Category Archives: Nepal 2015

Our 3 week exploration backpacking around Nepal, March 2015

Kathmandu: Boudhanath

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Boudhanath is a 30 minute walk from Pashupatinath. I highly recommend this walk too because you wander through the streets of a local town, you meet people and watch them go about their daily life, you see women in rice fields and kids curiously approach you to speak English to you and ask if you have any chocolate. It’s a relaxed walk and you feel safe. Nearing the entrance to Boudhanath you will get pestered by a woman holding a baby, pleading for you to buy milk or food for her child, this unfortunately is a scam, A Nepali ‘mother’ plays her trade conning tourists to buy over-priced milk for the ‘baby’ (at inflated prices) which she then sells back to the grocer at normal price splitting the profit, so please be hardy and don’t let this scam tug at the heart strings.
You do have to pay to enter Boudhanath because that helps maintain the site. Boudhanath is very small but grand, on entering there is a gigantic stupa in the middle whilst curious tourists and Buddhists on pilgrimages walk around it whilst chanting mantras. Towards the outer area of Boudhanath there are numerous tourist shops offering Mala prayer beads and Tibetan paintings as well as small cafes and restaurants.
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Boudhanath is essentially the giant Stupa, there is nothing else in the area to see. However the stupa itself is extremely interesting and awe-inspiring, definitely worth visiting for an afternoon. The Buddhist stupa of Boudhanath dominates the skyline. The ancient Stupa is one of the largest in the world and so it does not disappoint. It is believed that thousands of Buddhas and heavenly Deities incarnated as Lamas in the Baudha stupa, it is said that the rays of Bodhisattvas entered in the song from heaven and the holy sound was heard in the sky. Due to being empowered by the Bodhisattvas this stupa is viewed with a great reverence. You can enter the Stupa from below and climb some steps to walk along platforms that are closer to the Buddha’s eye, here you can take marvelous photos of the prayer flags blowing in the wind and of the views below. Part of the structure houses a room for a huge prayer wheel that visitors can step inside and turn it as they walk around, you can also light candles and offer blessings or prayers to loved ones. Standing on the open, stark white platforms brings a sense of peace as you watch the world go by, contemplate life and leisurely people watch as they pray, laugh, take photos and chant sacred mantras as they hold their Mala beads.
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Stay tuned for the final Kathmandu write-up in Swayambhunath, before we head out to the jungles of Chitwan!
If you missed previous blog posts about Nepal click on the links below.
Kathmandu: Thamel
Kathmandu: Patan
Kathmandu: Bhaktapur
Kathmandu: Pashupatinath

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I have also updated my travel section in my Categories side bar so it is easier for viewers to find and read specific destinations.

Kathmandu: Pashupatinath

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After Bhaktapur we ventured to Pashupatinath the next day. Pashupatinath is only 12 minutes away via taxi and we spent the morning there. From Pashupatinath you can walk to boudhanath which will be written about in the next blog post. From all the places we visited in the Kathmandu district, Pashupatinath was my favourite because of it’s deep connection to Hinduism and Tantrism. Many places in Nepal have a split belief between Hinduism and Buddhism and walking around neighborhoods of Kathmandu you see numerous stupas dedicated to Buddha and plenty of shrines dedicated to many numerous Hindu gods & goddess and the Nepalese are lovingly devoted to both spiritual beliefs and so there is a peaceful balance and acceptance of both spiritual paths. However Pashupatinath is distinctly Hindu and only a 30 minute walk away Boudhanath is primarily Buddhist.

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Non Nepalis and non Indians are required to pay a sum of 1000 Nepali rupees to enter this space. Lord shiva is also called Pashupathinath and so this is an important temple for the Hindus. The temple is beautiful. It is located on the banks of the river Bhagmathi. Non Hindus are n to allowed inside the temple. However they can go to view the river and the cremation rituals that are followed on the banks of the river. Every evening at 6.30 there is an aarathi that takes place on the banks of the river. It is a spectacular sight to behold and the shrine of supreme importance to Hindis, it attracts thousands of pilgrims every year.. There is music, chanting and an elaborate offering of incense, lights and camphor to Lord Shiva. You can view it standing on the bridge.

