Did you know I’ve been saying Kathmandu wrong for years?! I’ve always pronounced it ‘cat-man-DO’. Apparently, its supposed to be ‘kath-MAN-du’. Now you know. Here are some other fun factoids and experiences after our time in Nepal’s capital city.
After the hustle and bustle of India, we were excited about relaxing in the relative cool (26 degrees) and quiet of Nepal’s capital city. As Kathmandu is the only airport for international flights, we both entered and exited the country here, with a week-long break in the middle in beautiful Pokhara.
Being a couple of Kiwis means Nepal has a little spot in our hearts thanks to ol’ Sir Edmund Hilary. The reaction of the local Nepali people when we tell them where we are from is always warm.
Unlike India, which required us to get our entry visas in advance, Nepal offers visas at the border. The process was pretty painless. The flash readers for the e-passports didn’t quite work, so we still had to manually enter our information, but after a couple clicks and a $40USD payment, we were in.
We’ve read a bunch of blogs where people moan and complain about Kathmandu airport. Other than the fact that it is pretty tiny, it was clean enough, the process was fast enough and the taxi drivers outside weren’t too pushy.
Guest houses one, and two
The guest house we chose to stay in first offered us a shuttle from the airport to their door, which we were grateful to accept. The drive into the city showed just how quiet Nepal is when compared to India. There was no honking, fewer tuktuks and less need for air conditioning.
The first guest house
For a cool $15NZD per night (remember, we are on a budget) we picked up 4 nights in a guest house just on the edge of the tourist hub Thamel. The location was great and the staff friendly, but it was the first place we stayed in which left us a little outside our comfort zone. Between the leaky toilet, bed sheets that didn’t fit the bed and patchy wifi we decided to get out and about as much as we could.
The day that broke us was the day there was no water to the house! No shower, plus a muddy walk in the rain to get breakfast made for unhappy times, but we pushed on through and ended up spending the evening with a lovely group of Brits, talking, laughing and eating together. It wasn’t all bad after all.
The second guest house
After a week away in a beautiful lodge in Pokhara, we gave Kathmandu accommodation another try. While our second room was a tight squeeze, the beds were comfortable, the shower warm, the company pleasant and the breakfast substantial. We were also right in the hub of Thamel which was a different experience too.
Exploring Thamel at night
Like any good tourist hub, Thamel is full of the following 3 things:
- Places to book more travel or other adventures
- Resturants, holes in the wall, supermarkets and cafes to drink beer (and maybe grab a bite)
- Shops to buy souvenirs, knick-knacks, jewelry and other local stuff. Nepal is all about yak wool!
While we didn’t need to book our next stop or buy any souvenirs (sorry friends and family, you get nothing other than my thoughts) we decided to imbibe and enjoy a drink on one occasion.
Andrew sunk a Gourka beer while I cut my teeth on an Everest. Neither was as good as a beer in NZ, but both were palatable enough. Anyone who knows me knows that I actually have no right to talk about how good or bad beer is, but Andrew agrees he was not blown away.
On every occasion we went out to each we found the chance to enjoy the live music. Live music is pretty common here and was good for a wee singalong and chair boogy. Although delighted by the live music, we were disappointed that we couldn’t find a club called Purple Haze. Apparently, if you’re in Kathmandu on a Saturday night, it goes off like nothing you’ve experienced before.
No matter what night of the week, as we wandered the streets we couldn’t help but notice the number of guys offering us drugs, and the number of off-licences where one could buy all kinds of liquor and cigarettes. While we didn’t utilise either it is easy to see why Thamel is a bit of a party zone for people pre and post trek.
VAT and service
Five weeks in India left us with a good appreciation for bargain prices. Things were feeling pretty affordable in Nepal until we realised there is a 10% service tax and a 13% GST type tax on most restaurant goods. Whoor! No more beersies for us after that. Nepal is actually quite affordable, we just had to get out of the India mindset.
Exploring Thamel and the rest of Kathmandu in the daylight
We took the chance to enjoy a free walking tour, Europe style, to get a guided experience around the city. Shiva our guide was very friendly and knowledgeable and we had a blast exploring 5 or six places from stupas and pagodas to markets and the locally nicknamed Monkey Temple.
Kathmandu hosts an unusual mix of Buddhist and Hindu religious sites. As the population has such a mix of religions there is a real emphasis on religious harmony between groups. Some temples and stupas are even built to be functional for both groups. We explored a stupa which is surrounded by 4 monasteries, a tiny temple hidden behind a tree and a huge temple which is open only one day per year.
After the hustle and bustle of the temples (we went through the Hindu rituals at two different temples, including the tikka mark on our foreheads) we were delighted to enjoy the clean, tidy and quiet garden of dreams. We sat for hours taking in the view and literally smelling the roses. We even met a fellow traveler who is finding himself and teaching happiness on the way.
Sunny, our local Karma expert
On our last day in the city, we ventured back to some temples and explored the markets further. We were ‘helped’ around by a nice man called Sunny. Despite not being a guide, and not wanting any money from us, did suggest that buying some food for his family would induce good karma. we agreed, to a point. After trying to get close to $80NZD worth of stuff out of us, we argued that $20NZD was more reasonable. He trotted off with lots of rice, oil and some milk powder.
During our many walks around the city and beyond, we couldn’t help notice the funny influences of western culture. You’ll have little trouble finding a beer or a bakery or even an espresso coffee. We ended up enjoying many a coffee at the local Himalaya Java Cafe and making the most of their very strong wifi, large power supply, and western style bathrooms.
Getting our eat on
After weeks of curry, we were surprisingly keen for some more curry. We found a little hole in the wall that met our needs just nicely, including cooking our tandoori nanns in something that looked suspiciously like a 45-gallon drum. After 48 hours we decided it was time to try some Mo:Mos and our lives were changed forever. If you’re like me, and kind of forget how good dumplings are, I recommend you go get some dumplings. Momos are so yum. I’ll be making them on the regular when I get home.
What else is happening in Kathmandu?
All of the things. Here is a selection.
Kathmandu is the place trekkers usually start and end their journey. Nestled between the bars and yak wool sellers are more trekking shops than you could wave a carbon fiber trekking stick at. One of the most interesting parts of this is the fact that there is a lot of fake or ‘not so genuine’ stuff on the market. So much so that North Face is affectionately called North Fake.
Kathmandu and most of Nepal operates on load sharing to ensure everyone gets some power, some of the time. Kathmandu has a bunch of zones and which zone you are in dictates when you will and will not have power. Not a massive problem as most hotels and hostels have generators, but unusual all the same.
In the aftermath of the 2015 Nepal earthquake, a few of the big tourist attractions like Durbar square continue to be rebuilt, but there is evidence of the quake in a variety of places across the city. Cracks in buildings, exposed foundations, and flattened plots land make it obvious that there is still work to do.
Along with the earthquake repairs, there is constant work being done to improve the roads. Some are built up and traffic friendly, while others are muddy when wet, dusty when dry and full of potholes. They will appear at any given time and around any random corner. The highway between Kathmandu and Pokhara was in equally mixed conditions. Given the hilly road, the single lanes and the frequent potholes, a 200km trip can take around 6 hours. The two we took were 9 and 13 hours respectively. On our return from Pokhara, we were stuck in traffic due to roadworks for 5 hours!
Going back to Kathmandu
We’ve already touched on it in our Pokhara write up, but we are itching to return to Nepal and get some trekking, yoga and more momos under our belts. We’re excited to return to Kathmandu in the coming years.
Wanna come with us? Lets book it in!