The Art Of Nepal 2020
As this journey is entwined around Tihar and Kathamandu is in full festival mode, we will keep your activities flexible around the celebrations, to make sure you don't miss a thing.
We are currently finalising 2019's Art of Nepal itinerary, but a look below will give you a good idea of what you are in for.
Day 1: Overnight Flight
For those us departing from Melbourne, 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: Bhaktapur Heritage Hotel
We'll arrive in Kathmandu around lunchtime to a warm welcome at the airport and transfer to Hotel Heritage in Bhaktapur. The boutique Hotel Heritage 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.
After a group briefing, we will have some time to settle in from the flight or head out and explore the local area.
Rising in a tight mass of warm brick out of the fertile fields of the valley, the medieval city of Bhaktapur looks like Kathmandu must have done before the arrival of the modern world.
Day 3 - 4: 21st - 23rd October 2019 Heritage Hotel (B)
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.
Our mornings will include guided walking tours of this open, living museum. We can watch ceramics come to life as potters spin their giant, hand-powered wheels and fire their creations in mud-covered, straw kilns. Visit the residence of the Kumari and with patience (and a few rupees), hopefully catch 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. Visit artisans, communal courtyards and explore the three Unesco World Heritage squares full of towering temples and life.
In the afternoons, after the tourists from Kathmandu depart, we can wander the back lanes, alleys and squares at our leisure. Eat, shop or sit on the worn steps of an ancient temple and make friends with Nepalis wanting to practise their English. Sketch, photograph or just enjoying watching life pass by, as it has done for centuries, absorbing the traditions and culture of the Newars in this medieval city.
As a special treat, we will enjoy a traditional welcome dinner, hosted by the Managing Director of our Nepali team and some of his crew.
"Bhaktapur is rich in architectural beauty, filled with ancient Hindu and Buddhist religious sites, palaces and temples, terracotta, carved wood columns, elaborate carvings, gilded roofs and open courtyards absorbing the traditions and culture of the Newars."
Art in Nepal is not locked behind glass but part of daily life everywhere.
In the temple courtyards and on the shrines on the streets, people stop constantly to leave a marigold and a prayer or paint the statues with crimson oil.
Day 5: 24th October 2019 The Inn (B,L,D)
Leaving Bhaktapur on a picturesque drive to Lamatar, a small village near Kathmandu, you will arrive at the Shree Shringery Community School. Over lunch with the students and teachers, learn about the school and the local community, and view some of the work supported by our past travellers.
With some of the most precious and little seen temples in all the valley lining the 1km walk between the rare Balkumari Temple and the beautiful Siddhikali Temple it’s a nice morning walk.
Between Bhaktapur and Kathmandu, Thimi was once the fourth largest town in the valley but never quite made it on the tourist circuit. This has left a quirky little town with an interesting array of heritage buildings and untouched fantastic array of untouched Newari buildings and little seen temples, though many have not so aesthetic fences around them to protect from theft contains some of the most interesting heritage buildings in the country.
NWhile it is still a basic thmissed out on tourism. This
the forgotten heritage
I’ve spent a lot of time in Thimi. The heritage there is fantastic. Untouched Newari and tantric temples line the main road and the side streets.
Along the way you’ll pass many shrines, temples and even a stupa. While most are not very different from the rest of Kathmandu’s temples they are all well preserved and have an untouched feel about them.
Back down the road from Lamatar village, in Lubu, is Manushi Art’s silk factory, which employs 35 local women. Manushi Art is a fair trade organisation working with low-income artisans, to improve their livelihoods through the production of quality handicrafts. Chat with the women while viewing the various stages of production, spawning, harvesting, dying, knitting, weaving and product creation.
The Association for Craft Producers (ACP) is a local, not for profit, fair trade organization providing design, marketing, management, and technical services to low-income Nepalese craft producers. ACP is a resource to advance and globally distribute their work, for which they receive fair wages and generous benefits.
