The Art Of Nepal 2020
This journey is centred around Tihar and Kathmandu will be in full festival mode, so the days we will meet our amazing artists and participate in the activities below might change around. Also, this is a dynamic itinerary and a few surprises will be added along the way.
Day 1: Overnight Flight
For those us departing from Melbourne, we can spend our day finalising last minute details at work, packing or catching up with family, before a late evening departure from Melbourne airport.
Day 2: Dakshinkali Accomodation: Haatiban Resort Meals: D
We'll arrive in Kathmandu around 12.30pm, sort visas and make our way through customs to a warm welcome and private transfer to Haatiban Resort, nestled on a remote ridge above Kathmandu.
The pine-forested hills surrounding Haatiban, are said to be in the shape of the Eight Auspicious Symbols highly regarded among Tibetan Buddhists and it was here that Padmasambhava, the 8th century Tantric sage, achieved enlightenment. Below Haatiban, Pharping is one of the many venerated grounds in the Kathmandu Valley with sacred caves, emerald green rice fields, golden buddhist temples and natural religious iconography occurring in the rock faces.
We'll have time to settle in and relax on the sprawling lawns overlooking Kathmandu with a cup of chai or fair trade Karma Coffee, grown and produced in Nepal, before feasting on a Nepalese Thali welcome dinner.
Day 3: Dakshinkali Accomodation: Haatiban Resort Meals: B L D
After a leisurely breakfast we'll spend a bit of time getting to know our guides and have the chance to discuss culture, expectations and the journey ahead.
Then, for those who feel like stretching their legs, there are excellent walking trails. Everything from a short forested stroll to longer ridge walks to Dudjom Namdrol Choeling Monastery or the popular Buddhist and Hindu pilgrimage site of Champa Devi Temple. On a clear day, the Champa Devi trail offers superb views of the central and western Himalayan range and a packed lunch can be provided for the more adventurous.
Back at the resort, kick back and soak in the valley views. Informal seating areas are scattered throughout the terraced gardens and courtyards, where you can enjoy the fresh mountain air and sip chai under the gaze of Steppe Eagles soaring overhead. Inside there is a cosy reading and drawing room, and invigorating steam and sauna facilities.
Day 4 - 6: Bhaktapur Accomodation: Hotel Heritage Meals: B 1xL 1xD
Driving down to the valley floor, we'll drop by the traditional Newari village of Bungamati where little has changed over the last few hundred years. Here we'll meet renowned wood carver Raj Bhai Shakya. Raj led the team of wood carvers who recreated Patan’s Durbar Square for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, and his bespoke work is sold internationally.
Afterwards, wandering through the small lanes, we will see people weaving carpets, creating intricate wood carvings, adding the final touches to wax cast statues and decorating singing bowls. The earthquake damage is obvious but the beauty and culture of the town is still here.
Bungamati is also home to Rato Machhendranath, patron of the valley, and his murti (statue) is housed in a temple in the centre of the village for six months of the year.
Continuing on, we transfer to the ancient city of Bhaktapur. Founded in the 12th century as part of the old India to Tibet trade route, Bhaktapur is rich in architectural beauty, filled with ancient Hindu and Buddhist religious sites, palaces and courtyards.
Art is everywhere. In the streets, the buildings, the offerings, even the colourful saris, all interspersed with an eclectic mix of shrines and statues dedicated to the amazing pantheon of gods.
We will reside in the boutique Hotel Heritage, which is built from reclaimed materials up to 400 years old, and influenced by the Malla, Rana, Newari and Mithila traditions. Every piece of the hotel has history, a story, and is the handiwork of Nepali artisans.
Over the next few days, we will totally immerse ourselves in the local culture of this open, living museum where life continues on as it has done for centuries. Our days will be a mixture of informative guided walks and free time to wander the back lanes, alleys and ancient squares.
We will see potters spin their giant, hand-powered wheels and fire their creations in mud-covered straw kilns, maybe even receive a lesson. Walk to the residence of the Kumari, where patience (and a few rupees), can result in a glimpse of the living goddess. Sample the local culinary speciality, King Curd, made from naturally sweet buffalo milk with cloves, cardamom, coconut and cashews. Gorge ourselves on momos (traditional Tibetan dumplings).
Visit artisans, communal family courtyards, the paper factory, National Art Gallery, the exquisitely carved Peacock window and 55 Window Palace. We will explore the four Unesco World Heritage squares, bustling with life and full of towering temples including the tallest temple in Nepal, the Nyatapola, over 300 years old. All a casual walk from our hotel.
In the afternoons, after the tourists from Kathmandu depart, we can wander at our leisure, absorbing the Newari culture and traditions of this medieval city. Eat, shop or just sit on the worn steps of an ancient temple, making friends with locals wanting to practise their English. There is so much to be inspired by and it's the best time to sketch, photograph, relax and become part of the fabric of this medieval city.
