From a ramping invader to a devoted pilgrim, Kathmandu, the nerve center of Nepal, has been able to captivate everyone with its hidden mysteries and exotic setting. Occasionally crowded, though always beautiful, the city in many ways is a miniature form of Nepal.
In almost every turn, there is an artistic exposition of graceful temples, elegant palaces, brick paved courtyards, holding up long history and astonishing legends. The further you walk around the city, the more mystifying it appears to you. So if you really want to understand what’s happening around you, walk with a local guide. On the other hand, if you decide to travel around on your own, the friendliest people of the city make it worthy.
Among thousands of jewels of the city, all equally beautiful and ravishing, choosing top 5 is just a mere attempt of highlighting some of the historical and cultural aspects of this town.
Explore Kathmandu Durbar Square
Designated as UNESCO world heritage site back in 1979, Kathmandu Durbar square is an open-air architectural museum of the magnificent temples, pagodas, pavilions and shrines.
The jewels in the crown are Hanuman Dhoka (the complex of royal palaces), Taleju Temple (around 5 centuries old), the large stone statue of Kal Bhairav, Kumari Bahal (the house of the living goddess, Kumari), Kasthamandap (the square area built from the timber of a single Sal/ Shorea Robusta tree), and the Maju Deval (a triple-roofed Shiva, major Hindu god, temple dating back to 1690).
Peace, Safety and Beauty is what Kathmandu Durbar Square offers every visitor. If you don’t want to miss anything, start the walk either from the gate guarded by Lord Shiva and Parvati (Hindu Goddess/ Shiva’s Spouse) or from Kasthamandap.
Ritual circumnavigation and Tibetan Culture at Boudhanath
Accumulated by Buddhist Lamas and various monasteries, Boudhanath is Asia’s largest stupa and an oasis of spiritual calmness. Just 4.7 km to the east from Tribhuvan International Airport, the stupa is the religious centre of Nepal’s Tibetan/ Buddhist community.
The lanes surrounding the stupa are crammed with around 40 monasteries. As per Buddhist belief, the all seeing eyes of lord Buddha painted on the four sides of the spire’s base keep an eternal watch on the valley, distinguishing between vice and virtue.
With still lots going on and lots to see around, it is nowhere quiet like Boudhanath. Come at dusk, sit inside one of the rooftop cafes and watch the Tibetan pilgrims strolling down to the stupa and performing Kora- a ritual, clockwise circuit of the monument. You can also join them on their ritual circumambulation.
Symbolizing Nirvana (the stage where there is no suffering; Buddhist philosophy), Swayambhunath is considered as the most glorious Buddhist stupa. It is situated atop a hill and is believed to be visited by Lord Buddha himself. Swayambhunath literally means the self-created or self-existent.
Consisting of a stupa, variety of shrines and temples, some dating back to the Lichchhavi period, the stupa offers an attractive view of Kathmandu valley esp. during the night, under the soft glow of the moonlight. The four pairs of Buddha’s watchful eyes painted in the four cardinal directions is believed to keep a lookout for righteous behavior and human prosperity and the third eye painted above each pair signify the insight of Lord Buddha.
The stupa becomes particularly striking in the early evening when the city is illuminated. If you are more into walking, climb 365 ancient steps to reach to the top but if you want to shorten the walk, drive to the west side, where there are only a few steps to climb to the top.
Located on the bank of holy Bagmati River, Pashupatinath is Nepal’s most important Hindu temple. Here, Lord Shiva is worshipped as Pashupati, the god of beasts.
The temple is built in the pagoda style of architecture, has a gilded roof and beautifully carved silver doors. Every year, thousands of Sadhus (saints) and devotees come here from hundreds of kilometers away to pay homage to Lord Shiva. Though non- Hindus cannot enter the temple premises; they can catch tantalizing glimpses from the east bank of the Bagmati River.
They are also allowed to stroll around the surrounding complex of Shaivite shrines, Lingams (phallus, symbol of Shiva) and Arya ghat (cremation site by the side of the river where you can see several funerals taking place and bodies being cremated). Please show some respect and don’t snap pictures of the cremations. You need to pay NRs 500 as entrance fee but believe me; the temple is interesting enough to pay for.
Garden of Dreams
Garden of dreams is a beautifully restored and well maintained neo classical garden. It is ranked number 4 out of 64 major attractions in Kathmandu.
Though situated in the midst of Kathmandu city, the garden is quite a hide away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Once you enter the walled garden, the fresh air and tranquil atmosphere refreshes and rejuvenates your mind, body and soul. You can also ask for mats with a pillow to relax.
The options are plenty; lie down and read a good book, take a nap, eat, or just relax with lunch and beautiful view of the park. The entry fee of 200 Rupees (100 Rupees for ages 70 and over) is much less for a hidden gem like this. You may also devour some delicious dishes served by an attached eatery, Kaiser Café and Restaurant and have a great time.
With seven out of the 10 UNESCO world heritage sites and thousands of sacred temples and shrines made of brick, stone, metal and wood, Kathmandu is a traveler’s wet dream. There is a lot to see and discover which might take several days. I recommend at least one to five days for the sightseeing tour. Whether to expand or contract the length depends upon you.
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