Founded in 1984 with just 38 producers, five full time staff members and three skill categories, ACP has grown to around 1000 artisans (90% female), 60 full time staff members, 20 skill categories, and has expanded from a 4000 sq. feet building to a spacious 45,000 sq. feet facility.
From Lubu, continue on to the historic and charming city of Patan, the oldest Buddhist city in the Kathmandu Valley and the destination for connoisseurs of fine art. Also known as Lalitpur (City of Beauty), Patan is renowned for its rich, cultural and artistic heritage and home to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Durbar Square.
Your accommodation for the next 5 nights, The Inn, is a wonderful example of Newari architecture. This traditional brick and timber Newari house, built over a century ago, has been lovingly transformed into a beautiful heritage hotel. Dinner will be at The Inn.
Shree Shringery Community School, provides a quality education for local children whose families cannot afford to pay for school. With over 200 students, it needs our help to improve it's infrastructure and help pay the dedicated teachers.
Patan is a wonderful place to wander and explore, where each laneway brings you to a new wonder.
Day 6: 25th October 2019 The Inn (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 traditional dishes, and come together to pray during elaborate puja (prayer) ceremonies.
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.
Patan 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. After a morning orientation and guided walk, feel free to wander at will or stay with your guide for a more informal stroll.
Everyone will come together late afternoon to end the day on a relaxing note, with a Singing Bowl Therapy demonstration. Enjoy peaceful meditation from this ancient sound-healing practice using hand-forged bowls which produce beautiful, harmonious tones. Each bowl is a complex meld of seven metals that can take up to 2 days to create, and are widely used for sound therapy, sound massage, healing, space clearing and feng shui.
Crows (Kaag), are worshipped as messengers of Yama, the Hindu god of death and devotees place food offerings on the roof tops, to avert grief and death from their homes.
"A destination for connoisseurs of fine arts, Patan is filled with wood and stone carvings, metal statues, ornate architecture including dozens of Buddhist and Hindu temples, and over 1200 monuments."
Day 7: 26th October 2019 The Inn (B)
Kukur is the second day of Tihar, worship of the dog. 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.
Today a short drive brings you to the pretty village of Bungamati, to visit the 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. He will share his knowledge and skills, and you can try your hand at carving.
The oldest records of civilisation, come to us through stone carvings, and intricate examples are abundant throughout Nepal. Returning to Patan, you will join artist Amar Shakya at his stone carving centre, and learn about the skills of his trade handed down through the generations.
Said to be messengers and guardians of the god Yama, dogs also guard the gates of the after-life. They are offered food and adorned with tika and floral garlands to give thanks for their loyalty and companionship and to protect the devotee from Yama.
The oldest existing works of stone crafting in Nepal, are statues dating back to the 1st century AD. and the techniques and tools have remained unchanged over the centuries. Exact instructions in old texts, are meticulously followed and great skill is needed to execute the precise decorative woodwork, so that even the smallest parts of the pattern fit perfectly without nails or glue.
Day 8: 27th October 2019 The Inn (B,D)
This 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 welcome 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'.
As well as wood and stone carvings, Patan is the centre of fine metal craft and, amidst the fires of Sunil Shakya’s workshop, you 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.
This afternoon, rangoli 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. Take part in a rangoli class and help decorate the sidewalk with your own individual design.
By evening, oil lamps and candles illuminate the rangoli, doorways and windows, to guide the goddess Lakshmi to their homes, so she can bless them with prosperity for the year.
Join the locals in a Laxmi Puja ceremony followed by dinner. The atmosphere is jubilant and children and teenagers visit the houses and shops in their neighbourhood, singing and dancing the story of the festival (Deusi), in return for money, fruit and sweets.
In ancient times people relied on the cow for it's milk, dung, and even urine. On Gai Tihar, Hindus show their gratefulness to the cow by placing garlands and feeding them with the best grasses.
