The Walk to Remember

21st Dec 2017

Swayambhu Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

Photo of The Walk to Remember by Nithin Kumar

The city of prayer flags, broken roads, luxury SUVs, maruti taxis and peaceful poeple..

“Namaste in Nepali literally translates into; ‘The light within me, bows to the light in you’, told my friend as we sipped coffee at 32 degrees in Chennai. She went on about the extremely cold winters and how delicious the BUFF (buffalo meat) momos were in Kathmandu. I would later realize that I’m a sucker for all those, right after I purchased my tickets to Nepal for December.

So after five hours aboard two very bumpy Air India flights, I landed in Kathmandu and was welcomed by the sign that read “Tribhuvan International Airport”. If I have to be honest, the first thing that came to my head was the steaming plate of Buff momos at the Lupis Himalayan Cafe at Lazimpet.

Photo of The Walk to Remember 1/1 by Nithin Kumar

With my mouth beginning to water already, I soon took a cab from the airport to my stay near Thamel, which was the heart of the city. While on the way, I decided to showcase my, what I would later realize was broken Nepali, to the driver. I subtly asked him, “Dai, tapaile naam ke ho?” (Brother, what is your name?)

“Deepak”, he answered, smiling. And soon to my surprise he asked me (in English), if I was from Chennai. After I cleared his doubt, he showcased his Tamil to me! “Koncham koncham tamil theriyum” , he said. (I know little little Tamil.

That’s when I decided to keep my eyes pointed outside the window and enjoy Kathmandu. Quietly.

After a day’s rest, I decided to put on my tourist clothes and get on with exploring the city. I planned my day out before starting off, marking out places and deciding to walk and not use any vehicles at all.

Soon after breakfast, with the cold biting at 6 degrees, I began my three kilometer walk to the Swayambhu Stupa. Locally known as the Monkey temple, Swayambhu is located atop a small hill, west of the city. A variety of trees are found on the hill, which is what the Tibetan name for the place translates into. ‘Rangjung’, also means ‘self-created’ or ‘self-existing’.

Photo of Swayambhu, Kathmandu, Nepal by Nithin Kumar

Legend has it that Kathmandu valley was once an enormous lake from which grew out a lotus. Manjushri, the bohisattva of wisdom came to the lake after experiencing a vision of the flower. There he cut a gorge to drain all the water out for human settlement and pilgrimage. Soon, the valley was formed and the lotus turned into a hill, with the stupa on top.

There are 365 steps that climb almost vertically, right to the stupa platform. A steady wind blew the rows of colorful prayer flags tied to the top, from different directions from the ground.

Photo of The Walk to Remember by Nithin Kumar

Golden shrines extruded from the mighty white dome of the stupa, on top of which the eyes of the Buddha were painted on all directions. It felt as if he peacefully looked at the Kathmandu valley below.

Photo of The Walk to Remember by Nithin Kumar

The temple was filled with families of monkeys living inside. They were notorious among the shopkeepers on top of the hill, as they stole food, tore paintings, broke artifacts and still expected us to give them our biscuits. I felt that the primates were still trying to find their freedom among all of us there.

After spinning the prayer wheels around and spending a few minutes overlooking the hazy city below, I started my walk down and went on the to the next destination.

Photo of The Walk to Remember by Nithin Kumar

The streets of Kathmandu were enthralling. Most of the routes I took wouldn’t have been more than 10 feet wide.

Photo of The Walk to Remember by Nithin Kumar

Except for the major roads that connected important neighborhoods, where buses and cars drove orderly within lanes. (Something which being a Chennaite astonished me) The rest of the roads in Kathmandu were small. And broken. And wavy.

Tall buildings towered on either side, which were usually lodges named after Mount Everest or they were apartments. Either way, every building in the city were designed with a pagoda roof.

Finally, my tiny, crowded street took me to Basantapur. Famously known for the Kathmandu Durbar (Palace) Square. The Basantapur Square is one of the three palace squares in Nepal and was house to the royal family till the 19th century. Large wooden palace and temples filled the area and pigeons flocked everywhere.

