The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 7, 2001

It is heaven on earth!

Flourishing in the shadow of the grandest Himalayan ranges, Nepal has cherished its quaint and beautiful mix of Hindu and Buddhist cultures with dedication and devotion. Today, with over 300,000 tourists thronging its heritage sites each season, it is a hip and happening kingdom, says Vimla Patil.

JUST a decade ago, Nepal was a Himalayan kingdom where Buddhists and Hindus from surrounding countries travelled on pilgrimage to see the temples of Pashupatinath, Swambhunath, Boudhinath, Buddha Neelkanta and Guhyeshwari among scores of others. They also thronged this tiny strip of an incredible Himalayan landscape to see the great heritage cities of Kathmandu, where the Durbar Square has a unique collection of ancient buildings; Patan-Lalitpur, the city of art where the quaint combination of Hindu and Buddhist architecture creates a memorable group of ancient buildings and Bhaktapur, where, once again, the melee of ancient shrines displays the finest building and carving art cherished by Nepal’s builders over the centuries.

Ten years down the line, this tiny Himalayan kingdom has undergone a dramatic change. Millions of people still travel to this country for pilgrimages and nature treks. But at the same time, Nepal has gone through a major sea change. It has some of Asia’s best luxury resorts, deluxe hotels and conference centres, supermarkets and of course restaurants offering not only the exotic Nepalese cuisine, but the best food from all over the world. Suddenly, Nepal was become the country for marriages, parties, holidays, business deals, adventure holidays, gourmet eating and of course for old world sight-seeing. The Tribhuvan International Airport is as full of backpackers as it is of business tycoons who come to Kathmandu to conduct important meetings with international groups for joint projects all over Asia and to shape import export business in the next decade along the renowned old silk route.


A view of the Annapurna PeaksWith all these changes and the new buzz in the air, Nepal’s soul still remains the same. The people look well-to-do, the cities are full of hospitable, merry-making crowds and the shops are stacked high with local handicrafts as well as imported goods of every variety. Kathmandu, the largest valley city in the kingdom, is full of temples, palaces and old wood-carved houses built to be cold in summer and warm in winter. The carving of windows, doors, pillars and grills is not only unique, but a huge industry now. Huge handicrafts estates offer to foreigners replicas of the famous carved windows of Nepal. Kathmandu has some of the best hotels in Asia and Nepali ethnic restaurants like Bhanchcha Ghar (kitchen) offer candlelight cultural events with authentic Nepali feasts, creating exotic evenings for foreign visitors. The markets in Kathmandu are full of local as well as imported goods and excellent shopping complexes make buying a pleasure. The greatest attraction for women visiting Kathmandu is the Pote Bazaar, a wonderful fairyland of multi-coloured glass and metal beads which are made locally or imported from Czechoslovakia. Hundreds of women — both Nepali and outsiders — squat here in front of tiny shops, choosing beads from the multitudes of colours and shapes to create their personal necklaces. Brides and their parents come here to choose the Pote, which is the Nepali mangalsutra. Bangles, sindoor boxes, hair ornaments and anklets — the exotic goods at the Pote Bazaar are enough to fascinate any woman from anywhere in the world.

Apart from Kathmandu, most nature lovers visit Pokhara where the highest peaks of the sprawling Annapurna range of the Himalayas and the Machchepuchra peak stand brooding over several resorts. The town’s crowning glory is Fulbari, a 167-room resort which offers every kind of luxury one can dream of. A fitness, yoga and beauty centre, a spa, a sports complex, several restaurants and landscaped gardens which overlook the mountains and a viewpoint from the rising sun looks gorgeous — these are some of the attraction of the resort. The Lakeside bazaar is really a shopper’s delight. A number of Kashmiri migrants have settled around the Pokhara lake, where boating is available, and opened shops which sell leather and metal goods, semi-precious stones, beads and Kashmiri, Tibetan and Nepalese handicrafts of the Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist variety. Pokhara is the hill station from where several helicopter flights take off to see the fabulous mountain ranges around the area. The ride to see Mount Everest, which is also available from Kathmandu, is the most popular.

Apart from Kathmandu and Pokhara, the cities which attract hordes of culture visitors are Patan-Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Dhulikhel and Nagarkot. The last two are towns from where the sunset and the beauty of the snow-clad mountain ranges is unforgettable. Nagarkot and Dhulikhel — both have luxury resorts where one can go lotus-eating to one’s heart content and meditate upon the setting sun and its magnificent beauty each evening! The earlier mentioned towns — namely Patan-Lalitpur and Bhaktapur are a different kettle of fish. Here are Durbar Squares of majestic beauty, buildings built by the great rulers of Nepal’s past royal families and the best work of architects and wood carvers. Patan, for instance, is designed like the Buddhist Dharma Chakra (the eight fold path to Nirvana). It is surrounded by four Stupas built by Emperor Ashoka some 2250 years ago. Other than these, there are 1200 Buddhist monuments in Patan. The Durbar Square, however, remains unique and has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Patan was founded by King Veer Deva in 299 A.D. and is also called Yala, Yupagram, Lalitpatan and Maningal. It is the oldest city in Nepal and was founded by Kirati rulers long before the major Lichchavi dynasty came to power. The powerful, yet peaceful, mix of religions, architectural styles, deities and streams of devotion make Patan a unique city. Its bazaars and industrial settlements sell exquisite handicrafts, including Buddhist Tankha paintings, metal work, wood and bead work and other novelties.

Wood-carving at Fulbari ResortBhaktapur, which is nearby, is literally a city of devotees. Elegant buildings, colourful festivals, dances and a typical Newari lifestyle mark this city. The conch-shaped city was founded in the 12th century by Anand Deva Malla. Yaksha Malla fortified it later. The eight mother goddesses (Ashta Matrikas) at eight geometrical points protect the city. Even with passing centuries, this city has cherished its Buddhist Viharas, Hindu temples, palaces and other monuments. A distance away, stands the Changu Narayan temple on a hilltop. This is also a World Cultural Heritage Site. Built by Hari Datta Verma in 323 A.D., it has an inscription from 464 A.D. created by King Mandeva of the Lichchvi dynasty. Ten kilometres away, the hill station of Nagarkot offers a panoramic view of the Dhaulagiri peak in the west and the incredible Everest in the east.

Nepal is divided into several natural regions according climate, vegetation and culture, so are its people. The Newars, the Gurungs, the Maithilis, the Gurkhas, the Khetris, the Brahmins — all have their own festivals and celebrations, making Nepal a land of colourful songs and dances and festivals. For shoppers too, Nepal is a dream come true. Glass beads, jewellery, semi-precious stones like amber, malachite, turquoise, crystal, jade, onyx, lapis lazuli and coral are abundant. So are precious stone like rubies and sapphires. Wood carving is exquisite and worth cherishing.

Nepal can be everything to everyone. It is a one-stop holiday for the religious, the pleasure-seekers, the adventure-seekers and the business tycoons. It is a heaven for nature lovers and for those who are fascinated by the animal and bird world. It is a sanctuary for those who want peace and quiet away from the hectic world, down in the plains and their dusty cities.

Most of all, Nepal is a wonderful destination for all those who want to gaze at the eternal Himalayas endlessly, and store a treasure of peace in their souls to last for a lifetime!

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