I want to start this blog post with a non-sponsored advertisement to #VisitNepal.
After the tragic earthquakes the country has lost so much of their tourism and it is such a pity because it is such an extraordinary country rich in culture, beautiful people, and breathtaking sites. Also it is very easy to get around, explore, and to visit as a backpacker or take a more luxurious experience as well.
Nepal was such a surprise, in a good way. Unlike India I really did not know much about Nepal thus had very little idea what to expect. The few things I imagined turned out to be completely wrong haha!
Well, maybe some parts of Nepal are actually how I imagined it to be but Kathmandu Valley was not the Nepal I had pictured.
The Valley is divided into three “cities” that used to be three separate kingdoms and each has its own charm.
It is a place with a great mixture of races and ethnicities, varying religions, and a lot of influence from the different neighboring countries.
For example, although Nepal might be viewed by many ( like me ) as a Buddhist country actually only 9% of the population is Buddhist and 81% are Hindus. There is also a small percentage of Muslims, Christians, and other indigenous religions. I also imagined most Nepalese people to look like the indigenous tribe Newar but you will find all kinds of different looking people. There’s people with strong Indian traits while others have more of a Northeast Asian appearance.
I was very pleased to learn that although there is so much variation of customs and beliefs it is a very peaceful country and these things don’t really seem to cause any issues. In fact some different religious groups share sacred icons like is the Kumari — The Living Goddess.
The Kumaris are young girls who are believed to be Living Goddesses and are revered by Buddhist and Hindus alike. The girl comes from a Buddhist family is chosen as a Kumari between the ages of 2 – 5 years year old and once she is chosen she is believed to be the incarnation of the Hindu Goddess. There are 32 specific standards a girl must meet to be chosen as a Kumari including: “body like a Banyan tree,” eyes like a deer,” “cheeks of a lion,” and “hair to her hips.”
They will be Kumari until they “bleed” this could be anything from a cut to her period, thus she is not allowed to leave the house or touch the floor.
Due to the strict regimen these girls are expected to comply while they are Kumari there is a lot of controversy around the matter; but in Nepal these girls are highly respected and revered thus it is considered a blessing, for them and the family, to be chosen as a Kumari.
Even in places that are not religiously shared by the different groups you might encounter people from different groups visiting and enjoying the sites. It is very interesting as a tourist to experience this “melting pot”.
Due to the high respect Buddhist monks receive by everyone my (Hindu) guide took me to be blessed by them and it was a beautiful experience. The blessing took place at Boudhanath which is the largest stupa in the world. A stupa is a mound-like structure, usually containing remains of Buddhist monks/nuns, and it is considered to be the most important type of monument in Buddhism. Around this particular stupa a small cute town has emerged and it is known as “mini Tibet” due to the amount of Tibetan refugees that inhabit and own shops in the area.
I highly recommend visiting this place, specially in the afternoon when you get to see so many buddhists walking around the stupa and performing their prayers which is quite amazing. Also the town is full of restaurants and shops.
As you can tell, the culture and religion are a big part of Nepal’s charm but the geographical sites are probably its most popular asset. A large part of the Himalaya Mountains are located in Nepal and the country is home to the biggest of them all: Mt. Everest. Thousands of people travel every year to hike and trek around these mountains which are home to many charming villages and stunning hiking paths. Unfortunately I was not in the country long enough to experience these (I have made it a point to go back and make it happen) but I was very fortunate to be able to take a nice airplane ride along the mountains and have a clear look at their beauty. For about an hour we flew along the mountain peaks including Mt. Everest!!! It was, as my mom likes to say, SPECTACULAR.
Another moment that is worth sharing is our visit to Khokana, a very traditional village in the Kathmandu Valley. This area is inhabited by the Newars (mentioned above) who still maintain their ancient identity, culture & traditions and so according to our guide is like traveling back in time. As we walked through the village we ran into a Newari wedding. Our guide asked us if we wanted to go in; we were hesitant at first but everyone at the party insisted and were thrilled to host us at their celebration. We watched the ceremony, dance, drank some beer and were almost forced to stay and eat. It was such a delightful and exciting experience, everything was so beautiful and everyone was so welcoming and kind. This are the kinds of things one should travel across the world for!
And last but not least I would like to tell you about the most exhilarating and wild part of it all: being a passenger on a motorbike during the Kathmandu rush hour!
How did I get there? Well on my last day I made a very nice friend who kindly invited me for a ride in the city and spend the afternoon at a friend’s house. After spending a lot of time with adults (older adults for that matter) it was nice to go out and hang out with people my age. Also very interesting to see how we all seem to be doing the same thing even though we are worlds apart!
So the thing is that the streets of Kathmandu are even crazier than anything I had seen in India, well maybe similar to Varanasi but here the main roads don’t seem to have any visible division.
The first ride was fine as there was not much traffic but on the way back I swear it was more fierce than a roller coaster ride. I mean I have to accept I was never really scared because people there know exactly what they are doing, but it was definitely a crazy experience. I had my scarf wrapped around my head and at times kept my eyes shut to avoid seeing how close the cars were to us haha! It was truly one of the highlights of my trips and I am grateful to have met friends in Nepal. I consider this the beginning of my real adventure!
Again I’d like to repeat #VisitNepal ! You won’t regret it and people there are so so so thankful that you visit their country that you will be treated so kindly wherever you go.
I fell in love and plan to go back, hopefully this time around and if not in the near future for sure!
Take a look at some pictures from this magical land