Come walk with me through the streets of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal! From historical sites and famous Hindu and Buddhist temples, to the city’s outskirts, where you hardly ever see any outsiders.
I was lucky to live in the capital’s different parts, from its touristic center to some remote areas, and I always enjoyed exploring this vibrant city. This is my attempt to recreate a realistic portrait of Kathmandu.
Kathmandu is a big city with a population of almost 1 million. Thamel is the heart of Kathmandu, it’s touristic and commercial center. Thamel’s streets are bustling with guest houses, restaurants, shops and such. Although very touristic, it’s still super authentic and never stops surprising you!
Thamel is just overloaded with trekking companies, offering tours around Nepal and treks to the Himalayas. I’m sure most of them are good, however I was lucky that my couchsurfing hosts had an office of their own – Apex Himalaya Treks. Highly recommended:)
Rickshaw “parking lot” (or chilling spot?)
We peeped in inside one of the hidden yards and found a lady cooking and selling some simple food, like boiled eggs. It was like a hidden mini cafe for the locals: My couchsurfing host Bimal in a traditional male’s Nepali hat topi
Pictures of these beauties ain’t free! They’d cover their faces if you’re not willing to pay.
This one didn’t mind though:)
Thamel actually has quite a few very nice rock and reggae bars/ clubs. And it’s not only for the tourists, local youth is all over, smoking hookah and enjoying themselves. My fave place was ‘Purple Haze’, with live rock music and a crazy dance floor:)
DURBAR (ROYAL) SQUARE
Durbar Square is the historical heart of Kathmandu. Until the 19th century its Royal Palace was the residence of the Nepali Kings and place where ceremonies, like coronations, took place. The Square is the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There’re a few beautiful temples on the Durbar Square. Most are only open for people of Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Unfortunately, quite a few buildings were damaged during the earthquake on April 25, 2015.
Fierce Goddess Kali gathers the biggest “crowd”. Kali is called the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation and Destruction.
And this is what stroke me probably the most: Nepal is the only country that has a living goddess, her name is Kumari. A living goddess!!! It’s a girl chosen through an “ancient and mystical selection process” to become the human incarnation of the Hindu mother goddess, Durga.
This is Kumari Chok, where she lives. At a certain time of the day the girl appears in the window for a few moments, so that we, simple mortals, can look and worship.
This is Kumari (the current one) in her traditional make-up and attire (Pic not mine, thanks Google images:). Kumari’s feet cannot touch the ground, so she is always carried by guards. She stays a Goddess till her first bleeding (including, if she cuts herself!), then a new one is selected. The problem is: how do you go back to a normal life after being a goddess??
When Kumari appeared in that window, everyone fell silent. After a minute or so the window was closed. I think I saw sadness in her eyes. For sure, this is not an easy childhood. But perhaps, instead of ‘sad’, I should say ‘serious, mindful and solemn’.
SWAYUMBHUNATH (THE MONKEY TEMPLE)
We went to the famous Monkey Temple after sunset, and I really do recommend that. It’s not that crowded, it’s free (!), everything is lit up and of golden color. You can observe how monkeys are getting ready for sleep and are dividing territory. You can look at the night Kathmandu from above. And in general, the experience is more intimate.
Boudhanath is one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world! It’s height is 36 meters. Stupa is located pretty far from the city center, in the North-Eastern outskirts of Kathmandu. It’s a very Buddhist part of the city, with over 50 Tibetan monasteries around!
According to the Buddhist tradition, you can only walk around the Stupa clock-wise:
Symbols on the Buddhist temple: Dharma-wheel and two deer. The Wheel symbolizes the Buddha’s turning the Wheel of Truth (Law). Deer are a reference to the Buddha’s first teaching in the Deer Park, when animals came to listen to him.
A man spinning Tibetan prayer wheel, with mantras written on them. The belief is that spinning these wheels is the same as reciting these mantras/ prayers
I was lucky to live nearby, so I spent endless hours sitting by the stupa, looking in the strict and calm Buddha’s eyes:) They look in all four directions, representing the omniscient mind of a Buddha. The monastery I worked at was also not too far from Boudhanath.
This is an important Hindu Temple, located in the Eastern outskirts of Kathmandu. It’s dedicated to God Shiva.
For tourists it’s a notorious attraction, because you can observe cremations of the bodies along the river bank in the temple. One side is for the poor. Another – for more wealthy deceased. On the picture you can see a ‘wealthy’ ceremony: the family hired an entire band to play at the cremation, everyone is wearing white, the body is ‘drowning’ in flowers.
The river is extremely filthy, filled with burnt logs, coals, ashes, flowers, and who knows what else. There’s always a smog there. And the smell is very specific… But this is how most of us, tourists, see it.
Hinduists from every corner of Nepal and India come here for the last few weeks of their lives, to die. It is believed that those who die in Pashupatinath Temple are reborn as a human, regardless of any misconduct that could worsen their karma.
It’s website says: ‘Spirit of death can be felt here. It is a temple with special atmosphere of death; death is present in almost every ritual and every corner of it.’ What a deep and interesting cultural difference though…
They are eager to pose for pictures if you give them some money… For this reason, photo cred goes to Nikolay Roubin.And this is like a ‘social’ accommodation for poor and elderly/ lonely people by Pashupatinath. We walked around and even inside the tiny overcrowded rooms. Sad sight. But again, perhaps they feel blessed to be next to such a sacred place of death? Don’t want to make assumptions…
STREETS LESS EXPLORED
Now let me take you to the places where you won’t see many – if any – tourists. These are regular streets, outside of touristic and big commercial areas. Where common Kathmandu-dwellers live their everyday lives.
These are common street scenes. The road quite wide and it’s very crowded. Traffic is unregulated (dare to cross the road!) and cars are honking non-stop. North-East Kathmandu
This is a common mini-bus: so crammed that people have to hang outside. One time I also took a ride like that, standing on the ledge, hanging. Lot’s of impressions:) The ticket guy packs everyone in, and either hangs outside as well or climbs inside through the window. North-West outskirts of Kathmandu.
In a sari shop being helped by my Nepali friend Sraddha
Endless tiny shops, selling nothing and everything at the same time. Guys hanging out lazily in front of them
Trash is a big issue, it’s everywhere. There are absolutely no trash cans, so people just toss trash on the side of the road, or wherever.
Dogs are also everywhere, and lots of times they run in packs. Sometimes at night it was hard to fall asleep, because of the dogs howling
Boys trying to climb a monastery wall
Kids playing in a dumpster
I fell in love with Kathmandu with all my heart. It’s not an easy city to live. It’s an easy city to be an oblivious tourist in. But if you go a little beyond, you’ll keep on discovering hidden gems all over. Well, and of course, the biggest gem are it’s friendly and simple people:)