Nepal, the land of mighty Himalayas, is one of the most dazzling countries in the world. It is cloaked in an inexplicable aura and mystic glow of its majestic beauty. It is a conundrum that requires a bit of effort to unravel but once that is done it reveals to the seeker its serene splendour, equanimity and composure in spite of being surrounded by great cultures such as India and China. It is a feat in itself to have been able to maintain its neutrality, its exclusivity enclosed within the bubbling cultural pots of India and China.
The legendary god Ne Muni protects that sacred land, which is why it is called Ne-Pal. It is a land of beautiful valleys where even gods long to reside, Shangri La, ‘abode of the gods’. The assembly of majestic peaks -SagarMatha, MachaPuchri, Makalu – will leave fragile human hearts awestruck by their sheer size and magnitude. Amongst these, nature dances with such a splendour and force as if in a frenzy augmenting the might and splendour of some of the highest mountain peaks and the biggest of all rivers.
We first landed at Kathmandu, the old Kantipur – the city of woods and the capital of the Himalayan kingdom. It is said that at one time the whole city comprised of woods but now its like other modern cities around the world. The first sight that caught our eyes were the verdant peaks surrounding the Capital. We checked in our hotel and in the evening we went around the tour of the city. The Durbar Square took us back in time, we felt we were in some other century. There are numerous temples and old residence of the Royal families there. There are some good malls also there where we did some of our shopping. We also visited the old Pashupati Nath temple there and did out archana at the main lingam. After some days we went to Chitwan National Park on a weekend. It’s a wild life sanctuary bordering India, with rich flora and fauna. It is famous as a last few remaining homes of the Asiatic Rhino. We stayed at a small hotel called Tiger Camp. On our first day there, we went for a Jungle Walk where we took a small canopy to cross over the river that separates the camp and the forest. We spent half a day on foot in the dense forest. Our guide instructed us about how to handle encounters with wild animals – if it’s a tiger or a bear, club together and if it was a rhino, run in zigzag fashion. It was fun and we did manage to see some rhino, crocodiles, deer and other animals; it was also too tiring and at the end of it we could barely keep ourselves awake. Of course, this led to sound and restful sleep. Next morning, the hotel staff woke us up at 5:00 A.M, and it was time for an elephant ride. Just imagine riding the elephant in a dense forest for more than two hours; but it was fun. The view from atop the elephant was even more enchanting than it had been on the previous day. For days along after coming back, I dreamed of being in those verdant jungles.
I kept on vying for an opportunity to go to woods and mountains again, now that I’d had a taste of them. The opportunity came only during the Dusherra holidays. It’s called Dashain and is the biggest festival of Nepal. Diwali instead is a low-key affair there. Nepalese are predominantly Hindus and they even follow their own calendar. Most of them don’t even know the English calendar dates and months. So even catching up dates is not easy there.
During the Dashain festival, the whole of Nepal comes to a standstill; virtually everything is closed and the bank was also closed for six days. We planned a trip to Pokhra and Kathmandu, and hired a taxi. It is a six-hour drive from Birgunj. We reached in the afternoon and checked into Kantipur Hotel. The sights at Pokhra were simply mind-blowing. The majestic peak of Machapuchri will catch you unguarded and keep you spellbound. Pokhra is a tourist destination so you can find all kind of tourist hotspots there. You will find people of different nationalities enjoying the tranquil beauty of the city. There are a lot of eating places, bookshops and shops for other tourist attractions; but the main lure is a lakeside view. I remember spending a whole evening sitting on a bench there, just looking at birds moving along the surface of the water against a backdrop of dense forest.
We also went to see the sunrise from Sarangkot, a place near Pokhra. It’s amazing to watch the dark cover of night slowly getting drenched by the glowing light from the imposing sun slowly coming out of the majestic peaks. The view becomes captivating as sunlight first kisses the surrounding snowcapped peaks and the glow and shine on those peaks will set your soul free and you will long for that image to be with you forever. There are also other places to visit at Pokhra, such as Mahendra Cave and Devi’s fall.
After three nights of bliss, we went to Kathmandu, thec city was in holiday mood at that time because of the Dashain, we decided to spend the night at Nagarkot, an hour’s drive from Kathmandu. Club Himalayas is a grand resort on a hilltop with an arresting view of Kathmandu valley. The entire capital is visible from there and at nights the glowing lights of houses and markets makes the heart tickle. Nagarkot is famous for its sunset and it is a sight to behold, when the sky turns orange and sun starts rolling down like a big sphere of fire and hides itself behind the distant mountain peaks.
The next morning, we again went to the Durbar square and did some shopping, only some of the shops were open. You can really get good bargains at this place – imagine getting an original pair of Levi’s for just 400 Indian rupees! I’ve heard that a small river marks Nepal’s eastern border with China and Chinese traders carry their stuff on their side of the river and Nepalese traders stand on their side and deals get finalized. The bargains, payments are made and deals are closed that very instant. That, I guess, is the capitalism of communist China.
Someday’s later I got an opportunity to visit Janakpur – the old kingdom of Raja Janak. There is a magnificent temple of Janaki Ji or Sita Ji there. The place in filled with the mythical abodes of the Raja Janak and Janaki. We saw the Vivah Mandap where Ram and Sita got married and the place where Ram broke the Dhanush in Swayambar. Now the town is a run down place but it would fill you up with the wonder and amazement to grasp the very fact that the lanes you just walked on were treaded once by Lord Rama and Laxman and Sita, the breath you just took was from the same air that once provided life energy to Raja Janak too.
Nepal is definitely a mix of strange myths, beautiful sights, placid lakes, and stately mountains.
Only the lucky ones would experience it.