Savithri Rodrigo shares a few highlights of Kathmandu
Nestled in a valley and surrounded by the Himalayas, Kathmandu with its teeming population, centuries old traditions, crowded squares and ornate palaces is a city to explore. However, it’s best to do so at a lazy pace, and sink your teeth into lore, legend, delicious tribal cuisine and the warm embrace of the Nepalis.
Kathmandu is an explorer’s dream. Here, you could wander through a labyrinth of alleyways in Thamel and Old Kathmandu, and bargain for fresh fruit and vegetables, beads, paintings, lanterns, statues, and even hemp and yak wool blankets.
Of the 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nepal, take on Kathmandu Durbar Square first. After being razed to the ground as a result of the 2015 earthquake, frantic renovations have managed to recapture the ornate architecture of 12th century palaces, courtyards and quadrangles, as well as Buddhist and Hindu temples.
Robed and beaded sadhus, and wrinkled old women reclining in doorways, will catch your eye for a paid photo op.
Walk across to Kumari Ghar in Basantpur for a glimpse of the Kumari Devi the Living Goddess. If you’re lucky, she may deem it time to look down from her first storey window at the gawking visitors in her tiny indoor garden.
But those heavily made-up eyes, painted lips and rouged cheeks on the face of this unsmiling child as young as six years can evoke indescribably complex emotions, given the rituals she has had to undergo to be placed in this revered position.
Half naked paint daubed sadhus will catch your eye at Pashupatinath Temple. It’s Nepal’s oldest and most sacred Hindu temple; and if the burning smells emanating from funeral pyres don’t deter you, watching the cremation rituals along the river bank can be quite intriguing.
Hundreds of roaming monkeys are the stars at the 5th century Swayambhunath stupa with Harati Devi’s temple – although legend has it that they were formed from the head lice of Mahayana Buddhist deity Manjushri. A total of 365 stone steps will take you to the summit to gaze at the calming Buddha eyes painted on the stupa, which are considered Nepal’s signature symbol.
Pop into Jimbu Thakali restaurant and be entertained by owner Vivek Sherchan’s vignettes of history while his mother Prabha handles the kitchen. Besides the momos, succulent chicken chatpat and skewered mutton sekuwa or the dried version of mutton sukuti sadeko are recommended. If blood sausage interests you, order a plate of dhang – you won’t be disappointed.