One of the days, we will visit a traditional Newari family in their home and take part in our own Mah Puja ceremony, followed by a Bhoj (traditional Newari meal). Individual mandalas are drawn in front of each of our Sal leave plates, which will be filled with delicious morsels. While we are enjoying the tastes and textures, aila (homemade fiery liquor made from barley or rice) will be poured gracefully from a height into our palas, small clay bowls. Often, the standard of the feast is judged by the quality of the liquor served and it is expected that the general mood becomes much more jovial after the first palas has been downed.
Day 7: Patan Accommodation: The Inn Meals: B D
Nepali street art is steeped in tradition and boldly embraces modernism, it shows us where Nepal was and where it is going. It is often ephemeral, sometimes illegal and is the voice of the people. Kathmandu has a thriving street art scene, from graffiti to organised community art events and we will often stop in our travels to seek it out.
Leaving Bhaktapur, we will tour the Association For Craft Producers (ACP), a local, not for profit, Fair Trade organisation. Blending traditional craft with modern design, ACP supports around 1000 artisans (90% female) providing design, marketing, management, technical services and global distribution.
If time allows, we will follow up with a visit to their fair trade shop Dhukuti which is only a short stroll to our new home in Patan. The historic and charming city of Patan, the oldest Buddhist city in the Kathmandu Valley, is also known as Lalitpur (City of Beauty).
Patan is renowned for its rich, cultural and artistic traditions and the ultimate destination for connoisseurs of fine art. It is filled with intricate wood and stone carvings, glistening metal statues, dozens of Buddhist and Hindu temples, over 1,200 monuments and some of the finest and most lavish architecture in Nepal.
Our accommodation for the next 6 nights, The Inn, is a wonderful example of Newari architecture. A traditional brick and timber house, built over a century ago, it has been lovingly transformed into a beautiful heritage hotel.
After check-in, a brief orientation walk will allow us to roam independently around the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Durbar Square and back lanes, all right outside our front door. Tonight we will dine in the beautiful internal courtyard of The Inn.
Day 8: Patan Accommodation: The Inn Meals: B
Tihar festival is an exciting and important time for Nepalis to celebrate and give thanks to life, family and self. The energy builds over the next five days, as locals clean and decorate their houses and the city, hold noisy get-togethers, dance and sing in the streets, cook festival food, and come together to pray during elaborate puja (prayer) ceremonies.
Today is Kaag, the first day of Tihar. Crows (kaag), are worshipped as messengers of Yama, the Hindu god of death and today devotees offer them food to avert grief and death from their homes.
Our morning guided walk will take us further into the back streets and history of Patan and it's artists, ending at Patan Museum. Located in the former residential palace of the Malla kings, it houses one of the finest collections of religious art in Asia and it's courtyard garden restaurant is an elegant place for lunch. Being only a stones throw from The Inn allows those who are interested to take their time amongst the priceless collection of Hindu, Buddhist and Tantric artefacts.
We will all come back together later in the afternoon to end the day on a relaxing note. Singing Bowls, dating back 2,500 years, are widely used for sound therapy, sound massage, healing, space clearing and feng shui. Each bowl is a hand forged and a complex meld of seven metals that takes 2 to 3 days to create.
We will receive a demonstration of the different techniques of this ancient practice and let the beautiful, harmonious tones relax and reinvigorate our body and souls.
Day 9: Patan Accommodation: The Inn Meals: B
Kukur is the second day of Tihar, worshiping man's best friend, dogs. Said to be messengers and guardians of the god Yama, they also guard the gates of the after-life. Dogs are offered food, and adorned with tika and floral garlands, to protect the devotee from Yama and give thanks for their loyalty and companionship.
As well as wood and stone carvings, Patan is the centre of fine metal craft and amidst the fires of Sunil Shakya’s workshop, we will learn about the history and processes of the traditional ‘lost wax casting’ method. Three to four weeks of intense labour and concentration go into every handmade statue. Wax, clay and molten metal create the form, precise chiselling and hammering finesse the delicate features, while gold plating and precious stones bring the creation to life.
The oldest records of civilisation come to us through stone carvings, and intricate examples are abundant throughout Nepal. On our return to Patan, we will join artist Amar Shakya at his stone carving centre, and learn about the skills of his trade handed down through the generations.
By now we will have consumed an abundance of mouth-watering Momos, the popular fast food of Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, and Ladakh, so we feel one of the best souvenirs you can take home is the recipe!
Making momos before celebrations and festivals is a social event, a chance to share and catch up with family and friends in the kitchen. And to guarantee our skills are perfect, this evening we have a momo cooking class, including how to make the all important momo sauce. Dinner will be enjoying the spoils of our labor.
