Nepal is a place I have not even dared to think about travelling to previously. I was not sure about its safety due to political instability, and I was more afraid my fitness is not up to par for any kind of trekking. However, in the past 2 years, I had a few inspirational friends who have completed their treks and returned victorious and more confident with life. Hence, we decided to visit Nepal and trek before we try for children and it will be even harder to bring them (though now I learnt you can hire a porter for the baby!).
Landing into Kathmandu city inevitably reminded me of India cities like Mumbai – the endless energy, honking, dusty roads due to new roads and buildings being constructed, with cows sweeping their tails from side to side, indifferent to the busy people and traffic passing them by. Then suddenly, reaching Dwarika Hotel, which is my favourite hotel this trip, was a nice switch to a quiet haven. But Dwarika deserves a different story on its own.
Relative to many other cities though, Kathmandu has a relatively slower pace, with official working hours from 10am to 5pm. Yup, you heard it right, they start work at 10am; it only dawned on us when we started sightseeing at 1030am and the roads were still jammed with people trying to get to work. However, because of the slower pace, most people we meet are friendly and hospitable, and offer a cup of tea if you stay long enough in their shops. Kathmandu looks set to develop very quickly; it has already changed a lot in the last 10 years, evident from the view when we landed into Kathmandu – wide urban sprawl of new buildings, and I am sure the development will only switch to higher gears in the next decade with the new Prime Minister who seems loved by his people and in turn helping Nepal become more political stable.
We have an amazing guide, Mr Puskar Lama (Tamang), who is only 23 years of age but have already done hundreds of treks. Interacting with him daily only reminds me how people across cultures are more similar than different. He is dressed in Zara clothes, Nike shoes and messages quickly on his iPhone5 (imported from the UK from his gurkha friends) in impeccable English, despite being born and bred in Nepal mountains. He is super active on Facebook, Wechat and all sorts of social media platforms, even though he spent his childhood working off the farms in rural Nepal villages. It is amazing how technology has become such an equalizer, and helped us connect seamlessly across geographies. I also learnt not to make assumptions – speaking to a very ethnic traditional Mongolian tribe lady who lived in the Ghorepani village in the mountains for most of her life, I learnt that both their sons are in Europe and she skypes with them often. So much for my pre-conception that there is no internet or wifi in the mountains! I love how Nepalese mostly speak good English, it helps me to interact, understand and appreciate their culture so deeply.
We started the city tour with another guide, Mr Nabin, who is softspoken and knowledgable. The weather was perfect for a city tour – 18 deg celcius day with crisp, cold air but warm when the sun shines. First up, we arrived at Pashupati Hindu Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Along the holy water banks, we witnessed a live cremation; we learnt that in the Hindu culture, people are cremated almost immediately upon death, and all the family members are deemed as “unclean” for a period after that, requiring constant rituals to cleanse themselves.
As we arrived at the Pashupati temple on a Monday, we see a lot of women going to pray for a good husband, which they apparently do every Monday.
We also saw many ‘holy men’ hanging around the stupas, who really looked like they came out of those National Geographic shots. Unfortunately, they wanted us to pay to take photos with them so I only have a distant shot of them. Pashupati – A historic spot steeped in culture that is still very much part of the Nepalese Hindu daily life in this modern times.
Next up was the Boudanath, an impressive massive stupas built in the 5th century. It always amazes me how people of the previous millennium can build such majestic structures with minimum technology and equipment. Boudanath is also a UNESCO World Heritage site – very definite structure (could spot in the plane flying into Kathmandu) that holds much importance for Buddhists, with many Tibetian Buddhists living near the near as well. Tip: if you are going to walk into Boudanath, reply to walk in clockwise direction!
We had lunch overlooking Kathmandu Durbar Square, a well preserved area of historic buildings, an area also deserving on the UNESCO World Heritage status. The ex-King’s Palace was built with colonial influence, juxtaposed with the surrounding buildings’ architecture with Indian, Japanese and Chinese touches. Throughout Nepal’s history, there has been a lot of interaction and harmony between Hindus and Buddhists, which reminds me of Singapore actually – how we too have temples next to mosques.
The last site seeing spot is Swayambhunath (Devanagari: स्वयम्भूनाथ स्तुप, Monkey Temple), a massive gold plated temple atop a hill. This is also a great spot to get a view of sprawling Kathmandu. When I asked the guide why the Buddha statues across Nepal are slightly different, he mentioned that the original Buddha statue was skinny with sunken cheeks (exactly like the original Buddha born in Lumbini) but that was rejected by the masses and they wanted a fuller, prosperous looking idol so they construted the familiar Buddha statues look. Interesting how we re-create our idols the way we want to see them.
Before we ended the day, N tried authentic Indian Head Massage (300 Nrp), which looked every bit like what you see on Youtube – violently but supposedly very relaxing.
On our return leg to Kathmandu, we had free and easy day where we visited a few interesting places to sightsee and eat, and our amazing guide, Puskar, brought us to the more local places to immerse ourselves. We visited a local market called Ason Chowk. I got an Indian French chiffon saree tailored there for any future cultural events/wedding I might have to attend.
Unlike Thamel, which is the main tourist area, Ason Chowk is where the locals shop for their groceries, clothes and even electronics. There is an electronic mall focused on mobile phones which looks like Sim Lim 20 years ago, but they have the latest Samsung Note3 mobiles availableWe visited Durbar Marg, the shopping street with higher end brands like Zara, Adidas and the likes. We visited a local supermarket, Bhat Bherani, which was huge and gave us insights into what the locals buy (e.g. spices, teas, breads they eat for Losar).
We did the obligatory look around at Thamel to buy souvenirs for our loved ones. We got introduced to an authentic Nepalese store called S.K. Handicrafts Export that sells 100% cashmere pashminas. They have been opened 10 years with a factory to boot. Highly recommend to visit if you want to buy real cashmere pashminas; leave me a message and I will pass you the contact to ensure you are buying real 100% cashmere, as there are many other stores claiming that but the material is actually only partial cashmere mixed with other material so you might not get your money’s worth.
We also got tea from Golden Himalayan Tea Shop from our guide used to work in.
Our guide also brought us to a very nice rooftop restaurant, Koyla, on New Road near the local market. The food was decent but the view was amazing. Tip: climb one storey above the restaurant to the rooftop – it gave me one of my most amazing city panoramas with the mountains in the background.
We tried out Nanglo restaurant for dinner. We had good buffalo grill, charcoal bbq beef and curry chicken. The fried fish was so-so for me. But nice alfresco on second floor to hang out, with nice warm heaters during winter.
For our final lunch in Nepal, our guide introduced us to Ghar Bar – which had the best papadum in the Chicken Dal Bhat. And we learnt that popcorn is served as a starter in Nepalese restaurant to keep the customers busy and entertained as it takes a while to prepare the Dal Bhat.
For the entire Nepal Travel Review series by EatPrayFlying, please refer to the list below:
- Nepal– Kathmandu City Tour
- Nepal – Kathmandu Hotel – Dwarika Hotel
- Nepal – Kathmandu Hotel – Shanker Hotel
- Nepal – Pokhara City Tour
- Nepal – Pokhara Hotel – Templetree Resort & Spa
- Nepal – Pokhara Hotel – Waterfront Resort