Photo of Basantapur, Kathmandu, Nepal by Nithin Kumar

The elders fed wheat grains to the birds, students posed for selfies amidst the flock and children ran into them, trying to catch one. But the pigeons did what they do best, quickly moving out of the way, grabbing the grains and outwitting all of us.

Even as the 2015 earthquake unfortunately caused property damage, the place looks no less beautiful. Couples spent time together on the stone steps of the palace and temples and tourists wandered around the square in awe. This made the devastating memories of the earthquake nothing more than a bad dream.

Photo of The Walk to Remember by Nithin Kumar

I have never met such strong and peaceful people in my life before.

Photo of The Walk to Remember by Nithin Kumar

Next stop was Thamel! This one, I was particularly interested in. Thamel is the tourist destination of Kathmandu and is filled with shops and resto-bars. Roads were no more than 15 feet wide and prayer flags toed across covered the entire area.

Shops sold handmade paper, paintings, Buddhist malas (prayer beads) in a variety of sizes, brass figures and sculptures, yak hair blankets, pashminas, trekking gear and steaming hot momos, which were to die for in the cold.

My confusion of using Indian currency was cleared in Thamel. I always funnily asked, “Dai, tapai Indian rupees linus?” (Do you take Indian Rupees?) In return they always smiled and accepted our notes. I also loved how the Nepalese sometimes pout their lips, just to point at something. I found out that, they believe it is rude to use the finger to point out something.

So after getting gifts for everyone back home (and forgetting to get something for myself) I decided to rest with a cup of coffee.

With possibly one of the best recommendations ever made by my friend, I went to the Himalayan Java Cafe at Durbar Marg. Java is a chain of cafes in Kathmandu and they serve the best coffee in Nepal. The single shot of espresso was very strong and the coffee was brewed rapidly an ounce at a time.

Photo of Durbar Marg, Kathmandu, Nepal by Nithin Kumar

The caramel macchiato was served with a dash of milk and dollop of foam. And finally, the most unique drink would be the honey latte, which was their classic in Kathmandu.

Photo of The Walk to Remember by Nithin Kumar

After accompanying a large club sandwich with my order of espresso, I decided to visit the Narayanhity Palace at the end of the main road.

Standing huge near the heart of the city, the palace was 95 acres and the main building is said to be 39,000 square feet. Every room in the palace is named after each of the 75 districts of Nepal, including the majestic Gorkha Hall. The hall reaches upto 60 feet to the pagoda style roof on top and it was the throne room.

Huge portraits of King Birendra, Mahendra, Prithiv Narayan Shah and every former ruler, welcomes the guests as they enter the main hall. The guest rooms for the visiting heads of different states, the party and dinner halls where King Birendra and his Queen Aishwarya hosted many special occasions, give us a glimpse of the royalty that was once present in the country.

The palace is also infamous for the Nepal Royal Family massacre that took place in June 2001. As a person who read about the incident on many occasions, it was chilling to enter the place of the shooting. My emotions ran high when I stood on the spot from where bullet holes could be seen on the walls. A sign placed there read, ‘Spot from where bullets were fired on Queen Aishwarya’.

It made the hair behind my neck stand up.

I quietly exited the palace grounds, drowned in my own thoughts. Right near the Narayanhity Palace was the Garden of Dreams, where I decided to end my day. Built in the late 1920s, the garden was designed to be contrasting to the royal parks in England under King Edward’s reign. Kaiser Cafe was set up inside the compound for the guests to enjoy the quiet with a drink.

But I decided to just sit down and take in everything I saw for the day. I couldn’t help but let my emotions run high. Just like the saying went, “Nepal once is never enough”, I knew surly that Kathmandu once was something which is something that is never enough either.

Photo of Garden of Dreams, Kathmandu, Nepal by Nithin Kumar

I had walked just about 10 kilometers, but I had the experience of a lifetime. Through the tiny streets where children ran past and adults hurried for work, through the hilly terrain where dogs walked with me just to treat themselves for biscuits, I realized how much I loved the city and the people.

On the day I departed, I made friends with the cabbie again with my broken Nepali. He asked me, “Kathmandu kasto cho?” (How did you find Kathmandu?)

I smiled and replied, “Dherai ramro cho dai! Love at first sight”

Yes, Nepal once is never enough! I will be back..

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