Only In…Kathmandu

Only In…Kathmandu

Aside from the world-class trekking that draws hundreds of thousands a year to Nepal, here are five ways to enjoy the rich histroy and culture of Kathmandu valley.

1. Glimpse a living goddess. In the middle of Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, seek out the three-story, red-brick building that serves as home to Nepal’s “living goddess,” the Kumari Devi. Believed to be the reincarnation of a Hindu deity, the young girl who lives there is worshipped by Hindus and some Nepali Buddhists. The Kumari is chosen only after a rigorous search that includes 32 physical qualifications and tests of courage. Once she reaches puberty, she gives up her position and the search begins anew. You’re not allowed to photograph her, but postcards with her image are sold just outside her home.

2. Relax in a garden oasis just steps from backpacker chaos. Inspired by the neoclassical gardens of Europe, the Kaiser Mahal Garden was originally built in 1920 by a Nepalese field marshal, Kaiser Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, as part of his private home. Dubbed the Garden of Dreams, it’s just minutes from the congested neighborhood of Thamel but feels a world apart with its romantic pavilions and flowing fountains. After decades of neglect, the garden reopened in 2006 after a six-year, multi-million dollar restoration effort. After a stroll through the grounds, stop for drinks or dinner in the white-columned grandeur of the Kaiser Café.

3. Experience peaceful contemplation at Nepal’s largest stupa. Ringed in prayer flags, the enormous Boudhanath Stupa is a holy site for Tibetan Buddhists and the heart of the Tibetan émigré community in Kathmandu. Pilgrims prostrate themselves on wooden planks, making a clockwise procession, called a kora, around the perimeter. A steady stream of maroon-robed monks and nuns add to the solemnity. For those who want to explore their spirituality, the Kopan Monastery nearby offers visitors daily talks as well as longer, in-depth courses on meditation and other aspects of Buddhism.

4. Delve into the Kathmandu you can’t see anymore. Step through the carved wood and gold doors of the Patan Museum and marvel at the former royal home of the Malla rulers, who dominated Nepal for centuries. The beautifully restored museum houses a collection of Buddhist and Hindu figurines, woodwork and paintings, as well as photos showing the Kathmandu Valley of yore. The museum itself is a carefully designed space, with plentiful seating and a garden in the back with a charming café.

5. Wander the streets of a living museum. Just a half-hour drive from the capital, Bhaktapur is one of the three medieval city-states of Kathmandu Valley. A visit here is a retreat into history, with cobblestone streets and largely intact Newari architecture. Get lost amid the labyrinth of alleys, shrines and temple-studded public squares that make up the core of this Unesco World Heritage site. The elaborately carved woodwork on doors and windows gives a feel for a more artistic era. The entry fee into the city is $15.

Posted on wall street journal under scene Asia.

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