Day 10: Patan Accommodation: The Inn Meals: B
Today is the most significant day of Tihar, observing both Laxmi Puja and Gai Tihar. The city comes alive with celebrations as locals bless Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and welcomes her into their homes and businesses.
Sacred in the Hindu religion, cows (gai) are today adorned with tika and garlands, as they also signify wealth and are revered as the 'mothers of the universe'.
The colourful artwork produced by the Maithili women of Nepal, can be traced back thousands of years, with the techniques and motifs passed from mother to daughter. Initially the paintings were drawn on the mud and cow dung floors and walls of their homes, using fingers, twigs and brushes. Over time the artwork developed onto furniture, canvas, cloth and paper.
Embodying millennia of traditional knowledge, Mithila Art is an early expression of women's empowerment. The images are a form of storytelling and can also be viewed as fertility charms and meditation aids. Using primary, local colours, no space is left empty. Gaps are filled by paintings of flowers, animals, birds, and geometric designs.
We will visit a small organisation in Jawalakhel who are working to bring Mithila Art from the Terai region down south, into the Kathmandu Valley and around the world.
The pioneers of the Tibetan carpet industry in Nepal are also in Jawalakhel. Beginning in 1960 with the first wave of Tibetans to flee the Chinese invasion of 1959, it allowed the craft to survive and provided a livelihood for the refugees. Tibetan carpets are now a flourishing industry in Nepal generating over A$86 million of export in 2019.
A visit to the factory will give us an appreciation of the complex and time consuming process to create these stunning hand crafted carpets, and for those interested, a chance to buy direct from the makers.
This afternoon, rangoli (mandalas), will start to appear everywhere on the streets, decorating the entrances to buildings and courtyards. Mandalas of all descriptions are drawn on the ground, usually in chalk or coloured powder, and embellished with sand, rice, candles and flower petals. We will immerse ourselves in a rangoli class and then help to decorate the sidewalk with our own individual designs.
By evening, oil lamps and candles will illuminate the rangolis, doorways and windows of every home and residence, guiding the goddess Lakshmi inside to bless them with prosperity for the year. The atmosphere is jubilant and neighbourhood children and teenagers will visit, singing and dancing the story of the festival (Deusi), in return for money, fruit and sweets.
Day 11: Patan Accommodation: The Inn Meals: B
"Nhu Daya Bhintuna", Happy New Year!
On the fourth day of Tihar, Mah Puja (self worship) is performed in the homes for good health, long life and happinesss. It is also Newari Sambat (Newari New Year), known as the beginning of a new dawn. The Nepal Sambat is an indigenous, lunar calendar of Nepal, begun by Shankhadhar Sakhwa when he relieved the people of Nepal from debt during the rule of Lichchhavi King Raghavdev in 880 AD. This new year will be Sambat 1141.
It is a day for us to relax and enjoy the festivities in the decorated streets and squares, right outside The Inn. Vibrant colours will swirl past us everywhere, with everyone dressed in their finest traditional clothes. Our ears will resonate with the cacophony of temple bells, chatter, laughter, bands, storytellers, masked dancers and singers, and our nostrils will be filled with the tantalising aroma from the street food vendors.
Day 12: Patan Accommodation: The Inn Meals: B L
Bhai Tika is the final day of Tihar, where it is believed that Yama comes for the brothers, and the prayers of their sisters save their lives. Today, all sisters apply a seven coloured tika to their brothers’ foreheads, offer garlands of Marigold and Chrysanthemum, food and sweets, then sit and chat while sharing a meal.
In return, brothers apply a tika of five colours to their sisters' foreheads, and give them gifts.
The temple inside Rani Pokhari is open for those who don’t have brothers or sisters, to gather and apply tika, considering themselves as soul siblings. And we will not miss out.
Late this morning, we will join a family in their home, coming together as one to share brothers and sisters and celebrate Bhai Tika. Afterwards, we will join our new found siblings and friends for a family lunch.
As with many of our days, the rest of the afternoon is free to indulge our passions. Hopefully our growing knowledge of the local art and culture has started to appear in our own art, photography and writings. For those enjoying browsing the myriad of small shops and galleries, any iconic purchase decisions can now be based on aesthetic and sound artistic knowledge.
Day 13: Boudhanath Accommodation: Shambaling Hotel Meals: B D
Resting on a hillock west of Kathmandu, it is the most ancient and enigmatic of all the holy shrines in the valley, Swaymbhunath. Its lofty white dome and glittering golden spire are visible from everywhere.
Legend tells of a miraculous lotus, planted by a past Buddha, blossoming from the lake that once covered the Kathmandu valley. Bodhisatva Manjushri flew across Tibet on his blue lion to worship the lotus and was deeply impressed by the power of the radiant light it emitted. Wanting to make it more accessible to human pilgrims, he swung his sword and cut a gorge in the mountains surrounding the lake. The water drained creating the Kathmandu valley and the light became Swaymbhunath Stupa.
