A New World: Kathmandu

Busy streets of Kathmandu, NepalAfter three incredible months in Africa, it was time to start the third major leg of our trip around the world…Asia. We flew from Nairobi, Kenya via Qatar to Kathmandu, Nepal and it was as if we had passed through entirely separate worlds. Riding the bus with Maasai, waking up to the sounds of hippos, eating impala for dinner, these things became our new normal. Then just when we thought we were above culture shock, we got a double dose with Kathmandu. A sensory overload to say the least, the country’s capital sent our head spinning but when our eyes cleared, we loved what we saw. Beautiful, bustling, colorful, ancient, fragrant, resilient, sacred, profane, and perplexing, this 2,000-year-old city seems to be held together by its sheer energy.

 

Ladies selling food and flowers in Durbar Square, KathmanduThough its history starts around 185 A.D., Kathmandu started to boom in the 1200s when the Malla king fast-tracked the development of the arts and architecture to make the Kathmandu the grandest city in Nepal. Durbar (Palace) Square is the greatest culmination of this Renaissance but with so many finely crafted buildings created across town, even the average corner store looks fit for a king. Intricately carved windows, doors, and awnings are standard on just about every building in old town with chipping paint, slumping frames, and a thick layer of dust adding to its charm.

 

Temples and Stupas in Kathmandu, NepalTo start exploring beyond the backpacker hood of Thamel, we set out on a fantastic self-guided Lonely Planet walking tour through the network of alleyways and courtyards that make Kathmandu so unique. Each little street we went down or doorway we entered felt like we were falling deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole towards secret temples, stupas, and shrines.

 

God in KathmanduLittle local shrines to Hindu deities were all over town–in the middle of intersections, along the baseboards of buildings, tucked in the roots of trees…everywhere. Not just ancient relics, these shrines are a vital part of daily Nepali life. Even amid the hustle and bustle of the city (to see what we mean, watch our video), the average Kathmandu-er is said to make a minimum of ten stops throughout his day to pay homage to the gods.

 

Kathmandu StupaNepal is mostly Hindu but the Buddhist presence is strong in Kathmandu and up in the Himalayas. At downtown’s Kathesimbhu Stupa, Buddha’s gaze and prayer flags seem to radiate to all corners of the square.

 

Chat in Kathmandu NepalAfter coming from a bland African diet of too much cornmeal and kale, Nepali food seemed like an explosion of flavors. On our first day, we must have stopped at five food carts to sample anything we could get our hands on: momo dumplings, ten-spice rice crispies, and our favorite chaat. Chat is is a stew made of spiced veggies with mashed samosas. For 30 cents a bowl, we had seconds.

 

Durbar square templesFascinated by everything, it took us about four hours to get to travel 3km to Kathmandu’s main attraction: Durbar Square. This dense network of palace buildings and temples is true architectural wonder.

 

Nepalese women laughing in KathmanduPerhaps as striking as the buildings in Durbar Square are the people. Beautiful sari-clad ladies, leftover hippies, hindu pilgrims, European mountaineers, and rickshaw cabbies rub elbows in this surreal space.

 

A photo of the KumariWe decided to take an official tour of Durbar Square to wrap our head around complex pieces, like the Kumari Palace. A Kumari is prepubescent girl believed by many Nepali Hindus to be a living goddess. To be a candidate, a girl must not only be of a certain caste, beauty, and health but to make the final cut she must watch 108 animals slaughtered, then sleep in the room with their heads and show no sign of fear. Though it’s hard to believe this person exists, we saw her during the public worshiping and she’s one eight-year old you would not want to mess with.

 

Monkeys taking over VishnuOn our last day in Kathmandu we hiked a little out of town to the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site in Nepal, Swayambhunath. To the common person, it’s called Monkey Temple because it is home to hundreds of them! It was a little daunting maneuvering our way around these rascals while climbing the 365 stairs to the top, but once we reached the stupa, it was complete serenity. Incredible city views, stunning architecture, prayer candles flickering, and the sounds of chanting monks made us want hike up all over again.  Though this was just a little city jaunt, it made us even more excited for trekking in Nepal!

 

View from the top of Monkey Palace in NepalDuring our stay here, the Cat Stevens song “Kathmandu” played again and again in our heads. We had such an amazing time in this fascinating city that we can only hope, “Katmandu, I’ll soon be seein’ you.”

