One of the ultimate things to do in Kathmandu is take a visit to the Boudhanath Stupa. This stupa is located close to the airport, and not far from the best (and most expensive) hotel in town, the Hyatt Regency. It took me around 20 minutes in a taxi from Thamel to get here, and it cost around 500rps each way, which is an acceptable price so I didn’t even bother haggling! Boudhanath is a vintage UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the largest Buddhist place of worship in Nepal. It dominates the skyline of Kathmandu, although due to haze and pollution it may not always be visible from downtown.
Entrance is 150RPS for everybody unless you are from India or Sri Lanka. I think the admission is worth the price, as it really is one of the main tourist sites not only in Kathmandu but also in Nepal overall. Around the outer perimeter of the stupa are little antique and handicraft shops as well as quaint cafés and bars, many of which have rooftop verandas with views down over the stupa. All of this adds to the vibe and atmosphere of the place and makes you realise that your admission price was for more than just taking photos of a big pair of eyes!
One of the great things about the Boudhanath Stupa is the prayer flags that are draped all around it. I have seen many of these in Bhutan, but as this was my first trip to Nepal I was surprised to see them here, too. There are prayer wheels all around the stupa as well, and despite not being a Buddhist I nevertheless still enjoyed turning them with my hand as I walked past. It should be noted that you are supposed to walk in a clockwise direction around the stupa as a sign of respect.
Of course, with this being Nepal, the area wouldn’t be complete with a little rubbish on the sidewalk and building work haphazardly being undertaken in the vicinity, but I always felt safe around here, and the workmen are usually very friendly and get out of your way when taking photos. I didn’t take any pictures of any of the many Buddhist monks around here, as I wasn’t sure if that was permitted or not, but they were all dressed in red robes, with orange scarves, and seemed to be hurriedly darting from one area of the stupa to another. It was a nice colourful change from the stark white of the stupa itself.
You can ascend the Boudhanath Stupa up to the second or third levels, and again walk around clockwise, although there are no prayer wheels up here (there are more prayer flags though). You can get good views of the action down below and can actually have a better indication of your whereabouts as you are higher up. A word of warning, though, if you are scared of birds: there are hundreds of dirty pigeons around the Boudhanath Stupa. I guess in some countries these pigeons would have been forced to leave to make the place a little more hygienic for the monks and tourists, but I guess in this part of the world it’s just par for the course! I almost had a couple of pigeons fly into my face as I was walking around taking photos, but fortunately I survived!