Monthly Archives: November 2013

Escape to … NEPAL

A childhood ambition to collect a Kathmandu stamp in my passport drew me to Nepal this year. The thrill began on my Delhi flight when I first caught sight of the jagged outline of the snow – capped Himalaya on the horizon. As we descended, deepvalleys with roads zig zagging up their sides, terraced, golden harvested paddy fields and multicoloured, flat topped buildings of Kathmandu came into view.  Like Delhi, the traffic from the airport was noisy and abundant, so the tranquility of Hotel Tibet International was welcome. It was within easy walking distance of my favourite spot, the magnificent Bodhnath stupa. Just as Agra is instantly identifiable with the Taj Mahal, so Bodhnath says “Kathmandu” (well, if you know Nepal!) As I wandered around the stupa it struck me that its “persona” changes with the time of day or weather, just like the Taj Mahal. Maybe, it’s something in the eyes. When the sun glinted off the gilded tower and the wind whipped up the strings of prayer flags, casting their mantras to heaven, the eyes seemed to have a benevolent air. But the following day when April storm clouds gathered, the Buddha’s eyes seemed to become more brooding.

Boudhanath Stupa, KathmanduAt night, from the roof top of one of the many small restaurants overlooking the stupa, the eyes watched protectively over the steady flow of pilgrims still circumnavigating the dome, lighting butter lamps and reciting prayers. I revisited Boudha several times and each time there was something new to see. Old ladies dressed in traditional costume spinning the prayer wheels as they walked around the base of the stupa. Devotees prostrating themselves full length on the ground in the courtyard. Artists concentrating on intricate thangka, Tibetan religious paintings. Tiny shops selling Tibetan singing bowls, butter lamps, dramatic, vibrant papier-mache masks and all sorts of Buddhist paraphernalia. The perfect place to say a prayer and watch the world go by.

ESCAPE… Did you know?

The national flag of Nepal is the only non – quadrilateral national flag in the world. Red represents the colour of the 
rhododendron, the national flower and the blue border represents peace. The sun and moon inside originally had human faces but they were deleted when the modern flag was introduced in 1962.

ESCAPE … Watch the sun rise overlooking the Annapurna Himalaya

Some experiences last forever in the memory and visiting Sarangkot, just outside Pokhara, a few hours drive west of Kathmandu, is one of them. The weather had been mixed and low clouds hung heavy over Phewa Tal, the lake in front of Fishtail Lodge where I was staying. At 5.30am there was already quite a crowd at the viewing point (I later discovered quieter spots with similarly jaw dropping views.) Chai was served as we all huddled in jackets and gazed out over sleeping Pokhara, lights twinkling in the early dawn. Hushed voices added to the feeling of an imminent divine revelation. It was strange, you knew behind the curtain of cloud some whopping big mountains lay but, apart from the odd tantalizing glimpse, they remained shrouded. As the sun broke through the clouds the Japanese tourists cheered and there was a frantic clicking of cameras. Fleeting glimpses of Machhapuchhare, Fish Tail mountain, but the pyramidal peak still remained elusive. People drifted away and apart from the odd microlight buzzing overhead all became peaceful. I was in no great rush to go and after an hour there was only a handful of camera/mountain enthusiasts left. Our patience was rewarded. The heat from the sun burned off the clouds and slowly, slowly more of the mountains were revealed, teasing us like some seductive mountain nymph. In some ways it made the revelation all the more inspiring. The Annapurna Himalaya lay in front of us; Dhaulagiri in the west, Machhapuchhare ahead and rounded Annapurna III hiding behind.  Awesome! A word often used, but rarely more appropriately.

ESCAPE TO… Dwarika’s Hotel

Dwarika’s Hotel is a wonderful Kathmandu institution

The owner has, over the years, salvaged thousands of woodcarvings and traditional Newari artefacts from condemned buildings to create this beautiful, romantic hotel. Each bedroom is unique, with colourful furnishings and plenty of space. At night the brick paved courtyards are lit by twinkling butter lamps and delicious traditional Nepali food is served in the Krishnarpan Restaurant. I recommend the 6 course special dinner, but skip lunch!