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I visited Nepal in 2006 and of course the main aim of my trip was to go trekking in the mountains but I have a few days in Kathmandu. It is an amazing city of contrasts and craziness. You are likely to see a cow lay down in the middle of the road and all the traffic going round it.
The temple area is fascinating - there are so many in such a small area but there are lots of distinct things to see - the temple with the erotic carvings or the living goddess.
There are of course other sights further out of the city, for example Boudhanath the giant stupa and Swayambhunath for the most fantastic view over the city (worth the climb)! If you venture to Pashupatinath, you will never forget the sight of an outdoor cremation!
Whilst it is a big city, Kathmandu does give you a good sense of the country and I would definitely recommend that if you're off on a trek you spend a few days in the city.
The markets are great - if you like shopping, you'll love Kathmandu!
The poverty is of course very sad. It broke my heart walking down a street and having a small homeless child just attach himself to me (literally)! There is of course a lot of begging (but what's the alternative for them?!)
Nepal is bordered to the North by China, and to the South, East, and West by India. Kathmandu is it's capital city.
This is my account of my magical visit here.
I flew into Kathmandu from Delhi and we traipsed ourselves out of the airport to wait at the side of the road for our coach. I was a bit tired and stood gazing into the distance at some extraordinary clouds and wondering why they were such strange shapes. Suddenly the strange shapes completed a gestalt in my head and I realised that I was staring at the Himalayas. They were so big that I hadn't been able to 'see' them at first. What an amazing sight they were! The white tops touched the sky and the range almost encircled us. Whenever I think of Kathmandu now, I remember it girdled by those mind boggling heights.
Whilst I had been staring at the mountains I had gathered a few gazers myself. I am quite 'well endowed in the chest department' and the locals had gathered to do their own version of 'mountain' gazing! The Nepalese do like to stand and stare! I gave them all an old fashioned look but they were undeterred, by the time the coach arrived my breasts had been respectfully inspected and notes compared by a large percentage of the male population. I was starting to wonder how many yaks I was worth!
Later that evening I nipped out to the Kathmandu version of the 'Spar', to buy some instant coffee! (As you do) I was accosted on the way back to the hotel by a young man trying to sell me some carved elephants. This was how the conversation went.
"Mem' I am having some very beautiful elephants. See my beautiful elephants!"
He had a point, they were indeed very beautiful elephants.
"They are lovely but too heavy for my luggage!"
"They are very cheap Mem!"
They were very cheap but still too heavy for my luggage.
We went on in this fashion as we walked towards the hotel. The elephants got cheaper and cheaper but alas, no lighter!
"You must buy them from me Mem and you have the most wonderful bosoms!"
At this stage I thought the thin air was causing me to hear things.
"Pardon?" (That was a mistake!")
"Oh yes Mem. You have the most wonderful bosoms!"
I just couldn't stop laughing. It was the very last thing I expected an elephant salesman to come out with.
This was my first introduction to the Nepalese most endearing trait of saying whatever they were thinking. The most outrageous things could be said with the greatest innocence and devoid of the wish to offend. I absolutely loved being in this city because I never knew what was going to be said next!
The city is, like most Eastern cities, a fabulous mixture of old and new. Great six lane highways ran through parts of the city. Nominally they drive on the left. Driving on the left doesn't seem to apply to bullock carts, horses, Nepali rickshaws, pedestrians, motor bikes, bicycles, tricycles or cars. Nobody, in fact, had got the hang of all going in one direction at once. Watching the traffic miss each other was an entertainment in itself!
Our hotel was quite close to Durbar square where one of the most famous temples is situated. Said to be built from a sigle tree, the Maru Satal temple is made using no metal nails or internal metal supports. It's a beautiful sight but very rarely open to visitors. Having decided to devote a morning to looking at it we were a bit disappointed, so we sat and drank chai and just watched the world go by with the temple as a stunning backdrop.
That afternoon I went exploring the jewellery shops. Kathmandu is paradise for anyone wanting to buy silver or semi precious stones and beads. I walked up some wobbly wooden steps to explore one such emporium and very elegantly went sprawling onto the verandah! I had walked up the inside of my long skirt! Brilliant!
