NEPAL; Kathmandu 22 years later.
I returned to Nepal for five days in November, 22 years after my first visit with a college friend. Most of Kathmandu's medieval neighborhoods look the same, with ancient temples, beautiful stupas, and ornate teak palaces crowding public squares. The people are still handsome and friendly, and evenly split among Buddhist and Hindu faiths. The biggest difference is air pollution, with twice the population and six times the vehicles since 1992. I could no longer see the mountains from Kathmandu, and photography was difficult because of the smog. It's still magical to wander the narrow lanes, with shops, temples and shrines that have not changed in centuries. I took a mountain flight up along the northern border near Tibet, and saw 8 out of the 10 highest peaks in the world, including Everest. I went back to Kathmandu's famous Buddhist stupas, ancient Swayambhunath on a hill outside town, and Bodhnath in Bhouda Village, where Tibetan refugees settled after escaping the Communists in 1959. I stayed at the fabled Yak & Yeti, Kathmandu's first tourist hotel, founded by a flamboyant Russian ballet dancer 60 years ago, when Nepal first opened up to the outside world. I visited the former Royal Palace, where Crown Prince Dipendra gunned down the Royal Family in 2001, including his father King Birendra, and mother, brother and sister. Although Birendra's brother Gyanendra briefly ascended the throne, he abdicated several years later and Nepal is no longer a monarchy. A Maoist insurgency and old line aristocracy have formed a fragile coalition and are trying to bring Nepal into the modern world. I re-read a wonderful travel book I read in 1992, and its 2010 sequel, and once again bought copper statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities in one of the countless shops selling these beautiful objects in the Kathmandu Valley. Although there are too many cars, and numerous tourists, Nepal is still a fascinating, exotic, and mysterious place to wander around for a few days with a camera and guidebook. Postscript: on April 25, 2015, five months after my visit, a 7.8 earthquake in Kathmandu killed 8000 people and damaged or destroyed some of the buildings depicted in this gallery.Read More