Each time I arrive in Kathmandu, I am awed by the kaleidoscope of silk saris that enliven its dusty streets, the canted brick buildings with old wooden doors painted in rainbow colors, and the stoic women vendors who patiently squat next to paltry piles of produce amidst the squalor. But I can only take so much of the seething crowds, the pollution, and the ear-splitting horns of motorcycles that streak through the narrow lanes, passing just inches from pedestrians who share the asphalt. After a week, my senses are overloaded and I flee to serene Pokhara. Because I’ve had to experience Kathmandu in bits and pieces it has taken me three years to see all seven of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in and around the capital city, but this year I finally visited the last remaining site on my list.
Kathmandu sits in the center of a valley that is roughly shaped like an oval bowl that legend says was once a lake surrounded by hills. One day, the Bodhisattva Manjushree visited on a pilgrimage and saw a bright flame coming from a huge lotus in the center of the lake. Wishing to worship the flower, he cut a deep gorge in the hills with his sword, allowing the water to drain from the valley. Over the ensuing centuries, three separate kingdoms arose within the fertile valley. The rulers of each constructed magnificent medieval palaces surrounded by plazas known as Durbar (Palace) Square. Today we know these royal cities as Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan (Lalitpur District). In 1769, Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered and unified the three kingdoms, creating the country of Nepal. Continue reading