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Namaste from Nepal: My Adventures in Far West, Lumbini and Kathmandu

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on my travel to Nepal for a while but recent earthquake made me reflect on my visits even more. As the dust settles and the country begins its journey to recovery, I wanted to share my impressions of this beautiful country. 
nepalI travelled to Nepal twice recently for work, with the last trip in February 2015, and I have spent most of the time in central Nepal and remote parts of far west. Yes, the country is really poor and underdeveloped. Yes, its cities can be dirty, noisy and chaotic. However, very soon I began to see beyond these problems and appreciate its real beauty and warmth of the local people. Wherever I went I’ve been greeted with welcoming namaste, a slight bow and beaming smile.

PART I – Far West 

In December 2014 I visited Doti, Dhangadhi and Kailali districts in far west of Nepal. For a week I have been on the road visiting places that ranged from urban centers to remote mountain villages. Even Nepalese will tell you that far west is ‘backwards’ due to its conservative social and cultural norms. Old traditions, such as child marriages and chaupadi – keeping women in a cow shed for 11 days after giving birth, and discrimination of lower caste still exist here. Almost half of the population in this region live below the poverty line and most of the young male population migrate to neighbouring India for work.

 nepal

Meanwhile, difficult topography (high mountains and hills) and lack of roads and public transportation in some cases mean there is limited access to basic social and health services. Many women I spoke to in the villages had to deliver their babies at home without any support of a skilled health worker and do not have any money to visit district hospital if they or their child get sick.

nepal
nepal

But this is also the region of great biodiversity, rich soil and abundant natural resources. Here I have seen majestic forests, pristine lakes and valleys that bathed in the morning sunlight (like photo below).

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nepal
While foreign tourists are slowly discovering far west, it still largely feels untouched and unexplored. If you don’t have the opportunity to travel through the region, you can appreciate its beauty at the great natural reserves and parks (e.g. Khaptad National Park, Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve and Bardiya National Park) where visitors will find variety of wild life such as leopards, deers and antelopes, tigers and even few wild elephants.

PART II – Lumbini

In Central Nepal, there is a special place called Lumbini. According to Buddhist tradition, this is where Lord Buddha (Prince Siddhartha Gautama) was born.
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It is now a UNESCO heritage site and pilgrimage destination for millions of Buddhists coming from all around the world. The central part of Lumbini includes ruins of ancient monasteries, a sacred Bodhi tree (under which Buddha said to have achieved enlightenment), an ancient bathing pond in which he was bathed as a baby, and the Mayadevi Temple, where the supposed place of birth of Buddha is located. You will see a constant stream of pilgrims praying, meditating and chanting, while Japanese monks take selfies!

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Sacred Bodhi tree
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Pool where Buddha was bathed as a baby
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Everyone is looking for inner peace here
Also, within Lumbini’s vast territory (it’s almost 5km long) each Buddhist country has or is building a temple. China, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Japan are among many countries that have their monasteries and temples here. It is almost impossible to cover the whole territory by foot in one day (I suggest you hire a car and ask local driver to take you around) but whichever temples you manage to visit, you will find them very quite and peaceful, filled with soothing chants of monks and occasional sounds of the wooden gong.
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I also visited World Peace Pagoda of Asia, built by Japanese monks. This is now a highest temple in Lumbini and holds some of Buddha’s relics.

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PART III – Kathmandu

Sadly enough the majority of historical sights in Kathmandu have been destroyed or badly affected by the earthquake. It will take time to rebuild them, but I wanted to show you how beautiful some of them were and WILL BE.
Patan Durbar Square, built in traditional Newari architectural style with red bricks and intricate wood carvings, is the site of many temples and the ancient Royal Palace.
kathmandu-nepal
 kathmandu-nepal

In and around the square you will find many great restaurants (try momos, traditional Nepalese dumplings), small souvenir and art shops, western cafes (like Swotha House) and weekend market.

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kathmandu-nepal
Yummy momos
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kathmandu-nepal
kathmandu-nepal
kathmandu-nepal

Monkey Temple or Swayambhunath is a religious complex on one of the hills in Kathmandu and is home to numerous monkeys. They are considered holy and have taken over the temple completely. This is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Buddhists in Nepal and beyond.

kathmandu-nepal
kathmandu-nepal
kathmandu-nepal

P.S. Don’t be fooled by the cuteness of these monkeys. They can be quite aggressive and I was almost attacked by one!

Where to stay: if you need a place to stay in Kathmandu, I would recommend beautiful apartments of Cosy Nepal in Newari architectural style. Camille, Sailesh and rest of the team will take good care of you. For people who prefer a more western style hotel, Summit Hotel is a good choice.

Where to eat: for a great traditional dinner featuring folk singing and dancing from different ethnic groups (there are over 100 of them in Nepal), head to Bhojan Griha. The food is fantastic and the building itself is a journey into Nepalese culture and history. Here is a short video I took there (sorry for the quality).

What to buy: there are lots of choices for different tastes and preferences, but most popular shopping items include pashminas (beware of cheap fakes from China though), traditional clothes and shoes, jewellery, handcrafts (e.g. singing bowls, Buddha statues, pottery and traditional masks), incense, teas and spices. Just don’t forget to bargain for a bit of a discount!

singing bowls, prayer wheels, pottery and small to mid sized metal trinkets.

Read more at: http://www.thelongestwayhome.com/travel-guides/nepal/best-things-to-buy-in-kathmandu-nepal.html
Copyright © www.thelongestwayhome.com

Instead of copying please consider buying one of my travel guides to Nepal. They are great value. Have much more content. Are easy to read and most importantly they help support my website and the original content that I write. Thank you!

singing bowls, prayer wheels, pottery and small to mid sized metal trinkets.

Read more at: http://www.thelongestwayhome.com/travel-guides/nepal/best-things-to-buy-in-kathmandu-nepal.html
Copyright © www.thelongestwayhome.com

Instead of copying please consider buying one of my travel guides to Nepal. They are great value. Have much more content. Are easy to read and most importantly they help support my website and the original content that I write. Thank you!

What to wear: considering that Nepalese culture is quite conservative, I would suggest female travelers to wear long-sleeve tops and comfortable pants or long skirts.

When to come: September-November or February-mid April

Namaste!
kathmandu-nepal

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