I never thought that I would travel to Nepal anytime soon … to be honest, it never crossed my mind! It’s not that I had no interest in visiting this small Himalayan country, it’s just that I had always perceived it as a destination for hardcore adventurers – the kind that are keen to take on serious physical challenges and conquer the world’s highest mountains.
So, big was my surprise when I was invited to attend a conference in Kathmandu Valley in May and discovered that there is so much to do for ‘normal’ travellers like me. And, it was right up my alley: a small and very safe country, rich in history and culture, beautiful architecture, great food, wonderful friendly people and very affordable!
Wedged between India and China, Nepal is at an interesting crossroad of two cultures and religions (most notably Hinduism and Buddhism). From the conversations I’ve had with locals, it seems that this small country is sometimes bullied by its much more powerful neighbours; yet it remains proudly independent and very hospitable towards visitors from near and far. I also learned that Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha – in Lumbini, southern Nepal, to be precise. (I first learned this fact from a sticker on a taxi in front of mine, as I made my way from the airport to my budget hotel in Kathmandu peak hour traffic. ‘Buddha was born in Nepal’).
During my three-day weekend before the conference, I tried to see as much as possible of Kathmandu Valley. I ended up visiting the three historic kingdoms of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan – all of which I can highly recommend.
Kathmandu Valley was once ruled by the Malla Dynasty for more than 600 years (from 1201 to 1769). By 1482, however, the kingdom was divided among the three sons of Yaksha Malla and pretty soon these three kingdoms (Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan) became highly competitive. They wanted to outdo each other with everything, including art and architecture, which resulted in a legacy of wonderful exotic craftsmanship and palaces that tourists can still visit today.
Though much was damaged during the major earthquake in 2015, renovations (supported and funded by many organisations and countries) are in full swing and it did not affect my sightseeing experience at all. In just a few days, I managed to visit six of the seven amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the valley: Kathmandu Durbar (royal palace) Square, Bhaktapur Durbar (royal palace) Square, Patan Durbar (royal palace) Square, Swayambhunath (Kathmandu’s oldest and most important Buddhist temple, a.k.a. the Monkey Temple), Pashupatinath (Hindu Temple and cremation site) and Boudhanath (the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet).
I was able to do all of this, because I had such a fantastic tour guide. Booking a tour guide was the best decision ever, as there is no way I would have been able to see so much on my own in just a few days. Manorath Sangraula was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Nepal. I learned so many things: from Nepalese architecture and history to language and religion. All that newfound knowledge made my short visit to Kathmandu Valley so much richer! And, just for the record, he has no idea that I am singing his praises in this blog post 😉
Did I get to see the snow-capped Himalayas? Unfortunately not! Though it is possible at certain times of the year to see the Himalayan mountain range from Kathmandu Valley (I’m told it’s a spectacular sight to behold!), the weather was too hazy when I visited. For people willing to splurge, though, there is the opportunity to do a scenic one-hour mountain flight ‘over’ Mount Everest from Kathmandu’s airport.
I hope to return to Nepal one day to explore more of this beautiful country, see the Himalayas with my own eyes, and perhaps spot one of those elusive Royal Bengal tigers in Chitwan National Park…
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