Kathmandu: The City of Temples and Palaces

My husband, Sunny, and I made an emergency trip to Kathmandu last week because we felt like we were about to explode from needing a break from the daily life. We longed for a week where nothing was expected from us. We just wanted to laze around having to do nothing. It was heaven’s handiwork that we came across this little cottage in the outskirts of Kathmandu and we immediately booked for three nights there. Since it was our first time in the City of Temples, we decided that we should spend the rest of the week in the city and do some sightseeing too.

We landed in the evening to be welcomed by a young man who would escort us to this cottage. Once we drove out of the city, the small car struggled on what seemed like a recently cut out road but we were excited at the prospects of the location. The air was clean and cool, the insects were noisy and the moon was proudly showing us all the trees around. We stopped and were met by Gagan, the proprietor of the cottage. He helped us with our luggage and we started climbing up some stairs. Embarrassingly unfit, we had to rest two times to reach our cottage and at that moment fear started creeping inside my head. Just then, a woman shouted to Gagan from one of the huts asking if the guests had arrived and a homely feeling came over me. We were safe.

Waking up in the morning to the view of Kathmandu valley spread out before us was wonderful but the best part of the trip for me was being able to see the varieties of birds flying over of heads and hear them sing in varied tunes in the forest behind our cottage. We found that there were about 10 small houses, well ‘huts’ is more appropriate, in the vicinity and it was such a pleasure to watch them living their uncomplicated regular lives. It also made me think how boring and uninteresting my life has become. So, for three days we simply stared, ate and slept. I shouldn’t omit to mention that this cottage is located right at the border of a national park, the wall is literally right behind it, and in just two minutes you can be on top of a hill from where you get an amazing panoramic view of Kathmandu and the surroundings. And ‘NO’ you can’t see snowcapped mountains or Mt. Everest from Kathmandu.

Honestly, we weren’t so excited about staying in the city because the pollution was quite evident even from a distance but we had to experience the famous Thamel, the tourist district. We stayed in a boutique hotel which was fortunately in a quieter area. Thamel is a busy place obviously and totally commercial. I liked it better at night when the bands were playing in every other pub and you don’t get to see the same pashmina shawls, North Face jackets and the singing bowls all along the lanes. Seriously, you will find whatever you see in one shop in the next one and the next. We later found out that shopping is better done in Patan.

Patan or Lalitpur is known as the City of Fine Arts because of the exquisite architecture in the area as well as the craftsmanship of its people. It seems many of the famous artists of Kathmandu come from this area. The renowned Patan Durbar square is a UNESCO Heritage Site and houses several Hindu and Buddhist temples and a palace with its three Chwoks or Courtyards. The residential part of the palace is now a Museum which needs some improvements or maybe they are still recovering from the earthquake.

While we were taking a break at the Patan Museum café, an official was very kind to inform us that if we wished to do some shopping in Patan, we should go to Patan Fair Trade Centre, a Government run shop where the money goes directly to the craftsmen. We found excellent products in this place and in the neighboring shops. The effects of the 2015 earthquake are still very visible all around the capital city. There are a lot of construction and restoration works going on and piles of rubble still in some sites. It was encouraging and hopeful to see how far away countries have taken the responsibility to fund many of these iconic and treasured structures. A poor country like Nepal can never be able to stand up on their own after being hit as badly as it did.

In the next couple of days, we visited Boudhanath Stupa, Swayambhunath Temple and Pashupatinath Temple. Irrespective of religion, we expect to get some peace and to be able to reflect on our lives when we visit such places but we were shocked to find these temples crowded, noisy and dirty with vendors selling things from ‘Holy Water’ to CDs to carpets. Forget about meditation, I was clinging on to my handbag and the disappointment drained me. I just wish these places would be allowed to maintain their sacredness. We can neither worship nor preserve something while stepping all over it. Again, the tragedy could have forced people to look for new means of income and therefore they have overcrowded the tourist sites. All the three temples are included in the UNESCO heritage site.

Being the home of the Himalayas, the health of Nepal is very crucial for a healthy Earth and what we saw in Kathmandu wasn’t very promising. The pollution was horrifying to the point that we could clearly understand why Kathmandu is called the city of masks or dust bowl valley. I hope they find a solution at the earliest and heal their land. It is all the worrisome to learn that the other bigger cities of Nepal are facing similar pollution woes.

Trekking is the main reason why tourists flock to Nepal and I just hope we aren’t leaving our dirty footprints even in the precious mountains and forests. I was watching a TV show  on Mount Everest base camp and marveled at man’s selfishness. With that many people so near to the mountain, with so much of trash being produced and the helicopters flying over, how long do we seriously think we have till one day there is no snow up there. The Government makes a lot of money, the locals make money, the climbers makes a name but what about the future? Man’s breath is poison.

Nevertheless, Nepalese have always enjoyed a reputation for being good, honest human beings and they truly deserve it. I saw the guilt in many faces but they have little choice because of their corrupted leaders. Most of them didn’t have great lives yet they were hopeful of better times, they had dreams. It is not too late to turn around and rekindle our friendship with nature. Nature is kind and always provides for those who respects it.

Zenei

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