By: Piyush Raj Sinha (L&T-PT&D)
Lure of the enchanting Kathmandu valley
A subtle job description might definitely give opportunities to travel but rarely will you get a chance to wander along. The monologue is from one of the recent visits of Kathmandu which indeed turned out to be the most intriguing trip of the year. For people who have been yearning to be in the mountains, home away from home and visualize some of the famous world cultural heritage sites-Nepal, one of the most fascinating and diverse countries in the world, there’s something here for everybody.
Usually I am a huge fan of long road trips and mountain riding and Nepal has always been in my personal Forbes list. However when you have to travel not for your own tenacity of travelling and rather for the company who credits your monthly saving account, you end up diminishing all your wicked plans. Next, flaunting your passport with boarding pass of Kathmandu which till date I considered only an extended boundary of UP and Bihar in Asia’s best international terminal would probably have been the last of all my travel aspirations. However, the conclusion I encountered post this trip has differentiated by thoughts for this place.
I would recommend November and December to be the ideal time to kiss the valley. A long weekend is best to hit the streets of this budget destination.
Nepal in particular Kathmandu is not a new place I ventured for I have been here quite a few times but never with the thought to explore. There’s always a bit of an assault on the senses – traffic fumes mixing with incense, tout calls echoing through the honking, prayer flags if I looked up and souvenir shops bursting with treasure if I turned to either side. The post is just a preview of experiences and a teaser of impeccable locations to hit in your next sudden trip.
Places to visit and Top Things to do in Kathmandu
Patan- City of Fine Arts- As a note, there are three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley: one is in Kathmandu and the other two are in nearby Patan and Bhaktapur. All three are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Durbar Square is home to the old Royal Palace and dozens of temples. The grandeur of the palace can only be complete with the mention of various temples and structures built on the outside of frontal façade. The Kumari (princess) or Living Goddess also lives in a building inside the square. She is a young girl believed to be a manifestation of the divine female energy, Devi. That is the maximum extent of description possible from a turner who last visited a temple…Ah! I don’t remember.
But then Durbar square was a depressing sight, only a shadow of what it once was- I hadn’t realized just how much the earth quake in 2015 had devastated Nepal until witnessing it first-hand. Piles of stones and bricks lay everywhere and temples were held up by wooden supports.
From Durbar Square I found my way to Freak Street, named for the hippies that descended up on the area in the mid-90s. Unaware of the fact for what the street is famous for, dread-locked hippies can still be found in this area along with dealers selling hashish (drug made from cannabis) in side alleys. It is interesting to explore the core of the city and its heritage on foot (decoying myself from the fact that taxis are way expensive here) discovering interesting hidden treasures tucked away in narrow alleys and behind courtyards (I did not refer hashish).
With clock tickling, the next to rush for was the famous Pashupatinath Temple. It did give a punch from one of my favorite movie wherein Bunny is seen rushing to cover the maximum possible in a day. But then this place did make me realize what Naina really meant in the very next scene-‘Jitna bhi try karro…kuch na kuch toh chootega. Isliye, yehi is pal ka maza lete hai’. What I found most interesting, though perhaps most significant for me, they cremate people there. Like, all day every day. I heard a guide at the entrance, (he must be a genuine story teller inspired from the movie Tamasha) saying “we’re going to a place where they cremate people out in the open on the river.” Come again?
I’m a bit nauseous. To put it mildly, the thought of a paper cut makes me feel like I’m going to puke, let alone the thought of watching (and smelling) people be cremated. Now, I realize in Hindu culture death is viewed somewhat differently than in other cultures. Nonetheless I figured I’d be squeamish about the whole thing. To my surprise, I wasn’t. Instead it gave me a new perspective on death. In fact, Seeing this was one of my favorite part of Kathmandu visit, despite my initial hesitations. Would have loved to wait for the evening aarti of fuming diyas but then…..
One Mile at a time- The evening finally ended in Thamel-the heart of City- Thamel road, a busy tourist street lined with shops selling beautiful bright fabrics, Tibetan singing bowls, incense, bootleg hiking gear, Kukri swords, and other souvenirs. The street is always found buzzing with people and mopeds weaving, honking and driving on the opposite side of the road. It’s very difficult to drown out the incessant honking (it literally never stops).
Thamel is a bi-directional locality with extremes possible. One end has traditional Himalayan spas and roof top open café. I prefer to be numb on the other (Though you can ping me for information sharing if your curiosity ignites like it always dwells within me.) Eating can take many forms in Thamel – to start with Nepali cuisine, you are in Nepal after all. Head to Veg Momo Restaurant for an incredible Daal Bhat tarkari and a selection of momos which include paneer, mushroom and chicken varieties. If you’re keen to try Tibetan, you can’t go wrong with Yangling, who now have two branches in Thamel. They do a delicious bowl of Thenduk (Tibetan thick pasta) soup and all for very reasonable prices. If you fancy something a little more fiery, Western Tandoori, perhaps one of Thamel’s best hidden gems dishes up cheap as chips Indian dishes with fresh from the tandoor (naan bread). If you’ve just come from travelling in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, this place will bring back many memories of a classic Indian backstreet treat.
Further down Thamel is Swambhunath Stupa more commonly just called Monkey Temple mesmerized by the sounds, smells and colors of the city. The Stupa sits on a hill high above the Kathmandu Valley. You have to climb 365 steps to reach the stupa, but the views from the top and the stupa itself is more than worth the effort. The monument is white with a tiered golden top and the all-knowing eyes of the Buddha painted into it, looking out over the Kathmandu Valley. Actually, aside from the bright colored fabrics and dresses displayed in store fronts, the rest of the city is covered by dust and smog.
An experience of lifetime- The Everest flight- Next day involved work. A lot of office work. But I was not convinced. You are in Nepal, you love to go on trek. You love mountains. And still the Everest was not a part of your Instagram Posts. A trek to Everest was not the part of thought process. But in a night googling I learned about the Everest Flight. O’pet for trekking, I may not have scaled the giant and magnificent Mount Everest but I have been in the “Everest Experience” flight, which takes about one hour encountering the tallest mountains of the world, exploring the snow caved Everest amidst cloud porn to its nearest proximity along with more than four 8000m mountains. The closest anyone can get through (not by foot) bare eyes. Visual of a lifetime indeed. Extra-ordinary and outstanding. But how can extra ordinary be synonymous with outstanding? It seemed like a contradiction. Then I looked it up and realized the extra does not mean “super” ordinary, but rather “out of” or “beyond”.
A 120 USD tour package which involves hotel pick up at morning 5AM, 1 Hour flight post which you can see your nose punched on the window glass and a drop back to your hotel room by 9:00 AM so that you can leave for your work by 10:00AM. 10/10 for my dedicated planning skill. And an investment worth for its return.
Next morning was the time to ‘Bid Adieu’ to the memorable 2 days spent. Fortunate are those who have a kick start and a concrete end. The perk of boarding an early morning flight was inundated. If you are blessed and your pilot enthralling, you can once again experience the first sunlight kissing the snow flaked mountains and your pilot making every range count through his running commentary.
There is a quote from Hilary Cooper- “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. “
These moments can be counted, few would be definitely from the memories I take back from here.