Sunday, April 20, 2014

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Kathmandu – The Spiritual Hub : Enchanting Nepal Part 1


It had been quite some time since we had visited a place purely for a purpose of tourist interest. This thought coincided with my project ending and my bro Amit’s upcoming birthday. This was what seeded the plan which finally decided a trip to Nepal – our friendliest of neighbors. We booked our package with Makemytrip and flights seats on Spicejet. 

The trip started at home on 29th of March 2014 with celebration of Amit’s birthday - cake cutting and an early lunch of Chola Bhaturas. Post this we left home at noon for a 3:50 flight as it was bros first trip on air and wanted him to see the magnificent terminal of Delhi Airport T3 and also to get a seat on left window to see the mighty Himalayas on the way – so asked for the same with request for it to be in front to give a view uninterrupted by the wings. Got the boarding pass and then proceeded to the immigration where a departure entry was stamped on the passports. The guy on the desk was curious about my Guwahati origins from the address on the passport and on some queries he really was astonished to hear that there was an IIT in Guwahati, and though I am not new to it but after 20 years of its existence, I would hope it gained some name for itself. Once into the departure areas we roamed to almost each nook and corner of the airport and had some light (second) lunch at the food court. This was followed by some window shopping and start of our activities to preserve the memoirs of the visit – picture taking. We reached the departure gate right at the time and boarded the plane after a short wait.

Meanwhile here is a video providing a glimpse into the city developed from our photographs of the trip.

After a flight of about 50 minutes which involved some light snacks and a cup of tea, we were served a view of mighty Himalayas all clad in white snow. While this had us excited we had no idea yet about how much more and better of this view we were going to have for ourselves for the rest of the visit. It was also about then that we began our descent towards Kathmandu and as the plane loses altitude we have a great view of the city to which we are headed to and of the great valleys amidst this mountain country. Finally the plane touched the runaway of Tribhuvan International Airport and we disembarked at 17:20 exactly. On first look the airport seemed to be located amidst the beauty of the nation surrounded by hills and with evening breeze it felt welcoming.

Soon we boarded the bus and were taken to the arrival bay. We filled in the arrival forms which they had in English for foreigners and in Nepalese for locals and then proceeded to the customs desk. It was a smooth walkthrough flashing the Indian Passport. It is seldom that you feel respected for being Indian and today was one of those days. As we moved out to the baggage collection area, the scene was similar to any of the airports in a non-metropolitan city in India. However an interesting thing to note was that as you come out of the airport building, there are people who actually cross-check the luggage you take out with the tags on your boarding pass to ensure that you pick your own luggage. Once we were out of the airport there were counters of Nepal Telecom and NCell which sold simcards for the respective telecom service providers in Nepal. The absolute emptiness of the Nepal Telecom’s stall which is a government entity tempted us to move to the NCell counter which is only private service provider in the country. The crowd there made us believe that they had better network and though I don’t have points for comparison, in absolute terms the network was pretty good and kept us connected throughout the trip. We got a simcard (they had a micros-sim available at an extra price of 40 NPR) and decked it up with a voice and data plan. In all we payed 450 NPR (Sim – 150, Voice Recharge – 150, Data Pack for 40 MBs – 150; call charges were 3.55 NPR to India, .5 NPR local and some free minutes to NCell network). We were now looking for some currency exchange but the counter at airport kind of laughed us off and other shops expressed inability and so we deferred that for later. Now in hindsight we know that it is absolutely unnecessary and Indian currency is accepted everywhere with a conversion ratio of 1:1.6 standard across the country. Just be sure to note that they call it IC and at times quote rates in IC so be sure of the currency you are negotiating prices in. We finally moved out of the airport and found a person from our Hotel waiting with a name card and we were taken to our accommodation – Hotel Indreni. The bell boy takes our luggage as we check in after filing out the required forms and enter the allotted room – Room 914. Entering the room was a pleasant surprise as I always had apprehensions with the Makemytrip service in terms of accommodation. It was a nicely set up room with two individual fairly large sized beds in a room which itself was decently sized. The room set up was modern and well facilitated with LED television, small refrigerator, hot tea kettle and contemporary ambience. The only dampener was that the wifi was only available in the lobby and the restaurant. However, there was a great the view of the city from the large window of the room.


We freshened up and went down to have a first experience of the city. We strolled around the area surrounding the hotel and interacted with a few locals and shopkeepers to gain some knowledge of how thing were. With everyone we interacted we felt a sense of inquisitiveness and connection they showed and overall the treatment meted was more of elderly brother. They considered us as if it was our own country, went out of ways to help, were eager to guide and were interested in conversing. It was after talking to them that every shop big or small across Nepal would accept Indian currency at a conversion rate of 1 INR to 1.6 NPR without hesitation. Though not technically allowed, in case you want as souvenirs or to make calculations easier they were willing to exchange some currency too. We picked up some snacks and returned to the room. As it was a special day, we ordered pizza from the hotel room service which came in soon. After the dinner we retired for the day looking forward to the five days of Enchanting Nepal ahead of us.


Next morning, we woke up relatively early and went down for the complimentary breakfast which had a decent spread of items. After the breakfast and calling home about our well-being we got ready for our day tour of the Kathmandu Valley. Kathmandu Valley is collective name given to the city along with surrounding suburban areas including those of Patan and Bhaktapur. The entire valley is kind of spiritual hub with multiple places of religious importance especially for Hindus and Buddhists. The Kathmandu valley has in all seven monuments / areas declared as world heritage sites which includes two temples (Pashupatinath and Changu Narayan), two Buddhist stupas (Swayambhunath and Boudhnath) and three historical palaces (Durbar Squares of Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu). We had read a lot about these places as part of the preparation and were looking forward to have a taste of the country and were really happy to hear from the reception that our driver was there to pick us up. Our ride for the day was a 1990 model Toyota Corolla and was driven by a gentle guy Shukra who was friendly yet reserved.   

