The Art Of Nepal
As this journey is entwined with Tihar, Kathmandu will be in full festival mode, so we will keep the days of the activities flexible around the celebrations, to make sure you don't miss a thing.
Day 1: 1st November 2018 Hotel Shambaling (B,D)
Depart Melbourne Airport. Arrive at Kathmandu in the afternoon and, after clearing Customs, be welcomed at the airport and transferred to the serene Hotel Shambaling, in Boudha.
Your home for the next 4 nights, this charming, refurbished Tibetan style house, with its lush, green garden, is nestled in the heart of Kathmandu’s thriving Tibetan community. It 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.
Take some time to settle in and, if feeling adventurous, join the monks, locals and pilgrims performing kora in the late afternoon - a 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 eyes of the Buddha stare out in all four directions, all knowing, all seeing. Between the eyes is the symbol for the number 1, symbolising the oneness of the universe and denotes the teachings of the Buddha, the one path towards enlightenment, . It is also known as the Buddha’s ‘third eye’, a symbol of his wisdom and infinite perception.
The village around the great 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 2: 2nd November 2018 Hotel Shambaling (B,D)
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 mix with the sounds of chanting from monks and devotees in the surrounding monasteries.
After kora you will visit some of the surrounding Tibetan monasteries, 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 created in metal, clay, stucco, wood, stone, and butter sit everywhere. 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.
This evening share a welcome dinner, a magnificent Tibetan feast overlooking the stupa.
The smoke, from burning juniper incense in huge cauldrons, fills the air around the stupa. When offering incense, examine your motivation and reflect that by making this offering, you will accumulate merit, which you should dedicate to the benefit of all sentient beings.
For centuries, Boudhanath was located on the major trade route between Nepal & Tibet and has been an important place of pilgrimage and meditation for Tibetan Buddhists & local Nepalis.
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.
Day 3: 3rd November 2018 Hotel Shambaling (B,D)
For those who wish to start their day feeling invigorated and inspired, there is time every morning in Boudha, to wander down and join the morning 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.
After lunch 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.
You'll be back in time for those who want to either rest back at the hotel, or join the evening kora and explore 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 4: 4th November 2018 Hotel Shambaling (B,D)
You'll walk past the morning kora to a nearby cooperative which provides training in the ancient Tibetan Buddhist art of Thangka painting.
A highly developed means of expression, with roots in ancient wisdom, you will learn about the traditional thangka and mandala paintings from one of the founders of the cooperative, Lama Tsonamgel, before turning your hand to painting your own mandala. Feel free to spend the day immersed in this ancient, meditative art.
Momos are Tibetan dumplings, and by now you have probably savoured many of them, so we thought one of the best souvenirs you can take back home is the recipe. To make your momos perfect, we have organised a cooking class this evening, where you can dine on the spoils of your labour afterwards.
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 5: 5th November 2018 Hotel Heritage (B,D)
Today is Kaag, the first day of Tihar festival, 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 local 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.
It is also your last chance to join the kora before leaving Boudha and transferring to ancient city of Bhaktapur. Along the way we will meet a local artist who will guide us through one of Kathmandu's inspiring art galleries.
Nepalese art is renowned for its religious aesthetic, reflective of the country’s rich cultural heritage, and fusing Buddhist ideology with Hindu representation. While this still holds true, contemporary art in Nepal veers towards socio-political issues, with new aesthetics.
Your accommodation for the next 3 nights is the boutique Heritage Inn, 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 a story, a history, and is the handiwork of Nepali artisans.
Take some time to settle in, rest, or explore the local area. Tonight dinner is provided in the hotel.
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.
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 6: 6th November 2018 Hotel Heritage (B)
Kukur is the second day of Tihar and celebrates dogs and their role in Nepali life.
Relax and totally immerse yourself in the local culture of Bhakatapur, an open, living museum. The next 2 days are a mixture of informative guided walks and free time to wander the back lanes, alleys and ancient squares.
