We spent our final 3 days of Nepal in the Kathmandu valley. Amid beauty, pollution, serenity and squalor. We have 3 other blog entries from our time around Pokhara that we would normally sequence first. But at risk of overwhelming with photos, I wanted to share with you some images of the beautiful side of Kathmandu before the quake hit. We know you’re seeing lots of the destroyed Kathmandu in the news.
Our trip back to Kathmandu from Pokhara was so much more pleasant than the trip to Pokhara. The sun was shining, we were again on the correct side of the bus for river viewing, and mostly, Jake wasn’t throwing up.
As you approach within 1 hour of Kathmandu from Pokhara you begin to climb out of the deep river valley. The sheer drops down to the river and the ubiquitous steep slopes take on new meaning now as rescue crews try to navigate to the outlying villages through landslides and instability.
Kathmandu suffers from high levels of pollution – especially air pollution.
We took the local buses around but they creep, amidst the crazy traffic. Face masks are a must, and we bought and wore them. I just couldn’t imagine commuting amidst this every day. But of course, you do what you need to do.
We spent our first few days of Nepal in the tourist Thamel area of Kathmandu. During these final three days we visited two of the cultural districts just east of Kathmandu – the Buddhist “stupa” (round temple) of Boudhanath and the ancient city of Bhaktapur.
Boudhanath is the largest Buddhist temple in Asia. It is simply awesome.
Built about 1500 years ago, it was traditionally a stopping point for traders coming to/from Lhasa in Tibet. It is still a very important Buddhist center. Buddhist monasteries surround the stupa and there are many educational workshops (meditation, thangka painting) for Buddhists and tourists alike. The monks are easily recognized by their maroon gowns with gold ornamentation. Most of them apparently are Tibetan refugees from the Chinese invasion/occupation who started arriving around 1959.
A number of music CD shops surround the stupa, and many of them pipe out the Buddhist mantra “Om mani padme hum”. It became embedded in our consciousness. To help get in the spirit of Boudanath and Bhaktapur, click here to load the chant in the background while you read.
Boudhanath is a well known spot for “thangkas”. At a basic level, thangkas are phenomenally detailed paintings done on cotton by monks. But they represent much more than art. It takes anywhere from a week to a month of continuous work to complete one (sitting 8 or more hours per day) and this represents a form of meditation. Thangkas most often are done in one of two forms; the circle of life, and the circle of time. Both of these representations follow established forms, and represent many important Buddhist teachings. We went into one of the centers where Buddhists are trained in the art form, and saw the progression of talent from beginner to intermediate to advanced to master. We had no intention of making a purchase but were so taken with the stories and details represented that we bought one. The money goes to the school and monasteries for general use; the monk/artist receives nothing directly as a result of a sale and does not, in my understanding, do it as a commercial activity.
We really enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere of Boudhanath for a couple days. There were some fantastic roof-top cafe’s that overlooked the stupa, and we found some very cheap, tasty local eating spots.
Our guesthouse was on the higher side of our budget but accommodation is a premium here, with so much interest from monks and tourists.
I was happy to learn that the Boudhanath stupa itself survived the earthquake, and suffered only some cracks to the spire. The Buddha still looks out across Kathmandu. Buildings around the stupa were however heavily damaged.
We spent our last full day in Nepal in the ancient city of Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur was the capital of the kingdom of Nepal up to the 1500s and it represents the best preserved (until last week 😦 ) ancient architecture of Nepal. UNESCO designated the city as a world heritage site because of its buildings, wood and steel carvings and especially its temples.
Although the city is also popular for tourists, it is a fantastically alive, vibrant city of 300,000. We wandered the narrow streets, contemplated the temples, marveled at the carving, soaked in the music, enjoyed the momos, sipped coffee, and enjoyed the renowned Bhaktapur curd (yoghourt). Hopefully the photos below convey a sense of the city’s vibrancy.
Bhaktapur was breathtaking. But it was devastated in the earthquake. Apparently more than 50% of the buildings were destroyed. 80% of the many temples were destroyed. I don’t know the status of the temple 3 photos ago, but can guess. But I do know the status of the stone temple in the middle of my photo above. Look below.
I know many of these very sad before and after photos are surfacing in the media. We spent a few hours on our 2nd day in Nepal hanging out at Kathmandu’s Durbar square.
I take some comfort from knowing how strong Nepalis’ Hindu and Buddhist beliefs are. I read the Dalai Lama’s autobiography during my last week in Nepal and Kaia is reading now. We soaked in some of the Buddhist thoughts during our last several days in Nepal. They are compassionate people that will take care of each other. I saw the t-shirt below in one of the tourist shops that surrounded the Boudanath stupa.
I will leave you with my favorite photo from Nepal. This little girl came running out of her house to greet me as I was finishing my solo trek to Mardi Himal.