Kathmandu. The smell of incense, the sound of speeding mopeds and barking dogs, the feeling that you have landed somewhere very very far from home….and oh, the sights! Temples, shrines, smoke, monkeys, winding narrow streets and alleys, and shops filled with cashmere scarves and wooden carvings, not to mention the overwhelming crowds and traffic. It’s sensory overload. Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal and the center of an ancient trade route between India and Tibet. It’s also the last stop to shop for gear before heading off to climb the Nepalese side of Mount Everest. Outsiders were not allowed into the kingdom of Nepal until the 1950s and the 1960s attracted a hippy crowd in search of legal hash….I am quite certain I saw a few who never left. Several people asked me why I was traveling to this far off and strange land of temples, monasteries, mountains and mystery. In the words of the famous Everest climber George Mallory, I simply answered, “Because it’s there….”
Well this is a tough one. If you are traveling from the US you will need to make at least one stop. The flight from New York I took stopped in Qatar (The flight time was around 12 hours). From there, the flight to Kathmandu took around 4.5 additional hours!!! “Are we there yet???” You will need a visa to enter Nepal. Save the time and frustration of buying it when you arrive by applying online. We learned the hard way. There were several outdated kiosks with long lines at the airport when we landed and the printers were out of order. The visa costs $30 USD and nobody bothers to look at the application after you spend the time to fill it out.
What to Do
Visit the Swayambhunath Temple.. AKA The Monkey Temple – A 365 step climb (one for every day of the year) with hundreds of mischievous monkeys along the way and amazing views from the top. This site has been in use since the 5th century and the monkeys that roam the surrounding area are considered sacred. We visited on a holy day when the crowds were intense and the smell of incense was overwhelming. Oh… the excitement!! But Oh… the chaos!
Take a tour of the Pashupatinath Temple – This was disturbingly intriguing. We actually witnessed a cremation ceremony in progress. The temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Nepal and listed as a World UNESCO Site. The cremation ritual includes placing salt and other food items in the mouth of the deceased after washing their feet in the river. At this temple they wash them in the Bagmati River that flows through the site.. I must admit that watching this was somewhat unsettling and left me feeling like an uninvited guest. Anyone can watch these ceremonies and from what I understand, there is usually one going on throughout the day. It is definitely a unique experience.
Walk through the ancient city of Patan – This was a fantastic stop. We spent time visiting the Patan Museum, formally a royal palace to one of the local kings (originally built in 1734). The museum contains sacred art from the region and the architecture is amazing. We also walked around the square to view the temples and shrines. There is a fee to enter Patan and a booth where someone collects the 1,000 rupees. I wish I had spent more time exploring this town, unfortunately we took a day tour that included 3 other stops and did not have as much time as needed. In my opinion, the Sacred Heritage Day Tour crams too many important sites into 5 or 6 hours. My advice would be to visit Patan on a separate tour, or simply alone by taxi.
Take a ride on the Chandragin Cable Car – This was a great way to spend a few hours out in the fresh air and away from the chaos of Kathmandu. A cab ride from Thamel took around 45 minutes and cost about 3,000 rupees (less than $30 USD) (R/T with a 3 hr wait for us to tour the mountain) The cable car ride up the mountain takes about 10 minutes and the views from the top are stunning. A flashback of a cable car ride in Hong Kong gone wrong occurred when our car came to an abrupt stop and we waited for what seemed like an eternity… but fortunately history did not repeat itself! There was a lot to do at the top of Chandragin Hill including a temple, a zip-line, a restaurant, several viewpoints looking out at the Himalayas and a giant terrifying sky swing on the edge of a cliff. There’s even an opportunity to ride horses! You can opt to take the cable car R/T, or hike back down. We opted for the R/T ticket, said no to the “Swing of Terror” and decided that visiting Nepal was adventurous enough. The R/T ticket costs $22. USD. Side note: The cable car shuts down from 1230 to 130 so that the operators can have lunch…
Visit Bauddhanath Stupa – This was a fun stop. A Stupa is a religious monument in Nepal. There were a ton of shops and Restaurants surrounding this stupa. You used to be able to climb it, but it was closed for climbing when we were there. That’s just stupa-d!!
