A Way Too Short Week in Nepal – Kathmandu & Around
I’ll be honest – I never dreamt of visiting Nepal. Besides the fact that it’s a starting point for mount Everest expeditions – I knew nothing about this magical country. So, how did we end up there?
We knew we are coming back to New Delhi for a wedding of my near and dear friend in October. That’s right, a proper Indian wedding! We were over the top excited! No one travels so far for only a week, so we were certain we have to extend the wedding trip to two weeks. And it was then I spotted Nepal in the map. It looked so close to Delhi and an hour flight seemed like a proper time saver. And there we were, landing in Kathmandu in the middle of October.
The first thing that hits us already at the visa counter is how lovely Nepalese people are. I knew we were going to enjoy Nepal so much! On a more practical note, Nepal has visa on arrival which makes everything very simple. You just fill in the arrival card, scan your passport and fill in a form at one of the computer machines at the airport. Pay 25$ for 15-day visa at the counter and then go through the migration control. As everywhere in Asia, you have several options of transportation to get to your hotel from the airport. We like to use a pre-paid taxi service and skip the hustle of bargaining with public taxi drivers. The trip to Thamel from the airport costed us 750 Nepalese rupees (around 5euros).
Thamel is the Khao San road of Kathmandu. Most of the hotels, eateries and shopping places are located here. But don’t be put off by the touristic sound of it. Just a short walk to any direction you will find the real Kathmandu. My man wasn’t very lucky and got a belated “Delhi Belly” which unfortunately stranded him for couple of days in the hotel trying to get better. Luckily, getting the right medicine from a pharmacy there was super easy. I was so eager to explore Nepal so I tried waking up early to just stroll around before the city wakes up, visit the markets and find the vegan places for our lunches.
Streets of Kathmandu are safe to walk alone, just learn how to do sightseeing and watching out for motorbikes at the same time. Besides one monk that offered a blessing to me (put the red tika on my forehead) I was barely spoken to throughout all my promenades.
If you are more sensitive to air pollution, I would recommend investing in a good air mask. City is located in the valley of Himalaya and there’s barely any wind. The amount of the traffic really makes your throat itchy.
Once my man was feeling slightly better, I couldn’t wait for us to explore all the places that we planned to visit.
This temple is one of the most religious sites in the whole Asia. Someone told us that every Hindu believer has to visit Pashupatinath Temple atleast once in their lifetime. We knew it’s going to be amazing! What we didn’t know though, is the fact that cremation ceremonies are happening throughout the whole day by the river bank there. Maybe it wasn’t the best choice for the first destination for someone that just had a food poisoning because the smell hits you straight away. Again, it depends on how sensitive you are, but for me it wasn’t too unpleasant.
You have to pay an entry fee of 1000 rupees to enter the area. However, only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple itself. Area is huge, so there was a lot to see around and the views from the top of the hill on the other side of the river bank were breathtaking. We were there at the time of Dashain so a lot of the families were having gatherings with food and performing offering rituals.
Another bookmark on our map was Boudhanath Stupa. It’s one of the biggest stupas in the world and oh my, it looked stunning! If I remember correctly, we paid something like 400 rupees each to enter the area, which seemed surprisingly low if you compare with other sites! Stupa is sort of built in the middle of the square with loads of restaurants and souvenir shops, which gives you a good spot for lunch with awesome views.
After some research and lack of time, we decided to skip the famous Durbar square of Kathmandu and head straight to Bhaktapur town which is also known for its own Durbar square. This one wasn’t as much affected by the earthquake in 2015 as the main Durbar square in Kathmandu. To enter Bhaktapur you pay 1500 rupees entry fee. If you plan on several entries through your holiday, let the guards know so that they mark your ticket. We wanted to explore the town, sleep over and move on, so one entry was enough. We stayed at a lovely Kumari Guest House just besides the Durbar square. It was one of the hotels that actually took my comment on the booking seriously and served me vegan banana pancakes for breakfast without even asking! That’s service!
Bhaktapur is simply beautiful. The history touches you, fresher mountain air hits you. It was then I actually felt I was in the real Nepal. You don’t have to plan anything, just enjoy the views and get lost in the narrow streets.
