There are 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nepal, 4 are in Kathmandu. During our stay in Nepal we visited all 10 (including: Kathmandu Valley, Sagarmatha National Park (Everest), Chitwan and Lumbini). This last week we went to the remaining 4 in Kathmandu.
The hectic, overcrowded, dusty city of Kathmandu has advanced a little in the last 7 years since we were here last, but it still feels very 3rd world. Cost of living is very low, the roads are still very poor, blackouts occur less often but still happen most days. But it’s still one of our favourite places. What has changed is the access to the internet, with wifi available almost everywhere, and really good restaurants and coffee shops with quality food, at least in the tourist area of Thamel.
The damage from the 2015 earthquake is still very obvious. Many homes and buildings in the old part of town are either in rubble or being held up by wooden support beams. The damage is most obvious in the Durbar Square *. Seven historic buildings in Durbar were completely destroyed and nearly all had some damage. Similar to Bhaktapur, mounds of rubble still lie where temples used to stand, bamboo scaffolding surrounds buildings under repair, piles of gravel and concrete fill empty spaces waiting to be used. Not much actual repair has been done to the historic buildings. It sounds like there is an inter-government battle on who and how repairs should be done.
There are few historic buildings still standing or renovated. We wish we had our pictures from 7 years ago to compare, but you can see a few of the difference on this slideshow from that trip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGL5XQNaWm8
In Kathmandu’s Durbar Square there were more Newari temples with erotic carvings. These were the strangest of all.
On a hill in town is the impressive Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple) *. Thousands of years ago the Kathmandu Valley was a lake. Legend says that an island with a chorten emerged from the lake. The original chorten is from the 5th century and over hundreds of years it has become a large complex. There’s a large, white chorten in the centre and many shrines, prayer wheels and other Buddhist and Hindu objects. There are always prayer flags flapping in the wind in one of the open areas. There is a resident Rhesus monkey population giving it the common name of Monkey Temple.
At the bottom of the hill, a kora of prayer wheels surrounds the hill with two parks housing large shrines and statues.
Pashupatinath * is one of the most sacred Hindu temples in Nepal. As with most Hindu temples, the main temple is off limits to non-Hindus, but we were able to walk around most of the site. The complex is always very busy, loud and smelly. It feels very chaotic. Located along the sacred Bagmati River, Pashupatinath is the site for many Hindu cremations. Hindus close to death come to the grounds to spend their last few days as they believe those who die here will be reborn as a human regardless of any sins they committed during their lifetime. We saw a cremation taking place along the river bank. When the ceremony is done, the pyre including the remaining bones, wood etc. gets dumped in the river. Downriver, people commonly bathe, do laundry, brush their teeth…
On the other side of the river are many old Hindu shrines and chortens. Sadhus (holy men) can often be seen meditating/begging around these shrines.
Boudhanath * is a large Buddhist complex that feels exactly opposite to hectic Pashupatinath. Instead, Boudhanath feels very serene, even when the square is full of worshipers. The massive yet graceful white chorten is in the centre of a clean square filled with shops and restaurants and the historic Guru Lhakhang Monastery. Many Buddhists come here daily to do a kora around the chorten.
Throughout Kathmandu there are many important historic sites. Most are either Hindu or Buddhist structures. We visited a number of these, some we just accidentally stumbled across as we explored the city. Those were usually the best ones.
(*) – indicates a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Coming up next: Top 15 pictures from Nepal.
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