The mysterious city of Kathmandu, which avoidance is not necessary a heavy loss.

 

Most people arrive in Nepal by plane and it’s rather not possible to avoid a visit of Kathmandu. We decided to postpone the visit of the capitol to the end of our trip, so we could use this time as a buffer in case we needed it. For us the citytrip was a part of the journey, but definitely belonged to the category „If we have some time left, we will go to…“

So here is an insight to what you can expect of visiting Kathmandu, while having a short amount of time at hand or just wanting to keep the time spent short.


Durbar Square.


In most tourist guides the Durbar Square is noted as the main attraction of Kathmandu and a reknown UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a complex of antique temples, shrines and palaces with lavish wood carvings combined with stone. Obviously, a total mix-up of Hindu and Buddhist culture. There are several points where all foreigners are charged an admission fee of 1.000 NRP to enter the area. Close to those points you will be called on by self-proclaimed tourist guides, who offer a tour around the complex. Be aware that there is a high probability to be rushed through the Square and getting little to no valuable historical information from those guys.

We visited Kathmandu almost two years after the earthquake of 2015, but still a lot of constructions were going on. A couple of places were closed up, others were held up with wooden planks or bamboo sticks waiting for restoration. Anyhow it is possible to get an impression of the historic importance of the Durbar Square, which is one of three so called Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu valley. The others are nearby in Patan and Bhaktapur.

The place is pretty crowded and we never found out where it started and where it ended. On one hand it resembles a huge labyrinth where you can find something interesting at any corner. On the other hand you can sneak in easily to realize that there might be more interesting sites in Kathmandu to visit.


 

 


Thamel.


In the first place Thamel is a commercial zone of Kathmandu and since the hippies invaded this place it became a touristic hotspot. Thamel is distinguished by narrow alleys, which are filled with touristic shops and restaurants with cuisines of all kinds. Every now and then you get the sensation to be Alice in Wonderland getting lost in the rabbit warren. In between you will find everything starting from budget-hostel to nice hotels, travel agencies, small grocery shops and mountaineering equipment vendors selling knock-offs. It’s worth the effort of haggle the first price offers as you can bargain up to 50 %. In the evening the visitors are invited into colorful pubs and a dozen nightclubs.

Obviously Kathmandu has a major traffic problem, that is why in Thamel a traffic-calmed zone was installed. This does not mean that you won’t be run over by two-wheelers, who start to ignore the orders in the evening.

A must do is a simple walk through the madness of Thamel. Head towards the narrowest alleys and find yourself in silence in between abandoned and ailing temples. Never the less you will rather not find true nepalese culture or the one special thing in Thamel. Everything is aligned towards western expectations, the supposed to be Nepalese Yak-wook hats are made in China and the beautiful shawls are woven in India, since it is cheaper. Made in Nepal is the smog, the noise and the pestering crowd. A flair, which you are looking for, is long gone.

 


 


Asan Tole Market.


The market of Asan Tole is located between Thamel and Durbar Square being a place full of beans. This place is mostly known for spice dealers, but you will also find metal dishes, saris, showls, bulk good like lentils, jewelery, shoes, clothes and streetfood. The most interesting memories though you will make as a bystander at the brink of the scene. Six roads cross their way at Asan Chowk, where roaring motorbikes, squeaking bicycles, vendors, tourists and daily-working Nepalis hurry by. Additionally, you will find two well attended temples at this place, which leads to the perfect chaos. Real Life. To get to Asan Tole steer towards Ratna Chowk, a big cross-road with a enormous pedestrian bridge. Be aware that it is not the most pleasant thing to keep around here at night. As a rule nothing will occur, but as a non-local you might not feel comfortable, observed and willing to leave as fast as possible.


 


Swayabunath Monkey Temple.


It is supposed to be the oldest Stupa of Nepal, which is situated on high ground above Kathmandu. Nowadays the temple complex is visited by both, Hindus and Buddhists, which come here to pray in unison. The get to the stupa you will have to climb a stairway with around 320 steps starting from the „stone plate with Buddha’s footprints“. On the way you will be greeted by well-behaved monkeys of Swayambhunath, after which the temple is also reknown as monkey temple. Upon reaching the top you will have to pay an admission fee of 200 NRP and be left on your own. Try not to get lost in all the hustle-bustle between praying pilgrims, obtrusive vendors, hidden beggars and a horde of tourists. The climax is reached when a horde of monkey rumbles screaming over the place – welcome to the jungle.

