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Chaotically cool: Street photography in Kathmandu

Aug 28, 2018

Nepal’s capital is often merely seen as a jumping-off point, overshadowed by the call of the Himalayan mountains. Yet, Kathmandu is one of a kind to say the least. It is chaotic, fascinating, exhausting and mesmerising. Its character shines through in ancient architecture, temples and Buddhist stupas which made for its World Heritage Site status, its overwhelming display of sights, smells and sounds and its crowded, narrow streets taking you back to the real Asia. During our visit we chose to stay in the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu, beautifully located in between all various neighbourhoods that breath street photography because the 2015 earthquake might has shaken the city, but it didn’t change its heart. Life happens on the streets, so all you need to do is be at the right place at the right time (with a bit of luck & a good eye) and snap away. But where? 

Thamel is a maze of small streets, lined with restaurants, hotels, shops and tour agencies. Although it’s a busy area filled with tourists, the – still bustling - narrow alleys are what you are looking for. The car free streets (you won’t find these anywhere else in the traffic-jammed city) give you enough time to pause and walk around the winding streets. Although some of the light is blocked by the high buildings and narrow streets, rays of light coming through can make for a unique sight.  Start at the Ason Tole morning market at 6:00AM to catch the busiest time and work your way through the narrow streets.

Durbar Square & around
Durbar Square is the ‘old’ Kathmandu, and although some parts of the square were damaged during the 2015 earthquake, it is still one of the biggest attractions. The temples, palaces and shrines bustle with pilgrims, flower sellers, Sadhus and tourists. Spend some time walking around the square and then head towards the surrounding streets to get a more local feeling.

This area is the center of Buddhism in Nepal and an important place of pilgrimage and prayer for Buddhists from all over the world. The main draw being one of the biggest Buddhist stupas in the world, just a 5-minute walk from the gates of the Hyatt Regency, allowing for an early start as well as a quick drop in during sunset. The stupa is full of activity during the entire day, especially during sunrise (without the tourist crowds) and surrounded by monasteries making the entire area filled with monks of all ages. An urban street feel with a Buddhist touch. Kathmandu’s ‘Little Tibet’. Definitely my favourite pick. 

What Boudhanath is to Buddhists, Pashupatinath is for Hindus. A Hindu temple, surrounded by smaller temples and ashrams on the banks of the Bagmati River, offering grounds to walk around for hours. An eclectic mix of sellers, musicians, monkeys, flowers, dresses, sadhus (it will cost you 20 rupees if you want a photo) all surrounding the Hindu cremation gaths is what earned this place the name ‘Little Varanasi’. Go there!

The Hyatt Regency Kathmandu
While Kathmandu is an eclectic and fascinating city, it can easily be overwhelming and exhausting after walking around in the chaos of ‘Dustmandu’ for an entire day. All the more important to find a safe haven of your own, which for us turned out to be the Hyatt Regency. Built on 37 acres of land, the chaos of the streets disappears as soon as you enter the property. The overload of senses, kept at bay when entering the soothing grounds, the noises feeling far away, while you can glimpse at the top of the Boudhanath Stupa from the lobby terrace, being just a quick 5-minute walk from the back gate. A tranquil spot to reenergise.

Despite Kathmandu’s reputation of being overcrowded and chaotic, it is chaotically cool. Use the constant dust filled air to your advantage, by adding highlights and different moods to your pictures. Creating a unique grace beyond the grime you won’t find anywhere else in the world, but in Kathmandu.

Click here to see more photos of Nepal.

Location: Kathmandu
Author: Pie Aerts