“Photos of all kinds, from the technically faulty to the artfully superb, are windows to a moment in time once passed, the only tangible thing in life every human absolutely and ultimately possess. Photos hold the power to reconstruct a single instance of people, thoughts, emotions, events, ideologies, and even the flow of time itself. Photographs, like words and achievements, are immortal justification to our existence.” Kinan Jarjous, founder of Jar of Juice and photographer of Nawras – Memories in Transit
A Diary In Nepal
By Kinan Jarjous
My travel to Nepal was more circumstantial than planned; I had intended to fly to California, US, but my visa has been rejected, only a few days before my flight. With a few days to plan a three-week holiday, I did not have the mental capacity to go through more visa processes. Wikipedia was my guide as it listed the countries I would be able to visit without a visa or with visa on arrival. A quick google image search on the places gave me a rough idea on the sort of different experiences I would encounter in each. As that particular year has been tough, I wanted a place of meditation — some place that is remote, exotic, and soulful. So I chose Nepal.
Stayed at I stayed in a few hotels, depending where I was, but the one I have enjoyed the most was Sampada Inn, Pokhara. While all hotels more or less served as a place to shower and sleep (I was almost never at the hotel), Sampada was beautiful, calming, and staff very warm. Pokhara itself had a different feel around it than Kathmandu. The hotel was bright and warm and the bed hard and comfortable.
In your suitcase I went at the end of October, so the weather was mixed — but apparently it is also the best time of year, as the monsoon season has just ended and the skies are clear and the air crisp. During the day it would be hot — around 30C — but at night it would drop to 15C or less. My backpack always had warm clothes, water, and snacks. With all the walking, I wouldn’t want to be stuck trying to find a shop to buy refreshments. In my backpack I also always carried a phone battery pack.
Take a mix of clothes for the warm mornings and colder evenings during that time of year (depends on your weather tolerance). The chill from the Himalayas is different than that of a city. You might want to take some sunscreen if the sun is too harsh for you. If you’re planning on trekking, you better bring warm clothes, as the mountains were all covered in snow.
Comfortable shoes are an absolute necessity.
Dined at I ate in many restaurants, but cannot pinpoint which is the best. TripAdvisor has plenty of sound suggestions. Fire & Ice in Kathmandu (Thamel area) has several cuisines, the bulk of which is Western, and includes your pizzas. In Pokhara, Lakeside area is essentially a series of restaurants, all of which I have tried and proved to be good. It is essential you try the momos.
Shopped I didn’t do any shopping, except for buying a rug and a cashmere shawl as gifts in Pokhara. I also bought hand-made bracelets from Pokhara and Bouddhanath, which apparently is a big hit as people love them. You can bargain to the death.
Diary Nepal is unlike any other place in the world. It is a place of contrasts, beauty, and w[o/a]nder. My experience in Nepal has been characterized by the contrasts between day and night, the light and darkness, and my own spirit — which at that time was in healing. Nepal provided the perfect opportunity to see the world from another perspective. I’ve been to two places — Kathmandu and Pokhara — and each provided its distinct experience.
Kathmandu is a dense, poor, and largely polluted city. From what I have been told, most who venture into Kathmandu use it as a transit point in entering or leaving Nepal. but the city and neighbouring districts have a lot to offer. The towering temples of Durbar Square are magnificent. I have coincidentally arrived at a festive season, with most of the country on holiday, and the energy was unreal. Durbar Square was busy with laughter, joy, and people queuing for prayers. It was only half an hour before as I was making my way to the Square that I have met a merchant in a shop who filled me in on the culture, the festival, and some of their deities — particularly those who are in celebration during the week. Having some understanding of the history, the culture, and the purpose of this all made the experience much more meaningful than a simple matter of visiting an old temple. I was much more mindful and appreciative of the place.
The Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Bauddhanath have an exceptional memory. The former, often called The Monkey Temple, was my final destination before I headed out of Nepal. I walked my way from my hotel in Thamel to the temple, an hour’s walk which took me through the different alleyways and neighbourhoods. I preferred to walk instead of take a ride for me to gain a sense of the place, and not merely visit “destinations”.
After an hour, I arrived at the footsteps of the Monkey Temple. The stairs went up endlessly. Though tired, I made my way up — and there were many people of all ages either climbing up or returning.
I remember an old lady, determined to make it to the top, one careful step at a time. Such dedication! Reaching the top in and of itself was rewarding. Though the stupa was smaller in size than Bouddhanath, it also was grounds to monkeys considered holy by the locals. From all the way up, a 360 view of Kathmandu certainly gives a sense of scale.
Boudhannath, also an hour away from my hotel, was a brilliant — and much needed — soulful experience. After walking through the many neighbourhoods, I began to follow chants and the unmistakable structure. Having reached there, I was blown away by the scale of the stupa, as well as the miniature city it housed itself in. The locals have set up shops to lure in the tourists, and there were plenty of cafes and restaurants all around. I had my first proper meal there, but that was all rather secondary to the actual experience: the tranquility of being on the stupa. Through a gate, you’re allowed to access parts of the stupa structure, and I found myself a quiet spot for meditation. I could hear nothing but the raffle of the prayer cloths above me and a faint sermon in the distance about peace. The buzz from the market has been muted, and I found my meditation spot. It was a much needed, and soulful, half an hour.
On a different day, I visited the district of Bhaktapur, a 20 minute drive from Kathmandu. The district is more of a self-contained walled city where motorized vehicles are not permitted. After being dropped off at the gate, I was taken away by how grounds like this existed. Beautiful towers and temples with intricate carvings were all over; the cobblestone and the buildings had a distinct hue of maroon and brown that set the place apart from Kathmandu. The alleyways were narrow, and reminded me of the older parts of Damascus. Dogs and poultry were everywhere. The place seemed to have been stuck in time, functioning at its own place, oblivious to the outside world — oblivious to even its neighbour, Kathmandu. It is there that I found a painting in a shop which I have later purchased just before I left Nepal. A painting of a man and a small temple — though one of many similar ones — it just spoke to me and my experience in Bouddhanath. It mattered not whether I was ripped off when I bought it.
The middle part of my visit to Nepal was spent in Pokhara, a small town known for its lake (Phewa) and Fish Tail mountain, part of the Annapurna Himalayan range, which stands tall as a sentinel. Pokhara was cleaner and remarkably more laid back than Kathmandu. One can say that the Lakeside area — the main segment of the place — is “westernized”, in the sense that it is abuzz with tourists, hotels, and restaurants. It was a different experience at night, as people celebrate for many hours, either before trekking or having returned from trekking. There is so much energy that it was overwhelming at times, and in contrast to how calm the lake is. It was there were I also fulfilled one of my childhood dreams of watching a sunset (or sunrise) by a lake with mountains in the back. The weather was exceptionally beautiful. It was there that I also went paragliding — an extraordinary experience to be in the air there — and it is there where I also met some people who have remained friends.
Tips Nepalese are very nice, polite, and proud people. They are accustomed to having tourists, but it is always good to be polite and mindful of the areas you’re in. Posing in front of their statues may look nice in photos but you might be insulting their deities. Remember that most of the areas you’d visit and touch are of religious significance
Mode of travel Got there on plane through Air Arabia. Very please and short flight. Kathmandu airport is a culture shock in and of itself, so expect to be puzzled by how poor the conditions there are. You’ll find plenty of trekkers though and most have been there before, so just follow them and you will be fine.