Kathmandu the Eclectic

Asia, Nepal, South
Flagless Swayambunath Temple

Swayambhunath Temple without Its Iconic Prayer Flags

Chapter 1, Part 20

Our driver who picked us up from Bhaktapur tried to reach our hotel using the number I gave him earlier. He tried several times, to no avail, until he decided to just ask the locals for direction. We were heading to Thamel, an area in the Nepalese capital synonymous with hippies and backpackers, which I imagined to look similar with Khao San Road in Bangkok. However Thamel turned out to be more dense than I thought where multi-story buildings were squeezed next to each other, leaving no space for anything in between except for narrow streets and alleys where jumbled electric cables hung overhead, right above the steady stream of passers by.

Endless rows of souvenir shops, bookstores, restaurants, travel agents, hiking apparel stores, money changers, convenience stores, and hotels filled every available space in Thamel. In 2013, tourism contributed to more than 8% of Nepal’s GDP and 7% of all jobs in the country, and combined with other services industries they account for more than half of the country’s GDP. Obviously the country’s economy was severely affected by the April 2015 earthquake, and the months-long fuel crisis only exacerbated the already dire situation.

We finally arrived at our hotel, hidden from the ever-busy and crowded main street of Thamel. A statue of the Buddha and colorful Tibetan prayer flags welcomed us as we entered the hotel, and faces of friendly Nepalese staff greeted us at the reception desk. There is no better thing than seeing kind and sincere smiles upon arriving to such a chaotic place like Kathmandu.

According to Swayambhu Purana, a Buddhist scripture about the history and legend of the Kathmandu Valley, Manjushri (a boddhisattva in Mayahana Buddhism and a deity in Tibetan Buddhism) drained a lake in the valley using his sword. A hill then emerged, on which Swayambhunath was later erected. Highly revered by both Buddhists and Hindus, the temple is considered one of the most sacred sites in Nepal.

As we climbed up the stairs to reach the stupa, resident simians were frolicking around a multitude of miniatures of the Buddha, indifferent of the wary pilgrims and visitors. On top of the hill, a white stupa crowned with multiple layers of gilded ornaments was a prominent sight in the middle of Kathmandu’s grayish, polluted air. Underneath the bottom layer of the pinnacle, four identical pairs of eyes of the Buddha gazed with compassion toward all four directions. Around the stupa’s base, sets of copper prayer wheels gleamed softly under the morning sun.

Prayer Wheels at Swayambunath

Prayer Wheels at Swayambhunath

Light of Hope

Hope, Ignited

Circumambulating the Stupa

Circumambulating the Stupa

A Furry Resident

A Furry and Curious Resident

Gilded Pinnacle of Swayambunath

Gilded Pinnacle of Swayambhunath

Peace for All Beings

Peace for All Beings

The Steep Staircase to the Temple

The Steep Staircase to the Stupa

View of Crowded Kathmandu

View of Kathmandu’s Dense Neighborhoods

In the 15th century, Kathmandu saw the rise of the Malla dynasty, who also started their reign in Bhaktapur, with Ratna Malla as its first king. However the construction of Hindu temples in Newar architectural style only began almost one century later under the rule of Mahendra Malla, including the imposing Taleju Temple, dedicated to the patron goddess of the Mallas.

More than half a century later, Pratap Malla began an era of prolific artistic development in the city, with the beautification of his palace, the addition of decorative elements to existing temples, and the construction of more temples in Newar style, essentially bringing the city’s Durbar Square to the center of the local people’s universe.

Today many buildings within the Durbar Square proper still stand, although a handful of ancient temples and pavilions did not survive the devastating April 2015 earthquake. Kasthamandap, from which the city’s current name was derived, unfortunately was one of the less fortunate structures, leaving only rubble on the ground where it once proudly stood. On one corner of the square, a seemingly out of place European-inspired building, built long after the end of the Mallas, only suffered minor damage.

Kathmandu Durbar Square was situated right in the middle of the city’s labyrinthine and claustrophobic streets, and getting in and out proved to be a challenge for both James and I. After getting lost several times, I started to take a mental note of which souvenir shop should be on my right side, what statue should be on my left, how the overhead electric cable looked like at certain intersections, which temple I should see after turning right, and other distinctive signs that might come handy for navigating the maze.

Kathmandu’s dense and crowded streets owe to the city’s historical importance as the main trade route between India and Tibet, making it a magnet for merchants and travelers from different parts of the Indian subcontinent as well as places beyond the mighty peaks of the Himalayas. Asan Tole might look like a normal busy intersection at the heart of Kathmandu’s crisscrossing narrow streets and alleys, but it is a silent witness of a bygone era when the city was a major economic center in the region. Walking down the very street where centuries ago traders carried goods from India all the way north to Tibet and vice versa certainly sparked my imagination of how it must have looked like in its heyday.

