Fascinating chaos of ruins, colors and spices
Spirituality, «the quality that involves deep feelings and beliefs of a religious nature, rather than the physical parts of life» (Cambridge Dictionary).
Nepal was not on my list; I never planned to go there but one day I was asked to join a trip of five days to Kathmandu and my disease makes me unable to say “no” to this kind of invitations.
It was June when we took a flight from Nanjing (stopover in Kunming, Yunnan province) to Kathmandu; the airport was quite small and very crowded and we had to fill the arrival cards to get our visa – exactly, Italian passport (and not only) needs visa to get in Nepal and before this pandemic you could get it at the arrival with some cash: we got a tourist visa of 15 days at the cost of 25 US dollars (note: Euros, CNY and other currencies are also accepted, check in advance which ones).
When booking the hotel, we requested an airport pick-up service so after getting the visas, we went straight to the exit and … woooo… thousands of drivers! But in the heat, we found ours.
While he was taking us to the hotel, from the car I was already hypnotized by the bright colors the women were wearing: fuchsia, green, red, enriched by golden little decorations and all standing out between the brownish dust of the city.
We arrived in the afternoon and after refreshing ourselves, we walked to the center: Thamel, a chaotic nest of alleys and little roads, shops of hiking items, souvenirs, traditional clothes… It should be pedestrian but motorcycles and tuk tuks speed up here and there, therefore it’s recommended to look left and right before crossing from one side to the other. In the same Thamel it’s full of restaurants with all kinds of cuisine but a food lover like me always goes for local and typical (in fact for my trips I always have a list of “food to try”). Nepalese food is basically the same as Indian food – I am sure there are some differences but I don’t know which ones – so it is very spicy and hot and even if I can’t stand too much spice, I love this cuisine! They even have their own version of dumplings, the momos.
Maybe some of you remember that in 2015 Nepal was hit by a tremendous earthquake and after three years Kathmandu was still showing the damages: the ruins were just laying on the streets and in the squares, nevertheless the tourist could still admire beautiful architectures such as those in the Durbar squares: when you visit Kathmandu you better refer to the Kathmandu Valley whose main municipalities are Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur (I haven’t been to this last one); the three all have a square named Durbar and I first visited the one in Patan during a rainy day (note: it’s only half hour by car from Kathmandu). Like the rest of the places I visited in Kathmandu, Patan’s Durbar square was very chaotic, around it many locals sitting on the floor trying to sell fabrics, fruits or spices; stray dogs walking and motorcycles speeding messily; but don’t stop to the square and its buildings: get in the tiny streets, look at the people and find out the short doors – yes, I noticed that most of the doors were not tall and this may be because Nepalese people are not tall?!
Anyway…very short doors and low ceilings for western standards. And what I also noticed are all the little kiosks which were selling condoms that in reality were only candies looking like condoms (you can see them in the photo gallery to understand what I mean).
At the end of the stroll around Patan we had a spicy lunch on a “rooftop” restaurant in Durbar square, while the clouds were making room to a pretty hot sun. In the afternoon we were back to Kathmandu to visit what I think is the only peaceful place in the city, in fact hidden behind tall walls, far from the noise of the streets there is the Garden of Dreams: after paying the entrance fee you will get into a green garden surrounded by white neoclassical pavilions; you can take some rest sitting on the grass and enjoy a sunny day. This garden was walking distance from our hotel and also from Thamel (if walking is not a problem to you either).
The following days we finally went to visit some of the temples of the city; the first one was the Pashupatinath temple and it was the most touching experience we had there; gotten out of the taxi, we had to let our noses guide us; by following the smoky smell we arrived to the Bagmati river and if that would have been a movie I have no doubts that the scene would have been in slow motion, to intensify the strong image we had in front of our eyes, and silent, to hear just the sound of it: between monkeys stealing bananas and cows standing on the side, Nepalese people were sitting next to the burning fire, praying or hugging those who were crying.
I don’t know if those people were all there for actual cremations of their relatives or just for a commemoration of them, but we felt almost inopportune to be there and, trying not to interrupt their pain, we respectfully walked through and crossed the bridge.
On the other bank, we climbed the stairs to get to the top of the hill while several monkeys were jumping out of the trees and if I always thought that monkeys are cute, I changed my mind after assisting to a scary fight they had on the ruins of Pashupatinath. Here there were so many monkeys that I was quite surprised that the one called Monkey Temple was instead the Swayambhunath Stupa where at the beginning we didn’t meet any, in fact only climbing to the top of it and then going back down along the other side we found a family – or more than one – of not too friendly monkeys. When you’ll visit the Swayambhunath Stupa, get prepared for the stairs and maybe provide yourself with some bottle of water to hydrate while going up; the effort made will be worth it because from there you have the greatest view of Kathmandu, I really felt like being on the top of the world!
This stupa is the oldest of its kind in Nepal but not the largest in Kathmandu, which in fact it’s the Boudhanath; we went there after the sunset, it took us a little walk in the traffic of the road to finally find the gate and once there, the big eyes were staring at us (note: all Nepalese stupas have two eyes painted which represent knowledge and compassion); we joined the devout people who were circum-ambulating, in order to see the life around the huge stupa: the religious singing, the candles, the monks… all giving that sensation of spirituality that characterizes my memories of the days in Kathmandu.
For me Nepal – or the idea I got of it by visiting Kathmandu – is full of colors; not only the beautiful clothes of the ladies but also the flowers, those typical orange tagetes, the same orange that the Sadhus use to paint their faces; the colors of the spices exposed in big bags for sale, the colors of the tasteful food; lastly the prayer flags suspended in Thamel or hanging from the top of the stupas, flags which give color again to the great spirituality of this country.
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I’ll read ya!