Ahhhh Nepal – It’s not everyone’s standard vacation destination. Perhaps it all sounds too hard; after all it is mostly famous for the world’s tallest mountain, Mt Everest (if you’re English), Chomolongma (if you come from the Tibetan Plateau) or Sagamartha (if you’re Nepali). Sure, the mountains always seem to attract the majority of people but I have found a consistent theme with travelers who return from the former
|Bodhinath Stupa – is there a piece of Buddha’s bone inside?|
Hindu Kingdom, they all can’t stop talking about the hospitality of the people. I would argue with Scott Mc that the Nepali’s deserve to be number 1 for the nicest people in the world. Just like the Taj Mahal is not the only reason to go to India, Everest is not the only reason to go to Nepal.
Let’s debunk some myths
Everyone should have Nepal on their travel list somewhere. There are probably more myths shrouding Nepal right now than there are clouds covering it in the monsoon season. The main reason many people have put their visit to Nepal on hold over the last few years is surely related to the many stories written, and read, about the Maoist insurgency. I’m here to honestly tell you it has affected the lives of the local Nepali people more than it has tourists and it is very safe for people to go to Kathmandu at the very least. It’s much safer than many parts of San Francisco, or Sydney for that matter, and like many troubled countries on earth going to Nepal (which some see as supporting the Maoists?) comes down to your own travel philosophy – but that’s the only thing that should be stopping you. In April this year the rebel group and government finally agreed to the drawn out peace talks and the Maoists were finally recognized and they joined the government. Even with the first Maoist minister resigning from his post as Forest Minister just the other day analysts all agree it is unlikely this will bring apart the eight party coalition government. Things are looking great for Nepal and thank god, because the people just don’t deserve it.
It’s also not that cold in Kathmandu, rather, it gets quite hot! You are not climbing Everest, in which case it would be, you are in Kathmandu, elevation 4,445 feet, and much warmer in winter than say, Chicago. No altitude sickness here. Nepal has every climate zone on earth ranging from the green, lush, animal filled terrain bordering India to the top of the world, literally. If you are willing to travel to San Francisco in summer then you should have no problems with Kathmandu in winter. It is quite rare to see snow in Kathmandu.
And what’s all this hullabaloo about the monsoon? Yeah, it comes, and it comes hard, but the main reason people don’t traveling to Nepal during monsoon season is because the clouds blocks the view of the highest mountains on earth. Fair enough. But there is no reason why you cannot visit Kathmandu outside the popular October – May period if you just want a taste of the culture. Do pack your raincoat though; it really is a delightful season to experience in Asia.
Okay, that wasn’t the most inspiring piece written to get you interested in Kathmandu but you gotta get your facts straight before you can dream further.
Make Kathmandu a 3-day extension from New Delhi
For all of you traveling to India why not consider buying a round-trip Delhi – Kathmandu ticket. You CAN purchase this flight on the internet, and to make it even easier, you can obtain your visa on arrival. I personally encourage getting your visa on arrival due to the fact that the line of people coming off the aircraft with a visa is usually much longer than the line of those without one. Much quicker, very painless, just have some cash and photos ready. The flight is only an hour and a half from Delhi and it will end up being a bucket load cheaper than flying from Bangkok. If you do choose to fly from Bangkok get a Thai flight if your time is limited. A Royal Nepali flight is fine and safe, just not always on time.
|Himalayan vista from Nagarkot|
Okay, we’re here. Now what?
If you are limited on time there are numerous things to do in and around Kathmandu and the Kathmandu Valley. You don’t have to hit the hills to get a cultural experience, or to see the mountains for that matter, but if you’re a purist then trekking, obviously, is the first option…
If the mountains are calling, and an evening canvas soiree is not your thing, then naturally a Himalayan mountain flight from Kathmandu is the only option. Nepali pilots seem to have nerves of steel and they really are quite brilliant. A Himalayan Mountain Flight will allow you to see more than just one 8,000 meter peak, so for the armchair peak grabbers out there make sure you do this one. What could be better than checking ‘world’s tallest mountain’ off the travel list?
Don’t like the air then that’s alright (although I’d be interested to know how you plan to get there). Kathmandu’s streets offers very vivid scenes of sub-continent living but it is much more relaxed, and cleaner, than New Delhi. You’ll see your first sights of the Sherpa legend (read small people carrying ridiculously large loads) like men carrying furniture such as fridges or lounges on their heads. It certainly is a site to behold. I’ll never forget my best friend firing off 2 roles of film (36 exposures mind you) between the airport and the hotel in his rush to capture everything he could see.
Nepal was, until very recently, a Hindu Kingdom with the majority of Nepali’s following the Hindu faith. Despite the claim that Buddha was actually born in Nepal the Buddhist influence is isolated, mainly to the Solu Khumbu region (where Everest lives) as this region borders Tibet. A lot of Tibetan refugees have fled into Nepal and down into the relative heat of Kathmandu and you can support them by purchasing some of their goods at Tibetan Refugee Center, just opposite the Bodhinath Stupa, a Kathmandu must see. Bodhinath is a magnificent stupa, alive with pilgrims from all over the world, and it is believed that a bone fragment of Buddha is housed in the stupa. For contrast, then head down to Pashupatinath a holy Hindu temple on the Bagmati River. WARNING: sensitive stomachs need not go as it is not unusual to see a cremation in progress on the banks of the river. However, while walking through the fabulous Durbar Square the one thing that caught my eye in Kathmandu was this – Nepal has a Kumari, the last LIVING goddess on earth.
|The intriguing Kumari|
Go check it out. She is real and the story on how someone is selected for this not-so-glorious job is simply fascinating. You may need to hang around for a while before she sticks her head out of the window once a day or you can go in September during the Indra Jatra festival where she is paraded through the street. At the end of the day head most like to adjourn to the lively Thamel district full of restaurants, souvenir shops and bars. My tip, go to the Rum Doodle Bar to get that Everest mountaineer feeling. The original wall was signed by Sir Edmund Hillary, after he and Norgay Tenzing summitted Everest in 1953, and the 1 signature has turned into an historical collection of signatures by other climbers who have followed in Ed’s large crampon footsteps. If you are in Kathmandu around the end of May you might even spot a few mountaineers who’ve just come off the mountain. A nice place to soak in history, a meal and Nepali beer.
There are enough ideas above to keep 2 days occupied but if you start itching to get out of Kathmandu then short trips to the historic city of Bhaktapur are worth a look if you want more culture but if you want a Himalayan sunrise then keep going to Nagarkot. Decided you want to dip your toe into the waters of Himalayan trekking, try this little number. Viator has put together a great short stroll through the terraced hills of the Kathmandu Valley that will give you a great insight into the Nepali rural lifestyle and the magic of the mountains. So if Kathmandu is not on your travel list yet go fetch that pen and paper now. Kathmandu is fun, cheap, safe, easier to get to than ever before and has 2 reasons that really leaves other destinations in its wake by comparison – the people and the mighty Himalaya. See you there.