Now that I am moving back home, my father decided to renovate the house. According to him, I deserve a whole new private bathroom and a new closet.
Like all house renovations, the expected result sounds awesome, but the process is unbearable. Not only it is taking a lot longer than we predicted, but also the entire house resembles the scenario after a natural disaster.
In everything I touch I leave a mark of my finger, a disruption of the thick layer of dust that covers tables, chairs, couches… Dust can be found even inside cupboards and drawers!
Looking at this mess, the polluted and dusty streets of Kathmandu immediately cross my mind.
Nepal had been on my list for many years, but unfortunately my visit kept being postponed until it was too late.
In 2015, Gorkha Earthquake hit central Nepal. Over 8000 people were killed, many thousands more were injured, and more than 600.000 structures in Kathmandu and other nearby towns collapsed.
Two years later, I was arriving in Kathmandu, where bricks, dust and other debris lined the streets, in the aftermath of this terrible disaster.
Traffic was chaotic, with only rare traffic lights here and there. Cars, motorbikes, donkey carts, trucks and pedestrians competed in a aggressive race to see which one would be the first to reach the next traffic blockage in ten metres. During these time-consuming car rides I had plenty of time to look out the window and to absorb all the details of the city.
Huge nests of entangled telephone cables could be found in each corner. Kids ran happily on the street. Women wore colourful saris. Some people wore masks because of the air pollution.
At the roadside, small convenience shops exposed their products on wooden tables. Brand new tooth brushes already covered in dust. Dust was everywhere. I got the feeling that even highly elegantly dressed people had a thin layer of dust over their fresh clothes.
Kathmandu, also known as the city of temples, is really up to its name. Beautiful golden temples are pilled up, together with buddhist stupas.
Swayambhunath is a religious complex at the top of a hill that consists of a big stupa, a variety of temples and a Tibetan monastery.
The majestic stupa attentively watches the whole world through its four large pairs of eyes over the four cardinal directions.
Not even the most cunning and discrete sinners remain offscreen, as a third unpaired eye lies above each pair. Together these eyes are called the “all-seeing eyes of the Buddha”.
Amazed by this architecture, although feeling extremely observed, I walked around it joining the hundreds of pilgrims spinning their prayer wheels in a religious, unsynchronised flashmob.
Durbar squares are plazas opposite to the old royal palaces in Nepal. Before the unification of Nepal, the area consisted of small kingdoms, and Durbar squares are the most prominent remnants of these old kingdoms.
Three os these durbar squares, in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are definitely worth a visit.
Kathmandu Durbar Square was unfortunately very affected by the earthquake, but it is still possible to admire its medieval architecture and the facade of the royal palace of the Shah kings. And pigeons. A lot of pigeons flying over our heads.
Next to it is the Narayanhity Royal Palace, the residency of the Nepalese monarchy, where a tragic and not yet fully explained episode in 2001 made most of the royal family disappear in a couple of hours.
The Nepalese royal massacre was one of the major catalysts to the end of the monarchy in Nepal. At a family dinner party, the Crown Prince Dipendra shot most of his family before shooting himself and falling into a coma. Both the king and the queen died at the scene, together with their daughter and ten other family members. Crown Prince Dipendra, the responsible for the massacre, was declared king of Nepal while in a coma, but he was never aware of his short reign as he died in hospital three days later without regaining consciousness. His uncle, that luckily (or not, as conspiracy theories affirm) was not at the party, was crowned after his death. But monarchy in Nepal was reaching its final days. The palace is now turned into a museum, where several pictures and paintings of the royal family members give faces to this horror story.
Iconic of Nepal are the young kumaris (living-goddesses) spread throughout the country.
In Kathmandu, Kumari Bahal honoured us with a glimpse of her beauty by showing up at her balcony for five minutes. This three-year old girl was chosen as the most beautiful girl of the city, and is now worshiped as its living-goddess. No photos can be taken of her but I remember the sad look in her eyes. Turns out it is not so much fun to live in a palace, away from parents, being homeschooled, having no other kids to play with, dressing the finest silk and wearing gold and emerald accessories. I guess having your childhood stolen is the price you pay to get a place among the gods.
Patan city (also called Lalitpur, meaning “city of beauty”) is a marvel of Newar architecture.
Patan Durbar Square, which hosts a famous weekend market over its floors tiled with red bricks, has more temples by square metre than anywhere else in the world.
Krishna Temple (with 21 golden pinnacles), Bhimsen Temple (displaying three interconnected golden windows), Vishwanath Temple (decorated with erotic carvings and guarded by two stone elephants at the front entrance) and Taleju Temple (with triple roofs) can all be found in this area.
Too many temples, right? I agree. Ancient civilisations in Nepal seemed to lack a sense of urban planning. It is too much beauty to appreciate at once. You walk out of one temple to stumble on the next.
Children ran fast from temple to temple, stealing all the offerings their hands could reach before they were caught. Unlike Christians, Buddhists and Hindus offer all kinds of weird things to their gods: chocolates, chips, money, hair, cakes, bread…
Bagmati River and Pashupatinath
Somewhere along the banks of Bagmati River there is a sacred place for cremations of those who want their souls to find eternal peace. This place is Pashupatinath.
I found it both charming and extremely creepy the nepalese reaction to death. Open-air cremations were more like a celebration, a get together of family and friends. They ate good food while seating in a semi circle. The poor cadaver, wrapped in orange cloth, laid on wooden bars, burning like a bonfire. I felt like an intruder in what in my culture should be an intimate family moment. It was disturbing to watch.
The ashes were blown away by the wind, ending up in the same muddy river where kids and dogs were playing.
This is considered one of the holiest places in Nepal, and many festivals bring hindu pilgrims to Bagmati riverbanks.
Namobuddha and Boudhanath
Two other pilgrimage sites are Boudhanath (a 2500 years old buddhist stupa) and Namobuddha (meaning “homage to Buddha”), a stupa built on top of a hill from where the snow-covered Himalayan ranges can be seen.
On our way to Namobuddha, our car was stopped several times by handmade barriers that kids had improvised to demand gate money. It was hilarious to observe how there barriers were getting more and more sophisticated along the way.
First stop, two boys with defiant eyes standing in front of the car and refusing to step aside. Then, a rope. And the last ones already had heavy wooden sticks.
Several kilometres and lost rupees later, we finally reached Namobuddha and its Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery.
Not only the view was breathtaking but also the buddhist paintings on the walls of the monastery were impressive.
There, at the top of the hill, you could breathe peace.
Well, to be honest, this peaceful scenario kept being interrupted by busy young monks rushing back and forward. As a woman, I am not allowed to touch them or to even look them in the eyes, which made me uneasy.
Dhulikhel is a city that has been for centuries an important point of the commercial route linking Nepal to Tibete. But what makes it special to me is the 180 degree view of more than 20 peaks of snow-fed mountains on the Himalayas, such as Mt. Annapurna, Mt. Ganesh Himal, Mt. Langtang and Mt. Lhotse.
Nepal is an exotic mixture of religion, culture and tradition, at the foot of the Himalayas.
Wishing everyone safe travels,