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Published: October 22nd 2012
We arrive at Kathmandu (Aka - K) airport on schedule with Jet Airways via Delhi (where the Transit Lounge is one of the best we have seen in all our travels! Delhi has come a long way). Jet service is ace as usual. After the immigration formalities we are met by Siling our friend and Director/Owner of The Responsible Travellers Ltd. It’s good to see him after 4 years. The drive to our hotel in Thamel (Hotel Thamel!) – the backpacking heart of K - is as usual noisy, bumpy and dusty – welcome to Nepal. It’s a hot 27-30 C & slightly humid. However after about an hour we get used to the chaos and feel pretty much at home.
The thing you need to know about walking around K is, walk with confidence! No matter that 7 cars, 5 cycle rickshaws, a lorry, 17 bikes, 77 people and 2 cows are all heading at you from every direction; they will miss you. But never walk on the pavement – that is very dangerous!! They are full of pot holes and disappear with great regularity.
In the evening we
are joined by Tina – Siling’s other half (originally from Yorkshire) – and two of their other clients – Brenda and Mavis from the UK, who are going to trek in the Langtang region. We go to the Third Eye restaurant for dinner which is ok – but we feel we were over charged while too busy reminiscing with friends & being slightly jet lagged.
Since we last saw Siling and Tina, they have had a little boy, Tholi Lloyd, now 2, who we get to meet a few times. He’s obviously inherited his parents’ adventurous streak as he races around and over everything. An adorable handful! It’s also great to spend a couple of evenings at their place chatting and hearing about life, the charitable projects they are working on and dinosaurs – courtesy of Tholi!
Kathmandu & the Valley
As we have been here before and provided a lot of background info in our last blog we’ll keep this simple and factual regarding what we did here this time
Swayambhunath Temple (Aka The Monkey Temple)
We set off early am (6 am) by rickshaw to get to the
temple complex in time to see local people doing their early morning prayers. It’s pretty busy and the Buddhist devotees are everywhere as are the monkeys (hence it’s other name) who are amazingly clean and well fed by all the food offerings left by the locals. The entrances to the temple on the top of a hill are via a long road around the bottom then climbing up or steep steps at the front, however, the Temple is impressive and worth the climb – it is also a world heritage site. The view of the K valley from here is impressive.
It is said that it was built on a small island in the middle of a large lake which is now the Kathmandu valley and the island is now a big hill with the temple on top “master of all it can see”.
After spending time at the top and bottom taking a lot of pictures and observing local Buddhist life we make our way back on foot to our hotel, getting lost along the way but it was part of the experience.
There isn’t a thing you can’t get in Thamel
– well at least if it’s to do with trekking. Once again we rely on Shona’s (and Andy’s recommendations for the best coffee). The place is a maze but it’s worth detouring through the side streets for the specialist shops – and eventually you come out somewhere familiar.
We revisit our favourite K restaurant – Thamel House – right opposite our hotel – and enjoy fabulous Newari food served with copious quantities of complementary Rakshi – the local brew – poured from to a height into a clay bowl which is almost thimble size. Amazing skill. In fact we enjoy it so much we end up there for a couple of evenings.
The other awesome eateries we visit after a tip off from Siling, is the Thikali Banchha House. Fab dal bhat with refills for less than 150 Rs! Washed down with Mustang Rakshi. Our only complaint is that Siling didn’t tell us about it before.
Durbar in Nepal means Palace. This is the historic heart of K with elaborate buildings and temples and thronging with local folk, tourists and kids flying kites (in adjoining Basanthapur Square). We are here for the
end of a festival so it’s very colourful. We find ourselves being accosted by a very persistent woman who is demanding to see our tickets. Thinking this is another K scam, we ignore her – until we are escorted out by the security chap! It seems that since we last visited they have introduced a charge for visiting the Square. The fee is to maintain the buildings which makes sense, but was very badly advertised in the area we entered. We leave graciously as it’s the end of the day and agree to come back & pay the fee on a day when we will have more time to enjoy it.
The square has the Hanuman Dhoka, The Kumari Bhal (House of the living Goddess), Kumari Chowk , numerous Temples & Kasthamandap (the house of wood).
