Trip Photo Album

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Kathmandu – Top 10 to Know Before You Go

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.

  1. BhaktapurThe 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.
  2. 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.) 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Pashupati – If you have not been to Varanasi you will want to see this Hindu temple and crematory grounds.
  6. Swayambhunath has good views of Kathmandu (see picture at the bottom of this post.)
  7. 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.

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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).

To Bhutan!!

One last madcap ride through the streets of Kathmandu to the airport. Tickets, debarkation, security xray and bodysearch (separate lines for men and women), a hand search of the same carry on bags and a check that we had separate stamps on our tickets for each of those stations. Then we were free to wait at the gate. There is a new distance between planes for Kathmandu (good idea given the level of visibility) so our plane had to do some circling. We watched some of the sad news from Japan while we were waiting.
A quick ride to Paro. We were able to see Everest again, from a slightly different angle. Good thing we already had our pictures – many different heads would have been in any photo.
The pilot announced “On our way into Paro we may come closer to the mountains than you have ever been before in a plane. Please do not be disturbed, this is quite normal for our approach here.” Glad he warned us!

Wow and here we are. What a beautiful place. It just feels happy. Even the airport is beautiful.


We ate lunch at our hotel, did a little unpacking, and then headed for the National Museum which opens at 2. It used to be the watch tower for the Paro Dzong. It is now six levels of history, including thangkas, statues, metallurgy, armor, and an amazing Tree of Refuge with the 4 lineages of Tibetan/Bhutanese Buddhism. No photos allowed inside, but here we are right before we went in.


On the way out we looked down at the festival we will be at tomorrow and the Paro Dzong next to it.


We then headed out for the ruin of a Dzong up the valley. On the way we caught an archery contest – amazing 150 yards and a small target – and we looked up the mountain to Tigers Nest where we will go day after tomorrow.


The walk around the old Dzong was enough to tire us out at almost 8000 feet. Early dinner and to bed.

Patan

After a rocky start with a cab driver who diverted us to his brothers apartment and demanded double our agreed price up front (we made him bring us back to our hotel where the front desk clerk scolded him and we got another cab) we made our way to Patan.
Patan was a separate city in medieval times; it is now a suburb of Kathmandu known as Laliputar, which might mean City of Beauty or City of Artists or something else altogether. It has the most magnificent of the 3 Durbar (palace) Squares in Kathmandu Valley and a very nice museum of Buddhist and Hindu Art, as well as 4 very ancient Stupas (attributed to Ashoka), thriving metalwork and wood carving trade, the only zoo in Nepal, and a large Tibetan Refugee Camp where the Tibetan Rug factory is.

This time we hired a guide. And he was very helpful in showing us inside the palace, explaining the temples (he had his own spin on the erotic art), and showing us the best places for pictures. He was quite passionate about the beauty and history and quite sad about what was crumbling (much damage still unrepaired from the 1934 earthquake).

We ate in the museum cafe which is inside the palace and uses part of the palace gardens to grow their own organic salads. Very nice.

We then toured the museum before heading to Swayambuthnath.

A Bit of Luxury

Two kinds of luxury addressed here.
1. What relieves jet lag, sore muscles and the dirt and dust of a busy city? A time at the spa!!!
After visiting Boudhnath and having lunch we walked over to the Hyatt and paid a fee to use their steam room, sauna, hot tub and showers – and we used ALL of them. We then had an Everest beer on the terrace with a view of the top of the stupa.
Here is a clean and refreshed Julie on that terrace.


2- There is the kind of luxury we get every night at the Kantipur Temple House. Their turn down service includes a hot water bottle that provides warmth and comfort. We are becoming quite addicted to it!2- There is the kind of luxury we get every night at the Kantipur Temple House. Their turn down service includes a hot water bottle that provides warmth and comfort. We are becoming quite addicted to it!

Boudhanath

What a WONDERFUL and magical place, so different from our experience of Kathmandu yesterday. It’s peaceful and inspiring.
This is an ENORMOUS stupa-120 feet in diameter and 43 meters high. The site “dates back beyond the recall of folk memory” and has been rebuilt many times. It is surrounded by shops selling Buddhist paintings, music and beads and many monasteries. Everything is very low key. And today with perfect weather (about 72 degrees, blue skies and just enough of a breeze to set the pray flags flapping), it was transcendent.

Here is a model of Boudhnath from the Patan Museum.

Electricity

Power outages are a way of life here. Here is the current schedule for the Kantipur Temple House. You can see it is supplemented by generator hours which only address a secondary system of lights, no plugs or hot water. And think what the mass use of generators does for pollution.

I don’t know all the reasons, but less than ideal monsoon and snow conditions and corruption and strife leading to under investment in power production infrastructure are key ones. You also have to wonder about distribution when you see wiring like this, and this is not the worst we have seen, this is just close by. Notice the birds nest.

Here is a view of the pile of propane tanks it takes just to keep this one small hotel set with generator power.

Temples – Real and Pseudo

Up early, like 3 am, but that is better than yesterday. We braved the streets and took a Lonely Planet guided walk from near our hotel to Karhmandu’s Durbar Square – one of the several World Heritage sites in Kathmandu Valley. More about those in later episodes.
Anyway, so MANY temples, stupas and shrines in Kathmandu – like around every corner. Here are just a couple of photos. Many more to upload from the camera when I get home. Every time we stopped to read a map or a description we had offers from would be “guides” and the closer to Dubar Square the more offers. We also were offered the same medallion with Om Mane Padme Om on it many times.

And here are two more pictures of our very picturesque hotel, built in the style of a temple. The big exterior is from the vantage of the entrance courtyard. The window shot is actually the windows of our room – the other side of that alcove in yesterday’s post. And there is a photo of some of the carving (but not the X rated carving- have to go back up to the roof garden to get that shot.)

Welcome to Nepal

We didn’t fly in over Tibet, as we had hoped. Instead we headed south over Myanmar and circled back north to Nepal. Our landing was a bit exciting with a hop, a skid, and some heavy braking.
We then waited in line for a visa for an hour and then skipped through immigration and customs. We had a wild ride into the city ( great driver, insane roads and traffic) to arrive at the peace and quiet of Kantipur Temple House Hotel. A chai on the rooftop, bed turndown service with hot water bottle and a great dinner of dahl, baht and veggies and now to bed.
Pictures below from the plane, the roof of the hotel and our room ( including Julie enjoying the hot water bottle).  More tomorrow, need to sleep off the jet lag.