The significance of this site comes in no small part from the fact that the Bagmati River is is a tributary of the Ganges, and therefore is considered sacred. On the riverbank to one side of the main bridge, you can see a series of cremation platforms: there are sepatate platforms reserved for royalty, and the others are nobility and the general public.

On the day we visited, a cremation was taking place and I was respectfully enchanted. For years I have been drawn to Hinduism and it’s teachings (alongside some Sufi & Buddhist Philosophies) and the idea of death does not scare me for it is only another door to another place our human eyes can not see. It is a soul journey of rebirth and continuing of learning from your karma and so watching the body of a woman turn to ash brought about a feeling of peace as it reminds you how precious life is, we need to cherish every moment before it is too late, we only experience this life, in this body just once and our next life will be completely different with new karma to learn so why waste it?

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The Hindi faithful bring their dying family members here to pass their final weeks, days or hours in the holy place. They are cared for by their families. Even royalty comes here. Once someone has passed from this life their cremation can take place quickly in the holiest of sites in Nepal.

Among the many holy people who make up the temple community are seers, the ‘ghate vaidaya’, who are skilled in predicting the moment of death by feeling the pulse rate. Using these skills, it is the ultimate hope of believers that they can leave their mortal form in a sacred place with hymns of praise around them. During the cremation process, the eldest son shaves his head and wears a white cloth. The body is wrapped in yellow cloth and lowered to the river to be anointed with water. Then the body is walked 3 times around the pyre and then laid on it. The pyre is lit by the head and the body covered with wood and straw. You can’t actually see the body being burnt (nor would you want to ). Eventually the ashes are swept into the river. Its is a moving process to watch, mainly because western society tries to deny the existence of death, whereas in the Hindu culture it is a fact of life. It was quite upsetting to hear people grieving but it did seem a very dignified way to send off a relative.

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On the opposite side of the river are small temples with the traditional lingham statues inside. Mant Sadhus or Holy men frequent the site and will chat to you and let you take a photograph withthem for a small fee. This was something I have wanted to do since a teenager watching documentaries of explorers meeting tribes people, holy men & women, witch doctors and shamans so to meet a group of real life Sadhus was a dream come true for me and for Jon too. As a photographer Jon wanted to create more meaningful imagery that is totally different to his usual commercial and fashion based work. The Sadhus blessed us, chanted Sanskrit in our ears, told me I am lucky & will life an adventurous life and that Jon will lead a comfortable life feeling wealthy and fulfilled. Which makes sense because out of the two of us Jon is more practical and business-minded, he is like a magician creating a life from nothing and I am like the star reminding him it’s OK to to go off the beaten track, be a little alternative and do what the f*ck he wants with his life. He keeps me grounded and I remind him to be playful. He helps me turn my dreams into a fruitful reality and I help him to calm down and live a little, yes we all have to earn money to put food on the table but what’s the point in working yourself to death if you don’t get to enjoy the sweet things life has to offer?

Meeting the Sadhus for me was the highlight of my day, I must have spent at least 15 minutes chatting to them about Yoga! We later found out that Sadhus and infants are the only Hindus that don’t get cremated, they get buried, because they have already left this world. Later we headed to a small cafe for a bite to eat of traditional Nepalese spicy snacks of which I have forgotten the name and leisurely walked around the site to visit other temples.

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Before we headed out to Boudhanath we discovered the Gorakhnath temple (photographed above) that is dedicated to Matsyendranātha, an 11th century Yogi who is the inventor of Hatha Yoga. So I just had to be photographed in Lotus pose on this beautiful building considering for two years I have primarily been studying Hatha yoga and some Vinyasa, it was an honour to have seen and touched this holy place in person.

Even if you visit Pashupatinath during the day, you must go there at 6 p.m. to watch the aarti ceremony on the banks of Bagmati River. It is fascinating.. Music with mantras, kirtan, bells, incense, lights and blissed out holy men makes this place feel cosmic, almost like a crossroad between our world and the next. Pashupatinath touched my heart and soul on such a deep level and I am full of gratitude I was given the opportunity to visit such a mystical place, I was moved to tears and it definitely lives on in my memory. It truly is a place like nowhere we have ever seen and we will never forget it.

