Nepal – a vibrant country resting at the foothills of the Himalaya mountain range remains one of the untouched wonders of the world. This is a place where religion, spirituality, politics, and ancient traditions blend with modernity and development efforts – in an ever lasting push-and-pull between the tides of the old and the new, and a people still in tune with the cycles of the moon.
It’s capital city of Kathmandu will cast a spell on you, revealing layer after layer, the deeper you immerse yourself in her presence. Time can dissolve, every second containing an eternal tale, a teaching, a blessing. The spark in an elders glance, the flicker of a butterlamp’s flame, sandals following the sacred footprints along temple walls. Kathmandu Valley is one of those few places in the world which can make your heart shatter, fill it with light and leave it open – if you let it. This is a city you will have to surrender to, a place still ripe with myth and ritual, a psychedelic experience of its own. Every turn of a corner unravels a story, every flickering storefront fairylight holds a promise of adventure. This is a city made up of contrasts and tantric energy, activating all your senses, reflecting your virtues and vices, where each day offers a teaching you didn’t even know you needed.
Rise with the sun and wake up with the city. The mornings feel fresh and innocent, as the pollution has not yet settled over the busy streets. Lean back in one of the many small teashops and enjoy a sweet, warm cup of chia masala and local sel roti pastry. Read up on the myths surrounding the creation of the valley and its deities – and then dive into the hustle of the ‘durbar squares’, town centres of the old kingdoms of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur – still being renovated after the earthquake. The national museum in Patan is also worth a visit to renew your knowledge of the hindu gods and stupa architecture.
Then, climb the stairs to Swayambunath temple, and flow between hindu and buddhist symbolism, herbal infusions, and native monkeys. The legends tell of a miraculous lotus, planted by a past Buddha, which blossomed from a lake that once covered the valley, and rose to form the this mountain. A place which never seizes to unfold its many layers is Boudhanath Temple – one of the world’s most revered Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the world. It is worth going a bit deeper into the design of the stupa and its kala-cakra mandala features. Observe the shattering of the prayer wheels as the monks solemnly walk the cora, listen to the ‘om mani padme hums’ coming from run-down loudspeakers, and the sound of the long-horns (dung-chen) and bells from nearby monasteries.. And then – attention to the mind. The mind remains still. It is in ~ these ~ moments we can take refuge, it is ~ this ~ feeling of pure presence Kathmandu will offer you – if you create a space for direct attention.
At sunset, make your way to the the banks of Pashupatinath Temple, just in time for the Shiva ceremony which has taken place daily since the 6th century, and gaze at the reflection of the burning cremation fires in the river. On a busy day, hundreds of souls go up into dense smoke, and their ashes are immersed into the air we breathe and river system, eventually becoming part of the Ganga. Naked sadhus (holy men) with stunning dreads and bony bodies cover themselves in the grey ashes. They seem to be living in a different dimension than us, completely liberated from the earthly passions and desires.
If you are staying for some time, rent a scooter, take a chance on the traffic (don’t be scared – organised flow), and explore the 45-minute periphery of the valley – Hattiban forest and the Champa Devi trek, Shivapuri National Park, Pharping (with the famous handprint of Guru Rinpoche), Kopan Buddhist Monastery, or the botanical gardens in Godavari. The roads are rocky, but the air will feel fresh and you’ll enter the villages greeted by curious eyes, shy smiles and ‘namastes’. Another special place to visit is Namo Buddha and the Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery, where Buddha, in a previous life as prince Mahasatwo gave his life to a mother tiger and her cubs and learned true compassion.
If you are called to journey out of the valley to seek refuge in snow-capped Himalayan mountains, the regions of Pokhara, Langtang Annapurna, Everest or Mustang will be ready to receive you. The best times to visit is September to November or March to May – when the roads are not falling apart from the heavy monsoon rain. This is a country with distinct seasons, summer is scorching hot and winter brings a cold, raw wind from the mountains..
