My heart was in my mouth as I landed at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport last December. The landing wasn’t to blame. It was the snow-covered Himalayas that my flight had just cruised over that got my heart fluttering. I was with a group of 10 journalists from Mumbai. We were in Nepal at the invitation of the Federation of Nepal Journalists.
Kathmandu and its surrounding areas are a cacophony of temples and stupas. There is a lot for the tourist to take in no wonder then that our grand tour started immediately.
Swayambhunath: We started with a visit to this World Heritage site, a Buddhist temple complex perched on a hillock 4km from central Kathmandu. The complex houses many small temples representing the different forms of Buddha. You get a good view of Kathmandu from here.
Pashupatinath Temple: No visit to Kathmandu can be complete without a look in at the Pashupatinath temple, one of the most sacred temples dedicated to Shiva. Erected around 400 AD, the stupa-shaped, multi-roofed temple complex is very different from Indian temples and sees hordes of tourists every day.
Bhaktapur: This world heritage site, 15km from Kathmandu, was the capital of Nepal from the 12th to the 15th century. Its buildings are a mix of stone, metal, wood, and terracotta. The art and architectural designs in Bhaktapur showcase the vibrant Newari culture. The city still retains the charm of the medieval period probably because its municipality still distributes grants to enable people to build homes in the traditional style, using wood, traditional bricks and tiles. This is also one of the 10 cleanest cities in Asia.
Lumbini: We reached Lumbini, a 777-acre Unesco World Heritage Site, on a foggy day. It lies in the foothills of the Shivalik range in Rupandehi district. It was here in 623BC that Queen Mayadevi gave birth to Prince Siddhartha who grew up to become the Buddha. Lumbini has several structures built over the centuries by Buddha’s followers. The present Mayadevi temple contains the remains of a 5th century temple. A stone, discovered in 1996, marks the spot where the Buddha was born. Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese traveller of the 7th century AD and he has given a detailed account of the place in his writings. 3.5 lakh tourists, including 1.5 lakh Indians, visit Lumbini annually.
Pokhara: We drove to Pokhara, Nepal’s second-largest city, the next day. It is a popular tourist spot and is famous for its lakes, the Annapurna range of the Himalayas and a spectacular sunrise spot — Sarankot — where the snow-capped Himalayas catch the first rays of the sun before anything else on earth. Like all other tourist spots in the subcontinent, Pokhara has its fair share of big food chains, street shopping, discos, pubs and casinos. The area is also a base for adventure sports.
Lalitpur (Patan): About 5km from Kathmandu is the third-century city of Lalitpur that’s situated on the south of the river Bagmati. The heart of the city is Patan Durbar Square, a composite of huge courtyards and small temples made of beautifully carved stone and wood. The city gears up for an international festival in February.