Monthly Archives: November 2012

Kathmandu – Spiritual and Alive

Nepal v3.0

This post takes you through the enchanting medieval indigenous cultures of Kathmandu that are spiritual and alive. There exists a  camaraderie in faith that transcends religions.

October 24th

Today was Dashain in Nepal, a public holiday. It you are living in Nepal, a public holiday would be a really great day; but if you are a traveler like me, a public holiday means trouble. Houston! We have a problem. It all began in the morning when we couldn’t find a hotel to have breakfast.  Starving, we set out to Bhaktapur, an ancient town in Kathmandu Valley. Finally we had brunch in a small sweet shop. One problem solved, but then comes the next. No buses!! Only alternative – Taxi. For an average tourist, it’s not a big deal, but if you are on a tight budget, it indeed is. After half an hour of rigorous negotiations, we struck a deal for NR 1650 (12 km back n forth plus 2 hrs waiting). Its kinda expensive, but we had no other “cheaper” alternative.

Half an hour through the  deserted 4 lane highway, we found ourselves looking behind time. You’d feel it too as Bhaktapur takes you to the past. The architecture, the roads, everything is peppered in an archaic flavour; A projection of the Nepal’s glorious past. The 1st destination was Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Yes, this is the 2nd Durbar Square, I’ve seen in Nepal. This one is much bigger than the earlier Patan Durbar square. But the basic architectural style is identical. We visited one of the main temple there, and as with all other temples in Nepal, I had to wait outside while my friends had a darshan. I took this time to explore a nearby pond that had stone statues of snakes around it. Once we were satisfied that we have taken ample photos of the Durbar Square, we decided to visit the pottery square. The brochure had photographs of huge courtyards covered with pottery, but ironically, what we saw were courtyard covered with cars. But we decided to do some pottery shopping, as a consolation prize.

Another interesting observation – we call it the “Backdoor Entry”. In both Patan and Bhaktapur, we observed that the ticket counter and the ticket examiner is present only near the main gate, but you can enter through any gate. I know what you are thinking, but I’d say, keep it as a worst case scenario.

Dashain, the longest festival of the year, is known for its animal sacrifices. No pun intended, but what we saw around us were disturbing. The whole streets and vehicles were sprinkled with blood from the animal sacrifices, and we did see a few sacrifices as well. It’s something for which I’d say, “viewer discretion advised”.

Next we visited the Taumadhi Square and the famous Nyatapola Temple. This 5-storey temple is about 30m high and is the tallest Pagoda temple in Nepal and it offers a good view of the Bhaktapur from its top. Another half a kilometer from Taumadhi was the Dattatreya Square. It too has a number of temples, but the distinguishing feature are the famous peacock windows that adorn the walls of the Square.  After circuit around Bhaktapur, I conclude that, it was worth it. The major drawback in the tourism development in Bhaktapur is the commercialization. The once palaces of the royal family are now exotic restaurants and the reddish bricked texture that covered the streets are marred by the colourful Chinese plastic toys and stuff.

So as to maintain a religious harmony, we decided to visit a Buddhist Stupa. This one is the Swayambhunath Stupa, that is located atop a hill. The best part about this place is that it offers a panoramic view of the city of Kathmandu. The temple is surrounded by tiny stone carved Stupas and the chanting of the Buddhist prayers gives this area a divine presence. I’d urge you to listen to the Tibetan Incantation “Om Mani Padme Hum”.  According to me, it’s a really good piece of music to meditate to and it is a prayer that purifies you. The “Backdoor Entry” works here as well. But trust me, we bought tickets everywhere.

Next interesting fact thing I wanna share with you is that the people in Nepal are very good with the 1.6 mathematics (Currency conversions). But, I must say, I found a few shopkeepers who are rather poor in addition. So, don’t be alarmed if you see that the prices of  food items are high even on a roadside kiosk. They’ll make adding mistakes and that too in your favour.  But then, be a gentleman.

Our last destination in Nepal was the closest to the place we stayed. It’s the Kathmandu Durbar Square. Yeah, the 3rd one (and the last).   But for a change, we decided to visit it at night. So, after a 1.6 km walk from our hotel, we reached the Kathmandu Durbar Square. Its much smaller compared to the other two. Being Dashain, we found the place very crowed with devotees patiently waiting in really long queues. One thing anyone would first notice  about this Durbar is the change in the architectural style. There were a few white coloured buildings that are of European architecture and looked relatively new.

And after a wading through the illuminated, yet deserted streets of Kathmandu, we decided to call it a day. This concludes our Kathmandu adventure. After dinner, we slept to the “lullaby” of Bob Marley in our cozy room at Deutsch Home. We have an early morning bus to catch.

