KATHMANDU VALLEY IMPRESSIONS
So many people have asked us: “Why Nepal?” To be honest, our most likely answer to them will be: “Why not?”
Although we probably can’t give you an exact reason for wanting to do a trip to Nepal, I can give you the exact moment we decided to go. Picture it, a Saturday night off and no plans. We light the fire, put on our favourite music playlist, pour a glass of red wine, and as per usual, our conversation drifts to where we’d like to go to next. And it went something like this –
Selma: “How about Base Camp?”
Andre: “You need to be super fit to do that?
Selma: “Oh. Ok. Which is the best country to see Everest anyway?”
Andre: “Hmm, not sure, maybe Tibet or Nepal?”
Selma: “Let’s google it…ok, we’re going to Kathmandu.”
And as they say, the rest is history. Although we did not quite GO to Everest (we only flew past it), we did 2 mini treks in the Annapurna’s and we did get to see some of the highest mountain peaks in the world. And we got a glimpse into one amazing country that is Nepal.
Please join us on our photo journey. There are too many images for one post, so we’ll split them up to depict the various parts of our adventure. We did not take our pro gear with us, so please don’t judge on picture quality. Sometimes photographers need a holiday too!
All good trips start at Cape Town International. The first image I always take is in the Spur (and yes, it needs to be a window seat, and yes, I will elbow you out of the way for that seat.) The image is of a Peroni up against the glass with an aeroplane in the background. It’s getting a bit clichéd now, so I though this time around I’d post something a little different. Airports can be some of the most exciting and saddest places, all at the same time, and I love the vibe in the departure lounge. So here’s an image at our boarding gate.
Upon our arrival in a somewhat antiquated Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu we were met by what seemed like organized chaos. Custom made office chairs, made out of the parts of other old office chairs were a site to behold on their own. We were a little skeptical as to the buying of our visa on arrival. We were told by a fellow travel friend, “ just talk about Nelson Mandela and cricket, and you should have no problems.” She was right. And other than the odd ‘lost in translation’ moments, it was plain sailing!
How gorgeous is this detail at our accommodation in the Kathmandu Boutique Hotel? What a gem of a place with a shaded courtyard in a side street right in the heart of Kathmandu. The facade of this former 19th century palace has been left untouched, with only the interior modernized.
Here are a few scenes from our “hood.” Street is life, and life is street, it seems. Loads of hole in the wall family run shops, sidewalk entrepreneurs and hustle and bustle of people going about their daily business.
Slap bang in the middle of Kathmandu’s dental district (yes I know, I have no idea how we ended up there!) we came upon this bizarre site. One of the locals must have seen the quizzical look on our faces and told us it’s the “Tooth God.” People with toothache or other dental ailments visit the site and nail a coin to the tree as an offering to Vaishya Dev, the Newari god of tooth ache. Supposedly there is a teeny tiny little idol inside of the main hole of the tooth god’s shrine, but now totally obscured by the coins.
We had some admin to attend to, by this I mean getting our permits for entering the Annapurna conservancy. Not too big a deal, but just had to ensure that we had the right documentation, correct money and a whole bunch of photos. Here I am happily smiling away after we successfully completed our mission.
After lunch we decided it was time to visit Durbar Square. But as one does, we got sidetracked by the luring eyes of our first Buddhist stupa in the courtyard of the Kathashumbu Mandir.
The mysterious eyes on most Stupas in Nepal are painted on all four sides of the stupa’s spire. They represent the eyes of the Buddha and face the four cardinal directions; north, south, east and west. Between each pair of eyes, where the nose would be, is what looks like a question mark. This is actually the Nepali character for the number 1, which symbolizes unity and the “one” way to reach enlightenment through the Buddha’s teachings. Above this is the third eye, symbolizing the all-seeing wisdom of the Buddha. These eyes literally seemed to follow us for the next few weeks.
We finally made it to Durbar square. Loosely translated, it means “Place of Palaces.” And indeed, some of the structures are more than 1000 years old, with others dating back to the 1500’s. These were the royal palaces, courtyards, streets and places of worship of the kings. Sadly many were completely destroyed and reduced to a pile of rubble in the 2015 earthquake. Interestingly enough, it seems the beautiful Newari woodwork and lattice work survived, and it was the brickwork that succumbed.
A Sadhu is a wondering holy man. True Sadhus have cut ties with society, and they have no worldly possessions. Many practice some form of meditation. Unfortunately there are a lot of fake Sadhus aka “dollar babas” who cash in on tourists wanting a photo. Some get quite demanding, and don’t think you can get 2 photos for the price of one! But hey, they make for interesting images, so 100 Rupees here and there in return for a nice pic for the album does not break the bank!
Below is Kala Bhairab, The Lord of Terror. He’s depicted dancing on the corpse of a demon. It is said to be one of the incarnations of Shiva. It’s believed the deity is carved from a single twelve-foot slab of stone. Legend has it that anyone who tells a lie in front of Kala Bhairab will vomit blood and die!
We took a walk through suburbia and up the hill to the Swayambhunath Temple. It’s also known as the Monkey Temple because of the pesky monkeys living in and around the temple grounds. You soon realize these critters are everywhere, and they won’t hesitate snatching something from your hand. We’d learnt from our trip to India that you never look them straight in the eye, and then, for the most part they’ll leave you alone!
