Streets of Kathmandu: from Durbar to Dumpsters

IMG_4702_txt

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.

 

THAMEL

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!

IMG_1102

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:)

IMG_1106

Rickshaw “parking lot” (or chilling spot?)

IMG_1116
IMG_1117

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: IMG_1127My couchsurfing host Bimal in a traditional male’s Nepali hat topi

IMG_1130

IMG_1137 IMG_1139

This is the dentists’ street (brrrr:) Besides the fact that there’re dentist offices here, you can nail a coin to this God and the tooth pain will be relieved. So they say! IMG_1140

IMG_1144

IMG_1146

IMG_1148

Pictures of these beauties ain’t free! They’d cover their faces if you’re not willing to pay.

IMG_1156

This one didn’t mind though:)

IMG_1162Street food

IMG_1158Food market

IMG_1184

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:)

IMG_4661

 

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.

IMG_1164

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.

IMG_1166

Fierce Goddess Kali gathers the biggest “crowd”. Kali is called the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation and Destruction.

IMG_1169

IMG_1170Nepali granny selling corn kernels for those willing to feed the pigeons

IMG_1174By the King Tribhuwan Memorial Museum with a guard dressed in the traditional King’s army uniform. Yellow socks though! So hipster:)

IMG_1180The view on Durbar square and surroundings from the top of the museum.

IMG_4560And 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.

IMG_4563This 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’.

Nepal Festival

Nepali flag, Nepali pride. Throughout the history, Nepal has never been conquered or ruled by another country. Tough folks!IMG_4568Drinking some sketchy acidic street juice

IMG_4580

 

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.

IMG_1210

IMG_1215Motherly love

IMG_1229Swayumbunath is an excellent example how Hinduism and Buddhism organically thrive next to each other in Nepal.

IMG_1236

IMG_1276

 

IMG_1296Sneaky monkey riding a dog. Brilliant!

IMG_1319Bed time!

IMG_1322

 

BOUDHANATH

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:

IMG_2219Stupa attracts a lot of tourists, and of course you can find many souvenir and art shops and galleries.
IMG_2227

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.36.53 PM

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. IMG_2235

The square by Boudhanath “boasts” the biggest pigeon party in the city:)IMG_2245

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.06.07 PM

A prayer:IMG_2252

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.04.34 PM

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.37.43 PMTraditional Buddhist way of praying:
Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.44.05 PM

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

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.41.18 PM

Flower decorations for the ritualsScreen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.53.28 PM

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.
IMG_2223

 

PASHUPATINATH TEMPLE

This is an important Hindu Temple, located in the Eastern outskirts of Kathmandu. It’s dedicated to God Shiva.

IMG_4685

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.IMG_4688

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.

IMG_4691

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…

IMG_7731Around the Temple you can see Sadhus. They are wandering ascetic yogis, who are trying to acquire liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth by meditating.

IMG_7720

They are eager to pose for pictures if you give them some money… For this reason, photo cred goes to Nikolay Roubin.IMG_7722And 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…

IMG_4692

 

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

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.56.38 PM

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.57.29 PMWires are hanging in unruly bundles

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.57.55 PMThis 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.

IMG_4557

In a sari shop being helped by my Nepali friend Sraddha

IMG_4619

I was amazed, there’s a whole district, selling jewelry, and it’s super busyIMG_4631

A dim-lit tailor’s place. The lady is fitting/ adjusting our saris and topsIMG_4636The next pictures are taken in a Kathmandu district called Jorpati. It’s North-East suburbs of the city.

Kids playing ball and running around in a school yardIMG_4740

Young people chilling Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.08.53 PM

A sneak peak behind someone’s gateScreen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.10.13 PMGirls wear traditional clothes on an every day basis. Not all though, some prefer jeans:)

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.11.10 PM

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.27.00 PM

Endless tiny shops, selling nothing and everything at the same time. Guys hanging out lazily in front of them

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.20.56 PM

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.32.04 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.23.28 PM
Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.16.33 PMDogs 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 
Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.17.46 PMBoys trying to climb a monastery wall
Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.21.35 PMKids playing in a dumpster

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.24.19 PMQuite a lot of people in Kathmandu wear masks. That’s actually not a bad idea, because the air is very polluted and dusty

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 10.33.10 PM

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

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:)

IMG_1088

Old friends hanging out on the roof of their house

12 Comments:

  1. Elena, it was fantastic! Thanks for your interesting post

  2. Love that you found little hidden cafes. The photos are amazing! So colourful. Definitely on my bucket list!

  3. Great post! I take it this was before the earthquake?

    • Thank you Alexis! Yess, that was before the Earthquake. I inquired, some places were damaged, some already restored… But life goes on and Nepalis are so good at putting bad things behind and moving on with a smile. Incredible nation:)

  4. Bravo, Lena! Very interesting article, witch reflects the real appearance of Kathmandu with all it’s beauties and..other sides. Few small remarks: the population of Kathmandu valley, witch is the one big city now, is about 4 million people. Almost all historical places were seriously damaged after the earthquake, Darbar Square lost most of it’s unique buildings, including the significant part of the historical museum.. Unfortunately, we didn’t visit with you such a fantastic places as Seto Gumba ( White temple), Kopon Gumba, National Park Shivapuri, Royal Botanical Garden, Garden of Dreams and many many others. They are not so popular and well-known among the tourists, but certainly deserve an attention of everyone. And all of this destinations are situated inside of the Kathmandu valley, and they were not destroyed by the April-May’s disaster.

    • Sashaaaa, dhanyabad!!!! thank you for the remarks!!! yeah, when I read other people’s comments, that there’s nothing to do in Ktm for, say, 4 days, I get crazy:) I really regret not seeing all that, esp Seto Gumba… Anyway, I didn’t mention it here, but my fave was to spend nights on Durbar sq stairs, with coffee and guitar and good company:) Malaai ekdam kuchi laagyo:)

  5. Awww I remember the time I visited Kathmandu, that was like two months after the devastating earthquake hit the city. Love the people of this country, they are so humble and very friendly!

  6. THE MONKEY ON THE DOG, THO

    Seriously, Kathmandu looks great. I would love to go to Nepal, I did a semester in India ten(!) years ago but I haven’t made it back to that part of Asia since.

  7. Cool and very interesting city! Quite a lot of pictures but I liked all of them! :)

  8. I have never been to Kathmandu, but now I really want to go! Your photos are amazing too! :)

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your photographs. I’m really curious to go and explore Nepal and your photos are a lovely insight into what is in store (including the rubbish!). Thank you :)

  10. Very visual – brought back a lot of memories for me

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>