Culture, architecture and landscapes in Kathmandu
Kathmandu’s capital is a cauldron of culture, architecture and nature
As an Indian passport holder, I availed of visa on arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. With three days on hand in the Nepalese capital, I indulged in varied experiences that introduced me to its vivid persona. From venturing into its most popular haunt Thamel, to boarding a flight that brought me just short of 20 miles from Mount Everest, Kathmandu constantly surprised me. With its endearing culture, fascinating architecture and scenic nature, there’s much to do in this interesting city. Here are a few things you could consider doing if you’re planning a trip here.
WALK AROUND THAMEL
An obvious locale to start your visit to Kathmandu, Thamel is the city’s central point. A number of tiny lanes and alleys comprise this area that’s best explored in a rickshaw. From pashmina shawls, antique jewellery, Buddhist souvenirs, Nepalese curios and artefacts, there’s little you can’t find in Thamel’s vibrant shops. Your haggling skills will come to good use here as tourists are quoted exorbitant prices. Those interested in Nepalese cuisine must visit traditional momo (a type of South Asian dumpling native to Nepal) houses that can be found at every corner in Thamel. Dip these dim sum-like pockets filled with meat — mostly pork — into a red chilli sauce for a local experience. Buddhist flags swaying against the sky as chantings and soft Nepalese music fill the air brimming with the smell of fresh dumplings, is what an evening in Thamel is made of.
While this area symbolises the face of young Nepal with its youthful crowd, it is also one of the oldest parts of the city. Walking further will bring you to Durbar Square that almost takes you back in time with its spectacular Newa architecture, a style atypical to the region. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the square holds prominence in Nepal’s antiquity as it held the palaces of the Malla and Shah kings who once ruled over the city. The earthquake that hit Nepal in April 2015 caused the unfortunate collapse of several architectural marvels here. However, a number of temples that were built by the various kings of erstwhile Nepal still stand tall around the square. Within their pagoda type roofs and elaborately carved windows, temples bear the idols of Hindu gods that look strikingly different from the ones found in India.
Durbar Square also houses the residence of Kumari — the country’s “living goddess” based on the tradition of worshipping a prepubescent girl who symbolises sacred female energy. As soon as she hits puberty, she is replaced by another prepubescent girl. Called Kumari Ghar (residence), her home overlooks the south side of Durbar Square and is decorated with intricate wood carvings of gods and goddesses. Tourists and patrons can enter the courtyard of the house where the “living goddess” occasionally makes an appearance on one of the first floor windows. It is believed that her facial expressions depict the answers to the questions her devotees bring forth. If she has no extreme reaction during her appearance, her devotees usually leave relieved as it implies good fortune.
Those interested in the Newa style of architecture should also visit Patan Durbar Square, located in the city of Lalitpur only 7km from Kathmandu. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the square is known for the ancient royal palace where the Malla kings of Lalitpur resided. It is divided into three main courtyards — Mul Chok, Sundari Chok and Keshav Narayan Chok — all boasting exquisite Newa architecture. Its delicately carved windows, doorways, statues and shrines still retain their glory, even though a major part of the square was destroyed in the earthquake of 2015.
SPEND A DAY AT DHULIKHEL VILLAGE
An hour from Kathmandu, drive southwards to the mountainous village of Dhulikhel. Located within the eastern rim of the Kathmandu Valley and to the south of the Himalaya, this village offers stunning views of the snow-capped mountain range. The surrounding hills are covered under a blanket of vibrant green that offer a sharp contrast to the stark white snow. There is an ancient area from medieval times that houses an assembly of old Newari houses, exhibiting the excellence of erstwhile Nepalese architecture. Walk around its narrow streets where finely carved windows and doors will teleport you into an alternative era. Pray at old-world temples with Hindu and Buddhist shrines to soak in Nepal’s culture.
