Although famous for its mountains (especially the big one), Nepal often lives in the shadow of India when it comes to culture. However, driving through the narrow roads of Kathmandu, its clear that this place is as different from India as chocolate cake is from cheese cake. People look different and talk different (though the food tastes the same). Kathmandu is a boiling pot of cultures and this Country, less than 1/20th the size of India, boasts of 120 native languages.
Kathmandu Valley is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its beautiful and historically significant temples. Since the Buddha was born in Southern Nepal, many temples are Buddhist, even though 80% of the population is Hindu.
Located bang in the centre of Kathmandu, this temple complex sneaks up on you as you wander through Kathmandu’s narrow crowded streets. Tiny cramped Newari buildings make way for majestic temples and palaces. Most of the locals take these magnificent buildings for the most normal thing possible and are understandably more interested in maneuvering through the crowd.
The oldest temple in Nepal and one of the most important Hindu temples in the World, Pashupatinath stands on the banks of a tiny river and dates back from 400 A.D. Since only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple, visitors must content themselves with attempting to snatch a glimpse of the temple from across the banks of the river. However, in case that sounds a bit too mild for your taste, then the cremation of the dead along the banks of the river should give you something to write home about.
Although the stupa of this temple complex stands tall on a hill, looming over all of Kathmandu, this temple is not about the temple. Its about the monkeys. Which is why it’s commonly known as the Monkey Temple. Monkeys reign supreme here and are always on the alert for an easy meal. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself on the losing end. The monkey temple is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists and is second only to Boudhanath. Stunning views of Kathmandu are to be had at the top of the intimidating flight of stairs and if you’re lucky, the Himalayas might grace the background of your panoramic shot by peeking out from behind the clouds.
Despite the thousands that flock to Boudhanath, the most sacred pilgrimage site for Buddhists, a sense of zen overpowers all the noise and chaos surrounding this temple. The stupa is one of the largest in the World and sitting at a cafe on the terrace of on the the adjoining buildings gives you a birds eye view of the entire canvas. Numerous monasteries have been constructed by refugee Tibetans all around the temple complex creating a maze of tiny lanes with the stupa towering over all the neighbourhood buildings.
Pathan Durbar is a small city a few kilometers south of Kathmandu. The Durbar Square here used to be a palace for the Kings of a bygone era and has now been converted to a museum dedicated to presenting Hindu Gods by displaying artifacts found in Nepal. More impressive than the collection is the ancient building that has been beautifully restored and gives you a glimpse into the past. It also overlooks the entire Durbar Square.
If you’ve had enough of temples to last a lifetime, I wouldn’t blame you. Here’s what you could do to drown the pain.
Thamel is Kathmandu’s tourist central. White people gather here by the truckload as if intimidated by the rest of Kathmandu. Jokes apart, Thamel is undoubtedly the best place to get a drink and take in some great live music. A hot Newari meal must be sampled before you leave Nepal and what better place than Thamel House. Be warned that if you do stray into any of the shops, you’re more likely than no to walk out a North Face billboard because everything is THAT cheap.
This is no normal museum. Its a strange strange place somehow overlooked by tourists. Located right next to the Monkey Temple, this nondescript building houses an extensive collection of dead animals preserved in bottles of formaldehyde. The museum is worth a visit for its collection of snakes alone.
Step out of the chaos of the streets and into a secret enclave that could even be in another Country or another era. The Garden of Dreams lives up to the high expectations its name sets. Relax under a tree with a book or pay an arm for a meal at the cafe – its upto you.