Part I: Kathmandu
It is 5am in the morning and the rising sun stretches over the horizon upon Mount Sarangkot. It is my second time in this land, and yet Nepal seems more magical than ever. With every trip I am discovering a new aspect of this sacred land and I fall in love with Nepal more deeply with every sunrise, every temple visit and every cup of masala chai shared in the company of friends.
The Nepali people are of a warm and friendly variety. They insist on addressing you as either ‘brother’ or ‘sister’. In the village, you can call out “Namaste!” to anybody and they will respond warmly with their hands clasped to their heart. There is no English translation for the word namaste but it means something like “I honor the spirit in you that is also in me”. I think it is truly the most beautiful greeting in the world.
My itinerary for this trip went Kathmandu –> Nagarkot –> Pokhara –> Kathmandu.
So let’s begin with Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal shall we?
I am of two minds about Kathmandu. While I love its wealth of cultural and spiritual abundance, I hate the noisy streets, lack of greenery and tangled electrical wires which threaten to electrocute us all. Not to mention that the airport is ridiculously lacking – one can expect to wait up to 3 hours for your baggage on a busy day.
Everything in Kathmandu is perpetually covered in a layer of grime – shopkeepers must meticulously dust off their wares. It does not help that construction works are going on following the 2015 Earthquake. Piles of rubble sit next to collapsed shrines and the main streets are filled with beggars. The heat and dust becomes overwhelming at times. My heart aches for this land which is so filled with potential but sadly has not realised it.
Yet Kathmandu has its beauty. My first stop in Kathmandu was to the Garden of Dreams which is an oasis of green amidst the dust and grime of the city. The gardens are usually tranquil but today is the Nepali New Year, a rest day, and the lawns are filled with chattering Nepali. I enjoyed a nice evening strolling along the park and drinking in its beauty. The day came to a close and the as sun dipped below the horizon, the gardens were illuminated with golden light.
Another highlight for me was visiting Pashupatinath Temple, one of the holiest Hindu temples in Nepal. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and attracts thousands of devotees every year.
We arrived in time to watch a traditional Hindu cremation ceremony. At the risk of sounding morbid I would like to share a little more about it.
Hindus believe that the human body consists of 5 elements – earth, water, fire, air and space. The cremation ceremony returns the body to the 5 elements. The body is burnt (fire) which releases the spirit (made out of space/ether) into the atmosphere (air). Subsequently the ashes (earth) are released into the sacred river Bagmati (water) which Hindus believe will carry the soul of the person to heaven.
I believe this ritual is significant as it reminds us that we cannot take anything from the physical world with us when we die. It is an important lesson in detachment for me. Also I think the concept of returning the body to the elements is a very elegant one.
Over at Pashupatinath, I also saw many sadhus, holy ascetics who have given up all material possessions to pursue a live of meditation and contemplation. Prior to their renunciation, sadhus come from all walks of life. Yes many of them were actually doctors and lawyers! In the picture below, I am receiving a blessing from one of them. He told me “No problems in your life now.” A nice sentiment because 2013-2015 were the roughest years in my life thus far. But we shall not dwell on unhappy things, positive vibes only 🙂
I spent my time in Kathmandu staying in a lovely hotel called Utse. It has a really lovely vibe and it’s run by a very friendly Tibetan couple. Fun fact, the owner used to be the bodyguard of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama and the Dalai Lama has personally blessed the hotel. I really loved the Tibetan breakfast there. The most interesting thing I had was Tibetan Salty Tea which is black tea with salty yak butter. Yes it sounds strange but it tasted really good! Some other favourite Nepalese dishes of mine are momo (dumplings) which you can find in many different varieties and naturally dhal baht (rice with lentil sauce) which is the staple food here.
And of course, one cannot miss out on shopping in Kathmandu. Walking along the streets of Thamel you can find many shops hawking all kinds of wares from t-shirts to singing bowls to crystals. The crystals are lovely and you can get jewelry at a really good price here. Bargain wisely as most of the shopkeepers will overcharge you at first. A must visit for me is the Pilgrims Book Store where you can get spiritual and self-growth books at a really good price.
Another super cool thing I did on this trip was to do a mountain flight over the Himalayan range. The views were stunning. We were so close to the snow-capped mountains it was almost as though you could reach out and touch them. Mother Nature is so beautiful and it makes me sad that many who climb the mountains pollute the surface with their littering.
I sadly did not get the chance to visit Patam Durbur Square (the old palace grounds) this time. But I highly recommend it if you ever make a trip down to Kathmandu. Some of the buildings were destroyed during the earthquake but the architecture is amazing and worth the trip.
So I believe this is all about Kathmandu for now. My next post will be about Nagarkot and Pokhara.
Until then, Namaste!