Your guided explorations will start in Bhaktapur’s Unesco World Heritage Site, a complex consisting of four distinct squares, Durbar, Taumadhi, Dattatreya and Pottery Square. Here life continues on as always, around centuries-old temples, the 55-Window Palace, the beautifully carved Peacock window, and the tallest temple in Nepal, the Nyatapola, over 300 years old. Art is everywhere in the streets, the buildings, the offerings, and the colourful saris, interspersed with an eclectic mix of shrines and statues dedicated to the amazing pantheon of gods.
You will visit the residence of the Kumari, a living goddess, where patience (and a few rupees), can often reward you with an appearance. Watch the potters ply their craft on the giant, traditional wheels in the open brick courtyards, awash with clay pots drying in the sun.
Then, as the tourists from Kathmandu leave, continue to explore Bhakatpur at your own pace. Eat, shop, or sit on the temple steps in one of the squares and sketch, photograph or just enjoying watching life go by, before wandering back to the Heritage Hotel .
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.
"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."
Day 7: 7th November 2018 Hotel Heritage (B)
An important day of celebrations and prayer across all of Kathmandu, Gai for the third day of Tihar, Laxmi Puja and Gai Tihar. Your day starts by walking further afield past the temples, to the markets and then you are free to explore down the narrow streets and hidden courtyards framed by ancient, red brick houses. There is so much to be inspired by, and the leisurely pace allows you time to become part of the fabric of this medieval city
Later today, rangolis 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. Early evening, take part in a rangoli class and help decorate the sidewalk with your own individual design.
Then join the locals in the Laxmi Puja ceremony, where oil lamps and candles illuminate the rangolis, and light doorways and windows to guide the goddess Lakshmi to their homes, so she can bless them with prosperity for the year. 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.
"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."
Most rangolis maintain symmetry in their design. Symmetric designs are a symbol of prosperity, luck and growth and whenever you enter a house with a rangoli, it is believed that the colours will bring tranquility to your soul.
Day 8: 8th November 2018 The Inn (B,L)
"Nhu Daya Bhintuna", Happy New Year! The fourth day of Tihar, Mah Puja (self worship), 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 to gather in the highly decorated streets and squares, and watch processions, bands, storytellers, dancers and singers. To help celebrate the New Year in local style, you also 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.
Early afternoon, 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.
Your accommodation for the next 5 nights at 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.
This afternoon, you will possibly have the chance to take part in your own Mah Puja ceremony or visit the local markets. Because Kathmandu is in full festival mode, plans are flexible and, if celebrations have overtaken the locals or yourselves, then your Mah Puja festival will then be on day 10.
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.
Markets do a brisk trade for those last minute purchase to celebrate Mah Puja. later in the afternoon or evening.
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 9: 9th November 2018 The Inn (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’ forehead, offer garlands of Marigold and Chrysanthemum, traditional food and sweets, then sit and chat while enjoying the meal together.
In return, the brothers apply a tika of five colours to the sister’s forehead, and give them a gift. The temple inside Rani Pokhari is open this day, for those who don’t have brothers or sisters, to gather here and apply tika, considering themselves as soul siblings
Late in the morning, you might have the chance to share and take part in a Bhai Tika ceremony, before a leisurely walking tour around Patan's exquisite, UNESCO World Heritage-listed Durbar Square, home to some of the finest and most elaborate architecture in Nepal.
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.
Patan is a wonderful place to wander and explore, where each laneway brings you to a new wonder.
Day 10: 10th November 2018 Shambaling (B)
Patan is also 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 creates the form, precise chiselling and hammering finesses the delicate features, before gold plating and the adding of semi-precious and precious stones.
If there were too many celebrations during Newari New Year to perform Mah Puja, then you will have the pleasure today. The rest of the day is left for you to rest and explore Patan's ancient temples, museums, shops and galleries.
