Have you ever felt intoxicated, amazed and exhausted all at the same time? Yes, that’s exactly what Nepal’s capital city can effortlessly stir within you. In spite of the jam-packed traffic and thick pollution, Kathmandu has a distinctive aura. With temples and monasteries in every corner, this city instantly has you dancing to its beat. You will feel the energy it radiates the moment you look into people’s eyes. What is a place without it’s people anyway? All traditions, culture and history are prevalent and built beautifully by and because of the natives. It’s one thing to be nice to only your temporarily visiting guests, but Nepalese are this way to everyone, even each other.
I stayed in Kathmandu for about four days before I left for trekking on the Annapurna circuit and it was just enough time for me to get a thorough glimpse of its culture and history. From all the places that I visited, I have come up with a list of top five must-see places in Kathmandu all free of charge:
1. SWAYAMBHUNATH STUPA
Deep in the valleys of Kathmandu is a Buddhist temple which was built back in 13th century with panoramic views that are to die for. You climb a bunch of stairs uphill before you make it to the top, i.e the temple itself. You never climb on your own; there are so many monkeys playing around everywhere that are native to the area and hence Swayambhunath Stupa also came to be known as the ‘Monkey Temple’.
2. THRANGU TASHI YANGTSE MONASTERY
If you are in the mood for seeing a traditional holy place aloof from the society and far in the quiet of forest stamped mountains inaccessible to many, Thrangu Tashi Yangste Monastery is the one to visit. It is a beautiful gold and red architectural structure and the moment you sight it, you see a bunch of monks smiling and ready to warmly welcome visitors. You also get a first-hand Buddhist prayer experience as you get to sink into your peaceful meditative state in a traditional way with the monks. I was so impressed by their simplistic lifestyle that I decided to stay there and serve for two months after I graduate from college.
3. THAMEL MARKET
The first place for most visitors to end up on a travel to Nepal is usually this busy district. Picture the old city of Baghdad in the tale of Aladdin, where merchants thrived with their one-man shops, competing against one another; this looked somewhat like that. Day in and out, colorful markets filled with souvenirs and great culture clues catch the curious eyes of tourists. The trick is to bargain, as their prices on the first instance aren’t very attractive, for there are no fixed priced stamps on any products. The market also acts as an opportunity to interact with locals, find trekking guides to book adventures with, and read books in hidden cafes, to soak the culture and history.
4. PASHUPATINATH TEMPLE
If Nepal doesn’t already feel sacred enough, this one’s ought to get you. Hinduism (from which Buddhism stems), is a very strongly bound religion for the Nepalese. A huge chunk of their culture and traditions stem from Hinduism, and the Pashupatinath Temple is just the right place to experience the essence of their lifestyle. Spirituality surrounds the atmosphere, as hundreds of people enter the temple, shoeless, to offer prayers to the holy lord Shiva. There are a lot of Sadhus (devotees of god in their simplest ways of living) all over, a lot of who have found the temple to be their place to sleep and eat. Many astrologers are also said to predict deaths of people, inviting them back to the temple in their final moments, so that if they die in the temple, they could be reborn as humans (being freed from a lot of negative karma).
5. BOUDHANATH STUPA
The last place I visited was a perfect combination of culture, history, and entertainment of not only Nepal, but Tibet too. The stupa built as a respect to lord Buddha, is a beautiful geometric architectural delight with five buddhas representing the five elements of nature (earth, water, fire, air and ether), four of which surround the fifth huge white structure shown in the picture below. Circling the entire structure is path full of markets and traditional restaurants.
My stories from Nepal are those that I collected on a press trip by Nepal Tourism Board and Pacific Asia Travel Association to attend the Himalayan Travel Mart in June 2017 and 2018, when I was given the opportunity to trot around Kathmandu and Pokhara with my backpack for about a month. I not only had the opportunity to trek and raft when in Nepal, but also taste their lifestyle and culture to its core, and hence, this article. Read more about my backpacking adventure here.
Have you been to Nepal? Are you planning to go there? Comment below! I always love me some good feedback/questions!