Swayabunath, being a smaller copy of the Boudhanath Stupa, is well attended while having a perfect vista over the smoggy Kathmandu and is reachable within 30 minutes from Thamel by foot.


 


Garden of Dreams.


Kathmandu – is – exhausting. After one and a half days in this city we felt totally worn down. In the beginning we approached the entrance of the Garden with a good portion of scepticism and were not disappointed upon an admission fee of 200 NRP. We stumpled back on the street, went to the next corner store, bought beer and snacks. Subsequently, we went back to the Garden of Dreams and entered the post-colonial quaint oasis of peaceful rest. You will find pavillons, terraces, lawns for sunbathing, fountains and tiny ponds. There are also pillows laying around to make yourself comfortable. We found our sweet spot on one of the terraces and observed a couple of chipmunks frolicking in the bushes.

There is also a so-called Kaiser Café, where you may acquire food and beverages for an excessive price. This location is a relic from the Austrian government, which restored the neglected gardens in the early 2000s.


 

 


Pashupatinath Temple.


Pashupatinath is consecrated to the god Shiva, that is why you find a lot of Saddhus, who mostly originated from India. It is one of the holiest sites for the hinduistic culture and it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. On the banks of the holy Bagmati river
Pashupatinath, dedicated to the god Shiva, is one of the holiest sites in all of Hinduism and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The scattering of the ashes after cremation into the holy Bagmati river improves the chances of reincarnation. At first sight it might be disconcerting to observe families burn the corpses of their beloved ones, while people wash their clothes and kids play in the water just a few feet away. Although Hindus believe that upon cremation the soul leaves the body to reach Nirvana (if the cycle of reincarnation is broken), this site is not one for the faint of heart.

To enter Pashupatinath you have to pay an admission fee of 1000 NRP and will probably be approached by a guide. As non-Hindu you won’t be allowed to enter the main temple, but you can stroll around the rest of the grounds. Especially in the morning, you should direct towards the river, if you want to witness the ceremonies of cremation. A guide might be helpful to give a deeper insight of the ongoing process.


 


Where to eat?


It is theoretically impossible to choose wrongly if looking for food in Kathmandu, because if you actually chose wrong you won’t notice until a couple of hours later…The restaurants in and around Thamel have a respectable price level, which can accommodate with Europe. A dinner for two including drinks will cost around 3000 NRP at any non-exclusive restaurant. In addition, in some cases you will have to pay 13 % VAT (tax) and 10 % service charge as a add-on to the displayed prices. Anyhow, look on the bright side and try smaller food-serving places. You will find anything from Indian and Chinese cuisine to a Pizzeria with a wooden oven – but be aware, there is a catch. In Nepal, the restaurants tend to offer “European” food while having no idea what they are doing: pizza with carrots and cabbage, spaghetti with curry ketchup…We got along pretty well sticking to Tibetan food and have never been disappointed.

 


Where to sleep?


There are plenty possibilites to stay in Kathmandu and the price range could not be wider. We tried with booking.com and were comparing with tripadvisor reviews – honestely, forget it. Probably most comments are pretty fake. The prices start around 2.000 NRP per room, but the main average keeps around 3.000 NRP per night. This is still budget though! Don’t expect too much of a hotel and depending on your plans choose to stay close to the airport or in the middle of Thamel. If you are not depending on staying in Kathmandu it could also be advisable to stay in the suburbs since it is gonna be cheaper, less smoggy and probably much calmer by night.


Locomotion in Kathmandu?


There are three major means of locomotion in Kathmandu: Taxi, Bus or on foot. If calling a taxi you will be charged around 100 NRP per kilometer, but those won’t pass through Thamel either, but use the circle road. Here another hint: look for a Buddhist taxi driver (they are having bows woven through the rims of the wheels or Khatas are dangling from the rear view mirror), otherwise you may end up paying up to 200 NRP per kilometer. A much cheaper way of transportation is the local bus. Almost all buses pass by Ratna Chowk – a oneway drive costs around 20 to 30 NRP. There rarely are bus tickets and you have to pay your fee during the bus ride or before leaving the bus to mostly a young man, who is standing in the door and shouting out the bus destination to potential customers. Ask for help at the bus stations or pay attention to what the bawler is shouting out. Depending on where you are staying at night, you also can keep to walking. This way you are going to witness the real life of the people of Kathmandu and may be offered new insights into the Nepalese cultures behind each crossing.