Next destination – Pokhara.

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Kathmandu Valley – A Fine Blend of Old and New

Renowned as the capital and the most developed city in Nepal, Kathmandu is a city of images. A colourful and artistic mélange of Palaces, ancient temples and modern architecture. And here we are, in the heart of Nepal.

22nd October

Objective: Find a hotel to stay. As expected, taxi drivers and hotel brokers swarmed around us. Heeding to the advice of my uncle, we decided to try searching in Thamel district, the tourist heaven in Kathmandu. Bustling with foreign tourists, Thamel is the center of Kathmandu’s tourism industry. Prima facie it might look very posh, but you can always find cheap accommodation there. “Deutsch Home” (People pronounce it as Dutch Home! ) was our humble host. The caretaker was a 4 foot guy who replied to all our questions with Yeah yeah yeah. For NR 700, the 3 bed room in the heart of Nepal city was pretty decent, with attached bath. Freshened up and the next important decision awaited us.

Where to go and how? The hotel receptionist came to our aid. He suggested possible trip plans and we set out on a Kathmandu expedition. We found our self walking through the narrow bricked roads shadowed by old buildings, yet crowded with the busy life of Kathmandu.  The streets were crawling with vendors selling everything from A to Z. It was hard to negotiate through the vendors and 2 wheeler’s that sneak up alarmingly close to you before turning away.

Nepal, being a Hindu nation, was in a festive mood due to Dashain, the Nepali version of  Dusshara. Owing to the festivities, the Palace Museum was closed for a few days. So all we could see were huge closed gates, after walking over 2 km. One thing you would notice, are the beautiful graffiti on the walls near footpaths.(Something that I’ve never seen in India).

Another interesting observation is that, if a passerby tell you that your destination is just 10 mins walk, it’ll take you at least 16 mins. Or if someone says, it’s just a km away, it’ll be over 1.6 km away. I guess Nepali’s have an obsession for 1.6 (Note that 1.6 NR = 1 INR). So keep the 1.6 factor in your mind. The best way to get around the city is by Micro (An over-sized Maruti Omni is what I’d call it). It’s like a share-auto in India. There are buses as well, but not every route.

Our next stop was Patan Durbar Square. It is a really beautiful architectural marvel located in the middle of a commercial part of Kathmandu. It is one of the 3 old cities that make up the Kathmandu Valley. The elegant and well designed temples add to the grandeur of the place. We could feel the hustle of business around us and we did spend some time walking through those streets. We nearly had a shock when we inquired the prices of a few curios being sold in the street. It was more than 10 times the price we anticipated. (Well if intend on buying it, you might as well bargain to bring it down by, say 800%).

The next destination was the sacred Pashupathinath Temple and took a bus from Patan. The main temple is restricted to Hindus. Being a non-Hindu, I found myself photographing around the temple, while my friends went for a darshan. Being one of the holiest Hindu places of worship in Nepal, Pashupathinath Temple was crowded like any other day with pilgrims and tourists. Something that we noticed was the cremation grounds next to a small river flowing by the temple. The Pashupathinath Temple complex has a number of old shrines behind it, atop a small hill. It kinda felt like we traveled back by over a few centuries. Dozens of small stone carved shrines in a silent hilltop shaded by huge trees and guarded by hundreds of monkeys intrigued me! We walked around the whole complex and then went out through the other side of the hill. We had our eyes on our next destination. The Boudhnath Stupa –  One of the largest Stupas in Nepal.

We walked for over a mile, through the housing areas of Kathmandu and arrived at Boudhnath Stupa. The moment we entered, you felt as if we were in Thailand or some other Buddhist nation. It was magnificent. The eyes of Buddha seems to be watching you. As you circumnavigate the Stupa, there are lots of high-class handicraft shops around you and a numerous Buddhist monks. There are 2 small Buddhist temples around the Stupa as well. We did spend quite a lot of time clicking photos of this ancient Stupa  The colourful and lively nature of the place is bound to allure any tourist.

It was already 6.30 pm and it was getting really dark. We were literally exhausted, but had to cramp into a 12 seater tempo carrying over 20 people. And to make matters worse, we walked the wrong way for about 20 minutes or so, before we realized it. Finally, through the narrow maze of commercial streets, we arrived at Thamel. We could hear Bob Marley and other great singers through the open terrace of exotic pubs. The soul of night life in Kathmandu, Thamel is your place, if you wanna have a booze party at night.

Back in our room, the sounds of night life felt a bit too annoying, but well, since we were too tired, we slipped off into a deep slumber in no time.

We have another great adventure waiting for us tomorrow.

