Kathmandu: Art and Chaos
When people imagine Nepal, the Himalayas usually spring to mind. However, the city of Kathmandu offers a mountain of fascinating culture and an overlooked appreciation of art. Kathmandu is not for the faint hearted. The city assaults the senses; it is a chaotic human-cluttered urban wilderness. When you’re not being summoned by salesmen, who try to lure you with souvenirs (they really are wonderfully tempting), you are dodging motorcycles and tiny taxis as they jolt past. Curiously, the locals and the traffic seem to magnetically oppose one another, while the tourists struggle to keep sure footed. The tantalizing scent of Dhal Baht (rice and lentil curry) and momos (a little like dumplings) glide through the smog-thickened air in streets that could really be taken for narrow labyrinths. It’s not if you get lost, but when and for how long. But that’s half the fun, right?
It is a fascinating frenzy. Yet, imbued within the chaos and poverty is a world of unique beauty. The tourist centre, Thamel, seems to inhale tourists and exhale colours from prayer flags lining the streets and the colours of traditional Nepali dress, all clustered together within the narrow streets. More is more in Nepal.
Nepal is a dream for an artist. The city is teeming with culture and colours and breathtaking landscapes and yaks. Kathmandu is situated within a valley, and views of the entire city are plentiful – especially from the Monkey Temple, where the soup of the city seems tiny within the deep bowl of the mountains.
Both the blatant and subtle beauties of Nepal are captured by countless local artists who exhibit their work in art galleries scattered throughout Thamel. Yes, these galleries can be considered tourist traps – like all stores in Thamel – but the talent within is undeniable. The art ranges from water colours, to oil paintings, to regular paintings, to carvings, and each portray an impression of Nepali culture that a camera cannot always capture. The paintings almost spill onto the streets as these galleries are more like small storage rooms for art. You can spend hours in there, and if you don’t find any that you like, walk a few steps to the next gallery!
Traditional Art – Thangka
A thangka is a beautiful and vibrant painting on silk or cotton that generally illustrates Buddhist deities and traditions. The art form originated in Nepal in the 11th century and has continued to this day as a way to tell the story of Buddha and other deities in Buddhism and Hinduism. These compositions are extremely geometric and symbolic; all elements of the pictures are laid out mathematically and methodically.
There is an abundance of stores in Kathmandu, especially in Thamel, that sell Thangkas. These stores are almost as beautiful as the paintings themselves as they emit a peaceful atmosphere in the midst of such symbolism and calm. The art is clustered together like a jigsaw on the walls of these tiny rooms, all varying in sizes, subject, and colour.
By: Anthea Batsakis