I was hoisted to my feet by half a dozen bystanders and made to sit on a chair that had been brought out for me.
So there I was, dignity in tatters, trying to pretend nothing had happened.
The shop owner emerged bearing a tray of tea. He was so fast I thought this must be a regular occurence!
"We must inspect your bloody bleedink knee Mem!"
"No really, I'm okay, It's just a graze!"
"We must be seeing the bloody knee Mem!"
The shop owner put the glass of tea and sugar pot in my hands and knelt down in front of me. He was going to check my knee whatever I said. I couldn't stop him because my hands were full! Clever move!
"It is bleedink onto the skirts Mem!"
"Don't worry about it. I'll put a plaster on it when I get back to the hotel!"
Undeterred he solemnly and decorously rolled up my skirt to the knee and did a lot of tut tutting and sorrowfull shaking of the head. He rolled the skirt down and had a conference with the onlookers. None of which I understood so I drank my tea. I refused offers of washing the skirt. No way was I going to strip off to my knickers!
Another man knelt next to him and rolled up my skirt. More sad shaking of the head and hissing through the teeth. By this time I had resigned myself to my knees being the afternoon entertainment. At least they were ignoring my breasts!
My knees were washed, daubed with something that smelled like creosote, wrapped in muslin and then, thankfully, my skirt was rolled down again. Unbelievably whilst all this was going on, a table had been set up and a fair sized meal was produced for all of us! My husband turned up and sat down. He had been told by one ot the hotel porters where I was. (He no longer reacts much when he finds me in silly situations.) Of course, when Russ arrived he had to be shown the 'bloody bleedink' knees so we had the skirt rolling ceremony again! The meal was delicious! (I resolved to always fall over as soon as I got hungry in Kathmandu!) I don't know to this day what I was eating but whatever it was did me no harm!
That was the way I saw Kathmandu! Every thing I did or saw was accompanied by the locals doing their best to be helpful and chat and ask the most mind boggling questions. I saw very little begging although some of my fellow travellers did.
The population of Kathmandu is around 650,000. By the time I left I felt like I had spoken to half of them!
Whilst the cow is sacred in Nepal, cows are not allowed to wander in the city (unlike parts of India) because, apparently, the King got fed up with cows clogging up the works and wandering onto the roads etc, so they are confined to the outskirts. I have to say, this made walking about less fraught with difficulty. (and cleaner underfoot!)
Eating out in Kathmandu is quite an experience! The food is cheap and plentiful. Not many restaurants have an English version of a menu. Miming and pointing gets you a long way! There are many roadside vendors selling tasty snacks, often served onto large leaves which is an ecologically sound idea but a bit messy if you don't know how to do it. One kind boy took my leaf off me and sort of folded it up so my food didn't spill all over me!
My favourite eating house was up four flights of wooden stairs into a very rickety restaurant overlooking the Maru Satal temple. The owner had misunderstood when we booked for four people and thought there were fourteen of us coming so there were lots of waiters on hand. We had a traditional Nepali banquet consisting of about fifteen small courses. Some of which was bloody horrible! (I deserve a medal for keeping my face straight when eating the antique fish course!)
We were served the local drink which was a kind of rice spirit. Our host poured some into a dish at the beginning of the meal and lit it. It was still burning when we got to the last course of 'Royal yoghourt'. The yoghourt was superb and he demonstrated it's thickness by turning the full bowl upside down! It was the best and sweetest yoghourt I had ever tasted.
After the meal he introduced us to the youngest member of staff who was going the next week to take his exams to join the Gurkhas.
When I told him that my Dad had served with the Gurkhas in WW2 he was so excited. I explained that they had saved his life on a couple of occasions and his eyes filled with tears. I had my dad's little Swiss Army penknife with me so I gave it to him for luck. He really started to cry then. I often wonder what happened to him!
