So it was Nepal. I had always wanted to visit Nepal - Pokhara and Lumbini and a secret wish to do a base camp trek. But this was off season; yet we just went ahead. The flight from Bangalore to Kathmandu was long and tiring. Bangalore-Chennai-Delhi-Kathmandu. Missed flight to Kathmandu from Delhi as the flight from Chennai landed late due to delay in landing clearance. Lost 4 hours; yet its still fine isnt it?
6 days was enough for just Kathmandu and Pokhara and a teeny bit of Gorkha.
Kathmandu is crowded and polluted. People I came across felt sorry about the current economic situation in Nepal. Civil wars, monarchy(remember that infamous shooting incident) and such had created havoc to the economy. Aggravating it are the trade unions who force companies to shut production. Surya Nepal - a unit of ITC shut shop on 16th Aug; 3000+ employees would lose jobs. Why? 3 months of production halt due to workers calling off work as they were not happy with salary(even though the company was paying better compared to others).
There are no proper roads, no public transport, vehicles are expensive - 200% tax. A Nano costs 9 lakhs NPR; thats 5.6 lakhs INR! So one can imagine the vehicles state - old; rickety; ones that would be off roads in India. The currencies are torn, soiled. These simple things can tell a lot about a country's economy. You actually start feeling good about India - how it was and how far we have come. Yet; does not mean its enough done; we are capable of much more.
Anyway, the real shock occurred much earlier. What we heard at Delhi airport; they dont accept 500 and 1000 INR in Nepal. Now; I was laden with only them. For whatever reason best known, the guy at the Forex did not exchange our INR to $. He said; if you are going to Kathmandu; its not required. So we landed there only to find the notice everywhere in airport about non-acceptance of these currency notes. Things were starting to look bleak when the forex guy at the Tribhuvan airport was talking in puzzles. He said "you will get a solution. Go out of the airport". Now this was all shady. We decided we will use our debit/credit cards. But once we walked out of the airport; we understood what he was trying to convey. INR is trade-able in Nepal but not 500s and 1000s. Yet, everyone accepts it except for government agencies. (Oops this is a secret - an open secret) Why they dont accept is obvious. Black money from India crosses border and taxes evaded; thus the government does not accept 500s and 1000s. But its an open secret that people still continue doing so.
One can see a lot of temples. People are very religious. Shaivism is followed diligently. Temples are built in Pagoda style. Hinduism and Buddhism is mixed. A Buddhist temple is similar to Hindu temple. One can differentiate by the presence/absence of Thunderbolt- vajra or dorje and Prayer wheel in the temples. Nepal's indigenous people Newars practice Newar variant of Buddhism - Vajrayana; the third variant after Hinayana and Mahayana. Buddhist groups are influenced by Hinduism and vice versa. No one leaves home without applying the vermilion and rice grains paste on their forehead.
Thats a lot of information :-) Here are some pictures.
The first thing you will notice are the intricate and elaborate decorations on windows. This seems to be a typical Newari architecture. Here is one such window at the hotel we stayed.
It was Raksha bandhan day. Brahmin/Priests are seen everywhere on streets. People offer them fruits, flowers and money to them while they tie sacred thread around the wrists and apply tilak. We got them as well :-D
This is a common sight in front of everyone's house/shop on that day
The restaurant - the setting was awesome.
Traditional oil lamps hanging by - cant help noticing the intricate wood works.
Streets are narrow; lined with shops.
Rudraksha - cheap and easily available. Every street side flower shop sells them.
View of Pashupathinath temple. No photography allowed inside. The temple observes strict no entry wearing leather; very orthodox; only Hindus allowed. It is regarded as the most sacred temples of Lord Shiva. Its a UNESCO world heritage site. The temple is a 2 storied pagoda and was built in 17th century after the old one was eaten away by termites.
Entrance to the temple. One interesting fact is that the priests here are from South India. Thats how it has bee since the era of Mallas.
Behind the temple flows River Bhagmati. It serves as cremation ground. One can see lot of temples lined; where aarthi is performed every evening
Platforms to cremate. Its said that Lord Pashupathi needs the smoke without break. The burning bodies generate the smoke. The air has a pleasant odor. Its said that if there are no bodies to be cremated; they would fake a death and burn some wood to provide the smoke to the Lord but such a situation has not occurred yet; which means there is constant supply of bodies to be cremated. One can realize what life is. Generally tourists are not shown this spot unless insisted.
Preparing for cremation. We could see few sick/old people brought in to spend their last days here.
A delicately carved door. The buildings are all left without plastering exposing red bricks which looks aesthetic.
Boudhanath stupa - this ancient stupa is one of the largest in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Buddha on all 4 sides is a common sight in the Stupas visited.
A monastery in the vicinity of the Stupa.
A huge bell - so huge that it can dwarf an average man.
Prayer wheels around the Stupa
A huge prayer wheel inside the monastery.
Many shops set up by Tibetan refugees around the Stupa selling trinkets, souvenirs and clothes.