The Nepalese capital is no longer a thriving city it once was – thanks to widespread poverty, unemployment rate in the country is at a staggering 40%. On a local English newspaper an editorial mentioned about how dependent the country was to remittance, a grim reminder of how many young Nepalese chose to work overseas as job was hard to find at home. Nevertheless, at Indra Chowk and Asan Tole one would be reminded of the country’s golden days when Kathmandu was a melting pot for people who looked for better opportunities. A Bengali-looking fruit vendor here, a fair-colored Newar vegetable seller there, Tibetan shoppers walking by, a Hindu shrine to the left, a Buddhist temple behind a stall, Kathmandu’s eclectic nature made this weary city a fascinating place to explore, and to get lost within.

Garuda at the Southwestern Corner of Kathmandu Durbar Square

Garuda at the Southwestern Corner of Kathmandu Durbar Square

Local Gather around Shiva Parvati Temple

Locals Gather around Shiva Parvati Temple

Shiva and Parvati (?)

Shiva and Parvati

A Small Alley behind Jagannath Temple

Indrapur Temple (left) and Vishnu Temple, Next to Hanuman Dhoka

Taleju Temple

Taleju Temple under Renovation

Makhan Tole, the Main Thoroughfare in Kathmandu Durbar Square

Makhan Tole, the Main Thoroughfare in Kathmandu Durbar Square

Inside Nasal Chowk

Inside Nasal Chowk

Desay Madu Jhya (Window without Equal)

Desay Madu Jhya (Window without Equal), Near Kathmandu Durbar Square

An Intersection between Thamel and Durbar Square

An Intersection amid the City’s Labyrinthine Alleys

Shree Gha, a Miniature of Swayambunath

Shree Gha, a Miniature of Swayambhunath

Cycling around the Stupa

Cycling around the Stupa

Statue of the Stupa's Patron (?)

Vajrasattva, A Symbol of Purification

Statues of Mythical Beasts, Indra Chowk

Statues of Mythical Beasts, Indra Chowk

Kathmandu's Typical Labyrinthine Alley

A Typical Claustrophobic but Colorful Alley in the Nepalese Capital

A Priest (?) at Asan Tole

A Holy Man at Asan Tole

Vegetable Seller, Asan Tole

A Vegetable Vendor, Asan Tole

Click here for the full list of stories from the Spice Odyssey series.

Posted by

Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

66 thoughts on “Kathmandu the Eclectic”

  1. Amazingly beautiful Pictures!
    and wonderfully written!

    How deep u have explored and researched Ktm! I admire that.
    Also equally u r so good at presenting it fiercely!

    It looks like…it is a part of ur upcoming book!

    All the very best for soooo beautiful work!

    Have a lovely day!

    Keep writing : )
    keep travelling!

    Wishes n sunshine!


    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Jyotee. Thank you very much for your kind words. I loved Kathmandu, in spite of its pollution, chaotic streets, and this persistent souvenir vendor I met at the Durbar Square. I was in the city in the middle of the fuel crisis, but it didn’t take the charm away from its temples and extraordinarily intricate architectural decorations. Have a nice day too!

      Liked by 1 person

      • aha!

        That was a hard time then!
        Yah! whole ktm suffered bcoz of some political issues and etc etc!
        Eveythin seemed to b difficult!

        sorry to kno! u visited then (smiling)
        I ve also visited many places in India. paticularly religious sites and loved thm!

        Greetings :


      • India is indeed the place to go for anyone who loves ancient temples. The diversity and intricacy of the architecture are mind-boggling!


      • Just the way you said it, in spite its pollution, the dusty chaotic streets, Kathmandu has its own charm and the reason we loved it too 🙂

        Your photos took me back in time…


      • So true, Kris. Chaotic streets and pollution are problems shared by many other cities across the globe. But I believe only a few could match Kathmandu’s charm.


    • Alison, I have a feeling that you would enjoy Kathmandu. Its streets and alleys provide endless possibilities of street and architectural photography. Hope you make it to Nepal sooner than later.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The history you describe here is reason enough to visit and explore this beautiful land, and then there is the “There is no better thing than seeing kind and sincere smiles upon arriving to such a chaotic place like Kathmandu.” which will make it difficult to leave 🙂 Your photos match the magic you describe so well. It is the eclectic pieces of Nepal that make it so special. Safe travels Bama ~

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Randall. I really felt at home in Nepal, thanks to the kindness of the locals. It’s really sad that those gentle and friendly people in fact live in one of the poorest countries in Asia. But they’re surely tough people; they’ve endured so much hardship in recent years alone. Nepal is one of those countries I would go back in a heartbeat. Thanks for reading, Randall, and safe travels too!


