Into the mountains

20 Jun 2018 by Akanksha Maker
Durbar Patan Square, Thamel

As an Indian passport holder, I availed of visa on arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. With three days on hand in the Nepalese capital, I indulged in varied experiences that introduced me to its vivid persona. From venturing into its most popular haunt Thamel, to boarding a flight that brought me just short of 20 miles from Mount Everest, Kathmandu constantly surprised me. With its endearing culture, fascinating architecture and scenic nature, there’s much to do in this interesting city. Here are a few things you could consider doing if you’re planning a trip here.

Thamel and momos at Nature's Flavours

Walk around Thamel

An obvious locale to start your visit to Kathmandu, Thamel is the city’s central point. A number of tiny lanes and alleys comprise this area that’s best explored in a rickshaw. From pashmina shawls, antique jewellery, Buddhist souvenirs, Nepalese curios and artefacts, there’s little you can’t find in Thamel’s vibrant shops. Your haggling skills will come to good use here as tourists are quoted exorbitant prices. Those interested in Nepalese cuisine must visit traditional momo (a type of South Asian dumpling native to Nepal) houses that can be found at every corner in Thamel. Dip these dim sum-like pockets filled with meat — mostly pork — into a red chilli sauce for a local experience. Buddhist flags swaying against the sky as chantings and soft Nepalese music fill the air brimming with the smell of fresh dumplings, is what an evening in Thamel is made of.

While this area symbolises the face of young Nepal with its youthful crowd, it is also one of the oldest parts of the city. Walking further will bring you to Durbar Square that almost takes you back in time with its spectacular Newa architecture, a style atypical to the region. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the square holds prominence in Nepal’s antiquity as it held the palaces of the Malla and Shah kings who once ruled over the city. The earthquake that hit Nepal in April 2015 caused the unfortunate collapse of several architectural marvels here. However, a number of temples that were built by the various kings of erstwhile Nepal still stand tall around the square. Within their pagoda type roofs and elaborately carved windows, temples bear the idols of Hindu gods that look strikingly different from the ones found in India.

Durbar Square also houses the residence of Kumari — the country’s “living goddess” based on the tradition of worshipping a prepubescent girl who symbolises sacred female energy. As soon as she hits puberty, she is replaced by another prepubescent girl. Called Kumari Ghar (residence), her home overlooks the south side of Durbar Square and is decorated with intricate wood carvings of gods and goddesses. Tourists and patrons can enter the courtyard of the house where the “living goddess” occasionally makes an appearance on one of the first floor windows. It is believed that her facial expressions depict the answers to the questions her devotees bring forth. If she has no extreme reaction during her appearance, her devotees usually leave relieved as it implies good fortune.

Those interested in the Newa style of architecture should also visit Patan Durbar Square, located in the city of Lalitpur only 7km from Kathmandu. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the square is known for the ancient royal palace where the Malla kings of Lalitpur resided. It is divided into three main courtyards — Mul Chok, Sundari Chok and Keshav Narayan Chok — all boasting exquisite Newa architecture. Its delicately carved windows, doorways, statues and shrines still retain their glory, even though a major part of the square was destroyed in the earthquake of 2015.

The Himalayas

Spend a day at Dhulikhel village

An hour from Kathmandu, drive southwards to the mountainous village of Dhulikhel. Located within the eastern rim of the Kathmandu Valley and to the south of the Himalaya, this village offers stunning views of the snow-capped mountain range. The surrounding hills are covered under a blanket of vibrant green that offer a sharp contrast to the stark white snow. There is an ancient area from medieval times that houses an assembly of old Newari houses, exhibiting the excellence of erstwhile Nepalese architecture. Walk around its narrow streets where finely carved windows and doors will teleport you into an alternative era. Pray at old-world temples with Hindu and Buddhist shrines to soak in Nepal’s culture.

When you’ve sufficiently built up an appetite and are in the mood for some homegrown luxury, step into Dwarika’s Resort at Dhulikhel. Built on the premise of Ayurveda, yoga and holistic living, this all-suite hotel is a comparatively opulent world unlike the simplicity of this village. The hotel features unique treatment rooms that encompass various facets of Ayurveda and offers therapies based on Vedic and Buddhist philosophies. For instance, it features a Himalayan Salt Room, where walls are embedded with rock crystals. Spending some time in this chamber is said to have beneficial effects on your respiratory system. Similarly, there is also a Chakra Sound Therapy Chamber that houses rooms dedicated to the seven chakras of the human body. If spending the night here seems out of the budget (prices start upwards of US$360/₹24,006 a night), you could dine at one of its restaurants to get the feel of the hotel. Nature’s Flavours that overlooks the snowy Himalayan range serves local cuisine prepared with organic ingredients that are grown at the hotel’s farms.

Fly alongside Mount Everest

Have you ever boarded a flight which had no final destination? Nepal’s homegrown airline — Buddha Air — has a unique experience designed for travellers who aspire to be up and close to Mount Everest, without actually climbing it. The airline flies its 19-seater Beechcraft 1900 every day at 6am from Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. As a passenger of flight U4102, your boarding pass reads “mountains” as the destination. You pass through the formalities of a usual flight except in this case, you land back at the port of embarkation. However, the journey is an exceptional one, bringing you up to 20 miles from the tallest mountain in the world — Mount Everest.

