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The Lure of Kathmandu

NEPAL | Monday, 24 November 2014 | Views [465]

“I think I'm going to Katmandu,

That's really, really where I'm going to.

If I ever get out of here,

That's what I'm gonna do. “

Bob Seger - 1975


For those of you that were around in the “good ole days”, you will recognize this verse from the classic Bob Seager song. Its a great song that brings back wonderful memories of days gone by. Well, it’s a great song, if its not playing in your head, day after day, after day, as it did with me when my wife and I decided Nepal would be our next adventure trip!

Nepal - Kathmandu in particular - has always had a sort of mystic pull on me, and many others the world over. The fact that it’s so far away and so different from our western lives is a part of it, but, there is more to it than just that.

Growing up in the sixties and seventies the whole idea of getting away and searching for “yourself”, or just feeling free and open to adventure was the theme of the times. Being more spiritual, rather than religious, was what many were striving to experience. Katmandu seemed to somehow represent that social lure for many cultures at the time. An opportunity to visit came our way....and the wheels were in motion!

We left out of Abu Dhabi, with a 3 hour layover in Mumbai,and  landed just after noon at Tribuvan Airport, Nepal time. It’s a small airport, but the journey through customs and arrivals ran fairly smooth.

At last, we were in Kathmandu, and just after getting through customs we spotted the duty free store and stocked up! All was setting itself right in the world...this WOULD be a spiritual trip!

As in most third world countries, the poverty and lack of infrastructure was immediately noticeable. Almost all the roads were dirt and there were thousands of people, on scooters, going all directions.

The Gokarna Forest Resort, where we were staying, is located on a reserve of 470 acres of protected land. It was once the private hunting grounds of Nepal’s royalty. The main buildings newer design, along with a 150 year old hunting lodge structure, took elements from the royal palaces built during the Malla period, from the 1300’s through the 1800’s. This was a glorious period in Nepalese history when art, culture, commerce, and architecture flourished.

The resorts grounds were crawling with monkeys and birds, and beautiful butterflies were everywhere. Note - beware of the toast stealing monkey down at the golf club restaurant!

The Harmony spa at Gokarna offers Ayurveda (a 5000-year-old system of natural healing that has it’s origins in the Vedic culture of India) inspired spa treatments, with sauna, jacuzzi, indoor swimming pool, and a full service beauty center. The massage was a spectacular experience...twice!

The real treat though was its calming sense of serenity. Just hanging out underneath the outdoor veranda while watching exotic butterflies flitting over the ever present flowers, watching the monkeys plan their entry strategies to the grounds - while security staff armed with slingshots maneuvered to thwart their advancement, or seeing the occasional baby deer wander carelessly through the courtyard completely fearless of the human interaction, makes for an effortless relaxing scene With spirits in hand and a sense of Buddha-karmic peace surrounding us, we were well on our way to another great experience!

Durbar Square is the generic name for the plazas and areas adjacent to the royal places in Nepal. There are three main ones in Kathmandu Valley, the Kathmandu, the Patan, and the Bhaktapur Durbar Squares, all of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Having a degree in architecture, I was in heaven. The details of the palaces and temples were simply breathtaking. Wandering aimlessly throughout the square was a sensory overload. One minute we were viewing an ancient palace like none we had ever seen, and the next, we were losing ourselves in some unidentifiable back alley filled with the most captivating temple structures imaginable.

There is no denying the poverty in the city...it is everywhere. There is something different going on here though. These are not people wallowing in poverty, miserable because of their environment. They may be bathing in puddles in the streets, living in squalid conditions, and washing their clothes in polluted rivers, but these people are content, happy even. This is the spirit we were looking for…and it is palpable. This, I think, is the underlying, indefinable, allure for westerners...THIS, the spirit pervasive in the people, is why Bob Seger wanted to go here!

Swayambhunath, known as the Monkey Temple, is an ancient religious complex on top of a hill in the Kathmandu Valley. True to its name, there are monkeys everywhere. You have to keep an eye out for these guys - they are fearless and bold, so don’t go walking around areas where they congregate with food in your hand or you are in for a battle I guarantee you will lose.

The next day we were off again, this time to Patan Durbar Square, in the Patan region of the city. This was another tightly knitted part of town with more temples and royal residences, but the architecture was a bit different. This area was known for it’s Newa architecture as opposed to the Malla architecture of the Kathmandu square - equally as impressive and detailed.

A simple little lunch and a cold Everest beer at another rooftop cafe and we were off on another  mission, or at least I was, my wife was tolerating my architectural obsession.

I have a thing for rugs. I’ll admit it, I’m not ashamed of it. I’ve found that most cultures have a distinct design within their region that identifies them from most others. These patterns quite often show up in the handicrafts and textiles of the region. So, much to my wifes chagrin, I see it as my job to collect a representative piece, or 4, from wherever I go.

I satisfied my desire at the Jawalakhel Handicraft Center, also known as the Tibetan Refuge Camp. It’s a bit of a jaunt through more run down neighborhoods and derelict streets, but the cab driver knew where it is was and it was well worth the visit. You can watch the tibetan women weaving the carpets right there in front of you and you can pick from all kinds of colors and designs. We bought four rugs of various colors and sizes. I was ecstatic and had to be physically pulled away before buying any more. My wife needed a drink!

Day five we did what everyone who visits this country has to do, see Everest. An early rise and we were on a small plane off to see the Himalayan mountain range and Mt. Everest. Breathtaking! It is massive and as majestic as you would imagine...a must see while in Nepal.

We had heard about the Boudhanath Stupa area and thought we would check it out our last day. I'm glad we did. It turned out to be a great place to wander around, shop, and grab something to eat. It's another temple compound, but completely different from the Durbar Square areas.

After the 1959 Chinese invasion of Tibet and the immigration of thousands of Tibetan Buddhist to Nepal, the Boudhanath Stupa became one of the most revered Tibetan Buddhist temples in Kathmandu.

Our last evening was spent relaxing and reflecting on the amazing culture we had fortunately been exposed to on this trip. Kathmandu, and Nepal as a whole, is not an easy place to get to and it is not on everyone's bucket list of top ten places to see, but if you do get a chance to visit you may be surprised that through the poverty, unsanitary conditions, and impoverished people, it is a place that touches the heart, like no other. 

Tags: buddha, kathmandu, nepal, spiritual, temples


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