Tag Archives: Kathmandu

Garden of Dreams – Kathmandu, Nepal

 

After the tranquillity and crisp air of the Himalayas, returning to Kathmandu can be a shock to the system. The constant noise, traffic and smoggy air can feel overwhelming, making one search for an area of reprieve. Enter through the red brick walls of the rather appropriately named Garden of Dreams, and you can find a temporary solace from Kathmandu’s metropolitan excesses.

 

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Originally built as the private residential gardens for Field Marshal Kaiser Sumsher Rana in early 1920, and designed by the famous architect Kishore Narshingh, in what was then a modern Edwardian theme. Despite gardens of similar style cropping up around Nepal and India, Rana’s collection of pavilions, fountains, exotic plants and walkways quickly became renowned throughout the region as one of the finest examples of its kind.

 

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After Rana’s death however, the Garden of Dreams closed, and for six decades the grounds were left unkempt. The structures that were once called the finest of gardens in the country and the subtropical plants and ponds that inhabited the garden became overgrown from vines and weeds, and the once-constant stream of important visitors disappeared.

 

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In an effort to restore one of Kathmandu’s most unique destinations, the Ministry of Education in Nepal, with support from the Austrian Development Aid,  completely renovated and restored the largest and arguably most impressive section of Rana’s Garden of Dreams for the public to enjoy in 2000. In 2007 renovations were finished, and the Garden of Dreams was opened, and has been growing in visitors ever since.

 

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Today people flock here for peace and solitude away from the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu’s hectic walkways and traffic. On any given day, you’ll find many young Nepalese couples taking romantic strolls and afternoon breaks here in the many nooks and hidden corners of the garden’s pavilions and gazebos.

To find a unique piece of Nepal’s heritage and culture, away, from the shrines and representations of Buddhism and Hinduism often recommended to tourists, the Garden of Dreams is well worth a visit to rest and revive.

 

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For more information about the Garden of Dreams, including visiting hours and admission fee, please see their website here.

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Annapurna Conservation Area: Some Thoughts on Tourism, Resources and the People

 

For a country roughly 1/67th the size of the US, Nepal packs a big punch, in natural resources at least. It has one of the largest water resources in the world, second only to Brazil, and the water runoff from the Himalayas flows down for miles as rivers and waterfalls, eventually turning into a water source for rivers in India, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. For Nepal this extensive natural resource provides them with what would be perceived to many as an obvious source of renewable energy. And for the most part this is true; however Nepal’s strategic location as the faucet for South Asia means it must balance its diplomatic interests by ensuring they do not dry up their neighbour’s riverbeds with the creation of energy plants while ensuring the country can provide enough energy to meet the growing demand of its population. Moreover, it must balance its response to the country’s energy demand while ensuring its modernisation does not drive away one of Nepal’s largest incomes: tourism.

 

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A quick look at Nepal and it is easy to see why travellers flock to the country. It’s capital, Kathmandu, has the densest collection of UNESCO World Heritage sites with seven large monuments packed within a 15km radius. Large tracks of the Himalayas are protected as conservation areas, wildlife or hunting reserves, or national parks, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars it makes just in mountaineers attempting to summit Everest each year is a sizeable bolster to its economy and workforce. In addition to this, thousands of trekkers, rafters and climbers use Nepal’s mountains as an expansive playground for extreme sports (myself included). On top of all of this, it also boasts Chitwan National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage site, the only place in the world where visitors can have the chance of spotting a Bengal tiger as well as a rhinoceros.

 

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One of the most popular treks in Nepal is to Poon Hill, in the Annapurna Conservation Area. My group and I walked for five days from Laxmi to Ghudruk, and it was apparent even within that short space of time there was an abundance of life wherever we went. Electric blue butterflies the size of your hand fluttered on oversized blooming hibiscus flowers, rocks resembling blocks of silver sparkled in the light of water run-off from the proliferate amount of waterfalls in the area; and the villages, each unique to their particular mountainous region, with cultures and religions pre-dating Buddhism, appeared as though they had been preserved to an extent from the mass development and encroachment of modern life that was pervasive in Kathmandu.

 

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However it is just these people that the balance of development of renewable energy resources, conservation and tourism affect most. For many of these villages that reside in the Himalayas, electricity is offered for only limited hours a day. Alternative natural resources like timber or other wood for burning in stoves is limited due to conservation restrictions, meaning that the restricted allowance they are given is mostly used for tourists. Other amenities such as hot showers cost extra or are simply unavailable.