One of the things we really wanted to see was the mount Everest. Therefore, we had to go a bit higher in the mountains. We decided to head to Nagarkot village with fingers crossed for a clear sky. Nagarkot has couple of hotels that mainly are booked only for a night stay with the main goal of sitting back and enjoying the tops of the Himalayas. We chose The Fort Resort and couldn’t be happier! Though the weather wasn’t on our site and we did see only a little sneak peek of Dorje Lapka Mount (7 KM) through the clouds, we had a great time hiking around the village with fantastic views and breathing the freshest mountain air!
Practical note: the road to Nagarkot isn’t pleasant. But Nepalese cars can take it, so don’t take the comments about the road condition from the taxi drivers for granted. It’s their way to make you pay more. Another thing is road taxes. You will be stopped on the way to Nagarkot in every municipality and they will ask you to pay about 300 rupees on each pull over. We paid once, but then it just seemed strange to be pulled over three more times. Luckily, our taxi driver explained us that this isn’t really legal and it’s out of control and was really helpful in communicating our unwillingness to pay the taxes for other two pull overs and they did let us go without paying. Keep the first ticket you bought for the return journey because it’s the same story all over.
After Nagarkot we took a taxi straight to Patan city. With only 5 km apart from Kathmandu it feels more as a suburb than a city itself. Officially, you have to pay to enter the city as well. But our hotel owner explained to us that if you stay at any hotel in the square, you don’t have to pay the entry fee. However, the guard wasn’t really on the same page but he just gave up arguing with me and went away.
We stayed at a beautiful Temple House hotel which actually was a real temple before. It was the eve of the main Dashain day, so most of the places and restaurants closed very early. In general, there is no night life in Nepal. Zero. Once it gets dark, there aren’t any city lights and by 8 o’clock cities are emptying up and everything starts closing up. So, we did have very early nights in Nepal, which wasn’t so bad, considering 4 a.m parades every morning with drums through the city streets due to Dashain festival. Of course, Thamel area is a bit of an exception.
After a night in Patan we came back to Thamel for the last night before the flight, spent our day shopping the last bits and pieces of the souvenirs and also walked to Swayambhunath temple also called a “Monkey Temple”. It’s a walkable distance from Thamel for those who like exploring not so pretty neighborhoods. Temple sits on the top of a staircase with 365 steps full of wild monkeys playing around and keeping your eyes busy. Once you are on the top, you can enjoy a beautiful city panorama. A perfect spot for a last goodbye glimpse of Kathmandu!
Vegan in Nepal
As everywhere, good research is the key to your vegan happiness while traveling. Traditional Nepalese food is somewhat similar to Indian food, so most of the food names were familiar to me and it was pretty simple to find vegan options. Then, of course, there’s the famous momos dumplings! I couldn’t wait to try it! From what I read, I got the idea that veg momos is available in almost every restaurant that serves momos. However, reality wasn’t as sweet as I had hoped so. So many places we went, didn’t serve veg momos, only the ones with meat. So, check the menu first before you sit down. We aren’t really afraid of more “local” looking places to eat so for us to find a place to eat isn’t so difficult. We did go to some touristic restaurants in some location, it couldn’t be avoided. And funny enough, the worst experience I had was in a very touristic restaurant in the heart of Thamel. While I was finishing my fried noodles, I noticed dried cockroach in my plate! Basically, who knows how many of them I ate without even noticing it.
Throughout our trip we went to only one all vegetarian restaurant and I managed to find vegan options at a non-veg places. So, don’t worry too much about the food!
I don’t really remember all the names of the restaurants, but here’s the few I remember and recommend if you are ever in Nepal.
Sarangi Vegetarian Restaurant
Shiva Complex, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
Mamaru Galli Patko, Patan 44700, Nepal
A tiny place serving momos and pizza. Perfect for getting some take away momos and finding a place with a view to enjoy it.
Thamel Momo Hut
Thamel Marg, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
Pho 99 Thamel
JP Road Thamel, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
PS. We did see the Himalayas in it’s all glory from the plane on the way back!! But we are still going to come back for a closer look at the mountains some day!