Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Beauty and Grandeur

Here we are in the gorgeous country of Nepal, in Kathmandu Valley. The greatest peaks in the world, obscured by the winter mist, we look to the hills and know we are in a majestic place. There is no mistaking the beauty of this land, despite the invisibility of the Himals, the architecture and people bring this country alive.

What were my first impressions of this country? It is serenely beautiful, mystically empowering, yet full of secrets and dichotomies. The traffic driving through the valley was what I saw first, and I knew immediately I was in a new place. The traffic was dense, yet civilized; drivers obeyed traffic signals and there was patience shown by our driver. The traffic here in Nepal is quieter, and not quite as busy, but still chaotic.

The next impression I will mention is the architecture. The architecture in Nepal and especially Kathmandu is stunningly gorgeous in comparison to the very plain and simple designs of Bangladesh. Window frames are almost as intricately carved as their attending shutters. Ornately carved wells are common sights throughout older areas of the valley, figureheads carved out of stone deep in a hole, surrounded by walls of carvings and graffiti. Pagodas and Temples, sights of worship for Nepal’s most common religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, are ornately decorated, beautiful pieces of architecture. And in my naïveté, as a lay-tourist, these architectural designs have an appeal, a draw, much beyond any religious connotations and religious ceremonies for which they are still used. But probably the most stunning image of architectural beauty is simultaneously the saddest reality of this country, its buildings decaying and rundown give an air of historical beauty. Walls, barely standing with intricately carved windows, inject the surroundings with the sense of past glory. The downside to this beauty is the obvious poverty in which the inhabitants of these buildings live. The dangerous instability of the structures and the cold chill the winter months bring.

The third impression I was struck by in this beautiful country was the lack of people. Even in the capital, the bustling centre of Kathmandu, the people seemed to flow in a calm current. It was not the raging torrent of people I often feel in Bangladesh. The people here are calm, collected and used to waiting for hours for anything to happen. The other aspect of the people I noticed has its positives and negatives. Foreigners are common in this country. I was shocked by how many foreigners I saw, and was even more shocked when told that this not the tourist season and the numbers were actually very low. In a place where I am used to knowing all the foreigners I see because there are so few, being in this country with tourist attractions and tourist infrastructure was really nice, but it also has its downside. The price of things are double, triple, quadruple, the price for the Nepalese, just to enter a city could cost $10 per person. The tourist influx which will not likely materialize in Bangladesh for the next little while, will keep the cost of goods very low, and make living there one of the cheapest places in the world.

Nepal, being only a short plane hop away from Bangladesh, has its similarities and its differences. It is naturally one of the most stunningly beautiful countries I have ever seen. It is a wonderful destination and a relaxing holiday, a place I will not soon forget.


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