Our first stop for the day was Pashupatinath Mandir – The Shiva Temple - which is supposed to be one of the oldest temples and is visited by huge number of devotees from across the world to pay their homage. The temple because of large number of visitors is also called as “The Temple of Living Beings". Pashupatinath Temple, with its astonishing architectural beauty, stands as a symbol of faith, religion, culture and tradition. Regarded as the most sacred temple of Hindu Lord Shiva in the world, Pashupatinath Temple's existence dates back to 400 A.D. The richly-ornamented pagoda houses the sacred linga or phallic symbol of Lord Shiva and is situated beside the sacred Bagmati River. The courtyard of temple is also a renowned cremation site for Hindus. One interesting thing that we learned here was that the police force has a special group established to ensure security for temples which probably highlight the history of the country as a declared Hindu state. We picked up a souvenier at this site which was a five faced idol of Lord Shiva – the original idol is four faced and additional face is put up during aarti which marks the prayer time. On our way out we also witnessed the Batsleshwari Mai yatra – a procession where devotees sang hymns, chanted slogans and danced behind the deity’s idol mounted on a vehicle.


Next place we visited was the Boudhnath Stupa (entry fee of 40 NPR) which is one of the most important places of pilgrimage for Buddhists and is located amongst the hills which seem to form a natural mandala - store of sacred energy. It is one of the largest and most important Buddhist monuments across the world and in old days when trade routes to Tibet were open, traders and travelers prayed for safe passage across the mountain passes and gave thanksgiving on their return. Nowadays, the stupa towers over a small Tamang village which houses large number of Tibetan refugees. The main dome of the stupa is approximately 120 feet in diameter, 1 hectare in width and 43 meters in height. Within the area there were a few Gumbas – large rotating cylinders – which catch your fancy. The area around the stupa’s circumference has been developed as a market for souvenir. We had been out for a while and it was time for some quick snacks. A small restaurant called Flavors caught our attention because of Lonely Planet recommendation board and we chose it for the break. It did not disappoint up with its friendly though a bit slow service. 


This was followed with a visit to Swayambhunath Stupa also called the Monkey Temple which was another site of religious importance for Buddhists. Reaching this stupa involved an effort of climbing up more than 350 stairs but it was all worth it. Tourists like us may not have so much interest in the history and significance of the monument but the splendid view of the Kathmandu city was definitely something to look out for. The nickname of being a Monkey Temple was further strengthened by presence of hundreds of monkeys around the premises with a small pond for themselves designated as swimming pool for monkeys. Before climbing back down from the place, we bought singing bowl, a metallic bowl which produces various tones of sound suing a wooden stick and if properly concentrated, you could create a resonance effect which increases the tones based on how long you remain concentrated. We had seen this a-lot through various stops and were really intrigued so buying that was definitely on our list by now.


Next on the itinerary was the Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Square (entry ticket of 150 NPR). Located at heart of the city, it is a complex of beautiful temples and shrines important from Hindu and Buddhist cultures. Most of these are built in pagoda style and are embellished with intricately carved exteriors. Two of the things that caught our attention were the Durbar Museum (the palace) and Kumari Ghar. The palace was the residence and seat of administrative power in ancient time when king ruled the country and houses a lot of collection of things used by the rulers including those of the King Tribhuvan. The second place Kumari Ghar was much more intriguing though. This was a big brick building on Durbar Square and houses the Kumari - living goddess of Kathmandu. There are about 11 kumaris across Nepal, but the Kumari Devi (or Raj Kumari - royal goddess) in Kathmandu is the most important. There is a well laid out process for choosing a Kumari which is followed religiously. A 3-5 year old girl is chosen after confirmation of 32 specific signs of spirituality, matching of horoscope with that of present king and assurance of her bravery by placing in a room full of freshly severed buffalo heads. The girl thus chosen stays in this house being worshiped as a living goddess and all needs of hers along with her handlers are paid in full by the government. Besides for religious ceremonies and yatras, she only leaves the place on attaining puberty and returns back to her mortal life.



We followed this with a walk through the freak street which extended further to a visit to the Thamel area which is kind of a tourist hotspot. By then we already had lived a very long day and headed back to the hotel. Next morning we left the city for Pokhara, our next destination which was a promise of natural serenity and formed second leg of our journey. 


We visited Kathmandu again on our way back and spent a day. This time we had decided to tour the city on our own and experience the life in general. We visited several malls across the town especially those on the Durbar Marg and were pretty surprised that amidst the impression of this weak economy affluence was evident in certain sections. On this endeavor we also had a chance to put our hands on most awesome momos I have ever tasted. We also got chance to visit the China Town, which one could relate to any similar part of town in many European and American cities. After this mall-hopping, we realized it was finally time to big good bye to this visit. We came back to the hotel, packed and left for airport. After 6 days of non-stop fun and travelling we were back at airport to board our flight back to Delhi on 3rd of April.


6 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Point and Shoot from Sony.. Nothing fancy ;-)

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  2. We wish to visit Nepal and going tomorrow morning from Hyderabad to Varanasi and there from to Nepal by bus. Thank you for sharing your Nepal tour experience with beautiful photos

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    1. Hey Buddy !! Really happy the post was useful in anyway. Hope you have a great visit.

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  3. does indian sbi atm cum debit card (mastercard)works in nepal?? whch denominations of notes do i get?

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    1. Mine did not work. Actually only some of the old ones work. Check at the back of your card - Most of them specifically say that " Not Allowed for Bhutan and Nepal". In case it does not say that, it should work. As for cash, only uptil 100 INR bills are legally allowed in and out of Nepal.

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