Kathmandu is a city full of dramatic histories and a rich cultural past. The Kathmandu Valley is divided into three cities itself: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. Our group was lucky enough to partake in historic walking tours of all three cities to fully experience the vibrant areas. After we landed in Kathmandu late on Saturday night after an arduous flight, we attempted to beat the jet lag and embark on a ten hour walking tour of the sights of Kathmandu and Patan. We saw various Hindu and Buddhist temples, learning more about the two main religions of Nepal.
As we walked through the bustling streets of Kathmandu we passed ancient temples, juxtaposed with new apartment complexes under construction across the street. As we strolled through Patan Durbar Square, the ancient palace of the King of Patan and city hub, snapping photos and listening to our local guide, locals hung out around the square chatting and praying, going on with their normal lives. Often in the United States, art and culture is thought of as something that needs to be meticulously preserved under sheets of bullet proof glass or barricades. However, in Nepal the ancient temples and palaces have evolved with the people as Nepal finds its place in the 21st century. The famous architecture and temples are not things that are simply put on pedestals in museums for tourists to observe, rather Nepali citizens interact with these historic pieces on a daily basis, as they are directly woven into their culture and heritage.
One of our groups’ favorite stops on the walking tour was the Swayambhunath Temple in Kathmandu. The temple is one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sites and sits atop a hill with beautiful views of the Kathmandu Valley. Additionally, the temple is known as the “Monkey Temple” in Kathmandu due to its numerous inhabitants. It was an added challenge to climb the steps up to thetemple while fending off monkeys from stealing our phones, cameras, and water bottles. The stupa consists of a dome at the base with the eyes of Buddha looking out in all four directions. The two eyes of Buddha represent wisdom and compassion. In addition, the third eye above the two symbolizes the enlightenment that Buddha obtained. Below the two eyes, the curly nose-looking question mark, is the Nepali symbol for “one”. The symbol represents the unity of all things and the only path to enlightenment through the teaching of Buddha.
Getting the chance to explore the Kathmandu valley after work and on our weekends was truly an amazing opportunity to learn about a different culture and people. From the Swayambhunath Temple to learning to cook traditional Nepalese food through a cooking class, the cultural excursions were experiences are group was excited to be a part of and helped us learn more about the rich heritage of Nepal.