After years of turmoil, the magical Himalayan nation of Nepal is welcoming visitors once more. Go soon, for a gentle trek among amazing landscapes, and for an experience that will take your breath away. A striking aspect of the culture of the Kathmandu Valley is the mutual respect of Hinduism and Buddhism (Buddhists form a sizeable minority in Nepal) and the way that in some places they become interwoven.
Nepal’s capital almost doubled in population during the decade of Maoist insurgency that preceded peace, and it has become notoriously traffic-clogged and polluted while many of its low-rise streets are lined with an unappealing mish-mash of modern buildings. But the historic centre is still intoxicating. And with much of the city’s architectural heritage subject to preservation programmes over the last two or so decades, the oldest areas are far cleaner and better-kept than they used to be.
The Buddhist stupa of Bodhnath on the outskirts of Kathmandu, has a big, rounded, white base crowned with a tower and pyramid on which Buddha’s all-seeing eyes are painted. Strings of prayer flags flutter above and the air is resounding with bells, horms and chanting.
The ancient hub of the city where kings were once crowned and where the most historic of the many temples dates back to the 12th century.
The House of the Living Goddess (adjacent to Durbar Square) is home to a young girl worshipped as a deity, her residence set around a lovely courtyard with ornately carved woodwork.
The Hindu temple of Pashupatinath – close to Bodhnath – is set on the banks of the holy Bagmati River. This is one of Nepal’s most sacred sights, attracting worshippers from across the subcontinent. It is a gentle world unto itself, the main golden temple fringed on one side by a complex of venerable hospices for the dying and by burning ghats for cremations. Non-Hindus may not enter the inner sanctum, but surrounding terraces command views across the temple and numerous outlying shrines.