The scene at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu was just like our own small town Indian airports. Chaos, name boards of guests arriving by different flights and the shouts of ‘taxi, taxi’… were so known to my ears.
I was in Kathmandu to attend The Pacific Asia Travel Association’s conference for international bloggers and media, and was here for a day only. I wanted to cover as many tourist spots as possible, so I thought of using the services of a sightseeing tour operator.
An enthralling repository of Nepalese art, history, culture and tradition opened up in front of me as I went for Kathmandu sightseeing. As recommended by Ram Barkoti of the sightseeing tour operator company, I decided to go out and check the five top most tourist locations.
My day started at Thamel. A commercial hub and the centre of the tourist industry in Kathmandu, Thamel was a twin copy of our own Paharganj in New Delhi. It’s a kaleidoscope of crowded space, narrow lanes, hotels, travel agents, and shops selling artefacts.
Besides doing some souvenir shopping, I enjoyed eating the local cuisine here. There were a number of bars and I also came back here for the various nightlife options. For me, this was a place worth a visit for any photographer.
It had been a long time wish of mine to perform puja at the Pashupatinath Temple, and this visit gave me that opportunity. This famous and sacred Hindu temple complex on the banks of Bagmati River, allows entry to only Hindus and Buddhists inside the main temple. Built in 400 BC, the complex has a richly ornamented pagoda (a tiered tower with multiple eaves) that houses the sacred Shiva lingam. I was told at the temple, that Pashupatinath is one of the main Jyotirlinga of the 12 Jyotirlinga, and the most important one too. Jyotirlingas in India are Shiva’s body and the Jyotirlinga at Pashupatinath is his head.
I found the temple complex a huge collection of temples, ashrams and images. It’s a huge complex which is spread over 264 hectares of land, and contains within it 518 temples and monuments. The temple courtyard has four entrances, one in each direction and the doors are covered with silver sheets.
The Nepalese pagoda style is used for the architecture of the main building with the roofs being made of copper with a gold covering. There’s also a crematorium on the banks of the river.
Two aartis are performed daily in the evening at the temple, one at the main sanctum and the other on the banks of the river Bagmati (known as the Nepalese Ganga). I had the opportunity of attending both the evening aartis in the temple and considered myself very fortunate. Both the aartis were amazing and I felt as if I had attained nirvana.
Kathmandu Durbar Square is very close to Thamel and it was my next stop. This is one of the three durbars in the Kathmandu valley. It’s known as the Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex because of the kneeling statue of the Hindu god, Hanuman. Recovering from the devastating earthquake of 2015, the entire square houses several temples, both Hindu and Buddhist, epitomising the religious and cultural life of the people of Nepal. It was quite nice to see two different styles of temples of India and Nepal existing together here; the Sikhara style and the Pagoda style architecture. The palace itself has beautiful architecture, and houses the King Tribhuwan Museum. The Durbar Square, was and still is the centre of community, a place for people to come together and celebrate.
The most interesting temple is the Kal Bhairav, an open air temple. Kal Bhairav represents god Shiva, in his destructive manifestation. There is a police station just behind the temple, and the temple is used by the government as a place for people to swear the truth.
Next, it was time to visit the Buddhist centres in town, and The Great Boudha Stupa was my first stop. It is the most sacred stupa for the Tibetan Buddhists and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Boudanath was constructed shortly after the demise of the Buddha. It is the largest stupa in the country and one of the largest in the entire world. There are about 50 monasteries to house the monks and Tibetan refugees in the complex.
As I entered the courtyard, I was mesmerised by the soothing chants of Om Mane Padme Hum and the gong sounding solemnly from the buildings surrounding the stupa. I got spellbound in the musical ambience created from the whirring of Tibetan prayer wheels by other devotees, and the fluttering of colourful prayer flags in the breeze at the top of the shrine. The ambience was soul satisfying.
Now on to some workout time! I had to climb 365 steps to visit the Swayambhu Temple, an ancient Buddhist stupa situated on a hilltop. This is one of the oldest and the most sacred religious places in the country. The path along the 365 steps up to the complex was dotted with shrines and smaller temples. The architecture was quite breathtaking, and I found the massive Vajra (thunder bolt scepter) stunning as I reached the top. The eyes of the Buddha were painted on all the four sides of the stupa as if Lord Buddha keeping an watchful eye on every devotee. The view of Kathmandu city was stunning from the top.