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NEPAL is located in the Himalayas, bordered to the west, east and south by the Republic of India and to the north by the People’s Republic of China. This is where Mount Everest, the highest mountain peak in the world is located.
Nepal is rich in amazing tourist attractions, with its pristine environment, rich cultural history and religious influence, a lot of monasteries and temples are sure to attract adventure seeking travelers and nature lovers. But for me, it’s the exotic feel of the place that makes me curious. That’s why when the opportunity presented itself for me to travel there I was ecstatic and didn’t hesitate at all.
The flight is about four hours from Kuala Lumpur to Tribhuvan International Airport in Nepal. Upon arriving at the airport you have to queue in for the visa application – yes the visa can be secured upon arrival. However, there’s no signage or anything that would tell you where to go, all you have to do is to go with the flow and be guided by your instinct. Fill up the application form, attached your photo (take one with you) and pay US$25 at the cashier. Then proceed to the immigration personnel, have your passport stamped and that’s it. You are free to go and explore!
There are no trains in Kathmandu and renting a car without a driver is not possible. Regular Taxis are an easy way to get to the city but be prepared to negotiate the price beforehand, heavily! The cheapest rate that you can get to Thamel (tourist destination area) is NPR400-500, or, if you go to the end of the parking lot and catch a taxi there (where the taxis do not have to pay the airport entrance fee), you may be able to get a rate of NPR200-300, which is close to the standard meter rate. Taxi drivers may try to extract some commission by showing you one or more hotels on the way. Avoid making any deals it might cost you much more than it should.
After checking – in and a half hour rest, I went out to meet with a local friend and headed to a nearby traditional Nepali restaurant called Nepali Chulu. They serve authentic Nepali cuisine and entertain guests with folk dances and music. We had a taste of Dhal Baht, Nepali wine, and curried chicken, but my favorite dish there, was something they call “momos”, which is a traditional Nepali dumpling filled with vegetables or buffalo meat (they don’t eat beef there). It is absolutely delicious!
My local friend was only too happy to tour me around Kathmandu. I was welcomed into her home with open arms and enjoyed sitting and talking to her charming and well educated friends. From my personal experience the Nepali people are the most hospitable people I came across, except of course for Filipinos. For me there is nothing better than having a local to show you around, it was so relaxing not to worry about where to go, who to trust, how much to pay for a taxi, how to get
there…. We could simply focus on the sightseeing and enjoy ourselves hassle-free.
Had a walk around Thamel, It was an absolute hippy heaven – streets are jam-packed with shops selling souvenirs, clothes, jewelries, bags, tea and colorful pashmina which are made out of mountain goat’s fur. Lots and lots of pashmina and tea! It’s everywhere!
Walking around is quite safe. No need to worry about theft, muggings or personal safety, or maybe it was just because I was with my local friend. Nevertheless, caution is always highly recommended here. One of the drawbacks for the travelers is that the air is quite polluted and very dusty, as Kathmandu suffers from a substantial overpopulation. Electrical services in Kathmandu are also substandard and chaotic! There are frequent power cuts happening every day and quite randomly, at different times of the day and for different lengths of time.
Exploring Kathmandu is like stepping back in time, literally. Here we find a haven of old, decaying yet impressive architecture; wonky but still stable structure. For those who are easily put-off by any small inconveniences, it is worth keeping in mind that Nepal is one of the poorest nations on this planet, so naturally modern conveniences might not always be there to enjoy.
Although Kathmandu is a fairly large, sprawling city, most of the main sights and attractions are within the city center and can be accessed easily by local transport, which is a unique experience! Taxi was quite cheap. Just have to talk very carefully and slowly with the driver for they tend to misinterpret the things that they hear. It’s a good thing we have a local with us to talk to the driver!
Pashupatinath temple was the first temple we visited. It is one of the most sacred Hindu temples in the world. The temple lies on the bank of the holy “Baghmati River”. The main temple of Pashupatinath is opened only for the Hindus. The non-Hindu tourist can watch the temple from the opposite bank of Baghmati River – which we did.