Tips & Tricks?


Window seats: Depending on from which destination you are approaching Kathmandu and with a little luck with clear weather, you should choose your seats wisely. Left-hand site if coming from Europe, right-hand site if coming from Southeast-Asia. It is a panoramic flight along the Himalayan ridge, where you may catch a glimpse on a couple of the highest peaks of the world. Same applies for domestic flights such as to Pokhara.

Air pollution: While approaching the international airport of Kathmandu you won’t be able to miss the smog, because not only heavy dust but also car fumes will obstruct the view. The smog is getting better the higher you get into the mountain area, but since the roads are in bad shape it will always be very very dusty. After the trekking we invested in respiratory protection, what is pretty common in Nepal. It reduces dry cough, sneezing and a scratchy throat.

Toilet paper and sanitizer: are everybody’s best friend, especially in Kathmandu. On the trek and during the rest of our trip we were confronted by some daring toilets. But Kathmandu put this game to a whole different level…the worst toilets of Kathmandu could make it to the Guinness-Book of records. Do yourself a favor and carry on some TP. In addition, wet wipes are suitable to clean your hands at least superficially before applying a good load of sanitizer.

Cash: As already mentioned in the top-10-facts, the availability of cash by withdrawing is not guaranteed in Nepal. But you will find enough exchange booths in Kathmandu and an above-average amount in Thamel, which accept almost all currencies.

Trekking-outfits and gear: If you are travelling towards the Everest or Annapurna region the probability is very high that you pass by Kathmandu. If you are constricted by weight-limits on your flight or are just not well equipped, you will have the possibility to get outfitted in Kathmandu or Pokhara. But here is a piece of advice, original products cost about the same as in Europe and only knock-offs are somewhat cheaper. Alternatively, you can rent your trekking poles, sleeping bag or other metal gear.

The mysterious city of Kathmandu, which avoidance is not necessary a heavy loss.  

Most people arrive in Nepal by plane and it’s rather not possible to avoid a visit of Kathmandu. We decided to postpone the visit of the capitol to the end of our trip, so we could use this time as a buffer in case we needed it. For us the citytrip was a part of the journey, but definitely belonged to the category „If we have some time left, we will go to…“

So here is an insight to what you can expect of visiting Kathmandu, while having a short amount of time at hand or just wanting to keep the time spent short.

Durbar Square.

In most tourist guides the Durbar Square is noted as the main attraction of Kathmandu and a reknown UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a complex of antique temples, shrines and palaces with lavish wood carvings combined with stone. Obviously, a total mix-up of Hindu and Buddhist culture. There are several points where all foreigners are charged an admission fee of 1.000 NRP to enter the area. Close to those points you will be called on by self-proclaimed tourist guides, who offer a tour around the complex. Be aware that there is a high probability to be rushed through the Square and getting little to no valuable historical information from those guys.

We visited Kathmandu almost two years after the earthquake of 2015, but still a lot of constructions were going on. A couple of places were closed up, others were held up with wooden planks or bamboo sticks waiting for restoration. Anyhow it is possible to get an impression of the historic importance of the Durbar Square, which is one of three so called Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu valley. The others are nearby in Patan and Bhaktapur.

The place is pretty crowded and we never found out where it started and where it ended. On one hand it resembles a huge labyrinth where you can find something interesting at any corner. On the other hand you can sneak in easily to realize that there might be more interesting sites in Kathmandu to visit.

Thamel.

In the first place Thamel is a commercial zone of Kathmandu and since the hippies invaded this place it became a touristic hotspot. Thamel is distinguished by narrow alleys, which are filled with touristic shops and restaurants with cuisines of all kinds. Every now and then you get the sensation to be Alice in Wonderland getting lost in the rabbit warren. In between you will find everything starting from budget-hostel to nice hotels, travel agencies, small grocery shops and mountaineering equipment vendors selling knock-offs. It’s worth the effort of haggle the first price offers as you can bargain up to 50 %. In the evening the visitors are invited into colorful pubs and a dozen nightclubs.