Day 9: 28th October 2019 The Inn (B,D)
"Nhu Daya Bhintuna", Happy New Year! This is the fourth day of Tihar where Mah Puja (self worship), is performed for good health, long life and happinesss. It also marks Newari New Year, known as the beginning of a new dawn.
You will leave Bhaktapur early this morning, to join the jubilant New Year celebrations in Kathmandu Durbar Square. Everyone dresses in their finest traditional clothes and gathers in the highly decorated streets and squares, to watch processions, bands, storytellers, dancers and singers.
To help celebrate the New Year in local style, you have the opportunity to dress for the day in a graceful, flowing saree for women, and the elegant Daurwa Suruwal (long shirt and loose trousers), for men.
After celebrating New Year, the plan for the evening is to visit a traditional open courtyard of a local Newari community, to take part in your own Mah Puja ceremony, followed by Bhoj (a traditional Newari meal). But, because Kathmandu is in full festival mode, plans will be flexible and, if celebrations have overtaken the locals or yourself, then your Mah Puja festival will be held on day eleven.
Banging drums, clanging bells and performing impromptu street dances, members of Nepal's ethnic Newar community gather in the streets and squares to ring in the new year, in style.
A typical Newari meal for Mah Puja begins with a serving of baji (beaten rice), along with green vegetables, a variety of beans, spiced ginger, radish chutney, spiced pickled potatoes, and spiced buffalo meat, served in a lapte (leaf plate), made from leaves of the Sal tree.
Day 10: 29th October 2019 Shambaling Hotel (B)
Bhai Tika is the final day of Tihar, where it is believed that Yamaraj, the God of death, comes for the brothers, and the prayers of their sisters save their lives. Sisters apply a seven coloured tika to their brothers’ foreheads, offer garlands of Marigold and Chrysanthemum, traditional food and sweets, then sit and chat while enjoying a meal together.
In return, brothers apply a tika of five colours to their sister’s 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.
This morning, you might have the chance to share and take part in a Bhai Tika ceremony before transferring to the serene Shambaling Hotel, nestled in the heart of Kathmandu's thriving Tibetan community in Boudha.
Your home for the next 4 nights, this charming, refurbished Tibetan style house, with its lush, green garden, is only a 10 minute walk, through narrow, paved brick lanes, to the 14th century Boudhanath Stupa, the most significant Tibetan Buddhist monument outside Tibet.
Your guide will show you around the Stupa, explaining it's rich history and spiritual significance before visiting some of the surrounding Tibetan monasteries. Here, you will have the chance to take part in prayers and learn more about the monastic way of life, where art plays a key role. Every inch of the walls are covered in religious murals, and sculptures of all sizes sit everywhere, created in metal, clay, stucco, wood, stone, and butter. Thangkas mounted in frames of silk brocade, hang from the rafters and manuscripts are piled high and adorned with miniature paintings, as are their wooden covers.
In the late afternoon, join the monks, locals and pilgrims performing kora - a twice daily, clockwise, ritual circumambulation of Boudhanath stupa. Not only a devotional and meditative practice for Tibetan Buddhists, it is also time to catch up with their neighbours, gossip and check out the tourists.
The sister pours water on the floor in a circle around the brother, to purify the area and keep it safe from evil. She then pours mustard oil from a brass pitcher onto the brothers head and in his ears to signify good mental prowess. Flower petals and dried rice are sprinkled to signify beauty, before applying a seven coloured tika and garland.
The village around the great Boudnath Stupa is known as Bouda. It's typically busy and peaceful at once, a place that hums with the sound of chants, singing bowls, spinning prayer wheels and the footsteps of pilgrims.
Day 11: 30th October 2019 Shambaling Hotel (B)
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 sounds of chanting from monks and devotees in the surrounding monasteries.