Dead bodies are cremated just below the temple on the bank of Baghmati River. Gross as it may seem to us, but this is a daily occurrence here. The tourists can watch the dead bodies being prepared and burnt in accordance with the Hindu ancient religious rituals.
People even wash their bodies in the visibly filthy river in order to ‘purify’ themselves – such an intriguing and completely foreign to our practice of religious beliefs. Witnessing all this can leave quite mixed and unsettling impression on the viewer, but it can also expand the appreciation of all the cultural differences, and help us understand others much better.
The yogis (as they call themselves) living in those temples believe that the white ashes covering their body protects them from extreme cold and heat. Looking at them its hard to argue with that.
Boudhanath Stupa (or Bodnath Stupa) is the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. The stupa is located in the town of Boudha, on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu – just 4 kilometers away from the Tribhuvan International Airport. It looms 36 meters high and presents one of the most fascinating specimens of stupa design. There are more than 45 Buddhist monasteries in the area designed in a very artistic manner to signify various symbolic meanings. Among other things it is believed that when the wind flutters the flags the mantras (prayers) written on them are carried to the heaven.
Today it remains an important place of pilgrimage and meditation for Tibetan Buddhists and local Nepalis, as well as a popular tourist site.
Swayambhunath stupa is situated at the top of the hill in Kathmandu. This temple is also famous with the name “monkey temple”. There are monkeys everywhere, often wandering in large groups. Word of caution: Do not engage in any interactions with them, they might scratch or bite when taking food from your hand. If your skin gets broken you would need to see a doctor and get some injection, just in case – a hassle nobody needs on a holiday.
Though it is Buddhist temple both Hindu and Buddhists worship there. The word “Swayambhu” is the combination of two Sanskrit words “Swayam” and “bhu”, where Swayam means self and Bhu means existing/created. So the temple Swayambhunath refers to the temple which was self-created an interesting concept.
The architectural design of Swayambhunath stupa is similar to Bauddhanath Stupa. There are various temples and shrines around the main stupa. The temple can be reached by climbing 365 steps, which represents 365 days of our life. What a way to go, but once you reach the top its breath-taking.
Kumari Temple “The Home of Living Goddess” is in front of the palace. Kumari is regarded as the only living goddess in the world. You can have the glimpse of the living goddess Kumari but cannot take the Photographs.
Believed to be the reincarnation of Hindu deity, the young girl who lives in the temple is worshipped by Hindus and some Nepalis Buddhists. The Kumari is chosen after a rigorous search that includes 32 physical qualifications and tests of courage. Once she reaches puberty, she gives up her position as the living goddess and the search begins for a new one.
Bhaktapur or also known as Bhadgaon, is a museum of medieval art and architecture with many fine examples of sculpture, woodcarving and colossal pagoda temples consecrated to different gods and goddesses. The city is shaped like a conch shell-one of the emblems of the god Vishnu. Pottery, mandala painting and weaving are its major traditional industries.
Less than four months after I left Nepal, on April 25, 2015 a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the Himalayan country I had just fell in love with. The quake was felt as far as Mount Everest, where its tremors caused a massive avalanche. More than 8,000 people have lost their lives and many precious World Heritage sites and temples have been completely destroyed.
To hear and see the news on TV felt like gut-wrenching nightmare from which I was unable to wake up for a long long time. Luckily, all my Nepalese friends and their homes turned out to be okay. Thousands were not so lucky though.
And now, two months after the quake, as I sit in my room reviewing my photographs of the Kathmandu “Before” and “After”, I suddenly remember the shocking public cremation of dead bodies at the bank of Baghmati River, happening right in front of my eyes. And I’ve realized that that experience somehow lost its power to shock me now. I guess it all depends on the context in which we view and experience things around us. My travel experience in Nepal is something i will never ever forget.
A midst of great destruction and death, I pray that those who are impacted by the massive earthquake find inner peace and strength. And may they always experience God’s presence in their own heart and in every helping hand – to see the light of new dawn and the beauty of life.