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Naturally Nepal – The Beginning

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” – Moorish proverb

Before I begin, I wanna tell you that, this is my first attempt into blogging, let alone a travelogue. But the basic reason for this post is simple, A lot of posts by lot of “unknown people” helped me in through my numerous journeys. So its time, I return the favour to the netizens. So, here it goes…

This is about my trip to explore a few places in Nepal. If you are a travel enthusiast, you would’ve considered visiting Nepal. If not, I’d urge you to think about it. If you are an Indian citizen, then, going to Nepal is as easy as going to any state in India. My journey begins from Kanpur. With me are Ashwin and Vijin, two travel maniacs like me.

Everything obeys the Murphy’s law, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. The 1st thing that went wrong was getting a ticket from Kanpur to Gorakhpur. Guess what, even after standing in Q for nearly 4 hours, we still couldn’t get a tatkal ticket, thanks to the “exceptional” typing speed of the gentleman at the counter. But luck was on our side, as we managed to get a 3rd AC ticket from Lucknow to Gorakhpur. And so the journey begins…

October 20th, 2012

First job was to get a bus to Lucknow and we ended up waiting for nearly 2 hours for the Volvo (They are damn cheap compared to Kerala), not to mention the high speed lunch with our eyes glued to the watch, since we over estimated the punctuality of Indians. The 4 hour wait in Lucknow was shared between a mall and the “you-know-how” railway station waiting room. We arrived early morning in Gorakhpur and freshened up in the “not-so-bad” railway waiting room. Now it was time to head to Sonauli, the Indo-Nepal border. You might see a number of jeeps calling out to you, but I’d recommend a govt bus or train to Nautanwa. Thanks to a passerby, we found ourselves in a 4 hour passenger train ride to Nautanwa and a Rs.10 savari took us to the border.

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The most striking feature about the border is that, it doesn’t look like an international border, the border between 2 countries!! If you are an Indian citizen, all you have to do is walk across the border, and smile at the security guards. Trust me, not a single soul is gonna ask for an ID card. Do visit the tourism office in Nepal (The building to your right immediately after the Nepal Gate) and get all the maps and pamphlets available. You’d be surprised to see the hospitality of the tourism guy. (Or may be we just got lucky)

Congrats! You are in Nepal. Better get your currency converted from any of the money changers you see. No Commission!! 1000 INR will give you 1600 NR. If you have an SBI card, you’ll find SBI ATMS both in Kathmandu and Pokhara and will dispatch NR with no commission. You can even give Indian currency in any shop in Nepal. Just for  trivia, If you buy something in Nepal for NR 45 and pay INR 100, guess what, there is a good news and a bad news. The good news is that the shopkeeper return you Rs.115. But, the bad news is, its Nepali currency.

So, once you have your wallet full, its time to experience Nepal. If you have time to spare, ie atleast 4 hours before 5 pm, do visit Lumbini. But before that, do figure out a way to get to Kathmandu. We booked overnight bus tickets from Sonauli. (Consider the worst bus you can ever imagine).

Just 3km from Sonauli is Bhairawa from where you can get a local bus to take you to Lumbini – The birth place of Lord Buddha. Its just a 25km ride and will take close to an hour. Once in Lumbini, you have a lot to see, ranging from Maya Devi Temple (The exact birth location of Lord Buddha) to numerous Monasteries built by over a dozen countries in their traditional architecture. If you are not interested in walking, do hire a rickshaw. We were good as dead by the time we covered half the places with our heavy backpacks. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see them all as they closed at 5 pm. But it is a must see place as far as I’m concerned. The serene and calm atmosphere of Lumbini will surely entice you.

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Back in Bhairawa, I took myself a Nepal sim card (NCell). It was a simple procedure and all i had to do was produce an Indian ID card (Now that’s really cool!!).  And don’t be alarmed, if they ask your grandfather’s name as well. The Night bus took us to Kathmandu, which is about 300km from Bhairawa. Let me warn you, this is not the kind of a journey you’d wanna embark, if you are a girl or you have a girl with you. We were so delighted to get ourselves a seat in the last row of a bus which was devoid of a shock absorber. And to make matters worse, a Hindi dubbed Telugu action movie was being played at very high volume (A nice lullaby to put you to sleep). Nevertheless it worked, as we were so tired after the tyrst with Lumbini.

For interested travellers, I can offer a plan B and a plan C depending on the weight of your wallet. You can take a flight to Kathmandu from Bhairawa (Hardly 45 mins, I suppose) or you can hire yourself a cab to take you through the beautiful valleys, ups and downs, and twists and turns on the road to Kathmandu.

Next stop, Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal…

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Categories: Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , | 16 Comments

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