Monday, December 10, 2007

Kathmandu Valley

The Kathmandu Valley is home to three cities - each formerly its own country until Nepal was formed - Kathmandu, Patan and Bahktapur. The highlight of touring each city is the 'Durbar Square' - the square surrounding the former royal palaces. The squares are packed with temples. In fact, every street is packed with temples and shrines. Most Nepalis are Hindu, Buddhist or both, and spirituality plays a role in their everyday lives (which is strikingly different from China, where only monks seemed religious).

The blend of Buddhism and Hinduism is particularly apparent at Swayambhunath, a temple to the west of Kathmandu. There is a large Buddhist stupa (the white mound), but there are also nearby shrines to Hindu gods. The temple is also known as the Monkey Temple, as holy monkeys roam the site (none tried to rob us).

Kathmandu was once famous as a favourite hang-out for hippies - particularly an area called Freak Street. Since the 1980s, the focus of tourism has shifted to trekking in the Himalayas. Tourists now mostly stay in an area of town called Thamel that has perfected making you feel at home. The restaurants all serve international cuisine (American, French, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Indian and occasionally even Nepalese) and the quality is incredible. We've had nachos, pizza, and humus (among many other meals) that is more authentic than in most restaurants back home, and all made by Nepalis. Delicious!

No comments: