For the first time in 3 months since we left the UK, the heavens opened and it chucked it down. Not great when the day’s plan was a walking tour of Kathmandu which is largely an outside sort of destination. The rain sent us digging deep into our rucsacs to pull out our waterproofs: in actual fact we should have dug that little bit deeper to pull out the waterproof leggings too as it was a really wet day. Never mind: we were also fortunate it was a one-off.
There are various UNESCO World Heritage sites in or around Kathmandu but unfortunately many of these were badly hit by the earthquake in April 2015 which killed almost 9000 people. While some rebuilding has been undertaken, the effects are still very visible over 2½ years later. For me, this was my first trip to Kathmandu and so I didn’t know what I was missing while Peter was saddened by what he saw and remembered the squares in their previous glory.
Durbar Square, Kathmandu – earthquake damage
Still, however, there was lots to see: some of the sites were pretty spread out so we had to jump on various buses and other forms of local transport (including tempos: see photo below) to try and get to all the different places: this, however, was all part of the fun which was spread out over a few days. We didn’t use the picturesque cycle rickshaws though.
In addition to the Durbar Squares (Royal Squares) in Kathmandu and Patan, we visited the ancient town of Bhaktapur which also boasts its own Durbar Square. In fact Bhaktapur (which is about 13km east of Kathmandu) was probably my favourite of all the sites and also the least damaged by the earthquake. In spite of this, it had the heftiest entry fee which didn’t seem to make sense since the need for restoration was less. Here, the main tourist site is quasi pedestrian (with some traffic restrictions although these could be better enforced it has to be said) and it was very pleasant wandering from one end of town to another.
At the ticket counter, we met a friendly Chinese tourist who enthusiastically asked to accompany us: in fact he was very enthusiastic about everything – when I tried to point out the beautifully carved peacock windows (one of the key things to see), he seemed somewhat distracted by the souvenir stall and, in particular, quite an ugly painting which he declared to be beautiful and which seemed to be capturing all his attention.
As well as our visits to the Royal Palaces including seeing some of the erotic carving on the temples (there’s an awful lot of this), we also went to see other UNESCO World Heritage sites including the Buddhist temples, Boudhanath Stupa and the Monkey Temple (real name Swayambhunath Temple): fortunately here although there were lots of monkeys around, there was no repeat performance of my experience at the airport.
Monkey Temple and some erotic artwork in Durbar Square, Kathmandu
For me, one of the most interesting sites was Pashupatinath Temple on the Bagmati River East of Kathmandu. The river is considered holy by both Hindus and Buddhists and it is on its banks that Hindus conduct open air cremations. While we were there, a number of such cremations were taking place.