Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, is a vibrant, noisy city. Packed full of history, palaces and temples, it is also within touching distance of Nepal’s premier attraction, the Himalaya.
Nepal may have had been hit by a devastating earthquake but that’s not what Nepal is all about. Almost 4 months ago, on 25th April 2015, Nepal was hit by a devastating earthquake with following aftershocks, with its epicenter at Barpak. The durbar squares suffered damages and the historical Dharahara collapsed. There were disastrous effects in and around Kathmandu with places that were historical sites and popular tourist destinations being ruined.
But after a month, if you ask is it safe to visit Nepal then yes it is safe to visit Nepal.
And before you visit Nepal yourself, let me take you to my journey to Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Patan and Nagarkot. And you will yourself know that what Nepal still has in her heart to beckon you with.
With Kathmandu being such a hectic city of disarray, a sense of calm and spirituality can be found at Boudhanath Stupa. Assigned UNESCO world heritage status in 1979, Boudhanath (aka the Boudha, Chorten Chempo and Khasa Caityais) has a diameter of 120 metres, making it the largest in Nepal.
The Stupa is built on an octagonal base, is surrounded by prayer wheels, and has colourful prayer flags draped from its 36-metre central spire.
Boudhanath is rich in symbolism: it has five statues of Dhyani Buddhas, representing the five elements (earth, fire, water, air and ether); nine levels, representing Mount Meru (the mythical peak at the centre of the Buddhist cosmos); and 13 rings from its base to its apex (representing the steps to enlightenment or Nirvana).
P.S. : Best part is, Boudhanath only has a small crack at its base and some superficial damage.
Built in 1696 on the orders of King Bhupendra Malla, Pashupatinath is Nepal’s most important Hindu temple.
For me, this was one of the trip highlights. It is one of the most culturally interesting places I have recently visited, and as long as you go with an open mind, and a respect for tradition, this could really be an eye opener.
There is nonetheless much to see. The temple’s exterior and its surrounding buildings are worth a look. Sadhus (Hindu holy men) watch the world go by. Traders hawk marigolds, incense and conch shells.
And the area along the river has designated stone slabs for funerals. It was so interesting to watch, and although in a way it seems morbid from a western standpoint, when you step back and realize that this is everyday life and you are just the viewer, it becomes fascinating to watch. From the distance you see mourning and celebration; death is welcome and not feared as it is in the west.
P.S. Needless to say, but we all know Pashupatinath continues on today just as it did last month and last year.
The Swayambhunath Stupa (meaning the ‘self-created’ stupa, aka the Monkey Temple) is found on a hilltop to the west of Kathmandu.
Second in importance only to the Boudhanath Stupa, the Swayambhunath complex, founded by King Manadeva during the fifth century, contains a stupa, temples, shrines, Tibetan monastery, museum and library.
The Stupa, re-gilded with 20 kilograms of gold in 2010, has a large white dome at its base, above which are painted four sets of Buddha’s eyes and eyebrow; further up the Stupa are found four pentagonal Toran (gateways) and thirteen tiers leading to the Stupa’s golden spire.
Monkeys live to the north-west of the complex; they are said to be holy because they grew out of head lice living in the bodhisattva (enlightened person) Manjusri’s long hair! Visitors should also inspect the carvings of the five Panch Buddhas found on each side of the Stupa, the two lions guarding the Stupa’s entrance, the adjacent Harati Devi Temple, Shantipur (a small temple northwest of the main stupa), and the Pratappur and Anantapur shrines.
P.S. While Swayambhunath lost one white brick chedi known as Anantapur it can be reconstructed. Moreover the rest of the iconic “monkey temple” still stands.
Bhimsen Tower (Dharahara)
Towering like a lighthouse over the labyrinthine old town, this white, minaret-like tower near the post office is a useful landmark. The views from 62m up – 213 steps above the city – are the best you can get. There is a small Shiva shrine right at the very top.
The tower was originally built in 1825/6 by the Rana prime minister, Bhimsen Thapa, for Queen Lalit as part of the city’s first European-style palace. It was rebuilt with nine storeys, two less than the original building, after it was severely damaged in the 1934 earthquake.
The tower had a spiral staircase containing 213 steps. The eighth floor held a circular balcony for observers that provided a panoramic view of the Kathmandu valley. It also had a 5.2-metre (17 ft) bronze mast on the roof.
Most of the tower collapsed in the 25 April 2015 Nepal earthquake, but the base remains. About 180 bodies were found in the rubble. The tower collapsed during lunch hour.
The Budhanilkantha statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, located approximately 10 kilometers from the center of Kathmandu at the base of the Shivapuri Hill, is the largest and most beautiful stone carving in all of Nepal. It is also the most enigmatic.
The focal point of the devotions at Budhanilkantha is a large reclining statue of Vishnu as Narayan, the creator of all life, who floats on the cosmic sea. From his navel grew a lotus and from the lotus came Brahma, who in turn created the world. The 5m-long Licchavi-style image was created in the 7th or 8th century from one monolithic piece of black stone and hauled here from outside the valley by devotees. It’s one of the most impressive pieces of sculpture in Nepal, and that’s saying something!
Only Hindus can approach the statue to leave offerings of fruit and flower garlands, but visitors can view the statue through the fence that surrounds the sacred tank.
Narayanhiti Palace Museum
The Narayanhiti Palace in Kathmandu was home to the country’s ill-fated royal family. Now their reign has ended their home has become a public museum.
Few things speak clearer to the political changes that have transformed Nepal over the last decade than this walled palace at the northern end of Durbar Marg. King Gyanendra was given 15 days to vacate the property in 2007 and within two years the building was reopened as a people’s museum by then prime minister Prachandra, the very Maoist guerrilla leader who had been largely responsible for the king’s spectacular fall from grace.
The locations where Prince Dipendra massacred his family in 2001 are rather morbidly marked, though the actual building was rather suspiciously levelled after the crime. Bullet holes are still visible on some of the walls. Just as interesting as the building are the locals’ reactions to it, as they peek at a regal lifestyle that for centuries they could only have dreamed about. Cameras and bags are not allowed inside the complex.