Kathmandu is chaos – the way the traffic flows between wild tribes of street dogs, plants and jungle coiling through cracks in the run-down buildings, chaos playing with order, expressed in a city pulsating with life force. Cover the places above, and you haven’t even scratched the surface. The country has a lot to teach us – for both personal transformation and how to live according to the ways of dharma, of nature. As part of an ever widening community of conscious wanderers, learning to see ‘the world as lover, world as self’. To the new generation of global knowmads every new day here can feel like coming home. Each step becoming a subtle alignment and a quest for the integration into ancient language and source codes. An ever-unfolding balancing act with the wisdom and natural elements of each destination- this time in Kathmandu.
Ok, let’s start with the essentials. In Nepal, Buddhism and Hinduism exists side by side. Tibetan Buddhism offers a unique premise: that to be a woman is favorable on the path to spiritual realization. While many yogis were men, the ‘dakinis’ in the Himalayas, were female messenger of tantric wisdom. Below are some of the sanctuaries that have led me closer to my inner dakini.
If you have eleven days of your life to spare for accellerated spiritual growth, head to a Vipassana silent meditation retreat at the Dhamma Shringa.
The centre is the oldest in Nepal, and offers teachings in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin, as taught by S.N. Goenka. Vipassana means ‘insight’, to see things as they really are, and is said to be the same teaching passed down by the Buddha himself. The technique is a pure science of mind and matter. It is also an art of living, an antidote to all the stresses and strains of life. It provides a deep pool of peace and harmony within, and will open your mind if you let it.. There are no charges for the courses, because the technique itself is invaluable. All courses are run solely on a donation basis. More info: www.dhamma.org.np
PRANAMAYA YOGA COMMUNITY
Pranamaya is a yoga sanctuary- and community in Kathmandu, organising both classes and retreats where you can strengthen and invigorate your heart, body, and mind. They have studios in Thamel and Patan, invite you to explore your inner geography and eventually open your heart to its natural state of compassion and awareness. Conscious living on and off the yoga mat.
More info: www.pranamaya-yoga.com
SHAMANISTIC STUDIES AND RESEARCH CENTRE
Yoga is so much more than asanas, and for me, the heart of yoga means re-establishing the connection to our inner and outer nature.
The rich cosmology of the Himalayan shamans fascinates scholars and healers alike. The Shamanistic Studies and Research Centre in Kathmandu was started by Mohan Rai, also a member of the Council of World Elders. After his death, his three sons took over. Students can participate in the ancient shamanic ceremonies in which the shaman, aided by traditional drumbeats and dance, travel to seek the deities and sprits who assist in the needed healing. More info: www.himalayanshamans.com
Annamaya was started with a vision of promoting compassion and understanding of what we consume in order to live in more harmony and balance with nature. The term “Annamaya” comes from the yogic system in which the human being is seen as a complex, multifaceted, interconnected system that exists in layers. “Annamaya” is the physical layer, it is the foundation of the human anatomy its the building blocks of life. The café specializes in detox meals and Himalayan superfoods, make sure to pick up your dose of Shilajit, Ashwaganda or Reishi mushrooms! More info: www.annamayanepal.com
Kar.Ma Coffee is an environmentally friendly coffee boutique, which strongly believes in- and encourages recycling. The venture was born out of passion for coffee and its fascinating journey from crop to cup. In addition to the delicious organic coffee and hand-made wooden drip-sets, they are one of the few places in the city to get a hold of conscious nomad essentials – bamboo toothbrushes, mooncups, copper straws and eco-friendly hygienic products. The café also brings together artists, musicians, travellers and expats in an eclectic, energetic blend.
In an effort to bring back and celebrate local, underutilized produce, Raithaane makes food inspired from ethnic cuisine. Try the buckwheat sourdough, pumpkin soup and traditional Tibetan savoury pancakes with yak-butter! All their dishes have vegan options. Join the community of foodies at the KTM Food Collective, which organises weekly culinary experiences based on global food traditions and practices.