  3. Bama your description of the crowded streets transported me . I hope one day we will experience it for ourselves. I noticed that this set of photos included som animals, not something I recall seeing too often in your images. I loved them!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue, I guess it would be quite a challenge to ride a bicycle in Kathmandu unless you’re used to navigating narrow streets with so many people at the same time. 🙂 Ha, you noticed the lack of animals (and people) in most of the photos from my previous posts. I believe it was partly because in general I felt less intimidated when I tried to take photos of people in Kathmandu (and other places in the country). Thanks Sue!


  4. Menurutku Nepal ini negara yang ‘anomali’. Melihat alamnya yang keras, kemiskinan yang luas, dan angka pengangguran yang tinggi (40%, mengutip tulisanmu di atas) secara logika akan membuat penduduknya ‘keras’ karena mereka harus bersaing untuk bertahan hidup. Tapi yang terjadi justru sebaliknya, penduduk Nepal justru luar biasa ramah. Mulai dari di perkotaan hingga di pedesaan, termasuk daerah-daerah terpencil di pegunungan. Mereka selalu terbuka kepada setiap pengunjung, dan bersedia menolong dengan tulus.

    Suatu ketika aku melintas di sebuah desa (antara Jhinu Danda dan Chhomrong, di jalur Annapurna), aku melihat seorang pemuda cacat yang menggantungkan diri pada kursi roda untuk mobilitas di sekitar rumahnya. Bukannya mengemis, pemuda ini justru berjualan di depan rumahnya, menjual minuman dan makanan bagi para pendaki yang kelelahan di tengah jalan. Aku menemuinya sewaktu naik dan turun kembali dari Annapurna Base Camp. Dia menyapa kami yang lewat dan singgah dengan ramah. Salut dengan semangatnya!

    Hal-hal sederhana tapi luar biasa macam ini, yang membuat aku selalu kangen dengan Nepal. Keramahan, kesederhanaan, ketulusan, dan semangat mereka menjalani hidup luar biasa.


    • Naah, setuju! Biasanya ketika penduduk di suatu tempat cenderung keras dan kurang ramah seringkali kita berusaha memakluminya dengan melihat dari latar belakang ekonomi daerah tersebut. Tapi Nepal memang anomali. Setauku Nepal itu salah satu negara termiskin di Asia, dan salah satu paling korup juga. Ditambah dengan cobaan bertubi-tubi yang mereka alami, mulai dari gempa bumi sampai krisis energi, masyarakat di sana tetap ramah dan murah senyum. Bener-bener bikin aku merasa di rumah. Ada sih satu dua yang mencoba mencari peruntungan dengan cara yang agak maksa atau gak ngenakin, tapi itu jumlahnya dikiiit banget dari pengalamanku.

      Wah salut sama semangat pemuda itu. Mulia banget niatnya untuk mencari nafkah dengan berjualan dan bukan meminta-minta. Ahh Nepal memang unik, menarik, dan berkesan banget.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Menyoal tentang angka korupsi yang cukup tinggi di Nepal, anehnya banyak ongkos yang berhubungan dengan pariwisata justru ditetapkan secara standard dan pasti.

        VISA nya jelas dan pasti, bayar segitu dan gak dimintain tips. Permit untuk trekking juga begitu, ditulis segitu dan petugasnya gak minta ini itu, dan tanpa uang ini itu pelayanannya tetap memuaskan. Bahkan sampai harga makanan di sepanjang jalur Annapurna yang aku lalui kemarin, harganya standard, sudah ditetapkan oleh badan khusus. Kita gak perlu nawar, dan gak perlu takut kalau harganya dimainin. Ini anomali lainnya lagi.

        Kayaknya susah untuk gak merasa seperti di rumah, selama berada di Nepal. Gak aneh, kalau banyak orang yang mengunjungi Nepal berulang kali.

        Aku aja masih minat balik lagi 😀


      • Semoga biaya yang standar dan pasti itu memang sebagian besar ditujukan untuk masyarakat setempat ya. Ngomong-ngomong soal makanan di sana, kayaknya aku hampir gak pernah makan yang gak pas di lidahku deh. Meskipun lumayan sering makan dal bhat, tapi anehnya aku gak bosen tuh.

