After having lived in Nepal for 4 months, it still feels like I am just arriving. These 4 months of intense culture shocks, open-mouthed admiration, and adventurous wanderings have passed by in a flash. Imagine having to soak up the complexity of this place and enjoy it to the fullest if I had only had two weeks? Just the other day, someone reached out to me for advice regarding her short visit to Nepal in August. She asked ‘what are the top 5 things that I just have to see while I’m there?’. So, I took the task of trying to narrow it down and I finally have an answer to share. What have I seen in these 4 months that I would really NOT want to have missed? :
1.Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu
This is the largest Tibetan Buddhist Stupa in Nepal, and one of the most important Buddhist peregrination sites in the country. Boudhanath was one of the first places I visited in Kathmandu and remains one of my favourite spots inside the city where to spend a relaxing afternoon. Walk several times around the stupa and remember: always clockwise! This is a form of prayer and meditation to attract good luck and protection. It is also a great way to start soaking in what this place has to offer, especially familiarizing oneself with the friendliness of the people that seem to be in every corner of this site. Standing in the central part of a circular plaza, this stupa is surrounded by art and souvenir shops selling religious symbols, mantra CDs, Tibetan furniture, and clothes. It is like a big religious market, and if you look closely there are many treasures to be found. The plaza also has a great variety of cafés and restaurants, lots of them with a spectacular roof-top view, where to stop for refreshments and observe the walking crowds of faithful people from a birds-eye-view. The top part of the stupa fell during the Earthquake of April 2015, but the magnificent place remains imposing and enormous and its pacific aura remains intact.
Elders find the disposition to walk several times around the massive Stupa, spinning prayer wheels and chanting mantras.
From elders to a young generation of believers, here I saw all kinds of Tibetan Buddhists and Nepalese people. (Notice on the top right what the stupa looked like before the earthquake of 2015!).
Many friendly encounters with lovely people who were as curious about us as we were about them. Regardless of the immense language and cultural gaps between us, we had many interactions that all started and ended with smiles.
A flute-seller stopped by when he saw my camera and played a song for us. There are all kinds of businesses and people around Boudhanath Stupa.
A beautiful Tibetan teapot I found in one of the little shops filled with treasures around Boudhanath.
All kinds of religious symbols were displayed, more often than not reminding us of the religious syncretism ever present in Nepal, where Buddhas and Hindu Gods seem to coexist not only in the shelves of shops but also in people’s hearts.
A Tibetan furniture shop, one out of many little shops surrounding Boudhanath that are worth a visit.
This is what the massive Boudhanath Stupa looks like since April 2015’s earthquake. Although it might look like a big construction site for a while, an ever present positive aura reminds every visitor that there is more to this place than the eyes can grasp.
People line up to help reconstruct Boudhanath Stupa. Every day, hundreds of people are able to say that they have played a role in the reconstruction of this important religious site.
2.Swayambhunath Stupa, Kathmandu.
The Swayambhunath Stupa is as special as the neighbourhood in which it is located, largely populated by Tibetan Buddhists. Swayambhunath is not just one Stupa, but a whole mount composed of several monuments, offering temples, and smaller stupas surrounding the main one. ‘Swayambhu’ means ‘self-generating Buddha’, the main deity worshipped here. It is believed that a self-generating flame has been floating in the air, inside the main stupa’s immense structure, for thousands and thousands of years. Swayambhunath was severely damaged during last year’s earthquake but, just like Boudhanath, it remains imposing and beautiful.
At one of the main entrances of Swayambhunath lies a fountain. Surrounded by crowds, everyone takes a turn at trying to make a coin fall perfectly positioned in the middle of the pot located in front of this Buddha statue. If you are good at aiming and throwing, a special wish might be granted to you by the Buddha.
On another entrance, these steep stairs lead to the main and largest stupa of Swayambhunath.
Several small stupas with their intricate stone carvings.
From the top of the main Swayambhunath stupa, the eyes of the Buddha and the pigeons watch the crowds.
Mindfully spinning the prayer wheels is the main activity around here.
All the while being observed by monkeys that jump up and down from the golden roofs of Swayambhunath.
Details surrounding Swayambhunath Stupa.
People smile kindly and welcoming to us.
An offering right in front of a temple at the Swayambhunath complex. Rituals are carried out at any time of the day, at any day of the week.
Monkeys play with the prayer flags and watch the crowds, seemingly used to the company of hundreds of visitors per day.
Laxmi temple standing tall above Bhaktapur’s cityscape.
Bhaktapur is a medieval Newari town whose names means ‘City of Devotees’. This town has conquered a special place among my Nepalese memories and I have written a great deal about the emotional experiences I had during the first 24 hours I spent there in this previous post. Bhaktapur’s historical centre is charming and cosy, much more silent than Kathmandu and with significantly less traffic. And yet, this smaller town seems immense because of the surprising amount of imposing ancient temples and strikingly beautiful monuments that are hosted here. There seems to never be enough time to see all that Bhaktapur has to offer. A great place to start would be at Taumadhi Square, where on can admire the tallest pagoda in Nepal, erected in honour of the Hindu Goddess Laxmi. At just a short walk away lies Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square, a World Heritage Site. Its beauty remains unaffected even after the recent earthquake’s destructions. Bhaktapur is filled with hotels and restaurants and, being only two hours drive away from Kathmandu, it makes a wonderful getaway for those who love the city but also seek tranquillity. The experience of simply walking around Bhaktapur’s historic centre can be filled with enriching lessons about religious and daily rituals embedded with beauty and modesty.
