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9th Jan 2012 9:58am | By Editor
Our favourite places to hook up with like-minded types and live the carefree life of a true wanderer ...
A hub for hippies for decades, Nepal’s capital city is a delicious fusion of East and West. Nestled at the heart of the Kathmandu valley, a mystical ‘mountain bowl’ setting in the shadow of the soaring Himalayas, Kathmandu has been shining a welcome beacon to travellers ever since Nepal opened its borders to foreigners in the Fifties.
The first visitors, geographers and mountaineers, who came here to survey and climb the highest mountains on Earth, were soon joined by hippies in search of the ultimate Shangri-la at the end of the overland – or ‘hippy’ – trail.
Indeed, Kathmandu still has a road nicknamed ‘Freak Street’ (real name Jochen Tole) in memory of the many thousands of hippies who passed through. And, to this day, travellers come to Kathmandu in search of enlightenment, though they share the city with legions of trekkers and well-heeled tour groups.
However, hosting seven Unesco World Heritage sites, produced by a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism, the city’s spiritual side remains well and truly alive. The white dome of Swayambhu, one of Buddhism’s holiest sites, surmounted by a golden spire and festooned with prayer flags, is not only the place to go to get your bearings, but also to take a breather from the hubbub below.
Meditation and yoga retreats are everywhere. It’s still possible to weed out palm-readers and the like, and the holy Hindu men, known as ‘sadhus’, are not hard to find at the city’s ancient sites for words of wisdom.
So, while the extreme sports industry has been something of a 21st-century bohemian stand-in in Kathmandu, it just takes a more intrepid traveller, prepared to hunt through its hectic tangle of streets, to find the quarters that remain untouched.
Don’t shun what you see at the face of it, though. Arguably, Kathmandu’s Western influences are all part of the appeal. A live classic rock cover band with Nepalese accents, and Mexican restaurants with curry specials, anyone?
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