Obviously Kathmandu has a major traffic problem, that is why in Thamel a traffic-calmed zone was installed. This does not mean that you won’t be run over by two-wheelers, who start to ignore the orders in the evening.

A must do is a simple walk through the madness of Thamel. Head towards the narrowest alleys and find yourself in silence in between abandoned and ailing temples. Never the less you will rather not find true nepalese culture or the one special thing in Thamel. Everything is aligned towards western expectations, the supposed to be Nepalese Yak-wook hats are made in China and the beautiful shawls are woven in India, since it is cheaper. Made in Nepal is the smog, the noise and the pestering crowd. A flair, which you are looking for, is long gone.

Asan Tole Markt.

The market of Asan Tole is located between Thamel and Durbar Square being a place full of beans. This place is mostly known for spice dealers, but you will also find metal dishes, saris, showls, bulk good like lentils, jewelery, shoes, clothes and streetfood. The most interesting memories though you will make as a bystander at the brink of the scene. Six roads cross their way at Asan Chowk, where roaring motorbikes, squeaking bicycles, vendors, tourists and daily-working Nepalis hurry by. Additionally, you will find two well attended temples at this place, which leads to the perfect chaos. Real Life. To get to Asan Tole steer towards Ratna Chowk, a big cross-road with a enormous pedestrian bridge. Be aware that it is not the most pleasant thing to keep around here at night. As a rule nothing will occur, but as a non-local you might not feel comfortable, observed and willing to leave as fast as possible.

Swayabunath Monkey Temple.

It is supposed to be the oldest Stupa of Nepal, which is situated on high ground above Kathmandu. Nowadays the temple complex is visited by both, Hindus and Buddhists, which come here to pray in unison. The get to the stupa you will have to climb a stairway with around 320 steps starting from the „stone plate with Buddha’s footprints“. On the way you will be greeted by well-behaved monkeys of Swayambhunath, after which the temple is also reknown as monkey temple. Upon reaching the top you will have to pay an admission fee of 200 NRP and be left on your own. Try not to get lost in all the hustle-bustle between praying pilgrims, obtrusive vendors, hidden beggars and a horde of tourists. The climax is reached when a horde of monkey rumbles screaming over the place – welcome to the jungle.

Swayabunath, being a smaller copy of the Boudhanath Stupa, is well attended while having a perfect vista over the smoggy Kathmandu and is reachable within 30 minutes from Thamel by foot.

Garden of Dreams.

Kathmandu – is – exhausting. After one and a half days in this city we felt totally worn down. In the beginning we approached the entrance of the Garden with a good portion of scepticism and were not disappointed upon an admission fee of 200 NRP. We stumpled back on the street, went to the next corner store, bought beer and snacks. Subsequently, we went back to the Garden of Dreams and entered the post-colonial quaint oasis of peaceful rest. You will find pavillons, terraces, lawns for sunbathing, fountains and tiny ponds. There are also pillows laying around to make yourself comfortable. We found our sweet spot on one of the terraces and observed a couple of chipmunks frolicking in the bushes.

There is also a so-called Kaiser Café, where you may acquire food and beverages for an excessive price. This location is a relic from the Austrian government, which restored the neglected gardens in the early 2000s.

Pashupatinath Temple.

Pashupatinath is consecrated to the god Shiva, that is why you find a lot of Saddhus, who mostly originated from India. It is one of the holiest sites for the hinduistic culture and it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. On the banks of the holy Bagmati river
Pashupatinath, dedicated to the god Shiva, is one of the holiest sites in all of Hinduism and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The scattering of the ashes after cremation into the holy Bagmati river improves the chances of reincarnation. At first sight it might be disconcerting to observe families burn the corpses of their beloved ones, while people wash their clothes and kids play in the water just a few feet away. Although Hindus believe that upon cremation the soul leaves the body to reach Nirvana (if the cycle of reincarnation is broken), this site is not one for the faint of heart.

To enter Pashupatinath you have to pay an admission fee of 1000 NRP and will probably be approached by a guide. As non-Hindu you won’t be allowed to enter the main temple, but you can stroll around the rest of the grounds. Especially in the morning, you should direct towards the river, if you want to witness the ceremonies of cremation. A guide might be helpful to give a deeper insight of the ongoing process.

