Nepal is almost synonymous with the Himalayas, and we’ve been enthralled with the snow-capped mountains for many years. We couldn’t wait to visit this small country sandwiched between India and China.
Most visits to Nepal start in Kathmandu, the capital city, and host to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, ancient monuments, temples, shrines, and former monasteries.
Even though we stayed in the Thamel district, where they cater to Western tourists, urban Kathmandu was a shock, nothing like the natural environment we imagined.
It is a rapidly expanding city. Its population has increased tenfold in the last fifteen years, and the roads and other civil engineering are lagging behind the rapid growth. The devastating earthquake that occurred two years ago and took over 8000 lives in the region made matters worse, leaving countless homeless, damaging buildings, and setting back the push to update infrastructure.
The city seems like one big construction project; with rebuilding and digging up of streets for water and sewer. All this activity is creating extreme air pollution. It’s a common sight to see people with surgical style masks covering their nose and mouths from the plumes of dust.
Our first task in the city was to find the Nepal Tourism Board to obtain our TIMS card, permits we would need for trekking in the mountains. With map in hand, we wandered through the busy streets observing the action.
The next day, we embarked on a full day sightseeing tour of the capital. We set out into the mass of vehicles that is typical of Kathmandu, pushing through the traffic to reach the Pashupatinath Temple, one of the most revered holy cremation places for Hindus around the world and famous for its pagoda style architecture. The Bagmati River which runs near the temple is lined with funeral ghats where the last rites of Hindus are performed.The extensive grounds around the temple has many old shrines and statues, with interesting details.
Hindu’s can be observed performing religious rituals. Including, the lighting of Puja fires near the main temple.
These Sadhus, holy men with Vishnu markings on their foreheads grabbed the attention of many tourists for photo ops.
Our next stop was the Boudhanath, one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist stupas in the world and the centre of Tibetan faith in the Kathmandu valley.
Set in central Kathmandu, the all-seeing eyes of the supreme Buddha overlooks the surrounding circular plaza, a popular area for both tourists and locals alike. The neighbouring buildings are colourful with dozens of shops, street vendors, and places to eat. We found the setting perfect for an afternoon meal from one of the rooftop restaurants.
After our lunch break, we continued to Lalitpur, a small city to the south of Kathmandu, with a strong heritage in fine arts. Some 1200 Buddhist monuments dot this city alone, with Patan Durbar Square, as the most significant square of the city.
The district was severely damaged, and many of the temples, shrines, and monuments bore scars from the 2015 earthquake and were under repair. Even so, we could still see some of the magnificent architecture as they are being restored with the help of traditional craftsmen.
Built in 1637, the only temple with 21 golden pinnacles in Nepal, the Krishna Mandir, holds a commanding position at the heart of the square.
Mythical stone lions guard the entrance to the Keshav Narayan Chowk, which houses the Patan Museum. Acclaimed as one of the finest museums in South Asia, the former palace has exhibits covering two floors, with numerous artefacts and statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities of which many were created in Patan workshops.The view from the museum doorway looking at the inner courtyard and the temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. We concluded our day at the Swayambhu Nath, also known as the monkey temple, a Buddist shrine up on a west hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley, attracting both Buddist and Hindu pilgrims from far away.
The best time to visit is at sundown when the oldest religious site in Nepal glows in the late day light. If you feel energetic, you can climb the 365 steps that lead to the holy place from the lower entrance gate.
Prayer wheels encircle the stupa. Here you can accumulate good karma and purify bad karma by reciting your own mantra.At the summit, we enjoyed the playful monkeys, vibrant prayer flags, and the panorama of the city.Air pollution and traffic jams aside, there is so much to see and experience in Kathmandu that it is worth the effort to explore the city’s diverse history. And although, the city is chaotic, dusty, and crowded there is an underlying calmness that the Nepalese people share with visitors in this fascinating place.