We visit again on our last afternoon and this time visit the museum and its courtyard which we haven’t done before. As well as lovely architecture and inner courtyards with temple pools it has guards in special uniforms that add a certain something. However, the Chinese tourists try their hardest to stop you taking pics !
This huge Stupa is the iconic image of K & Nepal. The large white and colourful prayer flag laden stupa with its eyes on 4 sides is hidden away in the midst of K and as you enter you move from chaos to calm. Built about 600AD, devotees prostrate themselves in prayer, monks abound and there always seems to be another photo opportunity around the corner. Despite having been twice before we still spend over an hour and a half there. It’s a great site to spend a few hours and observe life from a tea room window (most of which are on the 2nd
floor giving even better view points).
Nepal’s most important Hindu Temple (where non Hindu’s cannot enter) with its burning Ghats is on the Bhagmati River which becomes the Ganges in India. The temple complex is spread over a vast area and is a pleasant area to spend some time in the early evening and watch the sun go down. Like Varanasi, cremations take place in the open so it’s not for the squeamish. Each evening there is a Aarti ceremony which we attend in part. It’s relatively
low key and we have had a long day trying to see too many temples in one day so we call it quits early and head back for a nice cold “Kathmandu” beer (much better than “Everest” we think).
We decide on a trip to Patan and hire a cab to take us there and bring us back. The place is a great example of Newari architecture which is quite intricate, with beautifully carved dark wood for doors, windows, the stirs and upper stories of buildings. It’s great to be here on a Sunday when the locals come out to enjoy the splendour of their neighbourhood dressed in their “Sunday best” - a great way to observe family life in Nepal.
The main attractions are the Durbar Square which is a smaller but prettier version of the one in K, with many more temples. We visit the Golden Temple – no relation to the one in Amritsar, India. It’s a Buddhist Temple from the 15th
century. It is has 3 roofs and a copper gilded façade. It’s very impressive.
Next we head to the Kumbeshwar Temple (one of only three 5
storey temples in the K valley and the oldest Hindu Temple in Nepal dedicated to Shiva). Again – it’s a Sunday outing for the families with Puja thrown in. It’s amazingly colourful and hot & smoky (a combination of sun and all the offerings with fire). There are families having picnics and women dressed in their posh clothes – mainly red saris, and a young girl paints the kohl make up onto the little children’s faces. Kids swim in the small ponds surrounding the temple, and women and children bathe with clothes on in the sunken square where water gushes in via a range of fountain heads. All very colourful and noisy.
We take the 10.30 domestic flight to Pokhara with Buddha Airlines – which takes ½ hour. The airport is pretty small and we are met by a cab from the Hotel Trek-O-Tel where we stayed the last time we were here. Outside the airport is a mass hunger strike in action – we learn that the locals have been doing so in turn for the last month to get the government to make Pokhara an International Airport. Interesting twist – normally people are
striking not to have a local airport. We have a nice room which looks directly onto Machupucchre when it’s clear – which it is when we arrive.
Pokhara is warm and busier than we recall – a lot more Chinese, Korean & Japanese visitors. It’s still quite a chilled contrast from Khatmandu though. The lake is busy with people rowing colourful boats (Rs 300 per hour). We have a lovely lunch at Boomerang in their lovely gardens overlooking the lake.
We are up early for a great breakfast in the hotel gardens overlooking the lake & get set to meet Balram our Guide (who we also had for our trip to the Annapurna 4 years ago) at 8am as we are off for a short 2 day trek to Pothana (recommended by Siling). This is a filler for us as our trip to Tibet could not go ahead as the Chinese have closed the border to many foreigners including the British – so we miss out for the second time.
The Pothana Trek
We set off by car to the start point some 40 mins drive away to a small village called Candey. It’s
uphill from here on but relatively gradual. It’s great to be on a trek in Nepal – this restores our pleasure in treks after the experience in Bhutan.
The views are brilliant and we walk in lovely countryside to the Australian Camp (not sure why it has the name here in the Himalaya!) where we stop for tea. The views of the snow covered high Annapurna range and Machupuchhre are awesome.
