Ironically, given our situation with the travel permits for Tibet, our flight to Kathmandu this morning stops in Lhasa, and so we sat in the Transit Lounge on Tibetan soil! Hopefully, the next time we visit, possibly in September, for Tali’s birthday, we’ll actually get to spend time in Tibet!
We arrived at about 11:00am at the Kathmandu airport, and after taking a taxi to the Hyatt Regency, which is only a few kilometers from the airport at the eastern edge of town, we had an early lunch while waiting for a room to be available.
After lunch, to get into the feel of Kathmandu, we took a taxi to Thamel, the tourist section of town, 20 minutes by cab west of the hotel, and full of cafes, clothing, jewelry, and other stores, restaurants, cafes, backpacker hotels, agents for adventure trips like hiking and mountain climbing, and so on.
As we quickly discovered, Kathmandu is a city for walkers, full of small alleys, narrow streets, beautiful courtyards with shrines, surprises for the observant eye literally wherever you go.
Kathmandu is the capital and largest city of Nepal. It is situated in a valley in the heart of the country. The entire terrain of Kathmandu is like a steep incline, descending from the Himalayan heights to the flatlands within a short distance. Mountain peaks surround the Kathmandu Valley, and everywhere you look in town, they are not far away, both to the eye and to the heart.
Kathmandu was founded by King Gun Kamdev in AD 723. According to the legend, the area was a lake in the past, but Manjushri, a disciple of the Shakyamuni Buddha, cut open a hill to the south and allowed the water to flow out, making the region habitable. The origin of the present name is unclear, but one of the more likely theories is that it was named after Kastha-Mandap (“temple of wood” in Sanskrit), after a pagoda carved from a single tree on the order of King Lakshm Narasingha Malla in 1596.
The old city is noted for its many Buddhist and Hindu temples and palaces, most dating from the 17th century, in the “Newari,” or pagoda style, featuring amazing carved wooden doors, windows and roof supports. The feel of the streets is so very different than any city or town in China – the buildings are each unique in detail and overall appearance, with beautiful colors everywhere! There is an exuberance to Kathmandu that leaves me feeling happy just to be here, in a free society filled with happy people.
The history of Kathmandu is really a history of the Newar people, the main inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. While the documented history of the valley goes back to the Kiratis, around the 7th century BC, the foundation of Kathmandu itself dates from the 12th century AD, during the time of the Malla dynasty.
The original settlements, in what is the southern half of the old town, grew up around the trade route to Tibet, and in many areas of town, especially on the hillsides, there is a strong Tibetan cultural influence here.
Originally known as Kantipur, the city flourished during the Malla era, and the bulk of its superb temples, buildings and other monuments date from this time. Initially, Kathmandu was an independent city within the valley, but in the 14th century the valley was united under the rule of the Malla king of Bhaktapur. The 15th century saw division once more, this time into the three independent kingdoms of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. These three areas have retained their own identity, and their own historical town centers, called “Durbar Square.”
We found that because this is the monsoon season, there are fewer tourists here than in September, October, March and April, which are the prime tourist months for adventure travel. Most of the tourists who come to Nepal now are from India,
looking to escape the summer heat in their part of the world. There are lots of bargains for shoppers now, in the off season, since retail business is so slow.
We continued to wander arond Thamel until we stopped for dinner, which we had at OR2K, an Israeli owned vegetarian restaurant, and then returned to the hotel. I’m happy and excited to be here, and looking forward to our nine remaining days here!