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Visit Kathmandu in 2019!

Monkey Temple -Swayambhu Stupa

Kathmandu appears as one of the Lonely Planet “Top Ten Cities to Visit in 2019”.

I read today that Kathmandu appears on the list of world cities to visit in 2019 as recommended by Lonely Planet. Personally, I am so pleased to see this, as both the people of Kathmandu and many of its iconic buildings suffered greatly as a result of the April 25, 2015 earthquake. I really endorse its inclusion on this list as Kathmandu is truly unique in its cultural and architectural significance. The Nepalese people across the entire land have endured enough during the days of devastation and the following months and years of cleaning, restoring and rebuilding. By travelling to this fascinating country, you will be enriching not just your own life but also bringing income to the local people. By utilising the warm and friendly support of EncountersNepal.com to organise your time in Kathmandu and beyond, you will also be helping to create work for local guides, drivers and porters and hence also providing much needed income to support their families. Never underestimate the significance of the difference your direct expenditure with a local company can make to individual lives. I am writing here about a few of the highlights that always capture my imagination and my heart when I go to Kathmandu in the hope that you too may feel inspired to also take a trip there soon.

It is six and a half years since April 2012 when I touched down for the first time in this rambling, cluttered, colourful, Himalayan foothill ringed city, convinced I would stay just a couple of days, fly over the Himalayas in a 45 minute return flight, catch a view of Mt Everest, locally known in Nepal as “Sagarmatha” and never return. Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal and is one of three an-cient cities in the renowned Kathmandu valley.

It is now October 2018 and next year I will embark on my ninth visit to this bustling, chaotic, incense infused city with its, shrines, temples, gods, pagodas, markets and rambling alley ways. Kathmandu is not only a constantly evolving, vibrant city where the local religious traditions are al-ways in evidence on street corners, in shops, alleys and squares, it is also surrounded by steep lush hills, many terraced, and to the north, the verdant green of the hills of Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park. Kathmandu is also the urban gateway to further exploration of the fascinating cul-tures and magnificent landscapes of the eastern Himalayas. In recent years, the Chandragiri ca-ble car has been operating to take people up high into the hills of Kathmandu to view the snow clad peaks of the nearby mountains.

My early visits of the first three years prior to the cataclysmic April 2015 earth quake and after-shocks, had already totally endeared the city to me. Its pagoda studded skyline embodying much of its mystical history impressed me. The World Heritage listed buildings at Durbar Square, re-sonated with such mystery and beauty. The earthquake destroyed much and caused immense privations and suffering to many people. In the intervening three years, every time I return, I see further progress in the skilful reconstruction and reparations to many of the affected landmarks and buildings. It is wonderful to see the renaissance of the city, not smitten by catastrophe, but rising again, stronger, healthier, regenerated.

The hauntingly beautiful “aarati”, the evening prayer sung by the priests at the iconic and most holy Hindu temple of Pashupatinath as darkness descends on the city at the end of each day, never fails to move me. The quietly flowing holy waters of the Baghmati River murmur between the two halves of the temple precinct opposite the ghats where cremations on large pyres also take place. The illuminations of candles and oil lamps, moving gently in time in the hands of the priests to their chanting of mantras, cast their shadows and light on the surroundings and, no matter what religious convictions you have, even if you have none, you cannot help but be moved by the sense of joy and peace that is created through this beautiful ceremony, this interplay of sacred, ancient ar-chitecture, the melodious mantras, the light and music and smoke and river all merging in the en-closing darkness of falling night.

Majestic Swayambhunath, a holy stupa also known as the “Monkey Temple”, which stands atop a lofty hill and which has existed as a sacred place since ancient times, gazes over the city with its all seeing eyes of Buddha. Fortunately, it only sustained damage to some of the smaller temples in the main courtyard following the earth quake and those world renowned Lord Buddha eyes still shine brightly from the golden tiered structure atop the white stupa. I could climb those many stairs up to this temple until the end of my life and still be moved by the overwhelming sense of the sacred seen in the myriads of multicoloured, fluttering prayer flags, by the red robed monks and nuns, chanting, and praying and turning prayer wheels, while incense carries all breath and life yet higher towards heaven. Resting against a stone parapet or sitting enjoying a cold fresh juice, you can enjoy huge panoramic views over the entire city, while bells tinkle, metallic prayer wheels, turn pilgrims piously quietly utter mantras. As the sun sinks, the smoky golden glow across the valley is especially inspirational. The hyperactive resident monkeys themselves, frolicking and romping around in the many trees and along stone paths and walls, add a reminder that we share this earth with other loveable, inquisitive and playful creatures, not just in this sacred precinct.

The mighty white stupa of Boudhanath is not only the biggest in Nepal, it is amongst the largest stupas in the world. It also bears the omniscient eyes of Buddha with the third eye above on the forehead, on its own thirteen tiered golden spire. Under the eyes is a “nose” in the shape of the number one in Nepali. Monks and pilgrims, in a constant streaming parade, perform the kora, (clockwise circumambulation) around the base of the stupa with great devotion. Gompas sur-rounding Boudhanath are the monasteries for Tibetan monks. Buddhism and Hinduism unite in harmony not just in Kathmandu, but throughout the country.

If you visit the palace courtyard in Kathmandu Durbar Square around 4.00pm, you may be fortu-nate enough to catch a glimpse of the very young “living goddess”, the prepubescent Kumari. She usually appears around that time just for a few seconds, beautifully adorned and with her face made up and looks down from the centuries old, intricately carved window down onto the devotees and sightseers below.

At Budhanilkhanta, at the temple,I never tire of enjoying the soothing, mystical sight of Lord Vishnu, the great Hindu god, his body draped in fresh golden marigolds, resting peacefully on a bed of serpents and floating atop a petal strewn pond, all shaded by a colourful canopy.

In the tourist hub of the city, Thamel, just 2 kilometres from Durbar Square, you can feast on foods of all origins and cuisines. You can spend days admiring and purchasing the locally made handi-crafts: jewellry, pure pashmina shawls, clothing, Thanka paintings, felt hats and bags and slippers, handmade paper products, trekking gear. Colour, fragrance, life on the streets, incense, animals, rickshaws, shrines and musicians, all converge along the wonderfully chaotic and narrow streets flooding every sense and the joy of life arises within as you breathe it all in.

Kathmandu is a bustling, lively city filled with jostling markets and bustling life, yet is also an in-tensely religious and spiritual place. It is unlikely you that will leave this city after a visit unchanged in some small, yet profound way. Like me, it is probable that something within will later call you to to return for further replenishment and enrichment of your soul and mind.

Julia Ruhl 

Traveler /Blogger

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