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Nepal day two

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Mount Everest from the plane


Our first full day in Nepal was a packed one, and it started early with an alarm set for 4.50 AM! We were booked on a Himalayas sightseeing flight so were picked from the hotel at 5.15 by the same friendly driver who had met us at the airport. The roads were quiet at that time of course, and it was still dark, so we could enjoy the sight of the Diwali lights strung on many of the buildings.

Our driver dropped us off at the domestic terminal, promising to meet us at the end of our flight. We checked in, got boarding passes and went to the gate to wait. Although the terminal is quite small and simple there was a snack bar there selling surprisingly good espresso - just what I wanted and needed!

When our flight was called we boarded a bus to take us to a small prop plane. There must have been around 25 people in the group and everyone was allocated a window seat. Disappointingly however, those windows weren't at all clean, so I was to find photography a challenge. In some ways I got better shots on our arrival yesterday, but they didn't include Everest! Overall, despite the windows, this was a great experience. The light on the peaks was beautiful and the cabin crew moved around the plane telling everyone which mountain we were looking at. I promptly forgot them all but helpfully we were given a leaflet showing the whole range.


Mount Everest from the plane

On our return to the ground our driver was waiting for us as promised. She dropped us back to the hotel where we had an hour to have breakfast and shed a few layers, as the sun was getting hotter.

Durbar Square

Pritik, who had met us at the airport yesterday, was to be our guide for today. He picked us up at 9.00, with a different driver, and took us first to Durbar Square. This cluster of ancient temples, places and open spaces is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We spent some time walking around the area, taking in the atmosphere and trying also to take in the many facts that Pritik shared with us.

In Durbar Square

One of the main buildings we visited was the Kumari Gaur, the house of the living goddess. One of the country’s most unique traditions is that of worshipping a young prepubescent girl as a living goddess, a Kumari. There are many such living goddesses in Nepal, ten in the Kathmandu Valley alone. But the Kathmandu girl is considered the Royal Kumari of Nepal. She is chosen from a particular Buddhist clan and undergoes a rigorous selection process, elements of which are very secretive. During her time as Kumari she remains in this house, apart from a few festival days each year when she is carried through the streets on a palanquin as her feet must never touch the ground. When she has her first period her reign is over, as the Kumari must never shed blood. If she falls and cuts herself at any point, again her reign must end.



Kumari Ghar

The Kumari makes brief appearances at one of the courtyard windows from time to time. We were too early on our first visit to the house but were advised to come back after 10.00. We did so and were there to witness an appearance. This was carefully choreographed by a lady inside and a man in the courtyard with us. He made sure no one had their cameras or phones switched on, poised for photos (which are strictly banned). The Kumari appeared at the window, unsmiling, and looked down at the small group of people who, as we'd been instructed, greeted her with a 'Namaste'. Then she was gone, retreating into the dark recesses of the room. Despite, according to Pritik, being able to receive family and friends as visitors, it must be a lonely life for a child.

If you are as curious to read more about this practice as I was, I found this website to be very informative. It also includes a link to an interesting video about the life of a Kumari: https://heavenhimalaya.com/goddess-kumari/.

We couldn’t tour the Royal Palace as it was closed for the Diwali festival but it didn't seem to matter, there was so much else to see! I didn't take in the names of all the temples but that didn't matter either, I was so happy taking photos and absorbing all the details of carvings etc. Believe me, although there are lots of photos below, this is just a fraction of the number I took!







In Durbar Square

Pigeons were everywhere, stirred into flight by excited children and settling again to eat the bird seed offered by both children and adults alike.


Around the edges of the square there was more commercial activity. Rickshaw drivers waited for passengers; garland sellers strung marigolds and other flowers in vivid piles.

Garland sellers

Fruit seller

Rickshaw driver

Pashupatinath Temple

After we had exhausted the possibilities of Durbar Square Pritik called for the driver to pick us up. He took us to another UNESCO listed sight, Pashupatinath Temple. This temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is located on both banks of Bagmati River on the eastern outskirts of the city. The Bagmati is considered a sacred river and it flows into the holiest river of them all, the Ganges. Pashupatinath therefore is Nepal’s equivilent to Varanasi, a place of cremation. Smoke rises from the funeral pyres and hangs over the temple complex.



Pashupatinath Temple

This is also a very holy place of pilgrimage for Hindus and non-Hindus are prohibited from entering the temple itself. But it’s a sprawling site and there is plenty to see around the wider complex.

We spent most of our visit on the eastern bank, where small shrines are dotted around and from where you can look over the western side without intruding on the funeral ceremonies. But we clearly saw the cremation fires, and elsewhere a couple of bodies wrapped in saffron coloured robes and waiting their turn. A disconcerting sight for us but accepted as normal by visiting Hindus. I read later that some elderly Hindus come here when they know they are dying, to spend their last days within the temple precincts. They believe that those who die here are reborn as a human, regardless of any misconduct that could worsen their karma.

I tried to be respectful in my photography but felt that no picture of this temple was complete without a distant photo of the pyres.

The funeral pyres

We encountered several Sadhus, willing to pose for photos in return for a fee.


We saw troops of monkeys, moving so quickly through the small stupas and shrines that they were hard to photograph.


We finished by crossing the river to the main gate of the temple itself, with a painting of Lord Shiva at the top and his sons Ganesh and Kumar either side.


The main gate

Boudhanath Stupa

Then again Pritik called the driver and we were off to our final sight of the day, Boudhanath Stupa. This again is UNESCO listed and is a holy place for Buddhists.

Boudhanath Stupa

The main stupa is ringed with prayer wheels and believers walk around in a clockwise direction, spinning each of the many wheels as they go. In a monastery on the surrounding space we saw a much bigger prayer wheel, with parents showing their children how to spin it (again, always clockwise).

Monastery prayer wheel, and young monks

Among the many shops and restaurants surrounding the stupa we visited a school teaching the traditional painting style known as thangka. We were shown the different designs used and saw just one student at work - most were off for the holiday. Of course we were urged, politely, to buy, but not pressurised. I was tempted but felt it was too soon in the trip to be choosing what to take home.




Thangka school

We had lunch in one of the restaurants here, securing a table on the rooftop terrace with great views of the stupa - at eye level in fact. The service was very slow but the momos were tasty and it was a chance to chat to Pritik, whom we'd invited to join us of course.




Stupa views from the restaurant terrace

From there we drove back to the hotel through much heavier traffic. After a short break we went out in search of coffee. We didn't find it, but we did have a pleasant walk around our part of Thamel and noted a few possibilities for dinner in the area. We made a reservation at one that caught our eye, Thamel House.

Thamel at night

When we returned to Thamel House later that evening the streets were still busy and the buildings draped with coloured lights to mark Diwali.


Thamel at night

The festival meant that the restaurant was serving a limited menu but it was a good one. We started with a vegetable soup, then had the option of a meat or vegetable dal bhat, the Nepali equivalent of the Indian thali with lots of small dishes served with rice. Usually it comes in lots of little bowls all brought at once, but here the waiters came from table to table dishing up delicious spoonfuls from a large pot – and coming around again offering seconds! Finally there was a refreshing yoghurt dish flavoured with nuts and cinnamon. And of course we had more Gurkha beer, which was going to become a staple on this trip!

Posted by ToonSarah 16:12 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains food culture temple flight buddhism city shrine nepal hinduism kathmandu customs Comments (11)

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