Top Ten Things to Know Before You Go to the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
We put our heads together right after we left and came up with this list for the benefit of future travelers:
1. Everest Beer – Best alcohol deal in Kathmandu. Around 200 rupees
(most places.. saw it as high as 475 at the Kathmandu Hyatt) for a BIG bottle. Locally brewed. Tastes great. Don’t wait.
2. Power Schedule – Electricity is rationed. Hotels can supplement with their own generators, but don’t count on full service. For instance, we had lights on generator power, but the plugs to recharge batteries and ipods, no.
3. Bring a Mask or a Scarf ! – The air quality is so abysmal that they are even putting more space between the airplanes.. you can’t even see !! Fires, industry, too many people and vehicles, it’s a valley and all the bad air stays below the level of the winds..maybe other factors, but it is a cough-a-matic and we have never had to clean out our noses every night before… just horrible amounts of dirt.
4. Kin-de-Nah – That is a phonetic of “I am not buying” Memorize this phrase. You will want it. Dah-Nay-Bhat is helpful as well. It means Thank You.
5. Use Licensed Guides – Guides are actually very helpful and informative, but just make sure they are licensed. (All licensed guides will carry their license) And , of course, set the price up front. Our guide recommendation will be added here shortly.
6. See the Rest of the Valley -There are seven groups of monuments and buildings in the Kathmandu Valley which have been recognized as as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They include Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka (Kathmandu), Patan and Bhaktapur, the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Boudhanath and the Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan. Yes, four of these – Hanuman Durbar Square, Pashupati and the two Buddhist Stupas — are in Kathmandu proper but, having visited all of them, our recommendation, in order, is below and priotitizes the out of town sites.
- Bhaktapur – The Durbar Squares of Kathmandu and Patan are fabulous assemblages of palace and temples but Bhaktapur has not only the Durbar Square but a living breathing medieval city around it. So if you have only time for one, get a guide and go see the whole thing.. palaces mixed with everyday life. Amazing. It makes the whole concept of a Durbar Square come to life.
- Boudhanath – This stupa is enourmous and it seems to have created around it an area of calm and peace. Go for a (clockwise) stroll around lunch time and have a lunch at one of the many rooftop restaurants. (See a few pics here.) (The Hyatt is nearby if youare interested in high price beer or lunch on their terrace.)
- Patan – This Durbar Squar is very beautiful and is just a short taxi rid from Kathmandu proper and the square is much less crowded than Kathmandu’s. It also has a lovely museumin teh second floor of the palace and a lovely resturant in the garden of the palace.
- Changu Narayan – This can be combined with a trip to Bhaktapur or Nagrakot. It is a bit out of the way, but it is a lovely site on a promontory above the valley floor.. a small hill town, reminiscent of Mount St. Michele or Le Baux with the historic temple at the top. You will not find it thronged with tourists.
- Pashupati – If you have not been to Varanasi you will want to see this Hindu temple and crematory grounds.
- Swayambhunath has good views of Kathmandu (see picture at the bottom of this post.)
- Hunumn Durbar Square – We enjoyed the other two much more, but certainly this one is impressive (and very crowded.)
7. Do Whatever it Takes to See the Mountains – You may catch glimpses from Kathmandu – the smog breaking up would help. But two options that worked for us are 1 – the Buddha Air morning flight to see Everest. If they don’t have a view, they don’t even go and you get your money back, as long as you have used a reputable agent to get the ticket. It is just wonderful flying down the whole length of the mountains from Kathmandu to Everest.. and you even get to go up front to the cabin for an expanded view ( they call you up one by one.) and 2 – Drive or hike out to Nagrakot. The drive is about 1.5 hours. You can spend the night at one of the hotels so you can catch the early morning view ( this view does not include Everest, but it does include a nice long view of the high mountains.) Maybe you are going elsewhere in Nepal to see the mountains, but from the Valley these are your best options.
Our last three recommendations are about shopping. There are excellent values to be had in the Kathmandu Valley. These are our recommendations of what to shop for where.
8. Bodhnath for Thangkas – We found some excellent paintings at reasonable prices. Be sure to ask to see the artists.
9. Tamal for Jewlery and Hiking Gear – The Tamal is also good for bars. If you find jewlery you like but it is not quite right, just ask for a custom piece, it is not hard to find someone who will do it for you.
10. Patan for Wood and Metal and Rugs The rugs are at the Tibetan Refugee Camp on the edge of town. The wood carvings ( like the windows) and the statues are in town.
Kathmandu from Swayambuthnath (click to see the whole panorama).