A hosted trip through Kathmandu and its cultural wonders
It is early morning when I open the window of my hotel room and my home during my stay – Dwarika’s Hotel in Kathmandu, Nepal. I am here with Pomalo Travel, who organized a hosted trip for Women Only, discovering heritage and all Kathmandu has to offer including my morning yoga classes in this epicentre of culture and not far from the most epic mountain of the world – the Mount Everest.
A heritage museum
The wooden windows frame the views from my room and at the same time capture the heritage Nepal is known for –handmade brick walls incorporating detailed wooden carvings some of which are centuries old. In the distance I hear the first sounds of Kathmandu waking up – the cooing sounds of pigeons, the bells of fast-paced rickshaws, the small engines of scooters and in between the repetitive construction noises, as Nepal and especially Kathmanu is building itself up again – literally – after the earthquakes of 2015 left an path of destruction.
The Dwarika’s is a heritage hotel, one that survived those earthshattering quakes and is home to 83 rooms and suites, sits on the outer edges of the city surrounded by the beauty of the Kathmandu valley. The hotel is known for its rich aesthetics and cultural history situated in the capital of Nepal and just a stone’s throw from the famous Pashupathinath temple and the Buddhist stupa at Bouddhanath.
It is here in the grounds of the hotel, where my morning Yoga classes commence every day at 7AM sharp – which feels as a ritual on its own set within the walls of this Nepalese heritage build. The morning Asanas are just as pure as is the destination, where authenticity and hospitality form the foundation. And surrounded by such distinct craft and ancient fixings, every movement I flow into, feels more connected to the next and a unique connection is made, as if I belong and as if time stood still. The class progresses and I find new moves adding on to the ones I am familiar with are making the start of the day feel as if starting renewed every day.
Not long after, a stroll along the pool reminiscent of 12th century Malla Dynasty bath, reminds me I am within a museum of architecture and local legacy although woven into an elegant hotel. The courtyard is stunning and with graceful seating areas plotted around, feels as if I am part of the crowds who belong. The library is worth a visit- purely for the investment in knowledge on Nepali culture and the understanding of the geographical richness of the country – landlocked in Southern Asia, wedged between Tibet autonomous region of China and India, with a backdrop of the roof of the world on the border of Tibet – the Himalayas. Its Himalayan snow-capped mountain peaks include eight of the ten tallest peaks in the world and if that isn’t impressive enough the valleys are known for their crossroads of cultures with numerous sacred temples and elaborate monuments.
Counting my blessings
I still cannot believe I am amongst this heritage, crafting my own path of cultural discovery. As I am daily attending the ancient practice of yoga, from where the beginnings originated not far from where my yogamat lays each day. During the day I invest in strolls through town, the lack of sidewalks makes me vigilant and constantly aware of my surroundings; as I have to pay attention where I step, walk and cross the earthy roads. In the mornings, after breakfast where most of the ingredients are produced in the hotel’s organic farm, but it could have just as well come from the nearby street stalls as local vendors set up early morning selling their fresh produce, I head out to explore the streets’ boldness of colours.
I visit the monkey temple and am happy my morning yoga classes kept me in sync with my exercise routine, as the steps towards the temple are steep and not as levelled as I am used to back home. The name of the temple sure does what is promised – monkeys everywhere and after a few cute pictures, I am ready to descent and add another temple visit to my day – the Pashupatinath Temple, where a blessing from Sadhus is likely to happen.
Later, I get invited to master pottery, whilst mastering this trade is harder than it seems, the rhythmic movements of the wheel has a calming almost meditating effect and as I learn upon return, the latest must-do relaxation trend for Millennials surpassing yoga is pottery – it doesn’t surprise me. Without any realization of the latest trend, the potter throws on a slab of clay and starts to rotate the wheel, his hands solid enclosing the lump and without fail an artistic brown vase appears. When it’s my turn spinning of the wheel seems hard enough and as soon as my hands fold around the clay ball, is disappears in a asymmetrical shape far from the pleasing-to-the-eye form of the local potter. Still, it is enjoyable and I wouldn’t be surprised I try my hands at this craft a few more times upon my return home.
In the evening we are invited to join in with a local family cooking a traditional dinner as part of the curated trip. For the foodies amongst us a welcoming feast and a way to source some of the local cooking rituals of mixing in ingredients and adding colourful mixtures to pots. For others, the surroundings of a local home are a way to explore the Nepali hospitality and get a taste of homemade cooking. Another evening we visit a local eatery (the English menu makes it easy to order) and decide on momos, a Nepal steamed dumpling filled with an array of ingredients from duck to rabbit, even some sweet flavours along the list, I opt for a safe bet and order vegetables momos, which are a savoury delight. Another afternoon, where I am free to explore, I visit the Garden of Dreams – with contributions from the Vienna government (Austria) these gardens are a calm haven within Kathmandu – the café in the middle of the gardens makes a delicious hot chocolate with a local twist and the honey ginger lemon tea is just as delightful is it is packed with a gingery punch.
A true welcoming spirit
As the final day in the capital draws closer, I have another visit to Durbar Square as it has been on my wishlist to visit for too log, overcrowded by pigeons the beautiful palace structure arises yet again – large tiled rooftops rising in hierarchy form the centre of the sights, temples arise across and smiling Nepalese women and men flock together around the entrances to pay tribute or simply mingle and go about their daily routines.
Some buildings are kept closed due to the state of the foundations and structure, other builds are held together by large supportive beams and some have become ruins. The nest of wires hanging from buildings reminds me, there is still much more to finish. And the chaos here and there is reminiscent of a city moving on again. There is a constant dulling sound of construction, nothing overpowering as most is handwork; it is almost as if the repetitive lumber noise is there to let you know, the city will be fine again and the locals remain in good sprit. Nepal finds solace in rebuilding the UNESCO inner maze of temples, homes and monuments – mostly redbrick builds with hand-carved wooden features; the nation is collectively aiming to welcome people with open arms.
It is this welcoming feeling, which surpasses all devastations and counterbalances the sad reality of how much was lost. Yet, it also highlights the wonders created by hand and brings a calming smile on my face when a nation who has lost so much, can find the perseverance to rebuild – sometimes from scratch- their own pride and heritage for us to rediscover the country’s traditional trades, beautiful culture, its spirituality, and perhaps even to rediscover ourselves.
Pomalo Travel designs custom-made itineraries specifically catered to your preferences and travel wish list – from wellness retreats, luxury abodes to active escapes. The founders Mona Khalil and Rana Dababneh also host trips for Women Only and for groups. Next up is South America in Spring 2018. Visit www.pomalo.com to find out more.