Upon boarding, each passenger is assigned a window seat before the airplane takes off for the mountains. Within no time, the aircraft ascends high up to the Himalayan range as you fly over glaciers, lakes and snow peaks. The crew assists you at every step pointing out the significant mountain peaks in the range such as Kangchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world. And then appears the earth’s highest mountain above sea level, located in the Mahalangur Himal sub-range of the Himalayas — Mount Everest. At this stage, the crew opens the door of the cockpit allowing passengers to admire the peak from the pilot’s window. About 40 minutes or so in, the plane turns around and flies back to Tribhuvan International Airport, marking the end of this unconventional joy ride.

Boudhanath Stupa

Pray at Boudhanath Stupa and Pashupatinath Temple

On the northeastern side of Kathmandu lies Boudhanath — one of the largest Buddhist stupas (dome-shaped buildings erected as Buddhist shrines). Upon entering the complex of the stupa, you’re serenaded by Buddhist hymns that fill the air. Stop at shops that sell singing bowls, Tibetan prayer flags, meditation jewellery, ceremonial horns and Tibetan drums. Walk around this monumental whitewashed stupa as you spin prayer wheels and greet poker-faced monks in maroon robes. There are also a number of monasteries around where you can offer your prayers, spin a giant prayer wheel and participate in an elaborate Buddhist chanting session for some blessings and tranquillity. The large white dome is the main point of this complex with a series of prayer flags that are tied from its centre to the dome’s circumference. The dome’s 13 levels symbolise the stages a human must pass through to achieve nirvana. Painted above the dome are Buddha’s eyes (also known as wisdom eyes) that look in the four directions to represent the omnipresence of a Buddha.

Pashupatinath Temple complex

Another interesting religious labyrinth that must be visited in Kathmandu is the Pashupatinath Temple. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the god of destruction in Hindu mythology, or Pashupati in Nepalese culture, this temple complex is situated on the banks of the Bagmati river. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the courtyard has a series of shrines dedicated to various Hindu gods and goddesses. Built in the Nepalese pagoda style of architecture, it incorporates elements like cubical constructions and finely carved wooden rafters. Gold-plated copper is used to decorate the two-level roofs. A giant bronze bull (Nandi) stands at the front of the western gate of the main temple courtyard. Photography is strictly prohibited here and long queues are considered normal for a glimpse of the main lingam (symbolic of divine energy) that sits inside.

Where to stay in Kathmandu

Fairfield by Marriott Kathmandu

Set in the commercial hub of Thamel in Kathmandu, Fairfield by Marriott is a popular choice among business as well as leisure travellers. Marriott International’s first property in Nepal, Fairfield by Marriott is located at a distance of 5km from Tribhuvan International Airport.

Room facilities include a twin or king-sized bed, desk and armchair, cupboard with a safe and an LCD TV. Laundry, a fitness centre, and free wifi are also available at this 115-key hotel.

Its only F&B offering is the Kava restaurant and bar with a semi-open area. For breakfast, the restaurant serves a mix of Asian and Western cuisines. Pancakes, stuffed parathas and murg methi malai are some other specialities offered at this 24-hour restaurant.

In addition to this, Fairfield by Marriott also offers a 47 sqm venue to organise business meets and ceremonial events. marriott.com

Radisson Hotel Kathmandu 

Radisson Hotel Kathmandu is in close proximity to commercial and entertainment spots such as Thamel and Pashupatinath Temple.

The 260-key hotel is designed to suit the needs of all kinds of travellers. Superior rooms, Deluxe rooms, Premium rooms, Business class rooms, Junior suites and Premium suites are some of its accommodation types. In-room amenities include an LCD TV, a minibar and a tea/coffee maker and climate controlled air-conditioning.

Its F&B outlets include Terrace Garden for lunch and dinner, The Fun Café (TFC) for international cuisines, Olive Garden for Mediterranean flavours, Corner Bar for drinks and music, a coffee shop and a pastry shop.

For business travellers, Radisson houses a business class lounge that serves drinks and snacks. There is also a health club, a spa and salon on the property. radisson.com

Hotel Yak and Yeti

Yak and Yeti is about 4kms from Tribhuvan International Airport. Accommodation types of this 270-key luxury property are Heritage Deluxe rooms, Deluxe rooms, Club Shangri-La Executive rooms, Junior suites, Business suites, and Presidential suites. Room facilities include a safe, a desk, an LCD TV, a tea/coffee maker, free wifi and a minibar.

Its F&B outlets include Sunrise restaurant, which offers buffet and a la carte, and The Chimney, a fine-dining restaurant that serves Russian and continental cuisines. Yak and Yeti also offers a range of cocktails and spirits at Piano Bar.

Guests can also indulge in the wellness services offered at Nirvana Spa. A  fitness centre, a swimming pool, and a tennis court are some of the recreational facilities at this property.

Additionally, Yak and Yeti provides a range of meeting and event venues like the Regal Ballroom, the Regency Hall, the Durbar Hall, the Dynasty Hall, the Crystal Hall, Senate and Viceroy.  yakandyeti.com

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