Cul­ture, ar­chi­tec­ture and land­scapes in Kathmandu

Kathmandu’s cap­i­tal is a caul­dron of cul­ture, ar­chi­tec­ture and na­ture

Business Traveller (India) - - CONTENTS - WORDS AKANKSHA MAKER

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.

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