NAMO BUDDHA MONASTERY
Wake up in the Himalayan hills and take part in the food prayers, chanting, and food rituals of a hundred young monks. The Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Moastery is located at the sacred pilgrimage site of Namo Buddha, Nepal. The decorations and thangka artwork is itself worth a visit. A two-hour drive from Kathmandu, set in stunning scenery, this is a great place for a city escape. More info: www.namobuddha.org
Curated by SherpaShah, PATANSquared is a dynamic hub that invites city residents and travelers to explore their personal responsibilities for social good. They facilitate interactions and collaborations with social enterprises, grassroots organizations, and inspiring individuals across Nepal. At the core of their work is urban sustainability – food production, zero waste, greywater recycling – and building a community library. The guest house is located in a peaceful area, a short walk away from the vibrant, historic city of Patan. More info: www.patansquared.com
SHIVAPURI HEIGHTS COTTAGE
For a rest from the impressions of Kathmandu, make your way to Shivapuri Heights Cottage, an authentic Nepali homestay on the fringes of Shivapuri National Park, with clean air, trees, gardens and vegetable plots all around. Learn to cook local dishes like momos or thakali, practice yoga, enjoy an ayurvedic massage, and hike to the nearby monasteries. More info: www.shivapuricottage.com
«In the soft, dusty light of evening the old city of Bhaktapur, with its pagoda roofs and its harmonious blend of wood, mud-brick and copper, looked extraordinarily beautiful. It was as though a faded medieval tapestry were tacked on to the pale tea-rose sky. In the foreground a farmhouse was on fire, and orange flames licked like liquescent dragon’s tongues across the thatched roof. A world of intense, violent passions and brilliant colour, where sin was plentiful but so were grace and forgiveness..” Bhaktapur literally translates to the ‘place of devotees’. It is an ancient Newar city in the east corner of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, about 13 km from the capital. Immerse yourself in the traditonal symbolism, with statues of gods and goddesses wherever you turn and hidden temples around each corner.
PATAN MUSEUM OF SACRED ART
Get lost in Patan Museum, displaying the traditional sacred art of Nepal. Its home is an old residential court of Patan Darbar, one of the royal palaces of the former Malla kings of the Kathmandu Valley. The museum now houses one of the finest collections of religious art in Asia, and an invaluable introduction to the art, symbolism and architecture of the valley. The museum and the surrounding city square falls under the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. I love a nepali masala tea on the temple steps at sunset..
ORGANIC FARM TOUR
How do we support farms and producers who are working on bettering food systems? What are the challenges in production and distribution? Does organic sell in Nepal? Can we directly support farms near Kathmandu valley? Join traveller collective SherpaShah for a local farm tour and overnight stay in the surrounding mountain villages of Kathmandu, vising permaculture and organic farms, while exploring ideas of ethics, markets, and personal responsibility in food systems. More info: call Jason on 9843241490.
PURE VISION SORIG
Tibetan Medicine is one of the oldest forms of healing in the world and has been in practice for more than two thousand five hundred years in Tibet and the Himalayan region. In Tibetan this ancient practice is called “Sowa Rigpa”. “Sowa” means to heal the imbalance of the body and “Rigpa” means the knowledge or science of a subject. Visit the clinic in Boudhanath or spend a weekend at the retreat center, located in the valley of Dollu, a few minutes drive from the village of Pharping and an hour drive from Kathmandu town. More info: www.purevisionsorig.org
SOTAI JAPANESE PHYSIOTHERAPY
‘Sotai Massage’ started 3000 years ago in China. It then spread to Japan along with Buddhism after 1500 years. The theory behind it is that when your body becomes too ‘crystallized’, your muscles harden. This results in pressed blood vessels and poor circulation, and generates waste products in the body where sicknesses are produced. This traditional massage ‘unties’ the muscles. It kind of hurts. But definitely in a good way. Read their reviews here: Sotai and Kai
What to say. No words can describe Keshab-Ji, a traditional healer I have met on my path. If you are open for a special experience, including singing bowl therapy and chakra healing, get in touch with me and I will transmit the directions.
