Boudha is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Nepal; probably because of the fact that within its premises lies a UNESCO World Heritage Site–the Boudhanath Stupa. Predominantly a Buddhist residence, Boudha has (for sure) limited, but as equally culturally rich and significant things to do for tourists and non-Tibetan Nepalis alike. What makes Boudha a great tourist destination is also the fact that this area has authentic Tibetan food and people.
The Boudhanath Stupa was built thousands of years ago. People who reside near this spot begin prayers early in the morning, maybe even before the crack of dawn. Their prayer ritual is simply chanting mantras and rotating the prayer wheels whilst circulating around the stupa in a clockwise path. Many of these early bird worshippers are Tibetans, Sherpas, and other Buddhists who reside in Kathmandu. Therefore, the place is filled with local people. Some of them, refugees, are from neighbouring territories like Tibet and Bhutan. Many of them, however, visit or attend classes in monasteries for they are invested in reading the Tripitakan and Jatakas, meditating and practicing mantras. Boudha has several monasteries, many of which are open for anyone who wants to visit. Inside the monasteries are monks and walls covered in thangka paintings. You can feel free to pray, meditate, light candles and talk to local visitors.
Apart from the sacred things to experience in Boudha are things that are more tourist-like; buying souvenirs. Boudhanath (the Square), is filled with curio shops and souvenir stalls. Personally, I’d take my guest inside an alleyway that serves laphing–a spicy Tibetan street food introduced to Nepal by the refugees–and head over to the souvenir shop nearby. Inside, you will find an array of handmade items like postcards, lanterns, cards, wrapping paper, prayer flags, gift boxes and other merchandise. Many of these items have beautiful designs and coloured papers. Some of them, like the cards, have Buddhist symbols and Nepali designs and temples painted in them with great skill. I could not help but buy some myself.
Handmade cards, $8 each.
If you opt to have a hearty Tibetan meal, then feel free to walk 5-10 minutes towards the more residential parts of Boudha nearby from the Kora to find restaurants that serve Tibetan food. Some favourite Tibetan dishes of mine are Thukpas (noodles) and Aloo Sipsip (potato strings). You can have rice with sipsip and some gravy dish for around US $10-12. Tibetan food is usually savoury. The restaurants that serve authentic Tibetan food are just around the corner–but you will have to search for them using maps or guides.
The best season to visit Boudhanath is probably between mid-October to early-November. The main road to Boudhanath becomes less crowded during these months. Because the Valley has a large population of migrant Hindus, they travel back to their hometowns to celebrate Dashain and Tihar during these months.