Thursday, May 1st
Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is a large urban area which now includes several previously separate cities, such as Bhaktapur and Patan (which we both visited later on). It is located just south of the Himalayas in the Kathmandu valley. The city has a population of 3 million (Nepal as a whole has about 30 million). Even though Kathmandu is now mostly known as the jumping off point for Himalayan climbing and trekking trips, the city itself has a very rich and long history, and there a many monuments in the city and the surrounding Kathmandu valley, eight of which have been dedicated as the Kathmandu Valley Unesco World Heritage Site.

Durbar Square:
After breakfast in the hotel, we took a taxi to Durbar Square. It is the main city square, which is filled with numerous temples and pagodas of different styles and sizes. It is also crowded with lots of people, many vendors selling food and drinks, people worshiping in the temples everywhere, or just hanging out in the many restaurants and cafes surrounding the area. We spent a couple of hours walking around the square seeing the many pagodas covered in intricate and beautiful carvings.
To one side of Durbar square is the Kumari Ghar, which is the royal palace where the Kumari lives. The Kumari is a pre-pubescent girl, which is being worshiped as a living goddess by the country’s Buddhists as well as some Hindus. There are several Kumaris in Nepal, but the Royal Kumari here in Kathmandu is the most important one. The girl is chosen from a particular ethnic clan through a rigorous selection process (minimum requirements are that she has to be “in excellent health, never have shed blood or been afflicted by any diseases, be without blemish and must not have yet lost any teeth”). Once she is chosen she spends her entire childhood in the palace. The current Kumari was chosen in 2008 when she was four years old. She appears in the window above the inner court yard several times a day. We waited for a while to see if she would come out, but one of the guards told us that she is having her lunch now, so we didn’t get to see her.

Many of the temples are covered in beautiful and intricate wood carvings, including quite a few erotic scenes:

We went and saw the palace museum, which was very interesting. It is filled with old photographs of the monarchs and their visits around the world. They also have all of the gifts from foreign dignitaries, as well as many of the kings hunting trophies (including some very "tasteful" items like a large standing lamp made out of a giraffe’s leg). Nepal has been a republic since 2008, after they abolished the monarchy (following the massacre of most of the royal family in 2001 by the crown prince, although there are various conspiracy theories about who was really responsible).

The Monkey Temple:

In the afternoon we drove out to the Swayambhunath complex (also part of the Unesco World Heritage dedication), which is better known as the Monkey Temple. The temple is not only one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal, it is also one of the oldest religious sites. The history of the temple can be traced back to at least the 5th century AD, but there may have been religious buildings here even earlier.

The temple is situated on top of a hill in the North of Kathmandu. It was pouring down when we got there, but we slowly made our way up the 350 stairs, seeking shelter under the trees a couple of times whenever the rain got heavier. Fortunately it started clearing up a bit when we got to the top.

The large stupa in the centre of temple is surrounded by lots of smaller pagodas and other monastery buildings. Even though it was quite hazy, the views over the city were quite spectacular from up here.

We spent a couple of hours at the complex, and had a coffee in a small cafe behind the temple, where we saw some of the holy monkeys, which give the temple its name, climb across the roofs. We walked down the other side of the hill and got a taxi from there back to the hotel.

After a short rest, we walked to the Thamel area of the city. This is the main trekking and backpacking tourist area, full of outdoor and climbing shops (filled with apparently mostly counterfeit outdoor gear). We had dinner at a restaurant called Kilroys, which was OK, not particularly great. Our attempt to have dinner on the roof top terrace was foiled by a spectacularly torrential down pour.

     Back to Main Menu                              Next Chapter

No comments:

Post a Comment