Stay tuned for my next post about Boudhanath!
If you missed previous blog posts about Nepal click on the links below.
Kathmandu: Thamel
Kathmandu: Patan
Kathmandu: Bhaktapur

I am on tripadvisor here
and you can now follow me Instagram
I have also updated my travel section in my Catagories side bar so it is easier for viewers to find and read specific destinations.

Nepal: Valerie Parkinson

Above is a video of my amazing Aunt Valerie from my Dad’s side of the family. Here she is giving a TEDtalk, yes a fricken TEDTALK about working with Sherpas in Nepal! She is a certified Exodus leader and mountain guide, she has lived in Nepal for many years, In 2008 she became the first British woman to climb Manalsu without supplementary oxygen and in 2009 she reached 8,761m, the South Summit of Everest and she is still leading treks today. I absolutely love that there is a woman in the family who has the same free spirit as me and I can only aspire to do great things in my life like she has done.

I don’t intend on becoming a mountain guide like Valerie but I do intend on creating what people would call an ‘unconventional’ lifestyle for myself and future family and there are two things I’d love to do in my lifetime and that is publish a book and be in a TEDtalk (or something of a similar nature). In 2016 I plan to do a TEFL course to qualify me to teach English as a foreign language either through skype sessions to people living abroad or perhaps go live and work in the far east at a school whilst running my own dance, yoga & art workshops perhaps at a health spa or local studio with an emphasis on mental health awareness. Everything I am working on has a therapeutic and holistic foundation to help clients heal their mind, body and soul through art and creative movement. The TEFL qualification will be the lovely yet secure job whilst setting up my freelance business and it will also give me essential teaching skills plus the confidence I’d need to facilitate my own workshops.

Valerie, as a relative has shown nothing is impossible, if you truly want to do something, you will make it happen, it’s all about manifesting what you truly desire in your heart and forging your own path regardless of adversity. Valerie shows true inner strength and courage to have manifested this life in Nepal for herself and yet like me she came from a shitty little town in the UK called Blackpool where very few people aspire for anything and dislike those who think outside of the boxed social norms. Be a circle not a box because circles can’t be defined, they can’t fit into neat categories and they are in constant motion, circle people are always moving and always evolving.
To read more about Valerie click here and here.

Kathmandu: Bhaktapur

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The day after our trip to Patan we hopped on a local bus for an hours drive to Bhaktapur. Buses from Kathmandu leave from the bus stop near Ratna Park, A ride from here to Bhaktapur is about NPR 50 but as a tourist, you should expect to pay a bit more. As soon as you get off the bus you enter the medieval age. Unlike the concrete roads that are found everywhere in the world, the roads of Bhaktapur are still make of brick. The houses are still built in Newari architecture, as the Municipality of Bhaktapur made a rule that here the houses and other buildings should be built in this fashion. This place was a favourite of ours, so much so in fact we both agreed that if we were to live & work in Nepal, Bhaktapur would be our home because it’s only an hour commute if you work in Kathmandu, it’s cleaner, quieter (with primarily pedestrian pathways) and it’s known for it’s arts & craft. This place is rather charming with beautiful ancient temples in the centre, a Potter’s square where you can see how the artists hand craft clay pots and vases, an art school that teaches students traditional Thangka paintings and places where you can see wood, metal and stone artworks being carved. Bhaktapur has the best preserved palace courtyards and old city center in Nepal, and is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its rich culture, temples and craftwork. This is supported by the restoration and preservation efforts of German-funded Bhaktapur Development Project (BDP), no wonder Bhaktapur is so much more clean and well kept in comparison to neighboring towns! Germans are renowned for their efficiency & cleanliness.

KHWOPA is the ancient name of Bhaktapur. The term “Bhaktapur” refers to “The City Of Devotees”. “Khwopa” actually refers to the masks which are believed to have been worn by gods and goddesses. Bhaktapur is popular for different forms of mask dances based on lives of different deities and therefore, it was named “Khwapa” which later came to become just “Khwopa,” which is also near to meaning masks.