Go Trekking!!!!! – We travelled 2 hours up into the mountains to spend a few nights away from the hectic city of Kathmandu and do some moderate trekking. The ride up to Nagarkot was not for the faint of heart. Hair pin turns, a steep ascent and parts of the route where the road ended and off roading began. And those were the easy parts…Don’t worry, we were in a tiny economy sized vehicle with a six fingered driver. Guard rails? what are guard rails? Our driver would actually speed up as we approached blind turns and beep the horn in case someone was coming down (or maybe to scare the goats out of the road)…. It was like a sick game of; “Will We Survive the Drive?”. The resort we reached at the end of the road? Amazing!!! It was such a peaceful oasis. Sitting at over 7,000 feet above sea level, The Fort Resort was everything I hoped for. Rustic, cozy, remote and welcoming. Speaking of welcoming… A spider the size of a hamster was waiting in our room one morning to greet us…I didn’t even know spiders could get that big. We could actually SEE IT’S EYES!!!! So back to the trekking… After an amazing breakfast on the patio, we took a 5 plus hour hike with our hotel manager as our guide. We passed through farms, a small town and wheat terraces along the way. We also encountered a 4 foot snake on our path. He made me forget all about the freakishly large spider in my room. We were suppose to have spectacular views of the Himalayan mountains throughout the hike…..instead we had the most incredible views of clouds. I was amazed at how much Mount Everest looked like Mount Fuji… Just pure white fog as far as you could see. Oh great mountains of the world, why do you elude me??
Spend an hour at the MONA – (acronym for the Museum Of Napalese Art). Not only was the museum worthwhile, but the surrounding gardens are a peaceful hideaway from the hustle and bustle in Kathmandu. The museum focuses on the artwork of modern day artists in Nepal.
Visit a local school – I reached out to a school I found through a Google search months before our trip to arrange a visit and find out what supplies they were in need of. They were so welcoming and introduced me to all of the students. It was such a great way to get to know the people and learn more about their culture. Using up space in my luggage to transport the Art supplies for the school left more room in my luggage for souvenirs on my return flight! The school I visited is called Manasarovar Academy. It was originally started by 3 wonderful women and 8 Tibetan refugees. It has grown to about 1,000 students (mostly refugees from Tibet). The children all spoke English…it’s their THIRD language!!!
Take a cooking class with a local – We took a dinner class with Nepal Cooking School. The $30 USD fee goes directly to improve the education of girls in remote areas of Nepal as well as helping to fund the reconstruction of schools destroyed during the 2015 earthquake. The class included 2 appetizers, a main course and a dessert that you eat as you make. The food was delicious…. complements to the chef….that would be me! Although it was a fun idea, the class went on for hours and we were exhausted by the end.
Spend a day in Bhaktapur – This is a really cool medieval city and another World UNESCO Site. We actually stayed a night here. Again, a fee is collected at the entrance gates of the city ( $15 USD per person). There are tons of temples, museums and shrines throughout Bhaktapur. There’s also a pottery square where you can watch artists creating beautiful bowls and a woodcarving square with a variety of carvings to buy and the opportunity to see artists at work. The admission to this city includes entrance to one of the famous temples as well. However, my favorite temple was Pashupatinath because of the erotic carvings on the woodwork all around the outside of the temple. There was a lot of “wood”. Literally. Unfortunately, I did not know that there was also a temple nearby with elephant sculptures out front doing nasty things…THAT would have been my favorite!
Take a heart stopping drive up to Namo Buddha Monastery – We hired a driver to bring us an hour and a half into the mountains to visit this monastery. The drive was a bit insane with giant craters and boulders on a narrow steep dirt road for a considerable part of the trip. I may or may not have whimpered in fear during one part. My travel companion was much better at suffering in silence. We spent about an hour exploring and enjoying the amazing views. There are the traditional prayer flags and prayer wheels throughout the monastery, as well as a stupa at the top.
Where to Eat
Rosemary Kitchen Cafe- Kathmandu
Czech Pub-Thamel area in Kathmandu. The food and atmosphere were great!
The Bakery Room Kgh – Thamel (In the garden where the MONA is located)
The Peacock Guest House- Bhaktapur
Where To Stay
Ramada Kathmandu – This place was in a great location with a fantastic roof deck pool and bar. Breakfast was……interesting…
The Fort Resort in Nagarkot– I cannot say enough good things about this place…. The atmosphere was terrific, the staff were so accommodating and the included breakfast was the best! We had a roof deck terrace a few steps from our room where we went at 530 am to watch the sun rise each morning. We were also included in an Indian/Napalese wedding that was occurring during our stay!!!!! For my Seinfeld fans, I was waiting for Suzanne Mishky to show up as the bride… I must also mention that the hotel pays the salary of one local school teacher each year AND they built a shelter/ community center to house people in the surrounding hills who lost their homes during the 2015 earthquake. So they are number one as far as I am concerned!
