Nepal has been a country I’ve been wanting to visit, because of how little I knew about the place. And to be honest, it isn’t a typical ‘bucketlist’ destination to many people. Travelling to me is about taking a break from familiarity, and opening one’s eyes to the world. Being popularly known as the gateway to the famous Annapurna circuit or Everest base camp to most, many do not know that the Capital of Nepal is also a historically and culturally rich destination worth a visit.
My first memory of the place was of its colours. The drive up to Nagarkot was twisty. Beginning from the airport, driving past Bhaktapur… and finally going up the hill, what appeared in front of me felt quite unreal as I wasn’t quite prepared for what was to come. The fast moving traffic added some kind of drama to everything that was appearing before my eyes. This was one of the many shots taken from the car… that I wished could have gone slower.
I stayed at a hotel located at the top of Nagarkot hill, and enjoyed really excellent views of the Himalayas for a couple of days (thanks to really fantastic weather).
Together with many other shutterbugs in the hotel, I crawled out of bed at 6am on my first morning in Nagarkot to catch the sunrise at the rooftop. It was freezing. But like in many places of the world, every sunrise is worth the wait…and this one was nothing less than magical, esp with the Himalayas as an amazing complement.
The Nagarkot tower, a popular tourist attraction, provides an excellent view of Mt Everest. From Nagarkot, one can also take a day hike to the famous Changu Narayan temple.
I found a guide who took me on a day trip on his motorbike to a few places out from Kathmandu. He took me along several stretches through the local villages, at the bottom of Nagarkot hill, and there, I got to observe a very fleeting view of how the locals live.
On this stretch, we were on our way to Dhulikhel, where I chanced upon some really scenic points.
Absolutely stunning Dhulikhel scenery.
While stopping by to photograph at Dhulikhel, I managed to chat up with some Nepalese, and got to know that this place is actually popular among the locals as retreat destination. I believe that a place loved by its locals should no doubt be a gem to tourists as well. And for me, seeing was believing. After which, my guide brought me back up to Nagarkot hill, via the Araniko highway.
This was along a busier stretch of the Araniko Highway, Nepal’s gateway to Tibet and China.
After visiting Nagarkot for a night, I moved down to Thamel, a busier, touristy stretch in the valley. Unlike the tranquillity in the mountains, Thamel is a complete opposite—loud and chaotic yet vibrant and inviting at the same time.
The streets, filled with locals and tourists, are lined with cafes and small businesses selling outdoor trekking gears, handmade goods, Cashmere scarfs, sweaters, clothing and of course fresh Nepali tea. Needless to say with the amount of choices you get, a good deal of shopping isn’t out of reach at all.
I wandered along the narrow streets on my first night, while being very aware I wouldn’t be able to find my way back… But the more I walked, the more corners I found… And I just couldn’t stop myself from getting lost. In fact I think I lost count of the number of ‘Namastes’ I said when asking the locals for directions. Haha. While getting lost isn’t usually a good feeling, I think I quite enjoyed the ‘challenge’ of figuring out the way back to my hotel. Hello Thamel, nice to meet you.
Home to one of the three Durbar Squares in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur is my favourite place to visit in Kathmandu. Every culturally rich destination has an ‘Old Town’, and to me, Bhaktapur is that place. It is recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its rich culture and wooden temples.
I took a stroll down the dusty streets in the early morning, and it felt almost cinematic and unreal to be there. If you are into street photography, the place has a character of its own would be sure to entice you to be back.
Pashupatinath Temple, Swayambhunath, Boudhanath
No itinerary to Kathmandu would be complete without a visit to these 3 places, namely the Pashupatinath temple, Swayambhunath and Boudhanath stupa. No doubt being crowded and really touristy, these are the places one surely cannot miss when in Kathmandu.
At the Pashupatinath temple, the oldest and perhaps most famous Hindu temple in Kathmandu, one is able to observe cremations along the Bagmati River.
While death is generally a taboo subject our society, observing the cremation ceremony can feel peaceful at times, as one comes to acceptance that death is simply part of life. Families who went to pay their last respects to their loved ones appeared calm, which was something quite different from how it is in my own culture. The temple premise was also where I met a few Sadhus, also known as the “holy men”. I received a dab of tilak on my forehead, which represents a deity’s blessing, for both men and women.
I highlighted these 3 places to visit, because they are so different, yet relevant to each other at the same time. The Swayambhunath, also nicknamed the “Monkey Temple” is a pilgrimage site for Hindus, and Buddhists. The Boudhanath stupa one of the largest and oldest in the world, is a beautiful structure, well- known amongst Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world.
I was lucky enough to be there on a full moon, a day when thousands of butter lamps lit up around the stupa.
Walk clockwise round the Boudhanath 3 times for a peaceful mind.
Outdoor fun – Trail Running at Shivapuri National Park
If you crave for a little outdoor activity, yet do not have the privilege of time for a 10 days basecamp trek, there are plenty of trail races that you can participate. I stumbled upon The North Face trail race at the Shivapuri National Park(a 30 mins drive from Thamel), and had a great time with nature and new friends from all over the world. While it was really strenuous going up 1180metres to the top… the sense of achievement brought us higher than the clouds at the end.
I was really glad to have brought along my really bulky polaroid camera along on the trip. When I walked through the village and saw these little children playing, I couldn’t help but went full trigger mode with my digital. But I was overjoyed when I remembered I could give them a polaroid photograph to keep. I was told people in the area do not get access to photographs easily. When I was younger, my mother would take many pictures of my siblings and I to capture our childhood. I was lucky and really blessed to be able to do something similar for these children. This is the second one that I took of them, that I decided to keep. Seeing their amused faces when the shapes and colours start to appear on the film… it was just really priceless. I still have no words to describe how I felt at the point, but I think the closest description would be that I felt happy because of their smiles.
While it is reported that several touristy sites in Nepal have been restored and re-opened to tourists, recovery efforts are still ongoing. The Nepalese are some of the warmest and most hardworking people I’ve ever met, and I believe that with a resilient spirit, they will overcome this period of rebuild. With concerted support from around the world, it would not be too long before it is fully back and ready to welcome tourists. Till the next time again, Namaste.