Nepal is a fascinating country! And its people are the most resigned and friendly we’ve met so far. Worth visiting often!
On Nepal, we will have 3 different web pages in this blog (hopefully 4 next year with Trekking Upper Mustang!):
1. This page, about just visiting some places in Nepal
2. Trekking the Manaslu Circuit
3. Trekking around Pokhara: Poonhill and further (2020: from Kagbeni to Gorepani)
4. For 2020: the Upper Mustang trek
On this page we want to write a bit about
1. Kathmandu and Kathmandu Valley
2. Kathmandu Valley – places to stay
3. Kathmandu – places to eat
4. The LAST RESORT
6. POKHARA and AROUND
7. Some NEPALI phrases
1. KATHMANDU VALLEY – sights
For ease of understanding, we define “Kathmandu” as anything in the valley within a range of 2 hours or max 35 km by car from the heart of the city which for a tourist usually is Thamel.
We have not seen much change in Kathmandu (KMD) over the 18 years we have visited except for the number of cars on roads which in quality and numbers are simply not ready to absorb this amount of traffic….
But it remains a fascinating city where multiple ethnicities live peacefully together and where hundreds of deities, gods, goddesses and buddhas are revered as statues, images and symbols and where festivities and holidays seem to be the basis for religious eclecticism and tolerance…
The following sights we consider a must. Visiting them can easily be done in three days:
• Day 1: To experience immediately and fully all enthralling facets of KMD immerse yourself in the old city south of Thamel and in the cluster of streets around Durbar square. The best way to do this is following the 2 walks described in the Lonely Planet (LP): “South from Thamel to Durbar Square” and “South from Durbar square” . Even when you decide not to do these walks, sights not to be missed are:
• Asan Tole: KMD’s busiest marketplace and a trip back in time. You can easily spend an hour here to soak up the ambience and views!
• Itum Bihal: a rather quiet courtyard with some fascinating architecture
• Seto Machhendranath Temple and its courtyard!
• Hanuman Dhoka, the royal palace. (the buildings are closed now for renovation after the earthquake, but the courtyard is open)
• Day 2: Bhaktapur and Patan – the LP has also excellent walks described for both! Set out early morning to Bhaktapur at which time the old city is at its loveliest and quietest (Bhaktapur seems to be always rather quiet anyway). Things certainly to see in Bhaktapur:
• The most elegant Durbar square of the 3 old capitals
• The National Art Gallery
• Explore the courtyard behind the magnificent Golden Gate
• Nyatapola Temple, hard to miss as KMD’s tallest temple.
Patan feels like the poshest of the three former capitals. Things not to miss:
• The Patan museum! Described as the finest museum in Nepal. (Note also that there is an excellent garden café for lunch or afternoon tea outside in the back!)
• The Golden Temple
• Day 3: A visit to KMD is incomplete without seeing the hallucinating temple place of Pashupatinath and the Buddhist Stupa and its round market place of Bodnath. Start early enough in the morning as cremations in Pashupatinath happen mostly in the morning. Walk to Bodnath from there.
• Pashupatinath could provide the first culture shock you have ever experienced as life and death are being celebrated and remembered in unimaginable conditions: erotic sculptures of how honeymoon has to be solemnised by a different copulation position for each of the first seven days after the wedding, overlooking dead bodies and pyres waiting to be ignited along something that was ever a river but looks more like an open sewer now. Fumes of wood and cannabis from Hollywood style sadhus add to the atmosphere and give the whole an ethereal dimension… But at least the sadhus seem to have reached enlightenment already….
• Walk to Bodnath crossing Pashupatinath from the top and down over the walking bridge trough some urban sprawl to the main Stupa and the embellished surroundings but still with a lot of human misery around.
• To flush all haunting memories of the day stop on the way back for the Garden of Dreams at the entrance of North Thamel, a heaven of rest, beauty and tranquillity. And treat yourself at the Kaiser café. Also worth visiting apparently is the adjacent Kaiser Library (but very limited visiting times..!)
• Note that we also visited Swayambhunath on a different day. Another stupa but in some interesting surroundings. And with over-confident monkeys. But not really a must…
• If and when you cannot do some trekking but want to have a feel for the rolling Nepalese countryside and its peoples and you want to get away from the madness of KMD, head for NAMOBUDDHA resort, a 2-hour drive from Thamel. The Hotel derives its name from the adjacent Buddhist Monastery which in itself is not that interesting – unless you have never visited one- and the Stupa at the end of a rather cute little tourist village.