Geologists believe the Kathmandu valley was once a lake, and historians say the stupa was built on the hill around 460AD by King Manadevahas. Regardless, it has been a hallmark of faith and harmony for centuries, incorporating Hindu temples and deities on a Buddhist site.
Swaymbhunath now has many surrounding monasteries and shrines and the paths to them are covered in mani stones, inscribed with the words "Om Mani Padme Hum". After joining the pilgrims circling the stupa and visiting some of the small temples and shrines, we will visit the artists carving the mani stones.
Boudha is the heart of Kathmandu's thriving Tibetan community and we will make our way to the serene Shambaling Hotel, nestled on its edge. This charming, refurbished Tibetan style house with its lush green garden will be our home for the next 3 nights.
Shambaling is only a 10 minute walk, through narrow, paved brick lanes, to the 14th century Boudhanath Stupa, the most significant Tibetan Buddhist monument outside of Tibet.
Our guides will show us around the Stupa, explain its rich history and spiritual significance before visiting some of the surrounding Tibetan monasteries (gompas). Here, we will have the chance to take part in prayers, meditation and learn more about the monastic way of life, where art plays a key role.
Every inch of the monastery walls are covered in religious murals and sculptures, created in metal, clay, stucco, wood, stone, and butter. Thangkas mounted in frames of silk brocade, hang from the rafters and hand printed manuscripts are piled high and adorned with miniature paintings on their wooden covers.
In the late afternoon, we will join the monks, locals and pilgrims performing kora - a twice daily, ritual circumambulation of Boudhanath stupa. Not only a devotional and meditative practice for Tibetan Buddhists, it is also time to catch up with neighbours, gossip and check out the tourists.
Day 14: Boudhanath Accommodation: Shambaling Hotel Meals: B
We will visit the stupa early to join hundreds of devotees performing their morning kora. Smoke from sacred fires, pilgrims prostrating, flickering butter lamps, aged hands counting prayer beads, all mix with the echoing of the chants from monks and devotees of the surrounding monasteries.
Breakfast, and then a short stroll to a nearby cooperative that provides training in the ancient Tibetan art of thanka painting. In Tibetan Buddhism, thankas are an important and highly developed means of expression, through which the entire Buddhist philosophy can be explained.
To sketch the Buddha figures and mandalas, the artist needs an exact knowledge of the proportions and measurements of each deity, as established by artistic practise and Buddhist iconography. We discover some of these secrets before turning our hands to painting our own mandala. Those of us so inclined, are free to spend the day immersed in this ancient, meditative art.
The rest of us can rest, peruse the myriad of shops selling Tibetan and Buddhist items, visit the Taragaon Museum, roam the gompas, climb the dome or grab our sketchbooks or cameras and walk 30 minutes to Pashupatinath.
The Taragaon Museum seeks to preserve the artistic and architectural heritage of Kathmandu. It documents 50 years of research and cultural heritage conservation efforts from foreign artists, photographers, architects and anthropologists.
Built in the 5th century and later renovated by Malla kings, Pashupatinath, dedicated to Lord Shiva, stretches on both sides of the Bagmati river and is the largest temple complex in Nepal. Ritual cremations are performed on raised platforms by the river and only followers of Hinduism can enter the main temple. But there are over 490 other temples to explore.
Living in caves or tiny cells around Pashupatinath are Sadhus. These wandering ascetic yogis, are trying to acquire liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth by meditation, acts of self-purification, worship, religious discourse and pilgrimages. The majority of sadhus (real and fake), are quite tourist friendly and willing to pose for photos with foreigners, but remember, they are not free of charge.
Day 15: Boudhanath Accommodation: Shambaling Hotel Meals: B D
Throughout our journey, much of our time has been spent with traditional artisans whose work reflects the country’s rich cultural heritage and religious aesthetic, fusing Buddhist ideology with Hindu representation. While this style is still reflected in much of the Nepalese art created today, there is a growing contemporary art scene that veers towards socio-political issues, with new aesthetics.
We will finish our journey visiting some of the new, small modern galleries to reflect on how the new-wave artists view Nepal's future. Also, we will try to find some of the street artists and tap into their passion and creativity.
Then, tonight we will choose a restaurant and gather with our new friends and guides, to celebrate our journey. It is a final chance to discuss with them the spiritual hunger of Nepal that created all we have seen, and celebrate the drive of today's artists who keep it alive and relevant.
Day 16: Overnight Flight Meals: B
It is worth taking an early morning stroll through the now familiar streets of Bouda to join one last mystical kora and receive a blessing from the monks for a safe return. Mid-morning we will transfer to the airport for our flight home.
Day 17: Overnight Flight
Arrive back in Australia