A massive rain cloud was shooting forks of lighting as large and scary as Thor’s Mjolnir. It was an electrical party in the sky with the clouds all around us providing their own personal laser light show.
A lightning storm is an orchestra of electricity that I like to call “God’s Own Theatre,” and being in the middle of one, up in the air, is the closest I’ll ever come to having a religious experience.
It was exciting and scary all at once and I felt a twinge of disappointment when the pilot announced that the weather was clearing. The plane lurched and shook as we began our bumpy descent. The lights of Kathmandu twinkled below like diamonds strewn carelessly on a bolt of black velvet.
For me, the descent is the scariest part of the flight and I can’t relax till tire hits tarmac, the brakes come on and the flaps open up. Our crew had navigated us safely through a thunderstorm and I was grateful.
From the exhilarating flight into Kathmandu to the FAM Tour and the International Travel Bloggers & Media Conference (ITBMC), my hosted trip to Nepal to attend the Himalayan Travel Mart 2018 was an experience to cherish.
Here’s a photo I took from the plane of the moon rising above the tail of the plane. Like the song Bad Moon Rising, it did bring us plenty of lightning, but unlike the song, we survived and reached safely.
When I reached Kathmandu airport, I was welcomed by a bunch of the nicest young people – hotel management students who are part of the PATA Nepal Student Chapter.
They gave me the traditional Nepali welcome by placing a silk scarf around my shoulders. As we chatted, we found we had something in common – our love of Comic-Con and Marvel movies.
Nepal is very much like India
One of my big surprises was finding that Nepal is very much like India – from the language to the culture, and even the food. Nepali women are voracious consumers of Indian soap operas and Bollywood movies, so they can also understand and speak Hindi.
The Nepali language is not very hard for Indians to understand and the script is the same script we use (Devnagiri) so we can read it easily, even if we don’t understand all of it.
But one thing that shocked even me, an Indian, were these Medusa-like wires hanging over the streets of Kathmandu and Bhaktapur.
For the life of me, I have never seen anything like this in India and I think the Nepal government needs to clean this up and put them underground as soon as possible if they want to be seen as a modern nation.
And while they’re at it, can they please clean up Kathmandu’s air pollution? It was quite disturbing to see so many people wearing face masks.
Staying at the Traditional Comfort Hotel in Kathmandu
PATA Nepal arranged for my fellow-delegates and me to stay in the Traditional Comfort Hotel in Kathmandu.
The rooms were very comfortable and the Wifi was excellent. I loved the Newari designs and wood carvings in the lobby, a result of employing local artisans in the design and construction of the hotel.
The breakfast was pretty good too. I tried out some traditional beans from Lukla, a place in north-eastern Nepal.
I also love it when a hotel employs responsible environmental practices like using glass bottles, instead of plastic bottles, to provide drinking water in the rooms.
A Whirlwind Tour Of Kathmandu And Bhaktapur’s Attractions
Over the next couple of days, we visited a few of Kathmandu’s many attractions – the Great Boudha Stupa, the Pashupatinath Temple, the Hanuman-Dhoka Durbar Square and Thamel, Kathmandu’s touristy shopping centre, along with our tour guides from PATA Nepal Chapter, Mr Badri Nepal and Ms Sushila Kumari Baral.
Mr Badri’s explanations of Nepal’s culture, religious ethos and community life left us spellbound. But my favourite part of the tour was watching and photographing the animals – pigeons, dogs, goats and monkeys – that live in the shrines.
As an art lover, I also loved the colours and sophistication of the elaborate Tibetan Thangka paintings – Buddhist paintings on cotton, silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala.
We also visited Nepal’s cultural city, Bhaktapur, and Patan Durbar Square, a centre for fine arts. I could have spent all day photographing the exquisite wood carvings, idols and sculptures in Patan’s Tibetan Buddhist ‘Golden Temple’ (Hiranya Varna Mahavir).
I really wish I could have spent more time taking photographs, but we were in a mixed group consisting of travel agents, travel writers and a videographer (who went off by himself to take videos), and every time I stopped to take photos, I would get left behind.
In 2015, Nepal was hit by the devastating Gorkha earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people and injured nearly 22,000. Many of its ancient temples and historical structures were damaged in this earthquake, some beyond repair.
Three years later, scenes like this one are still common and the country is slowly and painfully rebuilding and repairing many of these historical structures.
However, there are many that were undamaged or only lightly damaged and these are definitely worth exploring. I will post a detailed blog of our Kathmandu tour soon.
Our Community Homestay in Panauti Village
After our tour, we were scheduled to stay at a community homestay at Panauti Village, around 1.5 hours from Kathmandu. We were all welcomed at the Community Hall by a group of women in bright red sarees who greeted us with garlands and vermillion tikkas.
My German friend, Katrin and I opted to stay together at the Homestay of a lovely lady called Sabita, who has a house at the top of a small hillock. We found our accommodations very comfortable and our hostess was a wonderful cook.
Panauti, situated at the confluence of the two rivers Rosi and Punyamati, has been regarded as an important religious site since very early times.
We visited the Indreshwar temple, one of the largest and tallest pagoda style temples in Nepal. It was originally built over a lingam in 1294, making it the oldest surviving temple of Nepal.
In the evening, after our tour of Panauti, splashing through the small village roads that had been turned into slush by the rains, we helped our hostess make aloo parathas for dinner.
We also learned about her life and about CommunityHomestay.com, an organisation that is helping women in Nepal empower themselves by earning an income hosting travellers in their homes.
The next day, on the way back to Kathmandu, the rains played havoc with our plans to visit the Namobuddha Monastery by turning the roads into a swamp. Afraid that our bus would get stuck in the mud, we turned back and returned to Kathmandu without seeing the shrine.
The same evening we were treated to an authentic Nepali Dinner Reception at the Bhojan Griha restaurant, a 150-year-old heritage building which housed the late Royal Priest of the King of Nepal.
It was hosted by Mr Bharat Basnet, founder of The Explore Nepal group. We tried the local rice wine (potent stuff!) and the food was prepared from local organic sources grown on their own farm.
My favourite dish was a delicately-flavoured mushroom preparation whose name I didn’t get. Our food experience was enhanced by folk dances of Nepal performed vigorously by local dancers.
In the next few posts, I discuss the Himalayan Travel Mart 2018, that began the day after our hosted dinner. More detailed posts coming on Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Panauti, too. Subscribe to receive them in your inbox.
- Kathmandu Temple Tour: Doorways To Nepal’s Art And Culture
- Bhaktapur Tour: Following The Red Brick Road In Nepal’s Cultural City
- Nepal Adventure Tour Packages: 9 Things To Do Near Kathmandu
- Patan Durbar Square: An Enthralling Glimpse Of Nepal’s City Of Fine Arts