The attraction of the place is to make a guided walk in the surrounding countryside arranged by the Hotel – we had the funny and excellent Binud as a guide !- which can be tailor-made according to your needs. We made a loop of 19 km in 6 hours with a picnic lunch provided by the hotel.
The hotel itself is a heaven of rest and quiet with great views in the morning of the Himalayas (from Ganesh Himal to the Sola Khumbu sub range) and serving excellent vegetarian food!
2. KMD Valley – places we stayed in (and some we would stay again…)
• Thamel: with some streets traffic free now, there is no better choice than this ever-interesting bundle of lanes!
o The KATHMANDU GUEST HOUSE is the best option for location and with its inner garden a sanctuary after a whole day in KMD! With a choice of 55 US $ – 65 US $ and 95 US $ rooms (all taxes and breakfast included). These last 2 have garden views and are the quietest. When staying in the 55 and 65 US $ rooms you may have to deal with overexcited and weakly disciplined youngsters on a school trip to Nepal. Though…
BUT: since mid-2019 the place has been upgrading its facilities with prices accordingly! We paid 80 US $ for a garden room wbf last time. This GH still remains our number one choice.
o A more upmarket place is KANTIPUR Temple House, a Newari style hotel around a nice little garden. But you pay obviously for the maintenance and repair of the place (we paid 147 US$ for a night, bf included, and not really worth the price you pay!)
o A new kid on the block: the ROADHOUSE in Chaksibari Marg, close to the KMD Guest House, worth checking out.
o away from it all: the SUMMIT Hotel
o what looks nice when we passed is the NEWA CHEN Hotel
• Namobuddha resort (see higher)
3. KMD restaurants, places we can recommend:
• Krishnarpan restaurant in the Dwarika Hotel. Go for a typical Newari kitchen set menu of 6 or 9 courses in a magnificent hotel! Worth a visit alone already to enter another world from the moment the front doors open on a crazy street…! But not cheap!
• A much cheaper version: Thamel House in Thamel: good food but served by waiters in between their Whatsapp and Instagram sessions…. ! Also, don’t slip in their slippers after you have taken of your shoes and when going for your table, thinking that the slippers are there for the guests… what happened to me.
• Mihto Café and restaurant: a cool place at the edge of Thamel with pleasant but noisy balcony and with great homemade cakes!
• La Dolce Vita in the middle of Thamel, when craving for some homey foods (but have no anchovy as extra topping on their otherwise excellent pizza’s…. )
• The Restaurant of the Roadhouse Hotel! Very good!
• The Third Eye Indian restaurant: Very good!
4. The LAST RESORT :
• what we can strongly recommend for some outstanding activities is THE LAST RESORT, 100 km or about 4-5 hours driving from Thamel towards the Tibetan border (they also have a booking office in Thamel). We did the 5 day Helambu trek with them – with our children! – and a day of white water rafting on the Bhodi Kosi and 2 days of exhilarating abseiling. These last three days while staying in their fascinating resort. Two of us did also the “swing” – more fun than the bungee jump as the free fall takes longer!
We stayed 2 nights in between coming back from Beshi Shahar, i.e from the Manaslu trek, on our way to Pokhara. You could as well continue and drive all on the same day from Dharapani (even when walking first from Tilche) via Beshi Shahar and Dumre.
From Dumre take a taxi (300 NRP) to Bandipur (20 minutes).
Bandipur is not a bad place to pause when travelling from KMD to Pokhara or vice versa either. It is about in the middle.
Enjoy Bandipur’s ambience as a traffic free, cute and quiet Newari former trade post town with coffee and cakes. (The best cakes were to be found in the Kaushi Inn…..)
We also did the walk to Ramkot which is now for the first 45 minutes along a newly dug dirt road, but which becomes pleasant after, on a trail (the original trail) for the last 30 minutes. For this trail look out for an entrance going up indicated with a red arrow! (Note: the sign for Ramkot outside Bandipur vanished when we did the walk! Leave the village on the Dumre -Bandipur road; about 100 m to the left take : “Ramkot Road”; this is the dirt road!)
Ramkot looks like a real life Bokrijk (for the Belgians amongst us or St Fagans for the Welsh and half of England for the English…) or like a well preserved and brushed up 19th century model village. Not sure whether the locals see it that way, though… Soon, we think bus tours will drive up to the village and the Ramkot Mountain View “resort” could finally see some customers, then.… (Note: the ‘resort” was closed at time of our visit – end of November 2019; we could only buy some cookies. Not much of a hotel anyway.)