After walking the kora, you'll stroll to a nearby cooperative that provides training in the ancient Tibetan art of thanka painting. In Tibetan Buddhism, thanka 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. Discover some of this knowledge from one of the founders of the cooperative and master painter, Lama Tsonamgel, before turning your hand to painting your own mandala. Feel free to spend the day immersed in this ancient, meditative art.
If there were too many celebrations during Newari New Year to perform Mah Puja, then you will have the pleasure this evening.
The smoke, from burning juniper incense in huge cauldrons, fills the air around the stupa. When offering incense, you will accumulate merit, which you should dedicate to the benefit of all sentient beings.
There are at least 50 Tibetan Gompas (Monasteries & Nunneries), around Boudhanath, where the culture is very much Himalayan, with a strong presence of Tibetans & Sherpas.
Traditionally, thangka paintings are not only valued for their aesthetic beauty, but primarily for their use as aids in meditational practices. Aspiring thangka artists must spend years studying the iconongraphic grids and proportions of different deities and then master the technique of mixing and applying mineral pigments.
Day 12: 31st October 2019 Shambaling Hotel (B)
For those who wish to start their days in Boudha feeling invigorated and inspired, there is time every morning to wander down and join the kora. Later this morning, you'll visit the ‘Nepal Woman Crafts’ Lokta paper factory which maintains a strong commitment to upgrading artisans’ skills, as well as the preservation of traditional Nepalese arts
Made from the bark of a local species of Daphne (Lokta), the paper is naturally acid-free, highly resistant to insects and mildew, long lasting, and durable, making it perfect for artists. Lokta paper was used for the ancient Buddhist scriptures and is still used exclusively for official government documents in Nepal.
Then, enjoy a tour of the 'Weave and Blends' pashmina workshop, following the whole process of spinning, dyeing, printing, embroidery and tailoring. Apart from fine pashmina, they also work with other natural fibres including fine katan silk, raw silk, linen, bamboo, modal, cotton, and soya, and often blend them with pashmina.
The rest of the afternoon is free to create, roam, shop or rest, and don't forget the evening kora before exploring the wonderful eating opportunities around the Stupa.
Traditional craftsmanship, is providing many Nepalis, especially women, with employment and advancing the socio-economic status of underprivileged and marginalised producers across the country
Day 13: 1st November 2019 Shambaling Hotel (B,D)
Throughout this journey, much of your 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.
Today, with a local artist as your guide, you will visit 2 of Kathmandu's inspiring galleries to view 'art for art's sake', traditional and contemporary.
By now you have probably savoured many Momos (Tibetan dumplings), a traditional delicacy and popular fast food in Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, and Ladakh. So we thought one of the best souvenirs you can take home, is the recipe!
Making momos together before big festivals and celebrations, is a social event as much as food preparation and to make sure your momo skills are perfect, we have organised a cooking class this evening, where you can dine on the spoils of your labour afterwards.
Image: Divided Nepal (Gaijatra Series), Ragini Upadhyay-Grela, Acrylic On Canvas, 76 X 92 Cm, 2009
Nepal’s contemporary art scene is flourishing with talented artists, who boldly challenge socio-economic and political themes.
Day 14: 2nd November 2019 Summit River Lodge (B,L,D)
Time to explore beyond Kathmandu. Leaving the Kathmandu valley behind, watch Nepail rural life unfold along the Prithvi Highaway. After a picturesque three-hour or so drive following the Trisuli River, stretch your legs with a leisurely walk (porters will carry your bags), crossing a suspension bridge to Summit River Lodge, Brigand's Bend.
Nestled in the semi-tropical hills on the northern banks of the river away from everything, the colonial style bungalows are set in lush gardens, offering plenty of space to draw, journal or just relax by the bar and pool.
A highlight of your stay will be the sumptuous, fresh meals prepared by expert chefs in the open kitchen, with ingredients including organic veggies, farm eggs, oven-baked bread and a variety of mouth-watering treats.
To reach Summit River Lodge, you walk across the Trisuli river via a suspension bridge, through rustic farms, barnyards, and almost through people's houses.
