A long breathe in and another one out. This was how Kathmandu welcomed me after my very first step in Nepal. My story begins few months ago, I was in Australia, in a cinema in the centre of Melbourne watching Dr. Strange, Marvel movie partly set in Nepal. The calm of the mountains and the landscapes that the movie shows, quickly convinced me to gather more information about this wonderful country. Only a couple of days after I was convinced that Nepal would have been the destination of my next trip. But how could I really get inside the Nepalese culture and really understand how it works? Googling, I found a volunteering project that would have conjugate with my other two passions beyond travelling: writing and taking pictures!
So here I am, months after, packing my stuff up once again, ready to set off to Nepal. First step of this journey would have been India, where I would have spent two weeks before my arrival in Kathmandu. Therefore, after an eight hours flight, I landed in India, this fascinating as chaotic country that is always in the common imaginary of all the backpackers from all over the world as one of the top destinations.
- Loving India takes time though. Usually it needs few days before accepting all the contradictions that this wonderful country offers. From the sumptuous temples to the slums that surrounds the centre of the cities, from the incredible food to all the sellers ready to rip you off as soon as you put your feet out of the airport and from the peaceful scenarios to the unstoppable honking by the tuk-tuks, India can be a trip that can stress and amaze at the same time.
Yet, the colours of the Rajasthan, the magnificence of the Taj Mahal, the smiles of the children playing in the street during the Holi festival, the sacred silence of the Ganges river during the sunrise in Varanasi are only few of the things that will make you forget about all these contradictions. And here I am, after two weeks in India, finally arrived at my destination of this trip: Kathmandu.
The peaceful surroundings, the fresh air and the cordiality of the people around caught me by surprise immediately. What it’s easy to notice instantaneously in Kathmandu, but in general all Nepal, is the diversity of the people, ethnically and religiously. Indeed, Nepal is the meeting point between the Indo-Aryan and the Mongoloid people from the Himalayas. This diversity also entails a big diversity in terms of languages and religion. In fact, if the official language is Nepali, around the country almost one hundred different languages and dialects are spoken. Instead, speaking of religion, the two main religions practised in Nepal are Hinduism and Buddhism which are incredibly, but not surprisingly, well-mixed together, indeed quite easily it will happen you to see Buddhists and Hindus worship at the same temples.
- But if religion in Nepal is a particularity well-known all around the world, Nepali food is what will surprise you more than what you might expect. As you might assume knowing the diversity of the Nepali population, this factor also affects the food culture. Indeed, the Nepalese food got influences prevalently from India, Tibet and partly south-east Asia, which over the years have been mixed and refined. The most famous dish that you will come across are the momos. Nepali and Tibetan version of the dumplings they can be served steamed or fried stuffed with beef, chicken, buffalo, veggies and cheese at your personal taste.
Sightseeing in Kathmandu is a must-to-do once arrived in Nepal. Indeed, even though for most of the tourist in Nepal, Kathmandu could be considered just as transition point for an already planned trekking experience, this city has a lot to offer. The main attractions are the Bouddhanath, Swayambhunath, Pashupatinath, Durbar Square and the Thamel area.
The Bouddhanath is one of Nepali biggest stupa, spiritual monument which represents the mind, the body and the path to the enlightenment of the Buddha. Situated only five kilometres from the city centre, the Buddha, as it is called in Nepali, is one of the most famous and characteristic temples in Kathmandu and in which are supposed to be buried the rest of the Kāśyapa Buddha, twenty-seventh reincarnation of Buddha. Recognized by UNESCO in 1979 as World Heritage Site Bouddhanath is, with Swayambhunath, the most popular tourists site in the Kathmandu area.
- Also known as Monkey Temple, Swayambhunath is located on the top of a hill on the west-north of the valley, giving a great of view of the valley and the city itself. These Buddhist temples are perfect to better understand Buddhism and taking great pictures of monkeys, monks, Kathmandu and the surroundings. Pashupatinath, on the other hand, is the most important Hindu temple in Nepal. Dedicated to Lord Pashupatinath, one of the different manifestations of Lord Shiva, Pashupatinath is a complex of temples located next to the Bagmati river where every day are celebrated funerals with the typical Hindu tradition of burning the dead bodies to spread the ashes in the river afterwards.
Another must-to-see is Durbar square, less than twenty minutes walking by the city centre, a very spectacle of Newar architecture that originally was the Royal palace (Durbar means “palace”) and it is still where royal events, like for example the coronation of the king.
- Last but not least, there’s Thamel. Thamel is the most touristic and vibrant area of Kathmandu, indeed is the place where you can get good food from all over the world, hostels and hotel, cool café, pubs and club. Most important though are the shops that colours the area. Besides the classic souvenir shops, Thamel is full of shops where is possible to buy trekking gears and clothing, useful for those that arrived in Nepal unprepared or decided to go trekking at the last minute.
In other words, Kathmandu is a city full of impressive architecture and history, incredible views, amazing food and exciting nightlife. Kathmandu is a city that will pleasantly surprise you in many and different ways.
Take a long breath in and another one out and go visit Kathmandu!
Stefano Lattante is Trainee journalist & photographer