NEPAL: Kartwheeling in KathmanduOn the streets of Kathmandu sandwiched between, buses, military trucks, tuk tuks, and all manner of motor bikes with flat wooden pallets fused to a frame and four bike tyres that were pushed along by skinny men selling everything from peanuts and spices to exotic fruit and vegetables – even the rubbish collection was done with a push-bike cart!
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2012
Dogs wandered out of dingy doorways to sniff the air as drizzle peppered the broken pavement and pot-holed streets which were in darkness as there is virtually no street lighting in Kathmandu. I found a warm bar where locals still smoked cigarettes indoors. I ordered Nasi Goring to fill my stomach and a bottle of Everest beer to ease the pain of my sudden bout of toothache.
I awoke the next morning to look out of my hotel window across a swathe of Kathmandu and it all looked hazy, exotically strange and intriguing. The first thing I did before breakfast was walk down the street to a medicinal store where I bought antibiotics. They were available over the counter without a prescription for just US$4 – quite amazing.
Later that morning I felt strong enough to wander around the side streets in Thamel without a map for a couple of hours just going where my feet and whim took me. Sights and smells I'd forgotten about such as incense burned to cover the smell of rotting rubbish and open drains, lifeless and lawless scraggy dogs, broken and uneven roadways, prayer wheels and shrines and everywhere the image of Buddha. There were beggars, wizened old women with gold nose rings, men hoiking and spitting on narrow streets, honking motor-bikes and bustling noisy Tuk Tuks, men in dingy cubby holes pressed the pedals of Singer sewing machines, bike and motorbike repair shops coated in dust, dental clinics displayed false teeth in the window and everything was for sale including beaten brass, big bras, braided boots, bags of spices and seeds, brightly woven blankets and battered bananas! It was weird and wonderful, a chaotic snapshot of Kathmandu life overflowed down every alley and around every corner.
In places ducks waddled and quacked, the odd cow grazed as did a group of tethered goats! It was as I remember it 28 years ago except very much more crowded and noisier. Locals dressed in denim and leather jackets now talked into mobile phones. The hotel lobby and streets in Thamel were full of much older tourists, not backpackers as I last remembered; French, German, Americans, English and Australians were clothed ready for some serious hiking! Maybe those people were the same backpackers like me coming back 28 years later?
On the streets of Kathmandu sandwiched between, buses, military trucks, tuk tuks, and all manner of motor bikes with flat wooden pallets fused to a frame and four bike tyres that were pushed along by skinny men selling everything from peanuts and spices to exotic fruit and vegetables – even the rubbish collection was done with a push-bike cart!
Thamel is a melting pot of century old cultures and traditions, so it’s therefore not surprising to find yourself getting caught up in a religious festival, a street spectacle or colourful holiday parade. If you are lucky enough to be in the city when such an event is celebrated then you can expect vibrant fanfare and passion and a glimpse through the lush window of Nepalese life that can evoke beauty, allure and mystery . . . this is what makes this city so very special.
Most visitors today spend a few nights in Kathmandu acclimatizing and getting to know their surroundings. Kartwheeling between the well-known tourist sites and the narrow alleyways in Thamel is a priority for most tourists. So to get the best out of Kathmandu here is a short list that will give you all the sights and smells (literally) during a brief interlude in this wonderful Himalayan city.
Thamel is a stylish district located just north of Durbar Square in the very heart of Kathmandu where the vast majority of travellers and backpackers stay when they first arrive in the city. It is the main hangout for backpackers and these days it's labyrinth of passageways is crammed full of hotels, cafes, restaurants and shops catering to tourists and locals alike. It´s very practical to stay here as you can find a variety of shops selling outdoor gear, maps and guide books and many other things you might need for a trip beyond the reaches of the city. It is also the part of Kathmandu where trekking tours can be booked. If you plan on exploring the steamy jungles in the south of Nepal or the trekking high into the Himalayas . . . Thamel is the best place to buy extra equipment and glean valuable information and advice.
