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A Backpackers Guide to Nepal

Posted: 8th July 2015 12:00

Nepal is a land of spiritual intrigue, where secret stone temples are dashed across vast, misty mountains ranges – the tallest in the world.  The ancient mantra, om mani padme hum, carved with diligence on rock walls throughout Nepal, speaks of generosity, patience and wisdom – traits that travellers will encounter often as they wander this beautiful country, and traits that should be remembered often in return.  In rural areas the chant can be heard emanating from behind the walls of Buddhist monasteries, blessing passersby with an ambiguous but wholesome sense of spirituality.  The otherwise silent mountain vistas are broken by the occasional Sherpa, seasoned by the raw elements, guiding hardy donkeys across swaying wooden bridges.

No trip to Nepal is complete without experiencing the awe of Annapurna mountain range, home to the best trek in the entire world, where intense sunlight decorates the impressive summits, and rhododendron forests give way to isolated hamlets and quant mountain villages.  The beating heart of Nepal, however, lays in the bustling backstreets of its cities, which are explosions of colour, exotic fragrances and fast paced trade.  These are places where ancient Hindu and Buddhist statues stand in silent glory, side by side with the country’s more contemporary dedications to spiritualism; the huge murals that adorn walls with colourful depictions of Manjushree, Ganesh and the Buddha.

Kathmandu, Nepal’s populous and rapidly-growing capital, is a barrage on the senses.  The metropolis may be rooted in ancient history but it wholeheartedly embraces its modernity too, and even the old town centre is not spared from the onslaught of progress.  Motorbikes share the roads with holy men, crowds fill the tiny side streets, and the sounds of everyday life are everywhere.  Here, history is not something distant and foreign, it is in the temples that people pray in; the houses they live in; the streets they walk.  Here, history still lives, still breaths, and is most certainly not restricted to being a thing of the past.

Fear not however, because just a few short miles south lies the royal city of Patan, enclosed by four grand Stupas to the ancient Buddhist king Ashoka.  Here the labyrinthine streets are less crowded, walled by traditional Nepalese buildings and opening onto grand squares where mighty temples and old-fashioned marketplaces stand in relative peace and quiet compared to their northern neighbours.  Patan is famous for its craftwork, and an old fashioned marketplace in Patan Durbar Square sees the exchange of imaginative statues and traditional Nepalese cuisine – the perfect place to lose yourself for a morning.  The streets really come alive however during the many religious festivals such as the Buddha Jayanti festival, which marks the birthday of Lord Buddha and commences under the bright moonlight.

By far the best preserved of the Kathmandu Valley’s three cities however is Bhaktapur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with remarkable monuments.  Austere statues fashioned from wood, metal and stone stand on street corners and cast a seemingly omnipotent gaze upon wandering tourists.  At its cultural heart, Durbar Square, two foreboding stone lions stand guard –Bhaktapur’s reputation for the best craftwork in Nepal is well earned.  The city’s second claim to fame is its Ju Ju Dhau, a local dish made with creamy buffalo milk fermented in traditional terracotta bowls and widely regarded as the tastiest yoghurt in the world.

And when the time inevitably comes to leave the valley, you have countless options at your fingertips.  An overnight haul on one of Nepal’s iconic busses brings you bumping and rattling into the beautiful lakeside city of Pokhara; the historic birthplace of the Buddha at Lumbini is a pilgrimage site to Nepalese Buddhists and backpackers alike, and; a short internal flight delivers you right at the heart of Nepal’s famous trekking regions.  Or you can simply hit the dirt trails and see where you end up – even Kathmandu’s crowed streets cannot last for ever, and soon you are wandering through tiny villages that cling to the side of Nepal’s low mountains, the Himalayas rising out of the horizon ahead showing you the way.

Find out more about Nepal here

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