Legend has it that the stupa is built on a scared site on which a lotus flower was planted by a past Buddha. It emitted a magical light which lured followers from far and wide to reach enlightenment.
Prayer wheels are used to accumulate wisdom and good karma and to purify negativities or bad karma. Each wheel is decorated with a mantra, written in a clockwise direction, that of the movement of the sun across the sky.
There are awesome views over Kathmandu from the top.
The Pashupatinath Complex is a sacred Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva on the banks of the Bagmati River. Its existence dates back to 400AD.
It is said that Pashupatinath temple is so blessed that if you are cremated in its premises, you will again take birth as a human regardless of the sins you have done in your lifetime. It’s not uncommon for elderly and terminally ill patients to spend their lasts days here.
Cremation is an extremely important ritual for people of the Hindu faith. It’s believed that during the cremation process, the individuals spirit is released from its transitory physical body so it can be reborn. If cremation does not take place, it is thought that the soul will be disturbed and not find its way to its proper place in the afterlife and come back and haunt the living relatives.
The funeral right is known as the Antyeshti . After a short procession the body is placed on the steps on the banks of the river and cleansed with holy water. The big toes are tied together and a marking is made on the forehead. The body is then placed on a funeral pyre with the feet facing south. A series of eulogies are said by the head mourner after which sesame seeds or rice is placed in the deceased’s mouth for nourishment during the journey. The body and pyre are then sprinkled with ghee. Once the fire is lit, the pyre is covered with wet straw. Finally the ash is collected and strewn into the river.
We’d visited Varanasi before, so this ritual was not new to us. Again, as before, I wondered if I would find it creepy. The answer is no, not at all. It’s also not at all a macabre affair. In fact, it’s actually quite beautiful and merely forms part of the cycle of life and death.
A passage from the Rig Veda to contemplate upon:
“When he goes on the path that leads away the breath of life.
Then he will be led by the will of the gods.
May your eye go to the sun, you life’s breath to the wind.
Go to the sky or the earth, as is your nature.”
With a diameter of 100m, Boudhanath Stupa is one of the largest stupas in the world and is the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. Legend has it that one of Buddha’s fingers is buried underneath the mound.
In its basic shape the stupa has come to represent the seated Buddha when he achieved enlightenment. The square base represents the Buddha’s crossed legs as he sat on the earth; the middle section, or mound, is the Buddha’s body; and the conical spire at the top represents the Buddha’s head. The area around a stupa is deemed sacred, and used by practicing Buddhists for contemplation, mediation and reflection. It is important to circumnavigate a stupa in a clockwise direction. In ancient times clock wise was also referred to as “sunwise” so in other words following the course of the sun. There also seems to be an association with right, not only as ones ‘right’side, but also what is true, moral and right.
Surrounding the stupa are streets and narrow alleys lined with colourful homes, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and street vendors.
Beautiful Bhaktapur! Wow- to think we nearly gave it a miss due to time constraints. Our flight out of Kathmandu was only in the evening, so we thought we’d do one last bit of site seeing. We caught a taxi to this ancient imperial city where time seems to have stood still.
Now a UNESCO world heritage site Bhaktapur was the capital of Nepal until the second half of the 15th century. The city itself seems to rise up out of the fertile fields of the surrounding valley in a plethora of red brick and intricately carved wood. Abound with temples, courtyards and narrow medieval streets, it is like a real live tapestry of Nepalese life. Folk in traditional attire go about their daily business – be it trading goods, worshiping in tucked away shrines or practicing one of the age old skills still in use. Our first stop was Durbar Square.
Taumadhi Square lies in the heart of the old city. It’s dominated by the massive yet intricately designed five-storied Nyatapola Temple which dates to 1702 and is the tallest in the entire country. Miraculously it did not succumb to the earthake.
Dattatreya Square is one of the oldest squares in the city erected in 1427. Legend has it that the temple itself was constructed from the trunk a single giant tree.
Half the fun in exploring a place lies in wandering about on foot. It really feels as if you are caught in a time bubble. Here’s a little glimpse into what we saw.
Sadly much of Bhaktapur was completely destroyed in the earthquake which hit Nepal in April 2015. A total of nearly 9000 people were killed, 22,000 injured and 3.5 million left homeless. The epicentre was a mere 30km away.
Whilst reading articles on the quake I stumbled across these words by Richard Spencer:
“The overhanging tiles and red brick facings of Bhaktapur, one of Nepal’s most famous historic sites, look like toy houses, bashed randomly by a child with a plastic hammer.
A roof punched in here, a facade knocked away up the street, in all too many cases a full-on hit that brought the whole thing tumbling down despite the building next door looking untouched.”
Hoping that the people of Nepal can rise above their circumstances again as they did after the 1934 quake.
And so ends our story of Kathmandu. We were so pleasantly suprised by what she had to offer. Bob Seger sang in his 1973 classic:
“I’m tired of looking at the TV news. I’m tired of driving hard and paying dues. I figure baby I’ve nothing to loose. I’m tired of being blue. That’s why I’m going to Kathmandu.”