Nepal is a country that will always have my heart. There’s something about its breathtaking natural beauty, deep spirituality, and the resilience and warmth of its people that I will always feel a strong affinity for. This is my second trip back to Kathmandu, and here are the places you definitely don’t want to miss!
But for some of the most wonderful experiences in the dusty Kathmandu, we begin with the sprawling Swayambunath complex perched on a hilltop in Kathmandu valley. Literally meaning “sublime trees”, I couldn’t think of a more apt name for a place inspiring so much peace and equanimity.
The complex is made up of a stupa (above) and a collection of shrines and temples.
There were many devotees who came alone or with loved ones to pray and deliver offerings. The atmosphere was just so calm and we were fascinated by the sheer colour and intricacies of the artefacts on sale at these makeshift stalls.
One of the highlights for me at the Swayambunath is running into this holy man dressed head to toe in vibrant saffron.
I was thoroughly amazed to see him glide effortlessly across the complex despite being weighed down by thick robes and large strings of heavy beads around his neck. When I lifted my camera for a photo, he obliged with a smile, raising his right hand in a gesture of peace and welcome. Unforgettable..
Of course, it wasn’t just the temple complex that awed me. The sunlight falling on vast expanse of Kathmandu valley was similarly mesmerising. I couldn’t resist capturing this moment of angel lights caressing the bustling city in a valley.
Our next stop, the sacred ancient Hindu complex of Pashupathinath. Named after Nepal’s national deity, this temple precinct is built on the banks of the sacred Bagmati River. On special occasions, it can draw up to a million pilgrims from across the country.
I was absolutely enamoured by the architecture. And of course, what made the visit all the more memorable was getting inked and receiving blessings from these Sadhu, or holy men. They conduct ceremonies, fast and collect donations for the temple and the poor.
As you explore the complex, you’ll be entertained by these mischievous temple monkeys who seem to know just how to entice visitors to give them a delicious treat. People who lived at the temple take good care of them as you can see here.
As I was wandering around, I was approached by a friendly local Nepali who lived in the temple who offered to take me around. He pointed ahead toward a bridge on the Bagmati river and told me there was a cremation ceremony taking place, and relatives were burning offerings to the dead.
I quickly put my camera away. But he insisted, it’s okay. They won’t take offense. Take the photos. It’s something they want to commemorate. Looking around, I saw others filming the ceremony and so the journalist in me did so too. After all, this was such a rare and precious moment.
I was so humbled to be able to witness something so personal and spiritual in such a public space and it was definitely something visitors rarely get to observe.
We continued around the precinct as my lovely guide pointed out various artefacts symbolising fertility, captivating paintings of the Hindu gods Shiva, Ganesha and Vishnu. These were absolutely gorgeous!
I left the place learning so much more about the local Hindu practices, beliefs and got to know some of the locals living there. My heart was full.
On route to my next stop, we passed this rustic old ferris wheel that I fell in love with. As we were caught in a small jam, I amused myself squinting to see the children on the ride and imagining what it must be like to enjoy that great view of the valley from the top.
And before I knew it, we had arrived at the renowned Boudhanath stupa.
One of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world, the Boudhanath features two unblinking eyes — one representing Compassion, and the other, Wisdom.
Upon entering the compound, you’re immediately faced with the penetrating gaze, and I loved how luminous the stupa looked in the fading evening light. It glowed a beautiful gold and white. Wonderfully soothing for the soul.
Equally fascinating was finding that everyone in the area was constantly walking in a clockwise direction around the stupa. It felt like a pilgrimage, a wheel that never stopped turning. It was like a metaphor for the constant change and cycle of life and death in the Universe. Not a single person walked in the opposite direction.
Worshippers and visitors alike followed the rhythm around the stupa, the music of chanting and Tibetan singing bowls filled the air. It was so incredibly calming and my heart was filled with tranquility and peace. I really loved this place, and so lingered until the sun set.
The stupa was even more stunning at dusk.
The structure literally glowed a luminous gold, as the crowd thinned and I climbed up to one of the shophouse rooftops for some dinner at one of many family-run restaurants there.
And it was there I made two new friends! Dipa was so friendly and kept smiling at me as her little Nanu crawled over and wanting to play. In the end we all had dinner together while she shared about her life with me. And till today, we still keep in touch! The best part of exploring a new place is really the terrific people you meet.
Many visitors to Kathmandu marvel at the amount of dust in the city. It covers everything, and many locals have to wear face masks everywhere so they don’t inhale too much of it. But prepare for pretty much everything you buy to be covered in a thick layer of it.
Life hasn’t been easy for the residents of Kathmandu. It was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2015 that killed over 9,000 people and injured over 22,000 more. Worse yet, is the fact that the country has gone through many political upheavals that make rebuilding works and salvaging the economy an uphill climb. Nevertheless, the people soldier on, and do so with so much kindness. And it never fails to amaze me how much hope and resilience they embody despite their many hardships.
For an eye-opening experience, you’ll want to visit the Kumari Palace at Durbar square (which I have mixed feelings about) and even go for one of these 50-cent cups of delicious chai tea served in a small clay cup you could take home as a souvenir. There’s truly nothing like the warmth and hospitality of the Nepalis. I almost forget I’m not at home.
If Kathmandu has piqued your interest, don’t miss my previous posts on the quaint beauty of scenic Pokhara, and the unforgettable experience of making Tibetan momos in Yangchen’s home. If you want to know what you can do help the local communities, read more about my experiences at Rainbow Children’s Home. Enjoy! And do share your adventures in Nepal with me.