It's the classic contrast of modern extravagance and ancient spiritualism. From the air, northeast Kathmandu is dominated by two structures. One is the Hyatt Regency's 14-hectare manicured compound and the other is the massive Boudhanath Stupa, one of Tibetan Buddhism's largest and most holy sites. The former is an anachronistic monument to ostentation in one of the world's poorest countries. Almost next door is the sacred 14th century dome, symbol of ascetic purity and a Unesco heritage site. Exiled monks from Tibet have been settling in the area since 1959 and the spherical stupa has gained in importance. In fact, the area is now known as 'Little Lhasa'. From the Regency's back gate, behind its swimming pool and vegetable garden, the 10-minute walk to the stupa passes tiny shops, fruit stalls and workshops making mandala paintings. You know you're getting close when more and more maroon-robed teens race past, looking like monks but acting like boys. The congestion then becomes noticeable. If you're seeking quiet contemplation, this isn't the place. Day and night, there are pilgrims, worshippers and tourists walking clockwise around Boudhanath's base, chanting mantras, spinning prayer wheels or just passing time. Ringing the site are endless craft shops, souvenir stands and restaurants. There are also Buddhist temples and monasteries. The monks there might be dedicated to enlightenment, but they're hustlers too, enticing visitors to make 'donations'. After offering me a scarf and a blessing, one friendly monk tries to convince me his hobby is collecting coins and money from around the world. He wonders if I have any Hong Kong currency. As sacred as the Boudhanath is, anyone can still enter through the narrow entrance to the stupa's first two levels. The upper dome, however, is off limits. But up close or afar, the avatar's eyes on the centre tower are mesmerising. A symbol of Buddha's omniscience, on a clear day it witnesses the spectacular mountain range behind Kathmandu, not to mention the grandeur of the Hyatt Regency dwarfing all other low-rises. Decked out in Newari architecture, the resort is a guilty comfort in a city where blackouts are regular and waste collection is not. Yet for all its decadence, it's still linked to the city's history and traditions. The lobby's temple court has nine 'chaityas' or shrines that are exact replicas of larger stupas in the city. A candle ceremony and prayers are offered around them each evening. The hotel has created a chaitya tour that takes guests on an early morning visit to these 11th to 18th century monuments. The only drawback is there are so many impressive sites, it quickly becomes a sensory overload. From the choking smell of incense, the clouds of traffic dust to the Nepali mash-up of Buddhist and Hindu iconography, fascination ultimately gives way to relief when you return to some five-star tranquillity after the two-hour sojourn. Tired? Yes, but illuminated by the pilgrimage. Tours cost US$50 per person, which includes hotel transfers from the start and finish points.