Kathmandu is a city infinitely rich in carvings, statues, temples, palaces, parks and monuments. It is certainly one of the most beautiful and engaging cities I have ever had the luck to have visited. There isn't anywhere to look where there isn't something interesting to see.
One afternoon we visited the Pashupatinath temple. It is situated on the banks of a river and there is a burning Gath just outside of the temple. The temple is magnificent and decorated to within an inch of it's life. The gardens surrounding the temple are occupied by what seems like a huge amount of Saddhu or holy men. These men live in great austerity and rely on alms to live. They are an uninhibited bunch and think nothing of strolling around stark naked and clothed only in mud. One Saddhu was demonstrating great devotion to his deity by hanging rocks from his penis. He seemed remarkably cheerful for someone who had about half a hundred weight of sandstone dangling from his willy! Giving up chocolate for Lent seemed a pretty easy option after seeing that!
The temple was mainly devoted to the goddess Hathi (the elephant Goddess) Milk was the usual offering and the excess was channeled by pipe from the temple into the river, turning parts of it a curious milky colour! This was in direct contrast to the rest of it which was horribly polluted.
We visited the Swayambhunath and Boudhanath stupas. They were very beautful Buddhist temples and monasteries. Rows of fantastically carved prayer wheels lined the walk up to the temples and many coloured prayer flags caught the breeze. The sound of rows of young monks chanting their lessons is one that I will never forget.
As I was standing quietly at the back of the Boudhanath Stupa an elderly monk came over to us and singled me out to bless me and ask for my blessing in return. The warmth in his eyes was unmistakable and very moving. I will never know what prompted him to do that but I am glad he did. I still have the scarf he put around my neck.
Later that day the guide came and told me that it was the first time he had ever seen that happen. I felt very special.
I could write such a lot more but this is already very long and I apologise for that. I hope I have given you a small taste of what a remarkable place Kathmandu is.
If you have half a day to kill in Kathmandu you must take this trip! Buddah Air are a domestic Nepali airline operating from Kathmandu airport. Their bread and butter work is the shuttle between Kathmandu and Lukla. In addition to this they operate the best sight-seeing flight in the world. For about $150 you get a guaranteed window seat for the flight around Mount Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Pumori and Ama Dablam (the mountain in my profile picture.) The aircraft are well maintained Dorniers and are flown by very skilled pilots. If you have experienced the landing on the airstrip at Lukla, you would trust these guys with anything. Weather conditions govern the quality of the flight. The pilots will try to get as close to the mountains as possible for the conditions. Inevitably there will be days when cloud obscures the best views and if this happens on your flight there are no refunds but the pilot will try to find a mountain that is clear; this could be Makalu to the West or Cho Oyu to the East. Steel yourself for an early morning flight as haze ruins the clarity of the mountains by about 11am. The closer to the monsoons, May and November, you are the less clear the skies are with dust being blown up from India. Kathmandu has thousands of travel agents that will book a flight for you and take you through the bureaucracy of the airport. Remember that if you book you must fly on that day regardless of the weather conditions. It is possible to pay for your ticket on the morning of the flight if there is a vacancy. This allows you to chose your weather and avoids the agent's fees but you will have to cope with Nepali officialdom. If the thought of walking for two weeks to catch a glimpse of Everest fills you with dread then Buddah Air's flight is a superb alternative. Equally, if you have returned from a trek or climb, the flight is a great way to round off your experience.
