When you have hardship (a disastrous 2015 earthquake), low income, and high numbers of unemployment on your doorstep, it’s common to behave with a level of desperation. Not for the Nepalese though, and Kathmandu embodies humble gratitude in perfection.
Dusty streets intertwine like a maze that is near impossible to navigate, yet carries undertones of calm. Genuine kindness resonates through every human interaction leaving travellers feeling welcomed and at ease. You can’t help but fall in love with this place.
Kathmandu is a large, busy city which operates with a friendly, village vibe. Here, it’s easy to avoid becoming stressed and anxious, despite the hive of activity surrounding.
Time Best Spent
Wander the streets of Thamel by foot, navigating through the maze of stores and curry houses, observing local life. Thamel first put Nepal backpacking on the map in the 1970’s and today it is every part as interesting as it likely was back then.
Find your way to Swayambhunath temple which is ornately decorated in traditional Nepalese style and offers a pleasant glance into daily Nepalese life as locals visit consistently through the day. Then move on to Boudhanatg temple, before entering the UNESCO Heritage Site, Darbar Square. Although Darbar Square suffered extensive damage during the 2015 earthquake, this is certainly a wonderful place to explore. Detailed traditional architecture of the buildings resemble a Chinese influence and the helpful map and schedule you’ll receive when you purchase a ticket will share historic insight for your visit.
Purchase your ticket and grab a map, but before going any further, time your viewings with the daily scheduled glimpses of the Kumari Princess. Sightings are rare and the tradition of the Kumari Princess is fascinating. Exploring Darbar Square can expect to take the best part of a few hours.
From Darbar Square walk a to Freak Street which is just a street from Darbar’s entrance. This is a street and small neighbourhood made famous for the eclectic mix of backpackers who made their way here in the ’70’s, around the error Thamel was being placed on the map too. Freak Street is an excellent place to grab a drink and take in the experience before walking back to Thamel. In Thamel find a curry house – any will suffice because they are all delicious – and wash down the authentic assortment of flavours with an Everest Lager. Your day will have been a busy one with lots of walking and now is the time to sit back and enjoy the scenery as local life and tourists pass you by from the comfort of a traditional Nepalese eatery.
On your return to your hotel, stop by Kathmandu Book Shop. This is a famous store packed with religious, spiritual, and cultural reading materials that won’t be found back home. You’re bound to pick up reading souvenirs that will hold a fold place in your heart for years to come.
On your second day take a short day trip to Kopan Monastery for a guided tour or daily buddhist talk. Kopan Monastery is one of the largest in Nepal and was formed in the 60’s. If the buildings and surrounds don’t impress, the insight into buddhist life might. If you have time, stay for one of the retreats available on their schedule.
Nepal is known for mountaineering and trekking but to do so requires being away from Kathmandu. Nepal trekking is an experience that can easily be the best of your lifetime, so be sure to include a long or short trek (there is a style for every ability) into your Nepal itinerary. The most popular Nepal treks are through the Annapurna Conservation Area or Everest region.
If you don’t have the time to head North for trekking then an overnight at Chtiwan National Park will allow a low activity level way of enjoying Nepal’s outdoors and wildlife.
Where to Eat
Being a country of Asian origin, Nepal does a fantastic curry and rice. Kathmandu is riddled with local curry houses, and street food – all of which are packed full of delicious flavour. It’s easy to oversee the second floor curry houses in Thamel and some of them have excellent table side windows and balcony’s to add to your experience, so try looking up as you wander the streets and choose one of the many second floor restaurants.
Where to Sleep
Kathmandu Guest House is an iconic and prestigious hotel, leagues above any other in Thamel. This is without a doubt the best place to stay and will offer much more than a simple place to rest your head.
What makes Kathmandu Guest House remarkable – other than the long list of U.S Presidents and celebrities who have rested here including The Beetles- is that it is a quiet oasis, hidden behind large fences, right in the centre of the bustle of Kathmandu’s craziness. Kathmandu Guest House is thoughtfully laid out to maximise use of a beautiful garden. The architecture remains true to the colonial theme of its original builders and your stay will be a Kathmandu highlight.
What To Avoid
The Garden of Dreams is considered a popular tourist attraction and at one time it was likely a beautiful garden to explore. Although there is an interesting story of reinvention and regeneration showcased on descriptive posters for visitors to read, at the time of writing this there remained a substantial amount of work to do before The Garden of Dreams becomes a place to take precedence over other Kathmandu attractions such as Kopan Monastery.