Day 15: 3rd November 2019 Summit River Lodge (B,L,D)
After a fresh, organic breakfast, those wishing to explore can take a short stroll to nearby hamlets of indigenous tribes, and enjoy the breath-taking scenery along the way.
Highly recommended is the longer hike, to the remote village homes of the Chepang’s and Magar’s, untouched in many ways by time or technology. A wonderful insight into traditional rural life in Nepal, the track takes you through a winding gorge, along a boulder-strewn stream, where cascades of fresh springs fall into crystal clear pools. A picnic lunch can be provided.
Back at the lodge, enjoy some time to relax as the afternoon melts away into a flawless sunset and another amazing feast is served.
Walking for the day takes you through an amazing diversity of scenery and brings you in touch with tribal villages.
Chepang farmer returning from his fields
Day 16: 4th November 2019 Himalayan Front Hotel (B, L, D)
After walking from Summit River Lodge back to the road, continue your window on Nepali rural life for the next 4 or 5 hours, as you drive to the spectacular Himalayan Front Hotel, in Sarangkot. Set high on a hill above Pokhara, every room rewards you with jaw-dropping, panoramic views of the Himalayan peaks.
This afternoon is purely a time to relax. Take a short walk in the mountain air or sip tea by the pool, as you soak up the majestic views from Dhaulagiri (8167m) in the west, across the Annapurna’s to Lamjung (6983m) in the east. Dominating the range, is the sacred, twin-peaked Machhapuchhare (known as Fish Tail, 6997m), home to Lord Shiva.
Comfortable rooms that allow you to watch sunrise over the majestic Annapurna's, from your bed.
Day 17–19: 5th-7th November 2019 Fishtail Lodge (B)
Wake for sunrise and, if the weather is on your side, you can venture outside or watch in wonder from your room, as the colours dance over the top of the Himalayas, and the mist swirls through the valleys above Pokhara and Lake Phewa.
On the short drive down to Pokhara, you will have the chance to drop into a Tibetan refugee settlement, Jangchub Choeling monastery, and carpet factory.
Home for the next 3 nights is the unique Fish Tail Lodge, situated on a peninsula across picturesque Phewa Lake. A shuttle-float awaits to transport you to the peaceful resort, where you can relax in the stunning, landscaped gardens, yet be only a few minutes away from the excitement of Pokhara.
A boat ride on Phewa Lake to the Hindu Barahi Temple is on offer, but most of your time in Pokhara is your own. Pokhara is a laid-back version of Kathmandu, relaxed, easy to get around, shop, eat and play, with incredible views of the Annapurna Massif reflecting off the lake.
Some sightseeing options include the International Mountain Museum, a hike up to Peace Pagoda or the local galleries. If you are in need of an adrenaline hit, you can book into tandem paragliding, mountain bike riding or propelling down a zip line, 1.8 km long with a vertical drop of 600 meters and reaching a max speed of 120kph. It is the tallest, longest and steepest in the world.
From the tranquil gardens of Fishtail Lodge, you can enjoy the reflections of the Annapurna's and Machapuchare on Fewa lake.
The restaurant and shopping scene in Pokhara is as good as Kathmandu, some say better.
Day 20: 8th November 2019 Hotel Shambaling (B,D)
Transfer to Pokhara Airport for the 30-minute flight back to Kathmandu, which provides stunning Himalayan views.
Your last day in Nepal will be back in Boudha, where you can not only do some last minute shopping, but perform your last, auspicious kora around the Stupa.
It is believed that whoever prostrates and circumambulates with a pure heart, creates good karma resulting in the fulfilment of all their wishes, and closing the gates of hell and rebirth in the lower realms.
Day 21: 9th November 2019 (B)
After breakfast and goodbyes, transfer to Tribhuvan airport for your flight back to Melbourne
Day 22: 10th November 2019
Arrive back Australia