Kathmandu (1), 

north and west

Arriving in the airport of the hitherto-exotic city of Kathmandu was a thrill. Filling out all the papers required at the airport in order to get visas was not. But it went well and everybody, including the officials, was good-humored about it.

Kathamandu and Nepal are at once like India and at the same time different. There are the same markets, the same poverty, the same run-down buildings and potholed streets. But the resemblance ends there. We knew that the Nepalis, both Hindus and Buddhists, tend to share each others beliefs, so maybe we experienced some of what we expected -- a certain lack of tension, not that we've ever found India particularly tense. Nepalis just seem more laid-back somehow. It's hard to describe.

On our first full day, when we had a guide and driver show us around Kathmandu, we started with what was probably the strangest, and most mysterious, thing we saw. At Budhanilkantha, some 15km north of the city, a six-meter stone carving of Vishnu sleeps in a tank on the coils of the serpent, Ananta. Ananta symbolizes both the cosmic waters out of which creation takes place and the infinite, cyclic nature of time. The statue is very early, dating from the 7th or 8th century. The town is in a pretty setting and the atmosphere is calm and subdued compared to what we would soon see.

Budhanilkantha Budhanilkantha
Vishnu asleep on his serpent bed at Budhanilkantha
BudhanilkanthaSiv and young men

John first noticed here what he would see numerous times again: As soon as he turned his back to take some pictures or just look around, Siv found someone with whom to get into a conversation, in this case a group of young men. They are often young men. Some people are more social than others.

In the same area, there were other devotional objects, lingas and bells, and in one corner a wedding was being celebrated with music and colored decorations.

LingaWedding party
Worshipping lingas Wedding party

We then drove counter-clockwise from the north around to the southwest, with views over the beautiful Kathmandu Valley, which lies between the Himalayas to the north and lower mountains to the south. We made a brief stop at the Mahendra Park at Balaju. The park is not a must-see item, but it is pretty and tranquil, with another sleeping Vishnu, this one constructed by the king because of a prediction that he would die immediately if he ever looked on the one at Budhanilkantha.

Kathmandu ValleyMahendra Park
Kathmandu ValleyMahendra Park
Mahendra ParkMahendra Park
Mahendra ParkThe other sleeping Vishnu

We then went on to south-west to the great Buddhist site of Swayambhunath. This is a hill with lots of Buddhist structures on the top. You can go up the eastern side on foot -- about 300 steps. Not being as adventurous as we once were, we opted for the "back" entrance (age oblige), a parking lot about 2/3 of the way up the western side, from which the walk is much shorter and easier.

Swayambhunath Swayambhunath
Swayambhunath -- eastern approach
Peace FountainMonkey mother and baby at Swayambhunath

On the way up, there are monkeys all over, showing why Swayambhunath is also called the "Monkey Temple". At the top, there is a large, white-painted stupa, surrounded by an incredible profusion of smaller temples, shrines, statues and shops and stands selling stuff for worshippers and tourists. This was the first of the stupas we were to see in Nepal. Loudspeakers blared out the mantra, om man pande hum ("hail to the jewel in the lotus"). But it sounded like a joyous popular song, as do hymns to Shiva in India. Religion here is not just an element of everyday life, but an integral part of it. We were to hear this tune all over during our stay in Bodhnath.

Great stupa of SwayambhunathPrayer wheels around the base of the stupa
Colorful buildings at topHariti Temple and other shrines

We then drove into town for lunch and a visit to the Durbar Square.

Back to home page/accueil or to Nepal India tour