Nepal is a landlocked country in between India and China – a country where religion plays a big part in local’s everyday lives. With centuries of thriving trade with the Indian subcontinent and leveraging the silk road trade route up north with china and parts of East Asia, Nepal’s culture is unique with influences from all around. I visited Nepal (mostly Kathmandu) three times. Other than the typical touristy / backpacker hotspot Thamel, here are some great places for photography.
Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple)
Swayambhunath, also known as Monkey Temple is home to not hundreds, but possibly thousands of monkeys spread around the hilltop where the stupa/temple sits. While it’s a nice stroll up the hill, be cautious of the animals, as they are always on a lookout for bags and shiny items. You could also get lucky and see a stray of dogs and cats, crows and pigeons, living harmoniously around the stupa. Hindus believe the animals serve and protect their gods’ shrines, so always be respectful to any animals in the country.
In terms of photography, Swayambhunath, a hilltop location overlooking the entire city, provides for a great cityscape shot. With the vast photo ops, I suggest you bring a vast range of lenses: use a telephoto lens for that nice textured details of the houses; or use a wide angle to capture the vast cityscape.
Patan Durbar Square
While the earthquake has sadly damaged many of the landmarks a few years ago, Patan Durbar Square still provides for excellent photo opportunities. My favorite thing about Durbar Squares (there are three in total – Patan, Basantapur, and Bhaktapur), is the old folks of the neighbourhood that hang out around the squares. While in other countries, most would shy away from being photographed, Nepalese tend to welcome such opportunities. Aside from the main attractions of Durbar Square, take a quick stroll around the narrow alleys and you’ll get a deep insight of what life is really like.
Pashupatinath is one of the holiest Hindu sites in the world. Non-hindus cannot enter the temple, but you are allowed to roam around the outer areasl. You will see a vast difference between two sides of the river. One one side, you’ll find the cremation site, with families mourning over their loss, while on the other you’ll find holy men singing bhajans celebrating life and their devotion to Lord Shiva.
While it might be a good place to capture life and death, be mindful of what you shoot. Be respectful of their traditions, and be thankful that you are able to witness history, tradition, and culture in its rawest form at Pashupatinath. I’ve been to Pashupatinath twice. Once on a regular night, and another during the Mahashivaratri festival, where holy men travel great distances to worship Lord Shiva that day. The holy men smoke marijuana and drink Bhaang – a marijuana-based drink as a tribute.
Sunset is a the best time for a capture Boudhanath. The best spot to shoot the stupa would be from the rooftop of Hotel Tibet International, where you can see the juxtaposition of the site with the city. Once again, since Boudhanath is yet another religious site, be mindful of your actions. Always remember to walk clockwise around the kora, and keep the noise at a minimum.
While there is plenty more to catch on the ground, to really understand the true magnificence of the country, you have to get closer to the Himalayas. If you’re not a trekkie or into adventure sports, a mountain flight is the best way to see the mountains. In a 45-minute flight from Kathmandu, the flight takes you up close to the range, and the flight attendants provide you great insights into the history of the peaks and the origins of their names. The Himalayas bag 8 of the spots in the top 10 tallest mountains in the world, so DO NOT miss this opportunity to witness the top of the world. It really is an experience of a lifetime!
Hope you enjoyed these tips to travelling and taking photos around Kathmandu. Be sure to follow my Instagram (@lielaine) for more photos from my travel!