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In Bhaktapur you feel relaxed and safe, people are leisurely playing chess or listening to music, tourists are dotted about photographing the temples and local women are walking around selling handmade necklaces.

On entering the the Durbar Square from the West gate, on your right are two magnificent temples dedicated to Lord Krishna and other to Goddess Durga. A statue of King Bhupathindra Malla stands in the center of Durbar Square. A temple dedicated to Goddess Tulja Bhavani is right beside this statue. This temple consists of a huge bell when which was used while worshiping the Goddess. There are many other temples scattered around Bhaktapur Durbar Square and each temple will astonish you in a different way.

I recommend spending time in the Layaku durbar square where pretty much all the temples reside and you can walk inside them to see the gorgeous carvings within and around their infrastructure. The Nyatapola Temple’ is a 5-story pagoda and was erected between 1701 and 1702, this temple is devoted to the Hindu goddess Laxmi who governs love and prosperity.

Bhairab Nath Temple, sitting next to the Nyatapola temple is devoted to the dreadful aspect of Shiva, Lord Bhairab. The temple of Dattatraya is as old as the Palace of Fifty-five Windows. Consecrated by King Yakshya Malla in 1427 AD, this temple, according to popular belief, was built out of the trunk of a single tree. Just beside temple is a monastery (Math) with exquisitely carved peacock windows.
Unfortunately due to the 2015 8.5 magnitude earthquake in Nepal, numerous temples around the Kathmandu valley, including 116 in Bhaktapur have been damaged, however it is reported that restoration is currently underway and tourists are welcome back into the country.

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Do pop over to the Golden Gate and the 55 Window Palace. The Golden Gate is the main doorway to the palace. The palace is famous for the woodcarvings on the windows which are remarkable pieces of art. The palace consists of many courtyards and figures of deities, but it is closed to the public. But if you are a Hindu and a Nepali citizen, you will be granted permission to enter these temples.

if you are looking for somewhere to eat; Bhaktapur have a lot of restaurants that serve Nepalese and International food. The most loved restaurant that the tourists love is in Shiva Guest House, which is located right in the heart of Durbar Square.

If you prefer to stay here over night instead of heading back to Kathmandu, the best accommodation options are in the old town near the Durbar Square and Taumadhi Square. There are not many luxury hotels in Bhaktapur, all they have are guesthouses which are very well maintained and for a room without an air-con cost about USD 12 -15, but it all depends on your bargaining skills.

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Our entire holiday to Nepal is pretty much do-it-yourself, we had no tour guide, no tour group, no friends living out there, most of our planning happened the night before and we kind of winged it and this is the best way to be in Nepal. Nepal is so safe to backpack around and so easy to get to where you want to be with only your trusty guide book, although you wouldn’t think it due to Nepal being so chaotic and over populated, some how it all works and you end up where you need to be. Along the way you also encounter other western backpackers who are perhaps more seasoned, happen to be going to the same place as you and therefore are happy to have you tag along for company on the bus or you meet other travelers at pit-stops who recommend places to visit next plus tips on how to easily get there. Never rely on the locals though, yes they are friendly and want to help but they can’t read maps and they will also try to encourage you to sit in their cafe for a small fee as they wave down a taxi for you, don’t fall into this trap, you weren’t hungry and you were sure you didnt need a taxi.

Bhaktapur is utterly picturesque though and not to be missed. Everything built during the Malla Kingdom around 16th and 17th centuries and beyond, with their ancient Newari architectures that combined intricate woodcarvings in the pillars and windows of temples and palace to the various exquisite stone and metal sculptures of deities and guardians in a plaza so historic that anyone could imagine, looks nothing short of magnificent! Bhaktapur is a spectacular visual feast!

A favourite aspect of Bhaktapur are the Kama Sutra and Tantric carvings on some of the temple walls; as a yogi and an avid reader of yoga philosophy & tantra I was in heaven! Especially since I had just completed seven modules on yogai philosophy for a short course with Oxford university and I was currently drafting up my final essay about Tantra whilst we were in Nepal, so I did include some photography of these carvings into my essay for added effect. Needless to say I received an upper 2:1 (Grade B) as my final result!