Pothana is not too far away so we get to it in 2.5 hours from the start. However as the cloud closes in on the range, any hope of a sunset view is out of the question. Our lodge (Fish Tail Guesthouse) is lovely & comfortable – we can have Dal Bhat and Tibetan bread again, our trekking staples – yippee! We are now in the Annapurna Conservation Area and need permits to trek here. A lot of the Base camp treks start and finish here so there is plenty of company.
After a night slightly disturbed by the owners dog who had a few spells of barking at himself outside our door, we are up at 5 am to go to a view point 20
mins up the hill to watch the sunrise over the mountains. It’s pretty awesome; even despite leeches getting onto all 3 of us.
After breakfast we set off for the downward trip that takes us through Damphus and Phedi where we finish our trek.En route we pass through some lovely villages, through fields of rice and millet, and meet many photogenic locals. A great couple of days.
We are up early to again enjoy the amazing breakfast at the hotel sitting in their beautiful gardens before we are taken to the bus station to hop onto the “Golden Travels” bus which takes Tourist and wealthier Nepalese to K. The scene is amazing at the bus stop as there are at least 20 buses heading the same way mainly full of Tourists.
The journey takes 7 hours (starting at 7.30 am) but is well worth it as we see a lot of Nepalese life as we climb and descend the hill sides and drive along the river and through villages. It’s life in the raw which is educational, interesting, wonderful and colourful. Women & children bathe in the river, people washing & drying their clothes, kids
playing cricket on the river bank; women, men and children at work, rest and play including a small cow being barbequed!!
There are strategic stops for breakfast, comfort breaks and lunch (the latter included in the ticket price). Lunch was an yummy Dhal Bhat buffet – one of the best we’ve had. We are set down unofficially near our hotel & meet up with Siling for a quick catch up and drink at Sam’s bar – which has a seedy looking small entrance but upstairs opens into an amazing hangout playing reggae music. A must visit place we think.
And so we get to our final day in K – we’ll be sad to leave and feel we should have stayed a few days longer – the place gets under your skin somehow. We gave Tina a gift from Bhutan – some Happy Candles as a thank you and in return she gifts Caroline a Happy Bag – a shoulder bag in amazing colours which C is very pleased with and takes everywhere. It works too!
Travel Tips & Costs
Tribhuvan Airport – Visa apply on arrival but print and complete the form before
leaving home to beat the queues. $30 for 1 month multi entry.
Our pad - Hotel Thamel in Thamel area – basic but good if you are looking for a place tp sleep at reasonable cost with some perks - great location, free internet, A/C, inexpensive & superb breakfasts.
Exchange rate £ = Rs 133, $ = Rs 83
Entry Ticket Fees: Durbar Square Rs 750, Patan Rs 500, Swayambunath Temple Rs 200, Bodhnatha Rs 150 (Best Value site), Pashupatinath Rs 500,
Water Rs 15, Beer – depending on brand Rs 170-200(local brews) ice cold from a super market. About Rs 280 – 400 in a bar/hotel.
Internet pretty cheap – printing Rs 8 per page, local calls on cheap & International from a STD shop to a landline – 15 per min.
Food & Drink
Thamel House Restaurant – a Newari treat, slightly expensive but worth it with great mutton momos & wild boar pilao. They include Nepali dancing for free at weekends and Rakshi for free.
We are invited by Tina to the British Embassy expats club for lunch with Brenda & Mavis and we get the first
chance to meet Tholi, Tina & Siling’s 2 year old. The club does great dal bhat and has lovely peaceful gardens.
Himalyan Java Café – great coffee but at a price with a view of the chaotic traffic in Kathmandu
Newar Mo Mo Café (shack) – a pure gem of a find with all the local goodies at amazingly cheap prices. Just a few yards up from Thamel Hotel.
The Third Eye – ok but watch the bill as they are prone to over charge if you are not alert.
Sam’s Bar for good evening with a few beers
Kilroy’s – a trendy & expensive mixed menu joint where we went with Siling, Tina & a few of their clients from Wales - Des, Mark & Geoff who we were supposed to do Tibet with but settled for the Annapurna Base Camp Trek & time in Chitwan. They were good fun and Siling negotiated a good deal - all we had to do was pay for our beers – pricey at Rs 875 for 2 beers but the free meal makes up for it.
Finally the Thakali Banchha – a must for a local
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