Kathmandu in one week (II): sites, villages, and local people – Nepal
Kathmandu, the fourth day
Short Description: I walked all the way from Thamel to Pashupatinath (approximately one hour and a half) – one of the most important Hindu complexes in the city. Then, I continued to walk toward Bodhnath Stupa – the largest Buddhist stupa in Kathmandu, surrounded by Buddhist monasteries.
Pashupatinath was a Hindu architectural complex of great sanctity, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pashupatinath was the place where Hindus burn their dead on a pyre and pray for them on the terraces built along the Bagmati River.
On the left of the bridge across the great temple (where I couldn’t enter), I saw Hindus with shaved heads and dressed in white holding various ceremonies for the dead. On the right of the bridge, a corpse covered with a pile of wood was incinerated on a pyre. Local guides tried to sell me a tour, but I turned down all of them. Saddhus dressed in orange were posing in exchange for some little money nearby the altars. After a while, I walked up the main stairs leading to Bodhnath and bought a slice of pineapple to appease my thirst. Further, I passed small temples and a monastery with lots of monkeys, then went down to a Hindu temple next to the Bagmati River. From there, I crossed the river on a metal bridge toward Bodhnath and continued to walk through the dusty suburb.
I reached Bodhnath after half an hour walking through some dusty neighborhoods. Bodhnath was a Buddhist complex listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it hosted the largest stupa in Asia. Buddhist monks walked clockwise around the stupa and spun the prayer wheels with mantras written on them. Unfortunately, the great stupa was still in restoration after the 2015 earthquake and I could visit it only partially.
I had time to see a couple of Tibetan monasteries close to the stupa, but when it started to rain, I sat down to eat a Russian salad at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the square around the stupa. When I wanted to go back to Thamel, I decided to experience public transportation in Kathmandu for the first time. Surprisingly, the bus didn’t seem as terrible as I expected. It was dirty and the traffic was chaotic, indeed, but I had a seat and arrived safely at my hotel after one hour and a half.
In the evening, I met Elen – the editor of the Inside Himalayas magazine, and her Nepalese boyfriend, Ramesh – who was a river guide. We had dhal bhat at a local restaurant and then met with some of their friends for a drink in a couple of bars.
Kathmandu, the fifth day
Short Description: I decided to experience the next level of ‘minibus difficulties’. I wanted to go to Budhanilkantha and explore a temple featuring a floating statue of Vishnu.
From Thamel, I walked down to Ratna Park – the bus station where you could find buses for any direction, and there I asked around how to get to Budhanilkantha. Locals sent me in different directions at least three times. They finally advised me to go back to where I stood initially, and there I eyed a schoolgirl and asked her for directions in English. She said I stood at the right crossroads and I had to wait for the minibus to Budhanilkantha. However, I couldn’t understand what was written in Nepali on the minibusses. Each time a minibus passed, I had to ask the boy-helpers of each minibus if they went to Budhanilkantha. One boy confirmed to me that I could take the minibus he was in charge of and I happily jumped inside.
The driver drove on the left side of the road. Contrary to my predictions, the minibus was unexpectedly empty. The boy-helper was a teenager holding a thick wad of cash in his hands. He hung out of the open door and shouted in the direction the minibus was going. When he knocked on the door, the driver knew he had to stop and pick up or leave somebody. Eventually, the minibus filled up with people and we quickly reached Budhanilkantha.
Near the Temple in Budhanilkantha, women sold orange flowers for offerings at the temple. A saddhu asked me for money in exchange for a picture with him. Other women sold religious items at the entrance of the temple. In the courtyard of the temple, people entered and rang a big bell at a small altar to let the gods know they arrived. After that, they took some red paint from a small statue and put a tikka on their foreheads.
A huge statue of a supine Vishnu (as a reincarnation of Narayan) was floating on water in a fenced pool, below the level of the courtyard. People went down to the statue with offerings of flower garlands and a basket with fruit. They threw the flowers and the fruit near the statue or a little boy helped them to put the offerings on the statue (adults weren’t allowed to do that). Pilgrims gave money to the little boy for the deity and left reconciled.
As I am not a Hindu, they didn’t let me go down to the pool and see the statue. Nevertheless, I sat and observed what other people did from a nearby platform. An elegantly dressed couple entered the courtyard of the temple, worshiped at all the altars, and went to a big building. A boy sitting on a bench told me they had just married. While walking around, I respectfully refused a local guide who failed to sell me a tour. Under a nearby shelter, a group of people counted a pile of money offered by pilgrims at the statue.
In the temple’s courtyard, a little boy asked me to give him a lollipop. I discouraged him and told him it was not good for his teeth. He left, returned later, and asked me directly for money. I said I had no change. Then he asked if I had a boss. When I confirmed I had one, he concluded my boss had the money. When I left the temple, I had an egg tkoupa (noodle soup with boiled eggs and raw vegetables) at a local restaurant.
In the afternoon, I met Hari, an old acquaintance I had known from a friend for a couple of years. He had a travel company in Kathmandu and wanted to meet me. We had masala tea at a restaurant in Thamel and then went to see the hotel he had been building in the nearby area.
Kathmandu, the sixth day
I had fever, cramps, diarrhea, and nausea after eating at a local restaurant in Budhanilkantha the previous day. In the morning, I managed to crawl to the tourist office next to Ratna Park, where I bought my trekking permits for the Tamang Heritage Trail. However, I hardly walked back to the hotel and I lay in bed all day. In the evening, I went out to a restaurant across the street to buy something to eat (if possible, not spicy).
