Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal, home to just over 1 million people and the moment you step out of the airport you’re fully immersed in the vibrant colour, noise and chaos of the city. The taxi ride from the airport is the first initiation. In addition to the smog and sometimes narrow and bumpy roads, in Nepal all drivers have one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn. Rapid, unplanned urbanisation in the Kathmandu Valley, one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in South Asia with an annual growth rate of 6.5%, has caused major traffic congestion and pollution. As a result every taxi driver has their own short cuts and you never seem to travel the same way twice. Just as think you may never emerge from the back streets of the sprawling city you pop out at your destination.
There is always a lot to organise at the beginning of an expedition and it can be easy to pick up coughs, colds and stomach bugs in Kathmandu so we try to get it all done as quickly as possible. On the way back you can relax a lot more and there is always time for a bit of culture and quiet reflection, and of course the excellent breakfasts at the NorthField Cafe.
Swayambhunath – The Monkey Temple
Swayambhunath is a Buddhist Temple that sits on top of hill on the western side of Kathmandu, you have to climb 365 steps to reach it. According to Buddhist scripture the entire valley was once a lake, out of which grew a lotus. The valley came to be known as Swayambhu, meaning Self-Created. and the name comes from an eternal flame (svyaṃbhu) over which the stupa was built. It is also known as the Monkey Temple due to the abundance of holy monkeys living in the temple. They are considered holy because Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning grew up on the hill where the Temple now stands. He was told to leave his hair short but he grew it long got head lice. It is said that the head lice transformed into the holy monkeys.
Pashupatinath Temple is one of the most sacred Hindu temples in Nepal, located on the banks of the Bagmati River. Along the righthand bank of the river are funeral pyres where people are cremated and travel their last journey with the waters of the Bagmati to meet the holy river Ganges. Many people travel to the temple in the last weeks of their lives, it is believed that those who die in the Pashupatinath Temple are reborn human regardless of any bad karma.
The temple is an amazing place, parts of it feel very spiritual, as well as the main temple there are seemingly endless temples and shrines dedicated to Shiva. By the riverside there is an almost paradoxical mix of life and death with funeral pyres and mourners on one bank, children playing football on the other side, tourists with huge cameras, monkeys, people washing their clothes and their children in the river. In many ways it felt very life affirming, the endless cycle.