There’s much more to Nepal than moun­tains, finds Thomas Heaton

Cuisine - - CONTENTS -


THE STEADY HUM OF MONKS pray­ing is in­ter­rupted only by the quiet thump of the drums or the oc­ca­sional holler from a shop­keeper, but there’s noth­ing that can dis­tract you from the enor­mity of the Bud­dhist mon­u­ment Boud­hanath Stupa.

In a sort of trance, I at­tempt to ab­sorb ev­ery­thing around me: 17th- or 18th-cen­tury build­ings on my right, with silk paint­ings and var­i­ous trin­kets sit­ting at their steps; and the ap­par­ent rest­ing place of an­cient Bud­dha, Kas­s­apa, on my left. I only come to when a Nepali man stops me. In bro­ken English, he tells me I'm walk­ing the wrong way. Rather con­fused, I turn around.

Boud­hanath is a place of wor­ship, and one of the big­gest stupa in the world. Bud­dhists make pil­grim­ages to the stupa to pray; I don’t want to mis­step. Thou­sands of colour­ful prayer flags drape the 36-me­tre mono­lith as it looks over the sur­round­ing build­ings with the painted-on “calm­ing eyes of Bud­dha”.

“Don’t be an­gry,” he re­peat­edly tells me. I think he thought I was up­set by his or­ders. He con­tin­u­ally pleads. He walks ahead, stops, waits for me. He tells me again. “No an­gry. Lit­tle things in life, they make big dif­fer­ence.”

He slaps me on the shoul­der and looks up, re­veals a crooked, en­thu­si­as­tic smile. He con­tin­ues on his way, leav­ing this mys­ti­fied for­eigner in his chirpy, zen-like Bud­dhist wake.

This sense of mys­ti­fi­ca­tion and won­der doesn't abate dur­ing my time in Nepal; ev­ery day I be­come more fas­ci­nated by the coun­try, and my first en­counter with its food is no ex­cep­tion. At the Sum­mit Ho­tel in Kupon­dole Heights, south of the stupa, I'm pre­sented with a ta­ble laden with stout bronze gob­lets, filled with chut­neys, veg­eta­bles, yel­low lentil soup and a meat curry, which sur­round a mound of rice, with a wee pap­padum on top – this is dal-bhat-tarkari. There are tastes of an In­dia Ki­wis may recog­nise, but it’s not In­dian. The mut­ton curry (khasi ko masu) is warm but not too spicy and it’s rich, but not creamy. The var­i­ous chut­neys ease or in­ten­sify the heat of each mouth­ful. But it’s the gun­pow­der-like sub­stance on the cor­ner of the plate that’s most in­trigu­ing. It kicks, but it’s not spicy. It has a funk, like kim­chi, and a bit­ter­ness like gourd.The waiter says it’s gun­druk, one of Nepal’s na­tional foods – ap­par­ently 2000 tonnes of the stuff is made each year. Es­sen­tially, gun­druk is greens from the tops of radishes, mus­tard leaves or cab­bage plant, fer­mented and dried. It’s in­com­pa­ra­ble to any­thing I’ve tasted be­fore and I'm an in­stant con­vert.


Kath­mandu's awe-in­spir­ing place of wor­ship, Boud­hanath Stupa

OP­PO­SITE Fresh pro­duce ven­dors in Thamel, Kath­mandu

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