Kathmandu, the seventh day
Short Description: I had already learned how to change minibusses in Joparti and thus I quickly reached Gokarna Mahadev Temple, situated outside of Kathmandu. At Gokarna, I explored another complex of Hindu temples. After that, I walked through the suburbs of Kathmandu from Gokarna to Bodhnath Stupa, where I visited some Buddhist monasteries (this time, without rain).
Gokarna was an authentic suburb in Kathmandu and had terrible, unpaved, dusty streets, and poor households. Gokarna Mahadev Temple was dedicated to Shiva as Mahadeva and it displayed elaborately carved wooden deities on facades and roofs. Goats were walking around the peaceful courtyard of the temple and they were eating the flowers placed as offerings next to the deity statues. Hindu pilgrims prayed under a shelter and, a few meters away, a tree had grown inside a small temple.
When I left Gokarna, I activated the GPS to guide me through the suburbs of Kathmandu, to Bodhnath Stupa. At a small shop, I bought a Coca-Cola to clean my intoxicated stomach. There, I asked the locals for directions to Bodhnath, but they seemed surprised when I told them I wanted to walk for four kilometers to my destination. At a crossroads, a boy standing in front of a house asked me the standard questions, directly in English. Where are you from? What are you doing here? Where are you going?
In Bodhnath, I went to Pal Dilyak Gompa, a Buddhist monastery where I sat on a bench in the courtyard. An old woman sat next to me and tried to ask me something in Nepali. I answered her in English, but she didn’t understand anything. When she said ‘America‘, I finally understood what she wanted. I said ‘Romania‘, but she shrugged. Then I added ‘Europe‘, but she still seemed puzzled. Suddenly, she went to her room and brought me an apple. Initially, I refused to take it. However, I didn’t want to insult her, I said ‘Namaste,’ and took the apple. Later, I donated the apple to a beggar on the street.
The bus that brought me back from Bodhnath to Ratna Park was a jalopy. I wondered how long it was going to be functional. But after all, it had nice music and was very cheap. There was a traffic jam in Kathmandu, but I wasn’t in a hurry. I had come to Nepal to have authentic experiences, so I had plenty of time to explore traffic jams as well. Later, on my way from Ratna Park to Thamel, I stopped at Pizza Hut (very expensive compared to local prices) to eat something not spicy for my ill stomach. The following day, I was going to Kopan Buddhist Monastery, situated in one of the suburbs of Kathmandu, and I was going to stay there for ten days.
Kathmandu in one week (II) is the continuation of the first travelogue about Kathmandu, Nepal. You can find the version in Romanian at ‘O saptamana in Kathmandu II‘. And here are all the Travelogues from Nepal (x12).
Have you been to Nepal or plan to go there? Leave a comment below this post and tell me what you liked in Nepal or what you want to see there.
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You really have an awesome one week journey in Kathmandu as what your words and photos are trying to convey. I like how you put the history and your travel experiences together cause it appears to be more interesting.
Thank you. After one year of struggling to decide how and what to write on my blog, I finally came up to a conclusion. Your comment confirms me that I am authentic this way. 🙂
I’m sorry to hear you got sick, but it sounds like Kathmandu is still such lovely place! We are supposed to go next month and I really can’t wait! I will make sure to take some strong medicine in case we get a stomach bug like you!
I would say that you should avoid local eateries if you know you are sensible with your stomach. They are very authentic and have good food, but if you’re not used to eat, might be a problem. I got sick 3 times in 2 months spent in Nepal and each time it was because I ate in some suspicious place.
The orange flower blossoms are a lovely tribute at the temple, and a great way to support the locals. Lovely architecture throughout.
Yes, the orange flowers are the hit of the photographers ! And the orange saddhus (I’ll have them in another post).
Sounds like you had an amazing experience! It’s funny how people assume everyone is from America — not always the best association! It’s too bad you got sick, but it sounds like it didn’t stop you from enjoying your travels.
Tourists = a walking bag full of money (most of the time). However, this old woman from the monastery was so different, I enjoyed trying to communicate with her a bit. Sick ?! That’s part of life in order to have a balance. 🙂
I’d love to visit here, it’s such a shame a lot of the temples were damaged during the earthquake. The markets look so colourful and beautiful, I would love to spend some time exploring!
Well, even if the temples collapsed, people are the same and women always come in front of the temples to sell garlands of orange flowers for offerings. They are so, so picturesque. Highly recommend and I hope you’ll get there some day.
I love UNESCO heritage sites so would love to go here. I love that story about the old woman and the apple– hehe. Lost in translation. I wonder what she intended.
I think she just had some free time and was curious. When she saw that we couldn’t talk too much, she went to her room and brought me that apple.
I’ve heard so many amazing things about Kathmandu and your blog post just makes me want to go even more! You have taken some very beautiful photos as well.
You should try to go there. However, choose a period when the monsoon is really over, not just starting to be over. Clear skies are amazing in Nepal when you are surrounded by mountains.
Really interesting post. Thank you for sharing so much detail. I especially love your images. I totally thought that that picture was a person on the floating thing, not a statue!
Hindus have the advantage of being able to invent a representation for everything.
Just stunning! I took some of the same walks that you did while I was there. I LOVED Nepal and especially Kathmandu. Too bad you got sick there though. I got sick when I made it down to India… I figured when you’re there, different water, it’s bound to happen at some point, isn’t it? I’ve been interested to see how things have been after the big earthquake and it doesn’t look too bad. So nice to see.
I drank only bottled water, but I think that they didn’t boil properly the water for cooking in some local eateries …. so I got sick 3 times during my stay in Nepal. However, the last two one were not so bad as the first experience in Kathmandu.
Love this so much. Nepal is so so underrated