 

27 comments on “A New World: Kathmandu

  • January 5, 2013 at 4:11 am
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    Love cities like this. So many little hidden paths and nooks to explore. Will definitely give Kathmandu a visit in the future.

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    • January 5, 2013 at 6:12 pm
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      Oh yeah, countless nooks, we could have been in Kathmandu for one week of solid exploring….and food and lodging is so cheap there, you can stay as long as you want. What a great city. Add that and Bhaktapur to your “must-visit” list!

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  • January 5, 2013 at 8:46 pm
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    Struck by the colors – so much pink and red and variations there of. Must have taken forever to get anywhere on a given day from stopping often to say, “Wow!”

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    • January 6, 2013 at 2:15 pm
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      Maria, you have no idea. and with me being a bit of a shutterbug….well needless to say it took us 3.5 hours to walk the 3 kilometers from Thamel to Durbar Square (25 mins if you walk it straight)….lol. You need to go there, it might be my favorite city yet….”might” 🙂

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  • January 9, 2013 at 5:57 am
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    hey guys finally up to Nepal~
    hows going now?
    I went Malaysia for 2weeks.
    Me and Sophie get our OW diving licenses there.

    it was sooooo cool under the water.
    keep following you guys.
    Good luck.

    ——Michael

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    • January 12, 2013 at 2:21 pm
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      Michael, oh yeah, sorry it took so long….we are doing our Anapurna blog post now, then next up is the river rafting down the Seti river!!!! oh Malaysia, how did you like it there? so you guys are now PADI certified? that is so cool…glad you like it down there, we are HUGE fans. its a whole new world right?

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      • January 16, 2013 at 5:47 am
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        Yes we are, officially !!!
        Malaysia is amazing haha you know what ~ half of the people there can speak mandarin… we dont need to speak English for the whole trip
        i like the quite in under the water and you will never know whats gonna show up in front for you next second
        we are thinking about kapalai next month
        where are you now?
        looking forward to the rafting part!

        -Michael

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    • January 12, 2013 at 6:34 pm
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      Oh it was a photographers dream Franky….at every turn there are 400-800 year old temples, stupas and ancient artifacts…often being used by locals as stools, fruit stands, and all sorts of funny situations. and the people are so great to boot.

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  • January 12, 2013 at 8:17 pm
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    Great photos guys! It brings back wonderful memories of our time in Kathmandu 3 years ago. Wow – what a place!

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    • January 13, 2013 at 2:17 am
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      thanks Cam. So glad you guys made it to Nepal….even with the trekking aside, it has to be one of the coolest places we have ever visited.

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  • January 13, 2013 at 6:23 am
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    I felt like I was there with you! Great writing, amazing photos, and cute monkeys. One day, I’d like to take my little monkeys to Kathmandu! Thanks guys, we all miss you and keep being awesome.

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    • January 13, 2013 at 6:43 am
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      hhoooo bradah forlander! thanks for the kudos, and the comment. yeah werent those monkeys the cutest?!?!?!?! how are your monkeys doing? you all would have a freaking blast in Kathmandu.

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  • January 19, 2013 at 9:42 pm
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    Looks like an amazing cultural experience. Seems like you had lots of great photo opportunities… lots of history, culture, architecture, vibrant colors, and of course monkeys…

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    • January 20, 2013 at 3:57 am
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      you are so right holmes it was incredibly cultural, the food was really good (especially the street food), and the architecture….i mean it was some of the coolest we have seen in the entire world. then you layer on the huge trekking scene and BOOM! perfect 14 day trip!

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  • March 24, 2013 at 11:45 pm
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    Amazing photos! We’re headed to Nepal next (in April) and your posts are getting me excited.

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    • May 16, 2013 at 6:53 am
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      Oh my goodness, you must have just wrapped up your trip in Nepal. How was it?! Hope it was amazing and that you got to eat some chaat!

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  • April 25, 2013 at 5:32 pm
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    We will be in Kathmandu on the 28th of April, your notes and pictures make us even more excited! At which hotel did you stay there? Would you recommend it?

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    • May 16, 2013 at 6:55 am
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      So sorry for the late reply! Are you still in Nepal? We stayed at Kangsar hostel in Kathmandhu and butterfly hotel in Pokhara. Kangsar was average in terms of the space but they had such helpful staff–Raj is awesome! And in Butterfly hotel in Pokhara they actually had quiet nice rooms and grounds but it was a bit more expensive. Let us know you are liking/liked Nepal!

      Reply

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