Many a story has been written about Kathmandu, so I have included some that have had an impact on my own journey.
by Judith Simmer-Brown
In the spiritual journey of the meditator, the dakini symbolizes levels of personal realization: the sacredness of the body, both female and male; the profound meeting point of body and mind in meditation; the visionary realm of ritual practice; and the empty, spacious qualities of mind itself. When the meditator encounters the dakini, living spiritual experience is activated in a non-conceptual manner by her direct gaze, her radiant body, and her compassionate revelation of reality. Grounded in the author’s personal encounter with the dakini, this unique study will appeal to both male and female spiritual seekers interested in goddess worship, women’s spirituality, and the tantric tradition.
by Swami Sri Yukteshwar
Have you finished Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, Steve Jobs’ favourite book? Was your mind expanded ten-fold? Now, step up your journey with his Master’s teachings.
by Ramesh Bjonnes
A book about transforming our ordinary lives into a sacred experience. You will be introduced to Tantra as the essence of yogic practice and philosophy. Known by the ancient yogis as a powerful conduit for personal transformation, Tantra holds the secret to turning our longings into love and our feelings of separation into spiritual union. Generally known in the West as “the yoga of sex,” you will here encounter a more integral form of Tantra. In essence, Tantric yoga is about seeing and realizing that everything we do can become a sacred, spiritual act. Read more here.
Yes, we know getting lost can be exciting but sometimes finding the places can be quiet a full filling experience as well. We created this map with all mentioned spots that you can take with you on your phone. Or, give yourself a digital detox and wander the streets in search of Kamal Taj. Enjoy the flow..
Best times to travel
Between October and December is the best time to visit Nepal as the skies are generally clear and the views spectacular. The weather remains dry until about April. January and February can be very cold, especially at night, but will reward you with incredible panoramas and quieter trekking trails as there are fewer visitors. Late spring is a beautiful time to travel as the rhododendrons burst into bloom. From May, heat and humidity levels build until the monsoon rains arrive in June and the clouds obscure the glorious mountain views.
Nepal celebrates festivals all year, so there is often a festival or pilgrimage taking place – ask your specialist for more details as the dates often change from year to year.
What to fuel with
Nepali thakali with masala tea
Ethnic Newari foods
Traditional curries and tandoori naan
Mangoes, pomelo, jackfruit
Festivals & Ceremonies
Nepal is a diverse country with a varying landscape, rich bio-diversity and diverse culture of the people residing here. Each community holds their unique cultures and traditions which they have been following for centuries. Each of them has their own set of beliefs and festivals to celebrate.
Nepal is called the land of festivals, and very day is a day of celebration for a community. The best part of all the citizens pride in their own culture and respect for others stories, contributing to a harmoniously coexisting culture in Nepal. This said, their all unite in the celebration of the year’s major festivals. Festivals such as Dashain and Tihar are of national signiﬁcance; such as Bisket Jatra or Rato Machchhendranath Jatra, belong to the traditions of the old Valley towns and still others, such as Chait, are observed only by a particular ethnic community.
It is impossible to mention all the festivals celebrated in Nepal, head over to Trek Route for a full list!
text and additional photography
Caroline Hargreaves is an everyday explorer and ecosopher, on a quest to cultivate awareness of our deep, inner connections with the rhythms of the natural world. She is an interdisciplinary writer and researcher, and has recently co-authored Growing A New Economy – Beyond Crisis Capitalism and Environmental Destruction. Caroline curates the visual journal Norwegian Sage – nurturing a community of people wanting to live closer to nature and taking collective action on issues facing humanity today.
Ole is a multidisciplinary German artist, photographer and filmmaker and an avid traveller. He lives in between Bali, Berlin and Brazil and is one of the makers behind Mahi. Ole has been exhibiting his work in galleries and museums around the globe and you can follow his work on Instagram: @oleukena or @oleukenastudio
Ole believes in the magic of slow travelling, conversations with strangers, early morning coffee, late afternoon waves, learning new languages and the ability to laugh at yourself and is absolutely okay with not always updating his website.
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