Tourists and patrons can enter the courtyard of the house where the “living goddess” occasionally makes an appearance on one of the first floor windows
When you’ve sufficiently built up an appetite and are in the mood for some homegrown luxury, step into Dwarika’s Resort at Dhulikhel. Built on the premise of Ayurveda, yoga and holistic living, this all-suite hotel is a comparatively opulent world unlike the simplicity of this village. The hotel features unique treatment rooms that encompass various facets of Ayurveda and offers therapies based on Vedic and Buddhist philosophies. For instance, it features a Himalayan Salt Room, where walls are embedded with rock crystals. Spending some time in this chamber is said to have beneficial effects on your respiratory system. Similarly, there is also a Chakra Sound Therapy Chamber that houses rooms dedicated to the seven chakras of the human body. If spending the night here seems out of the budget (prices start upwards of US$360/`24,006 a night), you could dine at one of its restaurants to get the feel of the hotel. Nature’s Flavours that overlooks PREVIOUS PAGE: Durbar Patan Square, Thamel CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Thamel; the Himalayas; momos at Nature's Flavours, Dwarika's Resort, Dhulikel the snowy Himalayan range serves local cuisine prepared with organic ingredients that are grown at the hotel’s farms.
FLY ALONGSIDE MOUNT EVEREST
Have you ever boarded a flight which had no final destination? Nepal’s homegrown airline — Buddha Air — has a unique experience designed for travellers who aspire to be up and close to Mount Everest, without actually climbing it. The airline flies its 19-seater Beechcraft 1900 every day at 6am from Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport. As a passenger of flight U4102, your boarding pass reads “mountains” as the destination. You pass through the formalities of a usual flight except in this case, you land back at the port of
embarkation. However, the journey is an exceptional one, bringing you up to 20 miles from the tallest mountain in the world — Mount Everest.
Upon boarding, each passenger is assigned a window seat before the airplane takes o for the mountains. Within no time, the aircra ascends high up to the Himalayan range as you y over glaciers, lakes and snow peaks. e crew assists you at every step pointing out the signi cant mountain peaks in the range such as Kangchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world. And then appears the earth's highest mountain above sea level, located in the Mahalangur Himal sub-range of the Himalayas — Mount Everest. At this stage, the crew opens the door of the cockpit allowing passengers to admire the peak from the pilot’s window. About 40 minutes or so in, the plane turns around and ies back to Tribhuvan International Airport, marking the end of this unconventional joy ride.
PRAY AT BOUDHANATH STUPA AND PASHUPATINATH TEMPLE
On the northeastern side of Kathmandu lies Boudhanath — one of the largest Buddhist stupas (dome-shaped buildings erected as Buddhist shrines). Upon entering the complex of the stupa, you’re serenaded by Buddhist hymns that ll the air. Stop at shops that sell singing bowls, Tibetan prayer
ags, meditation jewellery, ceremonial horns and Tibetan drums. Walk around this monumental whitewashed stupa as you spin prayer wheels and greet poker-faced monks in maroon robes. ere are also a number of monasteries around where you can o er your prayers, spin a giant prayer wheel and participate in an elaborate Buddhist chanting session for some blessings and tranquillity. e large white dome is the main point of this complex with a series of prayer ags that are tied from its centre to the dome’s circumference. e dome’s 13 CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Pashupatinath Temple complex; Fairfield by Marriott Kathmandu; and Boudhanath Stupa
The crew opens the door of the cockpit allowing passengers to admire the peak from the pilot’s window
levels symbolise the stages a human must pass through to achieve nirvana. Painted above the dome are Buddha’s eyes (also known as wisdom eyes) that look in the four directions to represent the omnipresence of a Buddha.
Another interesting religious labyrinth that must be visited in Kathmandu is the Pashupatinath Temple. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the god of destruction in Hindu mythology, or Pashupati in Nepalese culture, this temple complex is situated on the banks of the Bagmati river. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the courtyard has a series of shrines dedicated to various Hindu gods and goddesses. Built in the Nepalese pagoda style of architecture, it incorporates elements like cubical constructions and nely carved wooden ra ers. Gold-plated copper is used to decorate the two-level roofs. A giant bronze bull (Nandi) stands at the front of the western gate of the main temple courtyard. Photography is strictly prohibited here and long queues are considered normal for a glimpse of the main lingam (symbolic of divine energy) that sits inside.