 

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For people that constantly invite tourists into their homes and spend their available resources on them, do they not deserve some of the basic amenities that people worldwide expect to use on a daily basis? But on the other hand, would visitors still flock to this region if it was kitted out with extensive hot shower units, tumble dryers and stoves, at the sacrifice of the Annapurna Conservation Area’s natural beauty?

Obviously the answer lies in between utilising the natural renewable energy resources in the area in a way that doesn’t detract or harm the local ecosystem of the region, but exactly how feasible is this? Should Nepal wait until innovations in renewable energy make it possible to do this, or will the waiting cause the country to miss its opportunity to take advantage of its status as an emerging market and grow into a world power others can take as an example? More importantly, how long will the Nepalese people be excluded from the basic amenities that other countries take for granted on a daily basis, and how will this affect their future?

What are your thoughts and ideas?

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Monkeying Around in Harati Devi, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

It is not the stupa of the Buddha that alerts visitors they are approaching the entrance to the temple, but the trees. Limbs violently shake and leaves tremble as scores of monkeys leap from one to the other, following the cars at a speedy tempo as their babes cling to their back and stomach. The car halts to a stop at a banana stand in front of the entrance to Harati Devi, as do the monkeys, eagerly awaiting a treat from the visitors.

 

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Affectionately known as ‘Monkey Temple’ by Kathmandu locals and tourists alike, this destination is arguably one of Kathmandu’s most popular attractions. The monkeys that dwell here are regarded as holy monkeys, and by the way they behave, they know it too. Scores of them prowl the various chaityas and temple domes, looking for offerings of food to snatch or fights to pick with one another, providing hours of entertainment to visitors.

 

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One of these holy beings stared at me now, its head cocked to one side as it gnawed voraciously on a stub of fruit. It clung by its fingertips and toes to the head of a small deity in a chaitya, a small shrine, that was part of dozens situated in neat orderly rows across from the main stupa. Each shrine possessed subtle differences, noticeable only under a studious gaze, with the deities in various states of frozen movement. A shriek and blur of actual movement interrupted my inquisition as the monkey that had been staring at me only moments before attacked another for stealing his snack.

 

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The temple complex itself has been a centre for worship for the past 1,500 years, with various emperors and kings making pilgrimages to the site. In Buddhist tradition the large white dome at the bottom of the stupa represents the world. Surrounding the dome are enormous prayer wheels, where women and men push with their fingertips, chanting prayers slowly as their footsteps revolve around the complex. Gazing upwards, the sharp eyes of the Buddha stared in all directions, as brightly coloured as the prayer flags and the women’s saris that surrounded it. At the very top of the stupa sat 13 pinnacles, each representing the stage a person must go through to achieve enlightenment.

 

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More than the dome, more than the Buddha’s piercing glare, it was the combination of the colour and detail of Harati Devi held my attention. For more than a thousand years, artisans and monks devoted their lives to the most minuscule decoration of the shrines and statues at the site in the hopes of gaining enlightenment. Every single detail, from the tiny border design around a chaitya to the expansive size of the dome, represented the religious care and following the Buddhist and Hindu disciples showed. It seemed reminiscent of those tomes monks poured over in their Medieval abbeys, dedicating their lives to decorating every calligraphic letter with images that unfolded a story in their writing in the glorification of Christ. No matter the religion, or which part of the world you happened to be, people seemed to expressed their religious devotion in the same, yet equally unique, way.

 

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Descending the 365 steps from the stupa, I paused by the sprawling lion statues to look at the cloudy panoramic views of Kathmandu. Each morning hundreds of Buddhists and Hinduism followers ascend these steps to ambulate around the stupa and spin the prayer wheels, but by the afternoon the steps were filled with tourists and families feeding the monkeys and throwing coins into the wishing well for luck. Sensing I was leaving, one of the holy monkeys made a last ditch attempt to appeal to me for food, with squeals and a pitiful stare. It’s eyes hardened into a glare at mine as my hand brought forth no food, and after a short pause scampered off to find another visitor to try on its holy powers of charm and persuasion….

 

For more information about visiting Harati Devi Temple ( also known as Swayambhunath) check the Lonely Planet guide here.

Do you have any questions or experiences of Harati Devi? Leave a comment! 🙂

 

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