The magical Kingdom of Nepal has occupied a prosperous and often dangerous location between the mighty powers of India and China. The 1)backbone of the country is the Himalayas, and the highest point in the world, Mount Everest.
Kathmandu and Timbuktu, both cities most people have heard of but know nothing about. You can read all the guide books, you can ask travellers who’ve been to Kathmandu, but you still won’t get a good idea of what the city’s like. They’ll tell you it’s noisy and polluted—both true—or they’ll tell you it’s a charming step back in time. I think I’ll agree with the latter.
Nepal’s intriguing combination of unexplored territory and 2)exotic culture 3)spawned the birth of the adventure-travel industry back in the 1950s. The capital city, Kathmandu, has been a 4)mecca for backpackers, mountaineers and truth seekers from around the globe ever since.
The historic centre of town is the Durbar Square, where the compulsory cluster of temples oversees the bustle of modern-day Kathmandu. This is a good place to rent a 5)rickshaw and tour the old section of the city. We wound our way through the maze of alleys that are the heart of Kathmandu, passing 6)ornate buildings, small neighbourhood 7)shrines, fruit stands and spice markets. Our trip ended in the crowded streets of Thamel, a 8)sprawling area crammed with budget hotels, shops, restaurants and travel agencies catering to the thousands of adventurers that pass through Kathmandu each year.
Everyone enjoys bringing home interesting mementos from their travels, and Thamel is certainly the place to find bargains on all kinds of great stuff.
The dining selection here is varied and includes hamburgers and spaghetti. Our guide, Tommy, suggested the Thamel House for traditional Nepali atmosphere and food, and an introduction to the local 9)schnapps made from rice and very strong.
Of the many elements drawing travellers to Nepal, perhaps the most intriguing are the colourful religious practices. Amazing temples are found throughout the cities and the devotion of the people can be witnessed around every corner.
Nepal is officially a Hindu country, but through the centuries Buddhism and Hinduism have become 10)entwined to form a rather confusing mix of gods and rituals. You can easily occupy yourself for more than a week checking out the temples in the Kathmandu area.
At Pashu Patinath devout Hindus bathe in the sacred waters and deliver offerings to the shrines. 11)Sadhus, or Holy men, position themselves in front of the temples to meditate and collect 12)alms.
On the 13)outskirts of Kathmandu is one of the world’s largest Buddhist stupas, Boudhanath. The structure marks the location of one of the ancient trading routes between Lhasa and Kathmandu. Boudhanath is surrounded by giant prayer wheels used to 14)disperse believers’ 15)invocations to the heavens. In the evening Kathmandu’s sizable Tibetan population comes out to stroll around the temple and send off their prayers. I could easily have spent the entire afternoon here watching people and photographing the interesting faces.
Night life in Kathmandu is pretty limited. One of the best ways to spend an evening is to take in one of the many cultural shows offered by local hotels and restaurants. At Bhojan Griha, an old home has been 16)meticulously restored to create an 17)authentic venue for Nepali folk music, dance and traditional cuisine.
Kathmandu is the kind of place I could hang out for a while. The entire area is a living museum. The ancient buildings stand 18)intact right alongside a lifestyle that remains unchanged and, hopefully, will survive another few centuries.