Wait, does the smog layer make me look like I have a tan?  A possible bright side.  As you can tell, the left side is clean and the right side has a nice solid coating of air pollution.