Where to eat?

It is theoretically impossible to choose wrongly if looking for food in Kathmandu, because if you actually chose wrong you won’t notice until a couple of hours later…The restaurants in and around Thamel have a respectable price level, which can accommodate with Europe. A dinner for two including drinks will cost around 3000 NRP at any non-exclusive restaurant. In addition, in some cases you will have to pay 13 % VAT (tax) and 10 % service charge as a add-on to the displayed prices. Anyhow, look on the bright side and try smaller food-serving places. You will find anything from Indian and Chinese cuisine to a Pizzeria with a wooden oven – but be aware, there is a catch. In Nepal, the restaurants tend to offer “European” food while having no idea what they are doing: pizza with carrots and cabbage, spaghetti with curry ketchup…We got along pretty well sticking to Tibetan food and have never been disappointed.

Where to slepp?

There are plenty possibilites to stay in Kathmandu and the price range could not be wider. We tried with booking.com and were comparing with tripadvisor reviews – honestely, forget it. Probably most comments are pretty fake. The prices start around 2.000 NRP per room, but the main average keeps around 3.000 NRP per night. This is still budget though! Don’t expect too much of a hotel and depending on your plans choose to stay close to the airport or in the middle of Thamel. If you are not depending on staying in Kathmandu it could also be advisable to stay in the suburbs since it is gonna be cheaper, less smoggy and probably much calmer by night.

Locomotion in Kathmandu?

There are three major means of locomotion in Kathmandu: Taxi, Bus or on foot. If calling a taxi you will be charged around 100 NRP per kilometer, but those won’t pass through Thamel either, but use the circle road. Here another hint: look for a Buddhist taxi driver (they are having bows woven through the rims of the wheels or Khatas are dangling from the rear view mirror), otherwise you may end up paying up to 200 NRP per kilometer. A much cheaper way of transportation is the local bus. Almost all buses pass by Ratna Chowk – a oneway drive costs around 20 to 30 NRP. There rarely are bus tickets and you have to pay your fee during the bus ride or before leaving the bus to mostly a young man, who is standing in the door and shouting out the bus destination to potential customers. Ask for help at the bus stations or pay attention to what the bawler is shouting out. Depending on where you are staying at night, you also can keep to walking. This way you are going to witness the real life of the people of Kathmandu and may be offered new insights into the Nepalese cultures behind each crossing.

Tips & tricks?

Window seats: Depending on from which destination you are approaching Kathmandu and with a little luck with clear weather, you should choose your seats wisely. Left-hand site if coming from Europe, right-hand site if coming from Southeast-Asia. It is a panoramic flight along the Himalayan ridge, where you may catch a glimpse on a couple of the highest peaks of the world. Same applies for domestic flights such as to Pokhara.

Air pollution: While approaching the international airport of Kathmandu you won’t be able to miss the smog, because not only heavy dust but also car fumes will obstruct the view. The smog is getting better the higher you get into the mountain area, but since the roads are in bad shape it will always be very very dusty. After the trekking we invested in respiratory protection, what is pretty common in Nepal. It reduces dry cough, sneezing and a scratchy throat.

Toilet paper and sanitizer: are everybody’s best friend, especially in Kathmandu. On the trek and during the rest of our trip we were confronted by some daring toilets. But Kathmandu put this game to a whole different level…the worst toilets of Kathmandu could make it to the Guinness-Book of records. Do yourself a favor and carry on some TP. In addition, wet wipes are suitable to clean your hands at least superficially before applying a good load of sanitizer.

Bargeldverfügbarkeit: As already mentioned in the top-10-facts, the availability of cash by withdrawing is not guaranteed in Nepal. But you will find enough exchange booths in Kathmandu and an above-average amount in Thamel, which accept almost all currencies.

Trekking-outfits and gear: If you are travelling towards the Everest or Annapurna region the probability is very high that you pass by Kathmandu. If you are constricted by weight-limits on your flight or are just not well equipped, you will have the possibility to get outfitted in Kathmandu or Pokhara. But here is a piece of advice, original products cost about the same as in Europe and only knock-offs are somewhat cheaper. Alternatively, you can rent your trekking poles, sleeping bag or other metal gear.