        Aku pengen juga sih suatu saat nanti balik lagi ke Nepal, menyusuri jejakmu di ABC. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Amiin, semoga begitu Bam. Iya, soal makanan aku setuju banget, jarang aku nemu masakan yang gagal di lidah selama di Nepal. Itu juga termasuk masakan-masakan yang dijual di lodge sepanjang jalur Annapurna, semua enak.

        Amiiin, aku doain tercapai Bam untuk dirimu trekking ke ABC.


      • Dal bhat, momo, sama masala tea ala Nepal itu favoritku selama di sana.

        Amiin, mudah-mudahan suatu hari nanti.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. For us, Kathmandu is mostly about dust in the dry season and mud in the rain. But it is also a city of temples and wonderful architecture. Kathmandu is not just the Durbar Square, and I guess Bama is coming up with more.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kathmandu is the most beautiful city , I ve ever visited!

      I agree with u Ankit! that it is a bit populated at the centre and the American life style!! which makes people a bit loner!

      But see!
      Ktm has so beautiful n favourable climate!
      The hills at all sides and the greenery around, makes it like a little heaven!

      There is no comparison wen it comes to temples- arts- architectures -history n wonderful people around!

      I feel amazed and happy abt Bama’s exploration! abt ktm.

      yah! there are lots of other places as well inside the valley! which r wonders! : )

      Truly, Earth is a lovely place my friend!
      I m sure the other planets out there must envy us! (Smiling)


      Liked by 2 people

      • The temples and culture of the Kathmandu Valley were some of the most exquisite I’ve ever seen and experienced. I mean, I grew up in Java and have been to Bali several times, and both places are known to have sophisticated culture and beautiful vernacular architecture. Even so, I was blown away by all the ancient cities in the Kathmandu Valley.

        Liked by 1 person

      • While I adore Kathmandu for its beauty and culture (eastern mingled with western) I should not deny the fact that it could be more beautiful if we could manage it well. That’s what I am pointing out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed!

        U r ryt my friend!

        I agree with your point! yeah:! it cud have need more beautiful and more managed!

        let’s hope for the best : )


        Liked by 1 person

    • I can see why many people think of the dust (and pollution) when they think of Kathmandu. However to me it’s one of those places where its beauty is so extraordinary that its problems will not take away its charm. Thanks for reading Sandeept.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s what Kathmandu is about, Bama. Bhanubhakta said about 150 years ago that Kathmandu is comparable with Alakapuri, the capital of Swarga (Heaven). We have polluted it and I believe if we can control pollution, it will be even more charming.


  6. Hi bama, thanks again for your wonderful post…while i have been to kathmandu a number of times over the last 30 years there is still more to learn….i loved getting lost and then finding my way 😊 namaste from Trees

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading, Trees. Getting lost in Kathmandu is probably the best way to get to know the city and its fascinating corners. I would love to return to the city one day and explore more of its ancient temples. Namaste! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ah Bama, melihat foto Garuda itu aku kesemsem banget. Mengingatkan aku akan kejadian2 manis dan luar biasa disana hihihi.. Garuda itu kan di depan Trailokya Mohan Narayan trmple sebelahan dg istana dewi kumari kan?
    Dan kenapa sama ya waktu saya get lost (walaupun ga heboh2 amat siiiy) saya juga liatin itu kabel2 listrik yang kayak spaghetti hahaha…
    Daaan… dal bhat itu emang enak banget kok. Aku makan di tempat keren, di tempat biasa, di warung murahan, sama enaknya lho dan emang ga bosenin… pas gitu di lidahku. Aku sendiri bingung karena aku jarang banget bisa cocok dg makanan lokal. Baru di Nepal itu (kecuali thailand ya) aku jd suka makan hahaha…


    • Yes, bener banget mbak. Wuih, ada kejadian manis apa mbak di sana? Apa udah pernah ditulis di blog Mbak Riyanti tapi saya kelewatan baca ya?

      Nah, saya itu sebenernya cukup suka sama makanan India yang pernah dicobain di sini, Malaysia, dan waktu ke Inggris dulu. Tapiii pas di India kok malah cepet bosen (kecuali di Goa dan Kerala yang makanannya lebih masuk ke lidah saya). Sampe-sampe pas di Pondicherry saya sama James nyari makanan non-India saking bosennya. 😀 Nah pas di Nepal itu salah satu yang bikin saya jatuh cinta banget selain karena bangunan-bangunan bersejarahnya yang cantik banget dan orang-orangnya yang sangat ramah, makanannya enak di lidah. Bumbunya pas, gak hambar tapi juga gak berlebihan.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Bama, yet another amazing piece. It is amusing to see how chaotic Kathmandu is and yet in the middle of all its beautiful mess you can find temples with long history and gorgeous statues. I think I would be a little overwhelmed by it all but at the same time mesmerized. Such a complex yet beautiful place!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Aggy. Usually I don’t really like crowded and chaotic places, but somehow Kathmandu was different. It has clearly cast its spell on me. It can be quite overwhelming, I admit, but at the same time mesmerizing, as you said.