The wax model is coated with several layers of clay and dung mixture and heated till the wax melts out and a hollow cast is made.
Day 11: 11th November 2018 Shambaling (B)
Today, a short drive brings you to the pretty village of Bungamati, to visit 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 civilization 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 that have been handed down through the generations.
Then, to help you end the day on a relaxing note, we have organised a Singing Bowl therapy demonstration. Enjoy peaceful meditation from this ancient sound-healing practice using
hand-forged bowls to 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.
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.
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.
Day 12: 12th November 2018 The Inn (B,L)
A picturesque drive to Lamatar, a small village near Kathmandu, brings you to the Shree Shringery Community School. Over lunch, learn about the school and local community from the students and teachers, and view some of the work supported by our past travellers.
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.
Enjoy your last evening meal in one of Patan's local restaurants before leaving in the morning for a taste of rural Nepal.
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.
Day 13: 13th November 2018 Brigand Bend (B,D)
Leaving the Kathmandu valley behind, watch Nepal rural life unfold along the Prithvi Highaway. After a picturesque three-hour 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.
Nestled in the semi-tropical hills, on the northern banks of the Trisuli 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 14: 14th November 2018 Brigand Bend (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 village homes of the Chepang’s and Magar’s, untouched 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.
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 15: 15th November 2018 Himalayan Front Hotel (B)
After walking from Summit Village Lodge back to the road, continue your window on Nepali rural life for the next four hours or so, as you drive to the spectacular Himalayan Front Hotel, at Sarangkot. Set high on a hill above Pokhara, every room rewards you with jaw-dropping, panoramic views of the Himalayan peaks.
This afternoon is time to relax, take tea by the pool, and soak up the majestic mountains with Dhaulagiri (8167m) in the west, across the Annapurna’s to Lamjung (6983m) in the east and the twin-peaked Machhapuchhare (known as fish tail, 6997m) dominating them all.
Comfortable rooms that allow you to watch sunrise over the Annapurna's from your bed.
Day 16–17: 16th-17th November 2018 Fishtail Lodge (B)
Wake for sunrise and, if the weather is on your side, you can 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 2 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.
The chance to take a guided hike up to the Peace Stupa 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.
If you are looking for more options, you can always visit the International Mountain Museum, paddle Phewa Lake, and visit local galleries. If you feel like an adrenaline hit you can book into paragliding, mountain bike riding or propelling down a zip line that is 1.8 km long with a vertical drop of 600 meters.
From the tranquil gardens of Fishtail Lodge, you can enjoy the reflections of the Annapurna's and Machapuchare on Fewa lake.
Fish Tail Lodge enjoys a unique location, situated on a peninsula across Phewa Lake. Shuttle-floats transport you across to the peace and tranquillity of the resort.
Hire a doonga and row yourself (or have a local row you), across Fewa lake. The two storied pagoda, Tal Barahi Temple is located near the centre of the lake and is the most important religious monument in Pokhara.
Pokhara has a rich food culture where you can find tastes and flavours from all over the world.
Pokhara is also the adventure capital of Nepal. Paragliding, mountain bike riding, rafting and the worlds tallest and longest zipline.
It's fun shopping in Pokhara and the shopping here is as good as Kathmandu, some say better.
Day 18: 18th November 2018 Hotel Shambaling (B,D)
Transfer to Pokhara Airport for the 30-minute flight back to Kathmandu, which provides stunning mountain views.
Your last day will be back in Boudha, at the Shambaling Hotel, where you can not only do some last minute shopping, but perform your last kora around the Stupa. This evening you are invited to a very special dinner party, in a mystery location, with all the team who have looked after you. A perfect way to reflect on your journey.
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 19: 19th November 2018 (B)
After breakfast and goodbyes, transfer to Tribhuvan airport for your flight back to Melbourne
Day 20: 20th November 2018
Arrive back in Melbourne