Temples of Kathmandu
The Kathmandu valley is nestled in a valley in the foothills of the Himalayas. Many people complain how the arrival of motorized vehicles has transformed this pastoral little mecca into a dirty, noisy, polluted metropolis plagued by severe poverty. This may be true, but Kathmandu is a fascinating, shocking, beautiful, intriguing place to visit. People's lives happen on the street instead of behind closed doors. Pilgrims converge on temples that are some of the most important in the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Kids harass tourists continuously, trying to sell tiger balm, miniature violins, or ganja. In the tourist district of Thamel, the streets are lined with shops selling hackeysacks, statues, bongs, jewellery, hippie clothes, tacky T-shirts and Kurkris (Nepali curved knives) to their groovy clientele. Fierce competition among shopkeepers means clever sales tactics and low prices - if you know how to get a good bargain.
Drivers of cars and rickshaws (motorized or pedal driven), people, chickens, bicycles and cows compete for space in the streets. Drivers honk their horns and ring their bells at every opportunity, not out of anger or impatience, but it simply means: Beep Beep, here I come. There are no sidewalks so you have to watch out when you step out of a doorway. Few streets are paved, and the muck and filth on the streets is indescribable. Lepers with missing digits and disfigured limbs writhe in this filth, trying to extract a few rupees from passers-by.
Some people suggest avoiding the human chaos and smoky, smoggy air, and to head directly for the pristine hills. But it is hard not to spend some checking out this fascinating place.
The steps of Swayambunath
The Buddhist temple of Swayambunath sits on a hilltop overlooking the Kathmandu valley. It is also called the Monkey temple by tourists who can't pronounce Swayambunath because of the many rhesus monkeys that run around here. The monkeys like to swing from the many strands of colorful prayer flags that flap in the breeze at the temple grounds. They also try to steal any food that people bring.
Buddha eyes, Swayambunath.
Prayer flags decorate the cental stupa at Swayambunath. The question mark between Buddha's all-seeing eyes is not a nose. It is the Nepali number 1, and it signifies unity and oneness.
Vendors near the gates of Pashupatinath.
Just outside the main Hindu temple of Pashupatinath, vendors sell garlands of marigolds, prayer beads and flower petals to the faithful that make a pilgrimage to this important shrine dedicated to Shiva. The main temple is off-limits to non-Hindus.
Vendors sell dye powders to worshippers visiting Pashupatinath. The powders are used to sprinkle on idols and to make a tikka on the forehead.
I came across this gentleman in a niche near the Hindu temple of Pashupatinath. He is a Sadhu, a holy man. The look on his face was one of serenity and wisdom, and his eyes seemed to look right through me. It was an eerie feeling. He reluctantly agreed to let me take his picture.
Funeral gaths, Pashupatinath.
Two funeral ceremonies are underway at the gaths near the Pashupatinath temple. When the the pyres have finished burning, the ashes are swept into the Bagmati River.
Durbar square is a collection of Pagoda-roofed temples that surround a royal palace in central Kathmandu. Most temples here are not currently used for worship. Many of the temples are hundreds of years old, and some are in quite poor shape; the brickwork is crumbling and weeds grow on the roofs. The occasional earthquake doesn't help either. But this decay gives Durbar square a special rustic character. High up on the pedestals that the temples are built on are good places to sit and observe life on the streets of Kathmandu.
Legume market, Durbar square
On the steps of one of the temples, a vendor sells beans and spices. These are used to make Dal Bhat, Nepal's ubiquitous dish of rice and lentil soup. Orders are weighed on a traditional set of scales.
Morning prayers at Bodhnath.
Buddhist faithful prostrate themseves and spin prayer wheels at the base of the Bodhnath stupa. At the adjacent gompa (monastery) a toothless old lady was furiously pacing around a huge prayerwheel, and she gave me a big grin each time she came around. There was much tinkling of bells, clashing of cymbals, incense smoke and murmured prayers coming from elsewhere inside the gompa.
An elderly monk attends prayer wheels at Bodnath monastery.