What a lovely place, the smell of woodsmoke always takes me back to Kathmandu. It is a busy city but quite unlike other Asian cities I have visited, with a mix of old and modern but few huge skyscrapers or department stores. It has a feeling of remoteness, you know you are off the beaten track, it is difficult to get many western comforts, but some things are imported from India, like Cadbury’s chocolate. The city has several beautiful parks, and interesting temples etc in the centre, although many of these are in a state of disrepair. The main roads have to be seen to be believed they are very wide eight lane in some places, with a interesting mix of lorries, taxi. Cycle rickshaws, cycles, motorised rickshaws and cows. They are supposed to drive on the left, but this is usually interpreted as you drive the shortest way anywhere (interesting at roundabouts). The city is intertwined with small narrow streets with fascinating stalls and shops, knitwear is very popular with both tourists and locals alike and is excellent quality and value. Food is not bad, plenty of lassi and lentil soup, many foods have appetising Western sounding names but with a Nepalese twist e.g. Pizza made with Yak cheese, steak is also widely available ( I didn’t eat meat in Nepal so I can’t comment on its quality), German bakeries are quite widespread selling reasonable bread and cake things. You do have to be a bit careful in Nepal the hygiene standards are not always good (which is why I go vegetarian when I go there). As with all Asian cities freshly cooked street food such as samosa’s etc are usually fine and excellent value. The people are generally very kind, as a female traveller I did not experience any problems or hassle other than the usual starring you can get. I confronted a group of young men who were starring at me once, they were so embarrassed and pretended they were looking at the building behind me ! There are begga
rs but not as many as in many Indian cities, they don’t seem to hassle you as much. On my first day in Kathmandu, I tried to cross one of these busy main roads, I stood there for at least 20 mins totally bemused, a young boy took me by the hand and led me across stopping the traffic as he went. He then disappeared into the crowd, I would have willingly given him some money for helping me but he just went ! (no he did not pick my pocket or steal anything). Accommodation is varied, it is worth haggling and shopping around, be careful with some of the guesthouses which cater mainly for tours from the west, you may find rooms which you have booked suddenly are unavailable because they have had a better offer. Hotel are more expensive but interesting certainly not like the standard western format. I would recommend Kathmandu to anyone, although it is good to explore the country further, and can be a relief to get away into the countryside. As with all cities there are dangers, but taking basic common sense precautions will prevent most of these. Be particularly careful of taxi’s from the airport the driver could well be drunk/ stoned, if you feel uncomfortable insist on stopping and GET OUT.
During our first week in Kathmandu, we did manage to do some sightseeing in spite of our daily ritual of changing guest houses (four times -a trip record.) In the end, we found ourselves at the famous and very clean (but more expensive) Kathmandu Guest House, home to many world-renowned authors, journalists and mountain climbers during their stay here. We made a little pilgrimage to Swayambunath, the famous "monkey temple" on top of a hill overlooking the valley. It serves as a holy stupa to both Buddhists and Hindus alike. People of all sorts make the climb up to spin the prayer wheels and send their prayers up to heaven. Everyone is in a reverent semi-trance state chanting "om mane padme hum" while they circumnavigate the stupa clockwise, spinning the wheels, making offerings, lighting oil lamps and incense. Tibetan monks from the monastery there, wander around fingering their wooden prayer beads quietly blessing all the people and offering their own prayers. In the monastery, we spun an enormous 5 foot prayer wheel (you need a big wheel for big prayers!) While we were there, a distressed woman went into a trance state, shaking and mumbling and drawing quite a crowd. Of course meanwhile, large families of monkeys jump from rooftops to trees, overseeing it all. And what a scene it was. We sat back and watched it all for a bit, mesmerized.