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Bhaktapur’s beauty goes beyond its woodworks and woodcarvings, stone sculptures and temples; more than being considered Nepal’s cultural gem. Bhaktapur is incredibly beautiful because of the strength and resilience of its people. Obviously, their strength doesn’t come in force but from their bravery and willingness to live. The local people of Bhaktapur consciously continue to preserve their heritage and lifestyle with almost no modern technology and mostly dependent on their skills, creativity, culture and craftmanship. Their devotion and dedication to their gods, their arts, their tradition make them one of the most beautiful and wealthiest of people! They’re beautiful and strong because they’re able to thrive and smile their happiest regardless of any adversity, even in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake they move forward fearlessly and peacefully.

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Stay tuned for my next post about Pashupatinath!
If you missed previous blog posts about Nepal click on the links below.
Kathmandu: Thamel
Kathmandu: Patan

I am on tripadvisor here
and you can now follow me Instagram
I have also updated my travel section in my Catagories side bar so it is easier for viewers to find and read specific destinations.

Kathmandu: Patan

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After a couple of days settling in Thamel and getting our bearings we hopped in a cab that took us to Patan for the day. Patan is about a 15-20 minute taxi ride from Thamel and is another district of Kathmandu.One thing to note whilst using taxis, always barter with the driver first to fix a price before you hop in the vehicle, they don’t use meters and because you are a tourist they will charge what they think they can get away with. Your fare within the Kathmandu city should only cost about 200 Rupees (£2 or $3). These taxis are every where and they drivers are usually trying to find their next customer which can be a real pain in the bum when walking down the street and you’ll pretty much get at least five drivers shouting from their window “Taxi?! For good price!”

Arriving in Patan, I was a little underwhelmed, not with it’s ancient history but with the area in general, it is not very well kept to the point it had lost it’s charm and well it just wasn’t my favourite place to visit whilst in Nepal. The Durbar Square is very similar to the one in Thamel only dirtier and so many bored locals loitering about and dropping litter & spitting doesn’t make for grandeur when trying to enjoy the stunning architecture. However Patan is known for it’s rich cultural heritage and with it’s arts & craft. It is called city of festival and feast, fine ancient art, making of metallic and stone carving statue. Sadly the city received extensive damage from an earthquake on 25 April 2015 and numerous ancient temples were either severely damaged or completely destroyed.

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According to Wikipedia The city was initially designed in the shape of the Buddhist Dharma-Chakra (Wheel of Righteousness). The four thurs or mounds on the perimeter of Patan are ascribed around, one at each corner of its cardinal points, which are popularly known as Asoka Stupas. Legend has it that Emperor Asoka (the legendary King of India) visited with his daughter Charumati to Kathmandu in 250 BC and erected five Asoka Stupas, four in the surrounding and one at the middle of the Patan. The size and shape of these stupas seem to breathe their antiquity in a real sense. There are more than 1,200 Buddhist monuments of various shapes and sizes scattered in and around the city. Patan’s Durbar Square is a UNESCO world heritage site and many of the temples are beautifully carved, if you do visit, I highly recommend getting really close to the walls of the temples and stupas in order to see some of the rich designs and markings.

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Away from the main square,as suggested by Lonely Planet you can take a short walk around the neighborhood, it is safe (even if it doesn’t look it) and you’ll find smaller charming statues of gods and stupas, a group of Nepali men leisurely playing a local game or stumble upon a street vendor cooking MoMos, which you must try! The veggie MoMo’s are the best we have ever tasted during our stay in Nepal.

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I was really glad to have seen Patan, considering I am a history & culture geek it is nice to see different aspects to a country. There are a number of places to visit within Patan such as ‘The Golden Temple’and the House of the Kumari which is a Courtyard and house of Patan’s Living Goddess.
However if like us you plan to see more in Kathmandu and visit Bhaktapur then Patan is probably best left as an easy day trip to catch a glimpse of the ancient temples. We did stay here until the evening though and I think it is the twilight colours of the sky that really bring a sense of awe to the sqaure, making it a truly spectacular site that reminds you, you are a long way from home and what a glorious feeling that is!

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In case you missed it, here is the Thamel write up.
Next up I will blog about Bhaktapur
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