When deciding on a place to visit, I must confess Nepal was not on the top of my list. Now, don't get me wrong, I knew it would be a beautiful country. But like most Indians, I too thought that the similarities to our own country would be too evident.
The simple mention of the name Nepal creates in our minds images of snow-capped mountains, treks, Buddhist and Hindu monasteries and temples. Ours was a classic trip covering the heritage-filled city of Kathmandu, the silent lakes of Pokhara and the dusty streets of Patan.
Arriving at the Kathmandu airport was an experience in itself. Though small, it gave a sense of the simplicity of life that many leads here, with low ceilings, and small corridors, it was a stark contrast to the exuberant ones of Dubai (which is where I live), yet had all that was needed of an airport. From there we took a cab to the small town of Patan, where we booked rooms at the Yamba Traditional Home. Though not a tourist centrist area, the narrow streets filled with busy vendors and time-worn resident homes certainly gives one a feel of what the local life is like. The traditional home certainly added to this atmosphere, made with red bricks and wood, not to mention that the family owned it for at least a 100 years. Ironically, the temperature was much cooler within these rooms than outside, and as someone who was not used to this, it did create a bit of a problem. But apart from that, the place was a bliss.
Walking down the streets to the Patan Durbar Square, I could see evidence of the devastation caused by the 2015 earthquake, which left much of the country in rubble. The ruins of several houses and reconstruction projects made me realize the magnitude of what had happened.
Patan is the third largest city of Nepal and the oldest, best known for its artistic heritage. The Patan Durbar Square is the famous visiting place in this area, with ancient temples, shrines and historical artefacts and monuments. The square in a way merges with the streets, that one does not really realise when one ends and the other begins. What I liked about this place apart from its splendid architecture, was the commendable way in which the government maintained the Pagodas. After the earthquake, many of the collapsed monumental buildings were also being reconstructed. Boards were placed outside each construction showing how it looked prior to the disaster. I also learned that several of these reconstructions where being aided by neighbouring countries like China and even Austria. Outside the Palace grounds, old men could be seen sitting, dressed in traditional clothing talking to one another on small benches or raised platforms. I had the good fortune of capturing photos of some of their faces.
The next morning, we moved to the bustling city of Kathmandu where we stayed at the Nepal Cottage resort in Thamel. Relatively new, the resort had some of the friendliest hosts I have met. They went out of their way to help us out when we needed. They arranged a car to take us to major sites like the Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu Durbar Square, Boudhanath Stupa and the National Museum (sadly, we did not get to see the museum as it had closed by noon). Located on the banks of the Bagmati river, the temple is also a cremation site where Hindus perform their last rites. As I walked over the bridge, I could see crowds of people gathered to carry out ritualistic practices of cremating the body on funeral pyres. The kin of the dead dipped their bodies in the waters of Bagmati, customs which they believe will allow their loved ones who have passed away to rest peacefully and attain nirvana. Unlike other temples I visited, this one was a centre for activity, with people carrying out rituals and performing prayers throughout the day. The age-old remains of spiritualistic shrines serve as a good photographic place, even if you don't really get its historical significance.
The Kathmandu Durbar Square, though much like the one in Patan had its own unique story to tell. It was here that we met our guide, a young Indian boy of 14 years. While we don't usually hire guides, the bubbling and determined personality of this youthful chap got the better of us. More than what I saw at the Square, I was amazed by how well he could speak English and Chinese, among other languages. It certainly does make one think about how the struggles of life need not stand in your way, for in addition to all the work he does he still manages to go to school.
On our way back to the hotel, we walked down cobble-stoned streets straddled with shops selling colourful arrays of statues, wind chimes, trekking equipment, and hipster style hoodies, baggy pants and accessories. A popular food joint located on the Mandala street, Or2k is a must try outlet that provides a range of cuisine, from the traditional Nepali dal bhat , to cheesy alfredo pasta and flavoursome South Indian styled dosas.
Away from the crowded and lively city of Kathmandu lies the quiet and picturesque "city of lakes", Pokhara. With snowcapped mountains of the Annapurna range in the distance, lakeside resorts and hotels and scenic locations, this destination is a favourite for hipsters. Our hotel, the Granate Rouge was located on the North Side of Pokhara by the Phewa lake, across which lies the Ananda hill that houses the World Peace Pagoda. Taking a boat across this lake is like a scene out of a movie, with scores of para-gliders soaring in the sky like colourful birds, and simmering waters that knows no end. Once across, we trekked atop the hill, along with a fairly well laid out rocky track, climbing up through the forest to the spot at a height of 1100 meters. The view from here is worth the climb, where all pieces of a picture become a whole- the white ranges, the vast expanse of the lake and the large settlement of houses.
The day went by visiting some of the other well-known spots -Mahendra cave, Davis Falls and the hanging bridge. Our journey came to an end with a quiet dinner at a restaurant (whose name I, unfortunately, have forgotten) by the lake. Spicy chicken curry, butter naan, fried rice, Crunchy fried chicken momos, topped with Churros and ice cream was a perfect end to a journey that certainly left me with more than I had expected.
Report by Roshan Sageer, NSoJ Bureau