A city of contrasts – serenity and chaos, poverty and spiritual richness, beauty and squalor - How could one even try to begin to describe Kathmandu? For many people, travel to Nepal means the opportunity to trek in the Himalayas. Kathmandu is perceived as an unpleasant stop-over on the journey north, rather than a destination in its own right. Although things have certainly changed since the ‘60’s, this city still has much to offer. I spent several months living and working here, and grew to love it. There are frustrations, as there would be in any Asian city of this scale, but these are more than compensated by the richness of the street life, the architecture, the temples, the people, and even the smells. You can’t help but feel alive in a city like this (in that respect, it reminds me of New York, a comparison I never thought I would make). Like Kuta in Bali, Kathmandu has undeniably suffered by rapid development precipitated by the chase for tourist dollars. This is clearest in Thamel, an unsightly sprawl of concrete -–shops, restuarants, cheap hotels. In a way we are all to blame for this. If we didn’t shop there, eat there or sleep there, then we could condemn the shortsighted planning and greed. But we do… The streets are crowded with the usual traveller types, stocking up on excellent food, before either the journey north to the Himalayas, or south, back to India. There are too many restuarants, bars and hotels to check by name, but a few are legendary on the circuit – The Kathmandu Guest House and The Bakery are but two. Whether their legendary status is deserved or not is another matter, but they are certainly crowded, and you are bound to meet like minded souls at either establishment. As always, shop around, bargain hard and have fun whilst you’re doing it. At the centre of Kathmandu lies the ‘Durbar Square’, an area filled with a sele
ction of temples and monuments of varying styles. Take a seat up on one of the higher tiers of your favourite temple and watch the world go by. Come here at dawn, midday and dusk, and compare the atmosphere, the way the light falls, the difference in the sounds you hear. You can (and should) also see the ‘Durbar Squares’ of both Patan and Bhaktapur whilst you are here. The basic idea remains the same, but the atmosphere is totally different. Bhaktapur in particular is stunning, and a truly unforgettable place. Swayambunath is a large stupa on the outskirts of town, easily accessible by rickshaw, or by walking. When you see the number of steps up to it, you will wish you had gone for the rickshaw option. The stupa itself is in excellent condition, and very much a focus for everyday spiritual life. The views offered over the Kathmandu valley are also well worth the climb. Pashupatinath is the last on the list of ‘must sees’. It is the Holy Town where the bodies of the dead are cremated on burning wooded ghats, and the ashes scattered into the sacred river. It has huge religious significance, but tourists are well tolerated. The few taking photos of the cremations were, to my mind, overstepping the line however. The banks of the river are filled with ‘sadhus’, or holy men. Some of them certainly are spiritual beings, but some are more questionable in their motives. Most will happily engage in conversation though, and it is easy to spend a fascinating day here learning about their religious perspective. But this isn't about ticking sites off lists - although there are spectacular monuments and temples - the real delight of Kathmandu lies on its streets and in the everyday living of its people. You can't write about something like that - it needs to be experienced...
Kathmandu is the largest and most urban of three villages situated close together in the Kathmandu valley. The first impression is of a rather busy, modern town however once you reach the heart of the old town you are in a different world with carved wooden buildings, temples and narrow streets. If it is the first village you visit you will find it charming however if you leave it until the end you may find it disappointing in comparison with the others. A short distance away is the town of Patan. The centre of this village is much larger than Kathmandu and contains many more spectacular wooden buildings and more open spaces. You can reach the pedestrianised centre without walking through the modern buildings you find in the outskirts of Kathmandu and if you explore the roads which radiate from the central squares you will find you are the only tourist exploring ancient buildings and temples whereas away from the centre of Kathmandu you find traffic and modern life. The final and most spectacular village is Bhaktapur. You approach the centre along a narrow street lined with fascinating shops catering for the local inhabitants rather than for tourists then suddenly you pass through the village gate and enter an area of open plazas with temples and shrines and lined with carved wooden buildings. Every wall has a least one pale dog lying asleep in its shadow and giving an indication of the slow pace of life. In the streets off these squares you can see the local inhabitants going about their daily chores much as they would have done when their homes were constructed over three hundred years ago. It is certainly the most medieval and least modernised and tourist oriented of the three villages in the valley and possibly the most charming I have visited. You can visit all three villages in a couple of days but make sure you see Kathmandu first, then Patan and save the most spectacular, Bhaktapur, until last.
"Kathmandu (Nepali: काठमाडौं, काठमान्डु, Nepal Bhasa: यें) is the capital city of Nepal and it is also the largest city in Nepal. The original inhabitants of Kathmandu are called Newars, who speak Nepal Bhasa, which is the language of communication between Newars, and is widely spoken by other ethnic communities residing in Kathmandu. It stands at an elevation of approximately 4,265 ft (1,300 m). It is an urban and suburban area of about 1.5 million inhabitants in the tri-city area in the Kathmandu Valley in central Nepal, along the Bagmati River. The two other cities are Patan and Bhaktapur. Kathmandu is located at 27°43′N 85°22′E (27.71667, 85.36667)."