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