Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is a vibrant city of almost 1.5 million people. It is located smack bang in the middle of the country, like the pupil of an eye overlooking the surrounding mountains.
Kathmandu is used as a major hub for many adventurous tourists who come to the country – whether it be to climb its mountains in the towering Himalayas, or to take in its fascinating culture and history, there is something for everybody.
Unfortunatley, in 2015, the region was rocked by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, where its epicenter was just to the East of Kathmandu. The city is still rebuilding, but the resolve of the locals shows through and it seems that people are now back to business. We hold a very sympathetic bone for Nepal and can bond with them after experiencing a deadly earthquake ourselves. It was interesting to visit the country two years on and see what progress it had made in rebuilding its future.
We visited Kathmandu in September before doing a trek to Everest Base Camp, but had a few days either side of our trek to see what the capital is all about.
Area to stay: Thamel is the trekkers capital of Kathmandu. It is well set up with plenty of hotels, resturants and last minute clothing you can buy before your trek.
Where to stay: We stayed at M-Hotel (link) which was a modern hotel with nice rooms. Reception was open 24 hours and there was a rooftop bar available to guests. Breakfast was included in our daily booking.
Currency: Nepalese Rupees, at time of writing $1AUD = 80 Rupees
Trekking in Kathmandu
There is no shortage of options when you get to Kathmandu in terms of trekking companies. We were recommended by a friend to go with Life Himalaya Trekking as he had trekked with them before.
On our arrival the owner, Shiba Hari, greeted us with a smiling face at the airport and took care of us for our whole time in Nepal. He was always available to answer any questions and to help book any day trips we wanted to do which exploring Kathmandu.
We couldn’t fault this company, and had an amazing time – even enjoying a Nepalese dinner and show on the last night with Shiba as we said our goodbyes to the country.
Kathmandu’s Durbar Square
We did a free walking tour from the Lonely Planet Nepal book (see below) which took us south from our accomodation in Thamel. Walking down the narrow roads and through market places was a good way to see the city. We arrived at Durbar Square, which is where the old royal buildings still stand – albeit with a lot of scaffolding holding it up after the earthquake. To enter Durbar Square, it costs you 1000 Nrs, but will give you access to many old and interesting buildings.
Pro tip: there are some nice rooftop resturants in the area that are worth a visit, giving you a birds eye view over the area.
This world heritage site is definatley worth a visit. A sacred area where Hindu families will bring their recently deceased loved ones to the banks of the holy Bagmati River, just a few kilometers east of Thamel.
Initially, the families will cleanse the body in the river, then will carry the deceased to a prop made of firewood, before saying their last goodbyes and cremating them for all to see.
The interesting thing here is that it is OK to take photos, and there will be a big gallery of people on the other side of the river doing just that. It is an eirey feeling, and you can’t help but think that you are encroaching in peoples misery, but when they themselves take selfies infront of their loved ones, this makes it seem OK.
Entry is 1000 Nrs which will get you in for the whole day, plus the Shiva ceremony that happens after dusk each night.
Swayambhunath Monkey Temple
This ancient archeological site, atop a hill is located about a 45 minute walk from Thamel. Of course, the easier way is to jump in a tuktuk or cyclo if you want a more comfy ride there.
Once there, you will be greeted with a stairway to the heavens, which will surely get the sweat glands working overtime. Not to worry though, as there will be monkeys running around to keep your mind off the heaving in your chest.
Have a massage in Kathmandu
There are plenty of options around massage clinics in the area also. Our hotel was a stones throw away from a little gem called ‘Seeing Hands Nepal‘, where all the practitioners were blind. At $18 USD for a one hour massage, it was a very nice way to wind down after a long day of walking the streets!
Cooking courses in Kathmandu
Imagine going to Nepal, eating all of the good food (trust us, there is a lot) and returning home not knowing how to cook your favourite dish of dal bhat or momos! We couldn’t imagine doing that either, that is why we did a momo cooking course with Social Tours. This crew offer a lot of different trips and are involved in conservation projects and advancing local communities.
We did the momo cooking course which lasted three and a half hours. The tour started with a trip to a local shop close by to buy ingredients. We saw the butcher calve the chicken, and we picked out some vegetables which would later chow down on.
We learnt the ins and outs of how to prepare the meats, vegatables and spices, then the intriquiate detail of folding the momo to make it presentable for serving. Finally, as known, we were able to eat our good work, and after making hundreds, we were able to feed the staff members as well.
The cost of the tour is an interesting one. It is a ‘pay what you think it is worth’ deal, so with no obligations you pay what you could afford and think the last 3 and a half hours of entertainment was worth!
The Garden of Dreams
Your escape from the hustle and bustle of the busy world outside, the Garden of Dreams is a great place to sit back and relax. Only just around the corner from the center of Thamel, this oasis is only 200 Nrs to enter, and you can relax in the serenity of the gardens. Read a book, people watch, or grab a coffee in this well preserved garden.
Cafes/bars in Kathmandu
As Thamel is aimed very much at westerners, naturally, there are a lot of places to fill up on good food. We went to, and recommend, the following places for their unique atmosphere and great dishes
B.K’s Place – For great hot chips – make sure you get the special sauce!
Sams bar – For walls filled with grafitti and a chilled place to grab a drink.
Everest Irish pub – Who doesn’t love a good Irish pub?
The Roadhouse cafe – Great pizzas and a nice brownie skillet for desert!
Himalaya Java Cafe – one of our best finds on the trip. Great brownie and very decent coffee – there is a java cafe in Namche that is definatley worth the visit if you are up that way!
Northfield Cafe – The place where everyone who has climbed Mount Everest visits. This garden resturant will keep you relaxed while you chow down on some well earned food.
Kathmandu has exactly what you are looking. If you want adrenaline, it is right there on the doorstep. If you want to take in the culture, there are plenty of heritage sights. If you want to chill out at the bars, there are a bunch to choose from or if you want to read a book in the gardens or cafes, you can do that too.
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