India & Nepal

November 2005

Part 2:

Kathmandu Valley


                 << Part 1: Delhi    -    Back to Index    -    Part 3: Everest BC Trek >>


History

From the 15th to 18th century, the Kathmandu Valley had three small city states - Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan - which were located very near each other (5-15 km). Their rivalry also expressed itself in their architecture, as each city filled its central square - always called Durbar Square - with exquisite temples.

In 1769 Nepal was unified by the ruler of Gorkha and Kathmandu became the capital of the new country. Nepal's borders were closed and remained completely sealed off from foreigners until 1951. That's why all its +8000m mountains, including the Everest, were first climbed in the early 50s - before that noone was allowed to try. Today the historic cities of the Kathmandu Valley are listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.


October 30th (day 2): Kathmandu

We flew to Kathmandu from Delhi with Indian Airlines, and I should mention that they had the best food I've ever eaten on a plane - and it was vegetarian of course. From Kathmandu airport we went straight to the travel agency where I'd reserved tickets for our flight to Lukla the next morning.

Then we went to the Kathmandu Guest House where I had made a reservation from Belgium. This hotel is simply fantastic: it's clean and cosy, perfectly located, has a great restaurant as well as every service you could possibly want as a tourist, and it still manages to be cheap. It is always fully booked so you do need a reservation to stay there.

Durbar Square

Durbar Square is the central square of Kathmandu and houses a collection of temples as well as the old royal palace. Tourists have to pay to get on the square, but locals can drive right through, which unfortunately means that you have to watch your back like a hunted deer all the time to survive the traffic, just like everywhere else in Kathmandu. It was almost dark when we got here, so I only have some night pictures.
I didn't get good pictures of the biggest and most magnificent temple, the 35m high Taleju Temple which dates from 1564, because it wasn't lit, but here's a pic from the web.
The next morning we already flew on to Lukla to begin our trek to Everest Base Camp. If you're reading this in chronological order, go straight to the trek report and I'll point you back here later!


November 11th (day 14): Swayambhunath

In the morning we flew from Lukla to Kathmandu, and in the afternoon we visited the Buddhist temple of Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple because of the big tribe of monkeys that lives there. Swayambhunath is situated on top of a high hill near Kathmandu and has been a Buddhist centre since at least the 5th century AD and probably much longer.

Swayambhunath's main feature is its big stupa in the middle of the hill. Stupas were originally burial mounds that housed relics of the Buddha, but gradually became a general form for Buddhist monuments. Around the stupa are prayer wheels, graves and various temples, including temples for Hindu gods, an illustration of how Buddhism and Hinduism are generally intertwined in Nepal.


November 12th (day 15): Bhaktapur

On our last day in Nepal we visited Bhaktapur, located at just 15km from Kathmandu but once a rival kingdom.

Unlike Kathmandu, Bhaktapur has a traffic-free city center, making it a much more enjoyable place to visit. It has even more temples, and doesn't seem to have changed much the last few centuries. Bhaktapur has a very peculiar, rather gloomy atmosphere, in part because the dominant colour is dark brown, but mostly because the locals seem to be rather poor while their city has been beautifully restaurated.

Most of Bhaktapur's historic monuments are to be found on three central squares: Durbar Square, Tachupal Tole and Taumadhi Tole.

Durbar Square

Durbar Square is really a series of adjacent squares. Besides many temples, it also houses the royal palace.
Many Hindu (and to a lesser extent Buddhist) temples feature carvings of erotic or even pornographic scenes. To us Westerners this seems very bizar because we are so used to a religion that has vilified sex, but in India it is quite ordinary.

Like most tourists I made many pictures of these scenes, but since the ones from the fantastic temples of Khajuraho in India far surpass anything else, I'm not showing any of them here... except for these particularly funny ones on the tiny Shiva Parvati temple on Durbar Square. They don't show humans having sex, but...

Taumadhi Tole

Taumadhi Tole houses what I consider to be the most impressive temple in Nepal, the five-storey Nyatapola Temple, built in 1702 and dedicated to the goddess Siddi Lakshmi.
The stairway to the temple is guarded by 10 statues. In front are the legendary wrestlers Jayamel and Phattu, who are said to have had the strength of 10 men each. Each figure above them is said to be 10 times stronger still than the one on the level below.
The following pics were taken at the top of the temple's stairway. The first is about the only good picture I have of the underside of a temple roof. The supporting structures of the temple roofs generally feature rich wooden ornamentation but are always in shadows and therefore hard to photograph.

Tachupal Tole

This square houses the Dattatraya Temple, which dates from 1427. Dattatraya is said to be an incarnation of Vishnu, a teacher of Shiva and also a cousin of the Buddha - a typical example of a Nepalese deity in other words. The temple is also guarded by the wrestlers Jayamel and Phattuand in front stands a pillar with Garuda, the king of birds and the mount of Vishnu, on top.

Street scenes

In many streets the locals had spread tons of rice and grain on the ground to dry it in the sun, which was a nice sight.

Exit Nepal

Bhaktapur was the last place we visited in Nepal. In the early evening we headed back to Kathmandu and took a night bus to Birganj, a village on the border with India. Though it's only 100km from Kathmandu, this bus ride takes 12 hours, and on the Indian side of the border you need just as much time to get anywhere interesting, so we had a tough 24 hours ahead. Or so we thought it would actually become a tough 48 hours.

If you're reading this report in chronologic order, then you've already read the report of our trek to Everest Base Camp. In that case you should skip it now and go straight to part 5 about our passage to India.


                 << Part 1: Delhi    -    Back to Index    -    Part 3: Everest BC Trek >>






Godsmurf Sun 04 Nov 2007 @ 14:52
Assuming you're talking about Everest BC trek: I didn't see any snakes and can't imagine there being any that high.

Carole Davt Fri 02 Nov 2007 @ 13:59
Wonderful pictures and story-----a real girly question--are there any snakes up there??? and how tough is it to complete??


Della Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 23:55
Nice pictures and writing! Your photos really bring back to my mind the days i spent in Nepal!
Go ahead and share with us more your travel notes and experience in the future!

Godsmurf Tue 21 Mar 2006 @ 13:41
Hehe. Should be up within a few days!

eleni Tue 21 Mar 2006 @ 01:56
Great! i was anxious and still am for no. 7 :)
It's like you are reading a book and when it starts to get really interesting you realise that some pages are missing...


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