Namaste – It was a Nepalese greeting. It meant: The light within me bows to the light within you. (Jennifer Donnelly)
I visited Nepal in 2010 and I felt in love right away with this beautiful country.
It is very sad to see the destructions of the April 2015 Nepal earthquake, not only on the human scale (8,800 people dead and more than 23,000 injured), but also in the destruction of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as the Durbar Square in Kathmandu.
An introduction to Kathmandu in three parts, starting with first impressions.
Rush Hour in Kathmandu
“Heaven is a myth, Nepal is real.”
Wow! Just the name Kathmandu (Wikipedia) brings adventure and mystery in your mind. Shock and awe can be a good description. First, the wild, wild ride from airport to the Fuji guest house. Second, the Thamel area with its small, old shops and its narrow streets shared by cars, motorbikes, bicycles, vendors, pedestrians and dogs. Third, the very friendly people. Forth, the temples with their fine architecture and long history, faked “sadhu” and monkeys.
Apparently in Kathmandu there are no rules, no “Stop” signs and no traffic lights. And this in a city of 1 million people. The way the traffic goes is crazy: go – stop – honk. And repeat this hundreds and hundreds of times. The cars go around people, potholes, motorbikes. The motorbikes go in between the cars. Honk = I am coming, let me go. Strange, there is no “road rage”. Everybody is calm. Except me, jumping all over and in front of the incoming traffic each time a horn is used. The honking sounds like coming from the 30s’! Many times the honks sound like a duck or a strangled Canadian goose.
“Meandering cows, tenacious bicyclers, belching taxis, rickshaws, fearless pedestrians and the occasional mobile ‘cigarette and sweets’ stand all fought our taxi for a room on the narrow two-lane road turned local byway.’” – Jennifer S. Alderson
Everybody is going in a collision course, but, amazing, I didn’t see any accident. They drive on the left side. The buses have a “copilot”, a guy hanging from the open door of the bus, on the opposite side of the driver, whose role is to wave to the driver when to go or to stop and to whistle the pedestrians. The pedestrians have no rights. Push your way through the traffic and hope for the best!
Streets and People
In Kathmandu almost everybody has a business. On the narrow streets of Thamel a store can be just an opening into a house with enough space for one vendor to seat and to show his products. The opening is right to the street, at the street level. The streets don’t have sidewalks, so the street is shared by people and cars and motorbikes with one single rule: honk! On the side of the street the vendors sell even raw meat, already smoked by the fumes of the traffic.
Nepali people are warm, very friendly, welcoming and trusty. Kathmandu is safe and for sure I will come back to this city and its people.
I was lucky to meet Cheto, a Nepali Indian student who became my guide for two days. We remained friends to this day.
Places to visit:
- Kathmandu Durbar Square – the coronation place of the city’s kings of the past, a place of palaces, temples and courtyards. Now few buildings in the square collapsed due to the April 2015 earthquake.
- “Monkey Temple” (Swayambhunath) – take the 365 steps stairway entrance to the temple, while encountering the “holly monkeys”.
- Boudha Stupa (Boudhanath) – very beautiful, walk around the white dome on the second floor, in a clockwise direction, and spin the prayer wheels to accumulate wisdom and good Karma.
- Pashupatinath Temple – surreal experience to walk close to the cremation places on the banks of the holly river Bagmatl, with many incinerations happening on the spot.
Worth visiting is the ancient city of Bhaktapur (also affected by the earthquake) – a short taxi ride from Kathmandu. Strolling through Bakhtapur is like going back in time: well preserved temples and palace courtyards, people wearing traditional clothes, and you may find yourself in the middle of a colourful festival.
Things I tried
Thinks I didn’t try
- Dance Club with Shower
What I bought
- Tibetan Singing Bowl – used for meditation and to provide clarity of mind. Beautifully crafted from metal with outside patterns and inscriptions, comes with a wooden dowel. Hold the bowl on your open palm, and rub the rim with the dowel. The sound is unbelievable. The vendors are saying the bowl is choosing you, by the sound it makes and I believe them. Different bowls make different sounds, working for different chakras. I bought it from the “Monkey Temple”.
- Pokhara – The Hippies Hideout
- Six Days Annapurna Trekking Tour
- Elephants and Diwali in Nepal
- Children of Nepal – A Photo Essay