Regarded as the most sacred temple of Hindu Lord Shiva in the world, Pashupatinath Temple, with its astonishing architectural beauty, stands as a symbol of faith, religion, culture and tradition. It dates back to 400 A.D. The richly-ornamented pagoda houses the sacred linga or phallic symbol of Lord Shiva. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to pay homage to this temple that is also known as 'The Temple of Living Beings'.
In August, during the Teej festival, thousands of women visit the temple to bathe in the holy waters of the Bagmati River. Because this ritual is meant to bring a long and happy marriage, many women dress in red saris, which are traditionally worn for wedding ceremonies. Full moon and New moon days are also considered auspicious to visit the temple.
Boudhanath - TheWorld’s Second Largest Stupa:
The great stupa of Boudhanath (meaning lord of wisdom) standing 43m in height is approximately six kilometers north east from the centre of Kathmandu valley. The stupa is one of the most important places of pilgrimage for the Buddhist believer. In the past, when the trade routes to central and western Tibet were fully open, traders, pilgrims and travellers sought blessings at the stupa for safe passage over the mountain passes and gave thanksgiving to it on arrival in the Kathmandu valley. Today, it towers over a small Tamang village that since the arrival of Tibetan refuges in the 1960s has become a thriving town of monasteries, craftsmanship and businesses catering to tourists. Boudhanath stupa is a symbol of Nepal, a tribute to its rich spirituality and culture symbolizing a remnant of the past and a stepping stone to the future – it should be on everybody’s must-see list – no wonder it’s listed as a World Heritage Site.
Nepal Art is unique, exotic and enchanting. Nepalese expressions of art, classical and modern style, are embedded in the daily practice of religion. Craftsmanship is most easily found in temples, architecture, shrines, fountains and the designs of religious objects. Just across the river from Kathmandu lies the Patan Museum. Located in the palace complex of Patan Durbar Square, the Patan Museum houses some unique medieval works in bronze. The earliest specimens date back to 11th century or even earlier to the Lichhavi period. Most of the exhibits are deities from the Buddhist pantheon such as images of Buddhas and Lokeswore and in lesser number there are icons from Hindu pantheon like Vishnu and other deities.
Hanuman Dhoka (The Old Palace)
With several complexes spread over an area of about five acres, this is the social, religious and urban focal point of Kathmandu. The square is a complex of palaces, courtyards and temples that were built between the 12th and the 18th centuries by the ancient Malla Kings of Nepal. Start from the entrance of the square and on entering the palace or Durbar Square, there lies a 17th century statue of Hanuman, covered in red clothes and holding an umbrella. This is a highly revered statue by the believers of Hinduism. On the left is an interesting sculpture of Lord Narasimha, the half-lion incarnation of Lord Vishnu, tearing apart the demon Hiranyakasipu. The statues and sculptures are indeed overwhelming.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO GUIDE:
Shane Boocock would like to thank World Expeditions in Auckland for the outstanding organisation that went into arranging his journey to Nepal and Himalayan trek, staying in their purpose built, permanent tented camps and eco-lodges in the Solo Khumbu region of Everest.
World Expeditions is at the forefront of developing permanent tented campsites in the mountain regions of Nepal where they operate. It’s proven to be a far more private experience staying in a permanent tent site than eating and sleeping in a crowded tea-house used by other trekking organisations. By setting a whole range of new standards, there is far less chance of catching infections as they sterilize all their own equipment, plates and cutlery etc. Each campsite has just eight large, head-high standing room two-man tents, each with single raised beds and mattresses. They also have purpose-built stone huts for use as communal dining/breakfast rooms, composting toilets, use recycled paper and collect tank water for clients use.
Shane Boocock would also like to sincerely thank Kathmandu for their generous support and use of their high-quality outdoor clothing and equipment that was supplied for his trip to Nepal. T: 0800 001 234 or visit www.kathmandu.co.nz to find your nearest store.
If you would like to read this article in full or licence it for your own publication, please click here to contact Shane.