  9. This post melts my heart. We were there — almost all the places you’ve shown — about 3 years ago. I have wondered so long what has become of the temples destroyed or damaged in the earthquake. Your pictures speak volumes. Thank you, thank you.


    • Hi Rusha. I would say based on my observation Kathmandu suffered the most damage compared to Bhaktapur and Patan. But the three ancient cities were as charming and fascinating as they were centuries ago, I believe. Thank you for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Liz. Tibetan Buddhism has a big influence in Nepalese culture, so that and those Tibetan temples will remind anyone of Tibet.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Such a crazy yet fascinating place – you’ve done it justice here! Why were there no prayer flags at Swayambhunath?


    • That reminds me of your post on Kathmandu. Such a crazy and fascinating place it really was. I’m not exactly sure why the flags were taken down, but I assume it had something to do with the restoration work at the temple. I could still see the flags though, but not at their usual place. Thanks Lex!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I loved Kathmandu, Bama. In spite of the grime and pollution, I found so much beauty in its colourful streets and denizens. You have so many wonderful shots in this post – my favourite is the one of the boy on a bicycle at Shree Gha. The moment was captured so well, and he seems to be looking straight at the camera with a mixture of curiosity and surprise.


    • I couldn’t agree more, James. Kathmandu and other ancient cities in the valley are among the most impressive and unforgettable places I’ve ever visited by far. Thanks James! I had to wait for that boy to circle the stupa several times before getting that moment I wanted. Thanks for finding Shree Gha at the first place!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kristina. Thank you for reading and for leaving such a kind comment. Really appreciate it! You live in a beautiful country yourself. I have never been to Slovenia but so far I have never heard any bad things about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I agree with the first comment: “Beautiful” even though you’re right…not the usual adjective to most. But to me…yes, eye of the beholder and all that, eh? Your photos again are outstanding, love the one of the window without equal. And I think I took the same photo of the alley with all those electric wires! It would just be lovely if the world decided to help this place out.


    • Kathmandu is beautiful in its own way. Not gentrified beautiful like many other cities in the world, but chaotic beautiful, I’m sure you know what I mean. Thanks Badfish! I took sooo many photos in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Patan and Kirtipur — they were all so fascinating and pretty. That window without equal really is one of its kind, and I’m glad I found out about it on the internet before exploring the Durbar Square. Yes, Kathmandu, and Nepal in general, really need the world’s help, regardless the resilience of its people. They deserve better lives.


  13. hey I just noticed you have 40000 followers! are you like the “Follower Whisperer” or what…how do that many people even find you???


    • Haha! Follower Whisperer, that’s funny. 😀 To be honest, I don’t know the answer to your question. However there was a time when WordPress had ‘Recommended Blog’ and I was featured in the Travel section. That helped people find my blog, I guess.


  14. thegiantworld says:

    I just wanted to let you know how inspiring I find your blog. I myself am travelling to Southeast Asia in a few weeks and one day soon hope to visit Nepal. Your writing is lovely and I’m glad I found it. Thank you for writing this blog!


    • Thank you for dropping by and leaving such a kind comment. I wish you a very enjoyable and unforgettable journey across Southeast Asia, and try to sample as many local dishes as possible! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Oh you certainly portray a beautiful Khatmandu Bama! I love everything that I see here: simian residents, crowded alley and all. And I love the emphasis on eyes in their religious art. Thanks for the virtual tour.


    • The world is indeed filled with many extraordinarily astounding places, Julie. Just last night I watched about an ancient Buddhist site still under excavation in Afghanistan. It shows that discoveries are still to be made even today with the help of modern technology.


  16. Aku suka sekali tulisannya. Kemarin aku liburan lebaran di Nepal dan main ke tempat-tempat atraktif seperti yang Mas Bama tulis. Tapi kemarin gak sampe masuk ke Kathmandu Durbar Square karena tiketnya mahal hahaha. Aku jadi kangen makan buff momo.


    • Terima kasih Justin. Wah semoga lain kali kalau ke Kathmandu bisa mengunjungi Durbar Square-nya ya, soalnya worth the entrance fee banget. Ahh saya jadi kangen buff momo juga nih.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s