Laxmi’s temple is beautiful and enormous, understandably one of the most famous spots in Bhaktapur.
Laxmi Temple as seen from the side street. I couldn’t get over how beautiful and huge this pagoda is.
Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square.
A girl plays with the offerings at a temple in Taumadhi Square.
A Buddhist Stupa and a Hindu Temple stand together, reminding us again of the religious syncretism in Nepal.
An afternoon nap in the middle of the historic centre. There is a comfortable community feel in Bhaktapur’ historic centre that I have not yet felt in any other city around here.
Nepal has so many festivals and extravagantly looking religious rituals that you might just be lucky to be around to inadvertently watch one of them on the streets some day. When we last went to Bhaktapur, men were dancing at Taumadhi Square wearing big masks and wigs and spinning around to the hypnotizing melody of drums and bells.
This man proudly showed me what he was selling: the most popular food around here: Buff Momos (steamed dumplings with a filling made of buffalo meat and spices).
Close to Taumadhi Square lies the Pottery Square, where artists gather to work and display their colourful creations.
This is Lain, and he has been making pottery on this spot at Pottery Square for the past 60 years!
He kindly invited us to try it out and Michele gave it a go.
We met many friendly locals and one of them gave us two Buddha statues as a gift, to protect us and remind us to come back and visit. Their genuine kindness is deeply touching.
This woman showed me how to use the meditation bowl she is holding. Many sellers along the streets were desperate for tourists to come over, and were also often open for a friendly conversation even with limited English skills. Curious as we are, we ‘took advantage’ of their friendliness to learn more about their symbolisms and culture.
The effects of the earthquake are visible, but the beauty of the buildings and monuments is clearly strongly present in Bhaktapur.
The ancient stupa of Namo Buddha.
Spending a weekend at Namo Buddha was easily the most relaxing thing I have done in Nepal so far. We stayed at Namo Buddha Resort, which is located a walking distance away from the two main attractions around here: the small but adorable Namo Buddha’s ancient Stupa and the enormous Tibetan Buddhist Monastery Thrangu Tashi Yangtse. The walks around the woods here were much appreciated after a long immersion in the big city’s traffic. Surrounded by pine trees and prayer flags, we spotted several wild and domesticated animals as well as monks who, like us, enjoyed the fresh air and stretched their legs throughout the surroundings of the Monastery. The views from up the stupa and the Monastery were spectacular, it felt like we were standing at the top of the world (which, in a way, we really were when in the Himalayas). The air was fresh. The only sound was the indescribable noise of wind blowing on the top of the mountains. The Himalayan Mountain Range, white and clear ahead, signalled that the dividing line between Nepal and Tibet lied at a mere 3 hours drive away. For more about Namo Buddha please visit this post where I wrote about the gruesome tale that brings peregrines from all over Nepal to this place of worship to the Buddha of Compassion. / From Kathmandu to Namo Budha it took us around 2 and a half hours drive by car.
The view from the road arriving at Namo Buddha Resort.
Happy to find the woods, silence, and fresh air.
Monks walking towards the Monastery.
Friendly girls taking their goats for a walk – among the few people and many animals we met during our walks around Namo Buddha’s forest.
Children monks play on the stairs of access to the Monastery.
Many prayer wheels surround the outside walls of the Monastery.
Inside the Monastery, the colours and details were absolutely gorgeous.
Curtains on top of a door to the main temple inside the Monastery.
The view from one of the Monastery’s balconies.
A short distance away from the Monastery lies the ancient Stupa of Namo Buddha.
Many people peregrinate here from several parts of Nepal to make their offerings to the Buddha of Compassion, or Bodhisattva.
The small and adorable ancient stupa of Namo Buddha.
A short distance walk from the small stupa and one can find yet another offering site: On top of these stairs lies a cave where peregrines believe that this Buddha of Compassion became enlightened by offering his own flesh as food for a family of starving tigers.
Inside the altar/cave of the Buddha of Compassion.
Taking a walk and enjoying the view of the valley – on the way between the Resort and the religious sites.
Patan’s Durbar Square.
Patan is a city located immediately beside Nepal’s capital city Kathmandu. Historically, these two were rival kingdoms, each with their own armies, rulers, living goddesses (yes, living!) and ‘Durbar Square’s (square of the palace). Speaking of which, Patan Durbar Square is one of my favourite places to visit (even more, I must say, than Kathmandu’s Durbar Square), and the Museum of Patan inside it is very worth spending a morning or afternoon at. Around the square, there are countless cafés, restaurants and shops, but somehow it doesn’t feel like a touristic area exclusively. One can really sense the routine and culture of this place beyond tourism, very historically grounded. When in Patan, it is also worth visiting the hidden and small but beautiful Patan Golden Temple, where the Buddha is venerated in the form of Siddhartha Gautama.