A Travel Guide to Kathmandu
High-tea in a landscaped garden, a day-trip to a town lost in time, colonial-style boutiques, a mystical stupa and much more awaits in the Nepali capital.
1.) Kathmandu Durbar Square
This may be the really obvious sight in the list, but it’s also no disappointment. This is the former site of the Royal Palace, hence the spectacular, fort-like building at its center. But it’s also dotted with stupas that soar several stories into the sky. It remains the historic heart of the capital and the home of the Kumari, Nepal’s living goddess. The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and foreigners must pay to get in: Rs150 for South Asians (Thais included); RS750 for other nationalities.
2.) Garden of Dreams
This neo-classical garden was created in the early 1920s. Its architecture and landscaping is in the Edwardian style and sees pergolas, balustrades, pavilions and verandas surround a maze of alleys and ponds. There are a couple of restaurants inside, but it’s also the perfect spot to sip a cup of milk tea. Rs200 entrance fee. Kaiser Mahal, Tridevi Marg, 977-1-4425340.
3.) Pilgrims Book House
Located in the backpacker district, Kathmandu’s answer to Khao San, this bookshop gives you the chance to check out where hippies in the 70s were opening their chakras. Pop inside and buy a copy of First Light for some bedtime reading, a guide to all the divine beings gracing Nepali temple walls, or some rare, out-of-print photography books on the region. Thamel, JP Road, 977-1-4700942.
4.) Boudhanath Stupa
Probably Kathmandu’s most recognizable site is this massive white stupa topped with a tall central spire strewn with prayer flags. But its most striking feature, apart from its sheer size, are the four hypnotic eyes painted onto it. A very sacred site, it attracts pilgrims, local devotees and monks who come to pray at its foot or spin its prayer wheels (Entrance Rs150 or Rs40 for South Asians [Thais included]). The area is surrounded by numerous temples and you’re just a short walk away from Pashupatinath, Nepal’s most important Hindu temple: the pagoda sits on the Bagmati River, and you’ll be able to spot its sculpted rafters, gilded roof, and silver-plated gates from the outside—but non-Hindus are unfortunately not allowed in.
5.) Bhaktapur Durban Square
A day trip to this small medieval-like town, about a 10km taxi ride from Kathmandu, is considered a must for any visitor to the capital. It shares many of the features of Kathmandu’s Durbar Square: tiered temples, a royal palace and an art museum. As at Durbar Square, cars are forbidden inside the town’s walls, and being so far from the hustle and bustle, the atmosphere is noticeably more relaxed. Rs100 for South Asians (Thais included), Rs1,100 for other nationalities.
6.) Baber Mahal Revisited
For a little bit of shopping—and to satisfy your Western food cravings—Baber Mahal (in Maitighar) is a lovely shopping galleria set in a cowshed and guard house of a historic Rana palace. There, you can browse jewelry and fashion boutiques before having a crepe at restaurant Chez Caroline (014263070).
7.) Patan’s Durbar Square
Patan is across the Bagmati River from Kathmandu, but is still only a short taxi drive away. Its central square is another architectural marvel, with temples, idols, fountains and surrounding traditional homes. Make sure you explore the small streets around the square, too. There are fewer tourists and even more devotees practicing their rituals. Rs25 for South Asians (including Thais), Rs200 for other nationalities.
8.) Narayanhity Palace Museum
Built in the 70s by American architect Benjamin Polk, it was long home to the Nepali Royal Family, even after the 2001 massacre when the heir to the throne killed nine members of the family and himself. Three years after the abolition of the monarchy in 2006, it was made into a museum, where you can see the incredibly chintzy and kitsch tastes of the royals in all their bizarre splendor. Durbar Marg. Rs250 for South Asians (including Thais), Rs500 for other nationalities.
Restoration Works International
Outside of Kathmandu, the obvious thing to do is trek the couple of hundred kilometers of the Anapurna trail. However inspiring, trekking with sherpas isn’t exactly going to put you in touch with how Nepalis really live in the mountains, though. For something both more authentic and less daunting physically, we highly recommend a bit of voluntourism with Restoration Works International, which offers a decent dose of trekking, cultural conservation and plenty of opportunities to eat, work and hang out with Nepalis.
What is it?
Restoration Works International is an NGO that fixes up damaged cultural sites, such as temples or old homes. They work with the local population, local architectural experts and foreign volunteers. Assisting in the restoration makes for an unforgettable experience for the volunteers and also brings tourism dollars to attract the community. Once completed, the restored sites continue to visitors due to their cultural value, and encourage preservation of the community’s heritage.
What do volunteers do?
Restoration Works International’s project in Nepal is at Chhairo, a tiny village in the mountainous Lower Mustang region of Nepal. The trip alone is worth it, as you soar up narrow valleys in tiny airplanes, with a stopover in the lovely lakeside town of Pokhara. At Chhairo, you’ll stay in a homey little guesthouse. Days are spent either trekking to nearby villages, or actually getting your hands dirty fixing up the local temple. Work can range from plastering walls to more delicate tasks like cleaning ancient relics. (And yes, you do get to pick.) With an expert guide and the temple’s lama at your side, you’ll get the inside track on all the surrounding sites, witness rare religious ceremonies, share your Nepali co-workers’ food and partake in many other such experiences trekkers rarely get exposed to.
How much is it? When to go?
Two trips are planned for this fall, Oct 7-18 and Oct 21-Nov 1. It’s US$2,950 (around B90,000 per person), including flights from Kathmandu (with a night in Pokhara, as there are no direct flights), meals for all 12 days, the guesthouse and extra tours. Given prices for guides and trekking permits in Nepal, this is a pretty reasonable way to spend 12 days in the mountains. Find out more at www.restorationworksinternational.org
Hotel Tibet. This charming little hotel has a lobby that is entirely carved and painted in the traditional Tibetan style. Rooms are clean and cozy; the service—overseen by an authoritative auntie—is attentive. From US$64 (B1,983). www.hotel-tibet.com.np
Dwarika. This amazing five-star accommodation has luxurious rooms with packages starting from US$525 (B16,267). www.dwarikas.com
B19,005 for a round-trip ticket on Thai Airways. www.thaiairways.co.th
Taxis are the easiest option and are relatively inexpensive (Rs300-500) if you’re prepared to bargain hard.
Although you can pay on arrival, you’ll need a passport-sized picture and a photocopy of your passport. Details at nepalembassybangkok.com. Fees from B875 for 15 days.
B1 = 30 Nepalese Rupee (Rs)
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