Nepal’s bustling capital thrums with millennia-old energy. Much of Kathmandu was devastated by the 2015 earthquake, but as wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee and Bollywood music composer Shantanu Moitra found out on their visit there, the Himalayan capital has a sturdy resilience worthy of the mountains. From last February, the duo has been making a series of trips in the Himalayas, spanning from Jammu and Kashmir to Bhutan, as part of the #100DaysInHimalayas Project.
In Kathmandu last October, they spent time in the backpacker district of Thamel, well known for its adventure stores and lively music gigs. Thamel is popular with travellers, Mukherjee said, “a mecca for mountaineers with good restaurants and bands”, so it was only natural that international tunes rang from its many pubs and cafes. Many evenings, they’d hear songs of love, freedom, and eventually, about surviving the earthquake and hope for the future. Moitra, who has visited numerous times, was also heartened to see stacks of Nepali music albums and “people were loving it,” he says.
Bhaktapur’s pagodas are among the many structures in the Kathmandu Valley that are slowly healing after last year’s catastrophe. In November last year, the gold-topped Boudhanath Stupa—the largest in Nepal—was officially reopened after extensive restoration work. The stupa is part of the cultural heritage that put Kathmandu Valley on the Unesco World Heritage list; the quake had cracked its gold tower. But even before restoration was complete, the holy site was abuzz with pilgrims young and old, chanting and paying their respects at its many prayer wheels. “I didn’t want to be part of the crowd,” Moitra said, “so I sat at a lovely cafe that had a window overlooking the stupa.”
Most are riveted by the iconography of the facade: Buddha’s eyes above a question mark (actually the Nepali numeral for 1 that symbolises unity), but Moitra was fascinated by the whirl of devotees walking clockwise around it. He sat for a while, watching people “all becoming one as they go around.” There was a sense of order despite the crowds, as if the shrine was an anchor of stability in the eye of chaos. This makes sense when you consider the origins of the word “Kathmandu”. The city was named after a wooden shrine: “kath” is wood, and “mandir” is temple.