Nepal is a poor country, really poor. It’s never been the seat of high power, always a country on the margins. But it’s a country rich in character, culture and humility. Nowhere else have I ever been met with such dignity and kindness as I did in Nepal.
A part of the charm with Nepal is the traditional life a lot of people still lead – a side effect of the poverty no doubt. However in this case it’s not a downside, rather it helps make Nepal one of the friendliest countries on earth, where you feel welcomed and belonging, even though everything is completely alien to you and all the street signs are intelligible – don’t even bother with a map, navigate by landmarks and the sun.
This old man was one of many, many other men, women and children I’d see during my stay in Kathmandu. This image was actually taken in nearby Patan on a day trip to the other two Durbar (palace) squares in the Kathmandu valley, the other being Bakhtapur; the place that moved me the most on my short one week trip in the country, but that’s a story for a different time.
The top of the long staircase leading to the Swayambunath temple complex, aka Monkey Temple.
Honestly, the main reason why I stopped to take this photo was that I was out of breath – and I was in pretty good shape when I went to Nepal. But the dust and pollution in the air made it hard for me to breathe at times and by the end of the week my nose and throat were sore with a burning sensation. I can only imagine what it’d be like to live a whole life breathing that air.
Nuisances like polluted and dusty air are far from big enough deals to ruin a perfect trip. I would love for Kathmandu to get cleaner air, but a part of the problem is that Kathmandu sits right in a valley with the world’s highest mountains on one side. The pollutants have nowhere to go, but stay in the valley and form a thick smog that obscures the nearby mountains from view as you will see in some of the photos I’m going to upload later on.
Aside from getting exhausted climbing the steep stairs the Swayambunath temple is one of the most worth while visits in Kathmandu. I spent hours at the top of the hill, looking out at what I saw of the urban sprawl and surrounding hills and mountains. I watched the monkeys running around, there were hundreds, if not thousands of the little creatures jumping, playing and scrambling for crumbs and peanuts left by other temple visitors.
I remember sitting on a bench in the sun, enjoying the quiet far above the crazy traffic of Kathmandu, and feeling accomplished. Like I had actually done something with my life. I was there to see something so completely different to what I was used to, and yet I didn’t feel alien.
That is the essence of travel: to find oneself to be the same as everyone else, just a little bit different.
I’ll just let this image speak for itself.
I found this mother and child at the very top of the temple complex Swayambunath in the nort-western parts of Kathmandu. The climb up was steep, but all the monkeys I saw everywhere made me stop every few steps just to watch them and try to snatch a photo before they ran away. I found that to be easier said than done as it seemed like most of the little monkeys were camera shy.
However, the sheer amount of monkeys at Swayambunath means you get plenty of chances for excellent photos, and while this is not the strongest of my shots I think it’s a nice and warm image that shows the mother-child bond is strong in animals too.
Boudhanath was meant to be a minor stop on the way to catch a glimpse of the mighty Himalayas, but I ended up becoming sucked in by the place. I’d been told that you always walk clockwise around all Buddhist and Hindu temples, rooms and structures. So I followed that advice and spent the better part of the afternoon walking around the stupa, climbing level after level until I reached the top where I turned back down but kept going around, descending one level at a time.
I watched the people and their customs, I drank in the smells and just allowed myself to be right there in that moment. The thousands little colourful flags stimulated my eyes and mind; I could’ve easily spent a whole day in that square, people watching and just enjoying the warm sun, letting it warm my body before the cold of night when I’d huddle under 3 pairs of blankets while still wearing my thickest sweater.
This stupa is one of the few UNESCO sites that went relatively unscathed from the earth quake. A few of the surrounding buildings collapsed, but the stupa itself still stands with the face of the Buddha watching over the devastation wrought by nature.
This image was taken from the balcony of a rooftop restaurant at Durbar Square in Kathmandu. The mountains in the background are barely visible through all the smog.
Many of the buildings you see in this photo are no longer standing, a silent testimony to the force of nature.
The white buildings you can barely make out on top of the smaller hill is the temple of Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple after the holy monkeys that live in the north-west part of the temple complex. More images of that, much more close up, will follow.