The flight to Kathmandu from Delhi displayed, once again, the contrast between their security and efficiency to ours in the USA. Not only did we go to the usual security entering the airport, but a second round before boarding the airplane. In spite of the flight being barely over an hour, we were served a tasty hot lunch. I was impressed.
The drive through the City to our hotel was fascinating. Once again, sidewalks were practically nonexistent for the most part and there were endless arrays of shops and stalls with colorful displays. In some areas, the garbage was piled high, although I’m not sure whether this was an usual circumstance, or a result of the Goddess Festival that was taking place here as well as in India. We arrived towards its culmination and, again, I would suggest avoiding going at that time since it adversely affected traffic and access to some sites at certain times. Some places, like restaurants, also closed.
Our hotel, the Soaltee Crowne Plaza, had a guard gate, and they scanned the van with metal detectors before admitting it inside the grounds. Here too the luggage also was scanned. The hotel was modern and not
far from the major attractions in town. A $5 taxi fee would get you to or from Thamel. It had several restaurants, including a Chinese one, and beautiful grounds where, one night, they had a concert.
Our first full day in Kathmandu started with a flight to view the Himalayas. How close these flights get depends a lot on whether conditions so it could be a thrilling experience, or not. Some days they are cancelled altogether. Our flight encountered a lot of clouds so I believe we did not come as close as it would have on a clearer day. However, the beauty of the spectacular chain of mountains was unforgettable, even at a distance. The airport we took off from was a secondary small airport, but the security here was also tight to get on the planes.
On our return from the hour-long flight, we drove to Dhulikhel, a Newari town known for having spectacular views of the Himalayas. We stopped at a hotel with a beautiful multi-level platform with amazing views of the rice terraces and the mountains in the background. In this idylic setting we were able to enjoy some refreshments since it was hot.
The drive, unfortunately, was congested and slow, and much longer than it normally took due to the Festival. However once we left the city behind the drive was through lush countryside with beautiful hills and rice field terraces. I particularly enjoyed the huge statue of Vishnu serenely watching from a hill side.
Afterwards, we doubled back to visit the medieval city of Bhaktapur, known as the “City of Devotees,” named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was my introduction to Newari ancient architecture and remains one of my favorite experiences in Nepal. Walking along the maze of winding streets to the temples dating back to the 13th
century. I was enthralled by the exquisite good carvings, although at this Durbar Square as in the other locations the damage caused by the 2015 earthquake is still extensive. Some sites are being repaired, some others are rubble. Still, the Golden Gate, the Palace of Fifty-Five Windows, and the Taleju Temple complex were unforgettable. My favorite was Nyatapola, the five-storied temple in Taumadhi Square with its fascinating statue flanked staircase and beautiful pagoda. That remained my favorite throughout the trip.
We stopped here for lunch, at the second level balcony of
a small restaurant, which looked as old as some of the other sites in the Square and provided a nice view of the square. I enjoyed one of the local beers, Everest. I continued this tradition during most of my meals, checking out as much of a variety of beers as I was able. The prices were very reasonable, and my chilli pork dish was tasty and filling, and nothing like the chili I'm used to.
It was a memorable visit.
Equally interesting was the following visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pashupatinath. The copper roofs with gold cover of the pagoda were visible from a long distance.
On the banks of the holy Bagmati River it is dedicated to Lord Shiva and one of the most sacred Hindu Shrines in the world, as well as the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu. Although only Hindus are allowed to enter the premises, we were able to observe from across the river the funeral ghats, a series of cremation platforms spread along the river. It was daunting knowing that cremations were happening as we looked. It was also strange watching swimmers in the river across fro the
ghats, since a lot of the ashes are scattered there but, although at first I thought it was recreational swimming, I later learned it is part of the cremation ritual for the lead mourner who presided over the cremation to purify the body in the holy river afterwards.
Further down along the temple, we were also able to observe some ritual celebrations of the goddess festival that were taking place, with much singing involved, quite in contrast to the somber burning pyres nearby.
Our last stop for the day was Boudhanath, the largest Stupa of its kind in the world. Dating back to the 5th
century, this Buddhist monument has a total of 108 images of Buddha on its base and hundreds of prayer wheels each engraved with the mantra om mani padme hum set into 147 niches around the mesmerizing structure. Thousands of prayer flags surround the perimeter of the complex, from the top of the stupa downwards, in the colors (blue, white, red, green, and yellow) arranged in specific order and each representing an element. Blue for sky, white for air, red for fire, green for water, yellow for earth, their prayers and mantras being blown
by the wind and spreading good will and compassion. I think they work. Of a certainty, there was a different vibe in Nepal.
I was particularly touched by the Tibetan refugees that have made the area surrounding this monument their home. They still hold on to their traditions, and costumes and you can easily identify them from their clothing while they walk around the stupa with prayer wheels, chant, and pray.
The whole area was a fascinating mix of religious sites, shops, and devotees. Prominent were shops of Thangka paintings. I regret not getting one, but there was too much of a variety for an easy decision.
We ended the day with a lively dinner at a traditional Nepalese restaurant that featured a show of various dances from the different regions. The food was good, served in the traditional golden plates and cups, and we enjoyed the customary welcome drink, poured with perfect accuracy from a height by one of the hostesses. It was incredibly strong, and I sipped very cautiously to make sure I could finish it. It was an enjoyable experience.
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