The Peacock Guest House in Bhaktapur – This is a 700 year old building used as a monastery at one point in time. There’s a great restaurant in the center that serves the best pancakes I’ve ever had… any time of day. The included breakfast consists of the famous regional yogurt (so good) eggs, fruit, toast and coffee. There’s also a historic woodcarving shop on the first floor still used to this day. The owner was beyond friendly and helpful. The location can’t be beat.
-Do not drink the water
-Do try the yak cheese
-Carry toilet paper everywhere… public bathrooms do not “spare a square!!!”
-Dress modestly, especially when visiting temples. carry a scarf for shoulders and remember to take those shoes off before entering.
-Get travel insurance with medical coverage and emergency evacuation insurance..
-Be aware that there are a lot of street dogs in Nepal. So so many.. They didn’t seem to bother anyone, but I was afraid of them and never got used to the fact that they were everywhere. Rabies is prevalent in Nepal.
– Pack some older clothes that you can donate at the end of your trip. It frees up room in your luggage for things you buy, and helps someone in need. I brought an older pair of sneakers and a few shirts that I no longer wanted and left them for the woman who cleaned the rooms at the guest house. The front desk girl was so appreciative and happy to take them for her.
- The air quality in Kathmandu Valley is the poorest I’ve ever experienced. There is so much dust and car exhaust that it actually effected my breathing and caused a dry cough. Some people wore scarves over their mouths, which seemed to help somewhat.
Things I Wish I Had Time to Do
- Koban Monastery which is supposed to be beautiful and offers meditation and yoga classes. They still have not reopened to the public since the pandemic began.
- Kailashnath Mahadev Statue which is the 2nd tallest Hindu deity statue in the world . Along with a visit to this statue, there is a 738 foot suspension bridge crossing over the highway and affording views of the Himalayas..
- Narayanhiti Palace Museum. This museum is the former residence of the royal families of Kathmandu.
Things I Wish I Were Brave Enough To Do
- Mount Everest sightseeing plane ride. I wanted to do this so badly. Then I discovered that Nepal’s airlines have a 1/7 safety rating and are not even permitted to fly in Europe. This made the tour sound somewhat risky. Reviews of the planes did not ease my mind at all. Thanks. No thanks.
- Trek to Namche Bazaar. This was my all time dream. After reading the book, Into Thin Air, this was on my bucket list. It’s a hike that takes you along the first few days of the trail to Everest Base Camp. It’s not even close to climbing Everest, but you cross a series of famous footbridges, hike through Sagarmatha National Park and get to see the Himalayas and Everest up close and personal. Not to mention the Yak caravans and Sherpa villages. Why didn’t we go? Not because we couldn’t handle the hike…not because I’m afraid of leeches… and the altitude? I’ve skied at higher altitudes.. but you must fly 25 minutes to Lukla Airport from Kathmandu. Lukla Airport is known as the most dangerous airport in the world!! The runway actually goes UP THE MOUNTAIN. Pair that with the 1/7 safety rating and I chickened out. I wish I were brave enough.
So maybe I have convinced you to travel around the world to this fascinating and far off land…. or perhaps you didn’t need persuading at all. Either way, if you do go,( and I hope you do) leave a little part of yourself there to make it a better place. Take a little something back with you to make your own world better… It’s the reason we travel, isn’t it? Oh!! And if you are in Bhaktapur, don’t miss the naughty humping elephant statues at the Shiva Parvati!!! So sorry I missed them! Namaste and Dhan’ Yavada. (Peace and Thank you)
Into Thin Air– Jon Krakauer… Amazing book, the kind you can’t put down. It’s a true account of the 1996 disastrous Mount Everest expedition. I read it for a second time after I returned from Nepal.
A Year of Buddha’s Wisdom– A short book of meditations and mantras to introduce you to a little Buddhism
Hi Christine! I loved this post!! Since I will never get to any of the foreign places you have visited, I will thoroughly enjoy “traveling” with you through your blog. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts. P.S. I was going to be an art teacher when I grew up, but I think I never grew up! Happy travels. Kellye
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Thank you so much for reading my post! I’m so glad that you enjoyed it! Being an art teacher is a lot of fun and allows me to travel during the summer… your road trips look fun. I will read more of them and maybe find some good tips for a future road trip!
I thought your adventures in Nepal were amazing. Love the fact that you leave something behind when you visit a place. ❤️