After spending only five days in Singapore I had to head back to Delhi to continue working on my project. I usually quite enjoy getting home after some time on the road, especially when I have been in dodgy countries, but I must admit that I was even happier than before when I finally arrived in Singapore on Wednesday morning February 17. Frankly I wasn’t too excited about returning to India on the next Monday. I mean, India is a very interesting country, but at the same time it can be very exhausting because you have to be extremely careful with food and water and as a foreigner it is not safe to walk around on your own. I feel almost imprisoned when I am in India, and despite the numerous tourist attractions I can’t help missing the safety and comfort in Singapore.
Anyway, the show must go on, and sometimes we all have to do things we don’t really want to, so when my manager asked me to return to India and stay there for additional two weeks I didn’t complain. But since Monday March 1 is a public holiday I decided to spend the long weekend doing something interesting rather than being stuck in the hotel, so I ended up booking a trip to Kathmandu in Nepal for a couple of days. Kathmandu is only 1.5 hours flight from Delhi, so I thought it was a great opportunity to explore a new country.
I arrived in Kathmandu around 11:00 AM on Saturday morning, and it was surprisingly easy to get through the visa on arrival queue. The immigration system was very efficient, and – as opposed to other countries I have visited with visa requirements – once you had passed through the visa on arrival counter you didn’t have to stand in line again to have your new visa inspected by someone else. Since I was only away for two days I only had hand luggage, so I didn’t have to wait for the bags to get through on the carousel, and I jumped in a taxi to my hotel, the Marshyangdi, which is located in the city center close to shops, bars and restaurants. The hotel was about what I had expected, i.e. simple but clean, with friendly and helpful staff who could speak English quite well. When I checked in the receptionist asked me if I wanted to do a city tour, and it sounded like a good idea when you only have two days in a place. He organized a driver for the day, and already around 12:30 I was on my way to see more of Kathmandu.
Our first stop was the holy area of Pashupatinath. The Pashupatinath Temple is the biggest Hindu temple of Lord Shiva in the world, it is the oldest temple in Kathmandu, and it is located on the banks of the Bagmati River in the eastern part Kathmandu. The temple itself can only be visited by Hindus, which unfortunately I am not, but the area is quite interesting anyway. In Hindu religion a body must be cremated soon after death, in fact before daybreak, and on the river banks you can see people burning bodies of their deceased relatives.
After seeing Pashupatinath we drove out to Bhaktapur, which is a very old town in the eastern part of the Kathmandu Valley. Bhaktapur is listed as a World Heritage by UNESCO for its rich culture, temples, and wood, metal and stone artwork, and walking around there gave me an amazing feeling of being back in the times when Marco Polo traveled across Asia. The town was apparently not very well maintained until Bhaktapur Durbar Square was designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1979, and since then the area has been restored and kept in a very good state to the delight of tourist from all over the world.
Our last stop for the day was at Nagarkot, which is a mountain resort where you can see a fantastic view of the Himalayas, and at sunset the mountains turns almost red in the low sun. Unfortunately, it was quite misty when I was there, so we were unable to see the mountains properly, but the view was fantastic anyway, and it was interesting to see the spectacular mountain crop terraces that the district is famous for, which his a little bit similar to the rice terraces in the Philippines.
This morning my driver picked me up at 8:00 AM to get an early start before all the crazy festival people started their rituals, and we spent the day visiting some Hindu and Buddhist temples around Kathmandu. One of them was Swayambhunath, which is located on a mountain top with a great an amazing view of Kathmandu Valley. In the temple area you will find a huge number of monkeys who are eating the offerings made by pious Buddhists and fighting for the food. They didn’t seem aggressive towards people, but I didn’t want to risk getting bitten so I kept a safe distance.
I think the most interesting sight we visited today was the Patan Durbar Square, which is an area with lot of similarities to Bhaktapur, and which by the way is also listed as a World Heritage by UNESCO much for the same reasons as Bhaktapur. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend as much time there as I wanted to, much due to the festival and all the people running around and bothering me. Shortly, the Hindus are celebrating Holi, or the Festival of Colors this weekend, and what that means is that on Saturday they were throwing water at each other and today they were mixing the water with colors and throwing it at anyone who passed by. Holi is a Hindu spring and Full Moon festival, and it is among the most important festivals of India. There are about 60% Hindus in Nepal, and hence, the Nepalese have adopted this festival. Naturally, it is interesting to see these things in real life, but for a quiet, peace loving person like me I think I will try to visit this country outside the festival next time. Luckily I managed to escape both the water and the colors this weekend, but it makes it harder to walk around and take photos because you have to watch out all the time.
After I got back from the sightseeing today I went up on the hotel roof top, and from there you have a fantastic view of the city, and you can also watch the celebrating people without risking any attack. The noise from the street was tremendous, and after a while I withdrew to a quiet place in the hotel to check my email and edit some photos.
Nevertheless, I must say that my experience with Nepal has been quite positive. First of all, most people are efficient and accommodating, nothing seems to be a problem here, and it is definitely pleasant change from the extreme inefficiency that tends to annoy me in India. Kathmandu city center appears to be a tourist and party place with numerous money changers, souvenir shops, restaurants and small hotels. There are lots of Caucasians around, anything from young backpackers who are trying to blend in with the locals, older couples who are on guided group tours and to hikers who are here to climb the mountains. In fact, the only paces in Asia where I have seen so many Caucasians are at Clarke Quay in Singapore and possibly in Seam Reap in Cambodia.
One interesting aspect with trips like this is that you learn to appreciate simple things that you normally would take for granted. For instance, some of the things I have valued the most this weekend are clean water and toilet paper. Both are limited resources, so you tend ration it to ensure that it lasts all day. Another thing is electricity. The hotel would shut off all electricity at night, and turn it back on around 11 AM, which means that you will not be able to charge phones, cameras and laptops over night. Not everyone would care about this, but for a technology freak like me it is quite tough to be deprived of these items.
I have taken a bunch of photos as usual, and I will post them as soon as they are ready. Tomorrow morning I will be heading back to Delhi for the final project week in India, and it will be sad to leave Nepal, but unfortunately you can’t just play all of the time. 🙂