We stayed in the Gaun Ghar Hotel in Bandipur: beautiful but expensive! And they urgently need a marketing manager with some practical intelligence putting some life into the place, like … the one next doors: The Old Village Inn! This hotel is alive and kicking with real life and friendly staff, serving alternating local buffet (the best Dal Bhat we had in Nepal so far) and Western buffet. Reserve a table outside on their nice terrace! And their rooms are cheaper and look almost as authentic as next doors!
Bandipur: one or 2 nights suffice as a break! (We didn’t go to the caves nor the temple). 3 hours from here to Pokhara by taxi. 700 NPR.
• Pokhara may easily grow on you (when not in the busy seasons); otherwise probably better not to stay here..??! Or stay on the quieter Northside of the Phewa Lake with quite some good looking GH..
• Alternatives to stay: Sarangkot (new hotels around the Zipline take off; or along the walk up to the View Points of Sarangkot) , Kaskikot (homestay); Begnas Lake or Rupakot Lake (next to each other with some pretty walks we think, particularly around Rupakot.) Stay at the Begnas Lake Resort for high end, the Begnas Coffee and Hotel Lodge for basic to mid end). The ride to the lakes from Pokhara is not that pleasant though- count 1 hour.
• Rent a bike and cycle around the Phewa Lake.
• We went for a mountainbike tour with the Pokhara mtb Adventure Company. We had a great ride all the way up to Sarangkot with views of the Himalaya’s (Highlight is also Kaskikot!) and around the Phewa Lake with a great guide! Unfortunately, the bikes are not that good; otherwise we would have opted for a three-day tour, probably the Royal Tour. We did Poonhill again instead (see: trekking around POKHARA: Poonhill and further ) . We did 41.1 km on the bike in exactly 4 hours, 1065 m up. Highest point : 1583 m.
• We also rented a taxi to go to Begnas and Rupakot Lake. Probably worth staying longer to do some hiking…. But again POONHILL and around seems a better alternative to us! Suggestion for a day walk: From Dhampus via Photana, Tolka, Landruk to Tilche.
• Our favourite restaurants in Pokhara: Moondance (by far!), Concerto, Olive Café. And Metro for pancakes!
• We stayed at Hotel Adam for 40 US$ all inn. Clean and basic, but noisy (neighbouring houses and cafes), but this whole neighbourhood is noisy. (Bring certainly EARPLUGS for Nepal: dogs are the noisiest, music bands match them! Next are humans.) Attraction of Hotel Adam: Adam and his staff – all family – are Jack-of- all-trades, doing the checking in, serving breakfast, carry suitcases up and down, book airline tickets, change money, book trekkings.… One day we even noticed the front guard cleaning tables in full uniform in the breakfast room on the roof..
• Quieter alternatives in Pokhara may be: Lake View Hotel (with Garden), the Glacier Inn, the Waterfront (KGH Group).
• We flew back from Pokhara to KMD with Buddha Air for 110 US$. Sit on the left of the plane at the window. 1.5 hours flight.
• Check out Love Nepal Trekking Company (LN) (Pokhara); Cold Feet Trekking (KMD)
7. USEFUL NEPALI
The problem with names in Nepal is amongst others that there seems to be no official romanisation; also, there are about 300 different dialects And asking a Sherpa how to pronounce something may sound very different from a Newari or a Gurung, each coming with heavy accents; and some places have a couple of names depending on which ethnicity is referring to them. For example Patan is also Lalitpur; Ekle Bahti is also Chisopani. Gyap changes into Gap; Dyeng into Deng… Kathmandu comes from Kasthamandap; You have Tatopani as in “hot water spring” but also Tadapani: “far from water”… .
Anyway, some Nepali phrases will open the doors for you even wider: Enjoy! (the pronunciation of the following is like something between English and Dutch; just practice with Nepali waiters! Note that the pronunciation as I write it may differ from what you see being Romanised)
• Thank you! Danyabat!
• (Very) tasty! (Derei) Meetho Cha!
• Very beautiful! Derei Ramro!
• Very difficult-complicated : Derei Garotscha
• Very expensive: Derei Ma(ha)ngo
• My husband: Mero Buddha, Mero Logne
• My wife: Mero Woody, Mero Swasni
• How are you? Ok! Costa Cha? Thik Cha
• Good morning: Suba Bihainy
• Good day, Hello! Suba Din
• Good Night! Suba Ratri!
• Slow-fast: Bistari – Chito
• Up-down: Ukalo-Oralo
• A cold beer: Chiso Biyar
• Mule: Khachar
• Byebye!: Alavida