Herewith some impressions and recommendations we want to make after having visited Kathmandu again this year. This was our third and most extensive visit to the city. For ease of understanding, we define “Kathmandu” as anything in the valley within a range of 2 hours or about 40 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 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…
Note that the Lonely Planet (LP) was again our excellent travel companion!
1. KATHMANDU VALLEY – sights
The following sights we consider a must. Visiting them can easily be done over 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 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 also has 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 mind-boggling Hindu 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 here in unimaginable forms: 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 be in various stages of enlightenment…
• 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 haven of rest, beauty and tranquillity. And treat yourself at the Kaiser café. Also worthy to visit 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 arranged by the Hotel – we had the funny and excellent Binud as a guide !- which can be tailor-made according to your wants. 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! 105 Euro ++ per night for a medium house (with shower) including bf and dinner for 2.
2. KMD Valley – places we stayed in and 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…
o A slightly more upmarket place is KANTIPUR Temple House, a beautiful Newari style hotel around a nice little garden.
o away from it all: the SUMMIT Hotel
o what looks nice when we passed is the NEWA CHEN Hotel
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 from a crazy street…!
• A cheaper version for Newari food: 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 balcony and with great homemade cakes!
• La Dolce Vita in the middle of Thamel, when craving for some homey foods (but they have no anchovy as extra topping on their otherwise excellent pizza’s…. )
4. OUTSIDE of KMD:
• what we can strongly recommend for now is THE LAST RESORT, 100 km or about 4-5 hours driving from Thamel towards the Tibetan border. See the LP! We did the 5 day Helambu trek with them – with our children, 14 and 16 at the time! – and a day of white water rafting and 2 days of canyoning. These last three days while staying in their nice hotel. Two of us did also the “swing” – more fun than the bungee jump as the free fall takes longer!
• Out of Pokhara we did the POONHILL TREK, also with our children (6 and 8 at the time) ! A not so tough 7 day trek staying in teahouses and going to a maximum of 3200 meter (Poonhill). But any amount of days seems now possible..!
5. MANASLU and TSUM VALLEY TREK
Was the purpose of this visit. Booked but to do at a later date………..