Travel

With only 24 hours in Nepal, Anthea Ay­ache made ev­ery sec­ond count.

Friday - - Contents -

Only one per­son at a time” the plaque above the steps into the air­craft read, not ex­actly re­as­sur­ing words for some­one with a fear of fly­ing. Af­ter see­ing the ex­pres­sion of hor­ror cross my face, a man next to me en­cour­ag­ingly said with a wink, “Don’t worry the pi­lot wants to get home too.”

Pulling my­self to­gether and set­ting asidemy pteromer­hanopho­bia (al­legedly the cor­rect term for knee quak­ing at the thought of im­mi­nently board­ing), I gin­gerly climbed into the air­craft hop­ing it wouldn’t be the last time my boot­clad feet were placed on terra firma.

Within a few mo­ments of tak­ing off from Nepali cap­i­tal Kath­mandu’s do­mes­tic air­port, as the plane glided smoothly out from the green, ter­raced val­ley to­wards the snow-capped Hi­malayan range bask­ing ma­jes­ti­cally in the golden rays of dawn, all my fears were quelled. From the air­craft win­dow ar­guably one of the most mag­nif­i­cent panoramic sights the world has to of­fer was vis­i­ble at eye level and that’s even be­fore Mount Ever­est came into view.

Termed The Best Moun­tain Flight in the­World by car­ri­ers Buddha Air, this one-hour jour­ney sees an air­craft of 16 people flown around the mas­sive moun­tain ranges of the Hi­malayas, home to some of the world’s pre­mier peaks. Pas­sen­gers are able to take pho­to­graphs from their seats and on two oc­ca­sions are also led in­di­vid­u­ally to the cock­pit where be­tween the pi­lot and co-pi­lot, you can take ad­van­tage of the full aerial view from the air­craft wind­shield.

Depend­ing on weather con­di­tions and vis­i­bil­ity, the flight gen­er­ally takes off at 7am al­low­ing an early start to a day of sight­see­ing in Kath­mandu, where you can take in as many sights, sounds and flavours as pos­si­ble of this his­tor­i­cally en­trenched city. I chose to do this with a vet­eran Nepali guide from Kath­mandu Travel and Tours, the same com­pany that had or­gan­ised the moun­tain flight. I wanted to visit the mul­ti­tude of beau­ti­fully or­nate Hindu and Bud­dhist tem­ples that per­me­ate the city’s squares.

First, how­ever, we had to get there and the driver whose com­mando-like ma­noeu­vres, in­clud­ing swerv­ing to scarcely miss a holy cow that had me­an­dered into the mid­dle of the con­ges­tion-choked road, meant we reached our des­ti­na­tion in one piece – just. More pleased to step out of the car than I had been the plane, we took the rest of the jour­ney by foot and headed di­rectly to the Hanu­mand­hoka Dur­bar Square in the heart of the en­chanted an­cient city.

The square, which re­quires an en­trance ticket, is filled with pago­dastyle tem­ples built be­tween the 12th and 18th Cen­turies, in­clud­ing the im­pres­sive 366-me­tre-high Taleju Tem­ple con­structed in 1564 by King Ma­hen­dra Mul­lah. My guide tells me that un­til very re­cently it was con­sid­ered in­aus­pi­cious to build a house taller than this tem­ple but with other more mod­ern build­ings in the vicin­ity such as the nine-sto­ried palace some­what loom­ing over it, there’s a strong rea­son to be­lieve this is no longer the case.

Around the square and be­tween the tem­ples you will find scat­tered

lo­cal mer­chants at stalls sell­ing ev­ery­thing from Bud­dhist trin­kets, to herbs and spices and fiery or­ange marigold gar­lands, as of­fer­ings. It’s beau­ti­ful but some­what chaotic in its South East Asian way, with beg­gars in high num­bers and lo­cals on scoot­ers fly­ing within a hair’s breadth of the city’s many stray dogs, ly­ing bliss­fully obliv­i­ous in the af­ter­noon sun.

This area in­cludes 10 court­yards, the most mag­nif­i­cent of which is the Nasal Chowk (Nasal mean­ing “dancing one”) named af­ter the im­age of a de­ity dancing lo­cated on the east side of the square.

In­side the court­yard is the nine­storey Bas­an­ta­pur Tower, with its climb to the top via a nar­row, creaky wooden stair­case. The walk up may knock a lit­tle wind out of you (and it is quite dark so care­ful with your step) but is well worth it for the far-reach­ing views of the city. My guide tells me this was a view­ing post for the royal fam­ily so they could look out over their king­dom, a view that en­com­passes miles around in­clud­ing the af­fec­tion­ately termed Mon­key Tem­ple where my guide and I were headed next.

Known to lo­cals as Swayamb­hu­nath Tem­ple, the mo­ment you de­scend from the car it’s un­der­stand­able why this UnescoWorld Her­itage Site has been given a pet name. Troops of red mon­keys fill the en­trance way, hang­ing from the foun­tain’s stat­ues to dip their heads into the cool­ing wa­ter and leap­ing deftly be­tween the bustling pil­grims. Walk­ing up (in a clock­wise di­rec­tion for good luck, I am told) the 365 steps to the main plat­form of the tem­ple, one of the first things to greet you in this highly sa­cred Bud­dhist pil­grim­age site is the

Troops of red mon­keys fill the en­trance way, leap­ing deftly be­tween the bustling pil­grims

gi­ant stupa, a bril­liant white mound with Buddha’s all-see­ing eyes painted at the head. It’s sym­bolic to walk clock­wise around the stupa spin­ning the large en­cir­cling prayer wheels, an act that is said to bring about good karma and pu­rify the bad. My guide must have seen straight through me be­cause he made me walk the full way round three times!

We were for­tu­nate to have a beau­ti­fully clear day on our visit to Swayamb­hu­nath and were able to take in mag­nif­i­cent views of Kath­mandu, the val­ley and its sur­round­ing moun­tains. Strolling through the tem­ple area you can’t help but no­tice that both Bud­dhism and Hin­duism are prac­tised here and most of the vis­it­ing pil­grims make of­fer­ings to them both. Be­fore leav­ing

Es­cape from the hus­tle and bus­tle in the Gar­den of Dreams

The grace­ful yet im­pos­ing Palace at Hanu­man dhoka Dur­bar Square

Even a ner­vous flyer will re­lax when they see the view of the Hi­malayas from the plane win­dow

Hanu­man-dhoka Dur­bar Square is filled with pago­dastyle tem­ples

Work around Dur­bar Square’s myr­iad of mys­tic tem­ples

The heady chaos

of Thamel is a pop­u­lar area for

tourists

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