Kathmandu wasn’t exactly love at first sight, well at least not in my case. I’d ridden a thirty-six hour bus trip through the Himalayan foothills from Delhi, vomiting out the window the entire way .
It had been some bad chicken the day before, It tasted like mud and rotting flesh. I only had a few mouthfuls but I knew already I’d made a poor move. Nevertheless, my Indian visa was about to expire and I had no choice but to board that bus.
As it turns out, Kathmandu is a vibrant metropolis where old meets new and bicycle rickshaw drivers peddle past goats grazing trash outside the most delicious of restaurants.
Like my own hometown, it is a city that is overcoming natural disaster, rebuilding after literally earth-shattering quakes brought this majestic city to its knees.
All in all, I spent over a month in Nepal – dipping in and out of Kathmandu, drinking in all the wonderful food, culture, and hospitality. But it took only a day of exploring to fall in love with it.
While drifting in these lanes of Thamel, you feel like Alice in Wonderland, The feelings of Paarijat linger as an epiphanyAvijeet Das @TheAvijeetDas
and the smoke and aroma of incense sticks welcome you into a dream land.
“Oh, you’re a writer?”, he nudged. I was somewhat limp in the passenger seat, making my way out of the hospital and bound for my central city hostel. “Here in Nepal we value writers, it is a good profession” .
It was dusk, and the street vendors were setting up on the side of the road as our taxi stopped and started amidst the evening rush hour. Aside from a churning stomach, it felt good here – relaxed, friendly. A different pace of life from India where I had recently arrived from. He was kind, and reserved, and I eased into a little gentle chatter en route to my Thamel accomodation.
The first thing most tourists learn about Kathmandu is that Thamel is the main tourist-area. It’s where you’ll find the most shopping, bazaars, hotels and restaurants in Kathmandu. Kathmandu is serviced by an International Airport, although as I did, you can also reach the city via bus from India (Delhi, Varanasi and Gorakpur are the most common places to leave from). At the time of writing, the roads to Tibet are still closed, and Nepal only shares a land border with these two countries so these are your choices. Nepal has no trains (well none useful to visitors, anyhow) so getting around is by bus, car and taxi.
My hostel took wonderful care of me, feeding me vegetable broth and mashed potatoes until my stomach healed, upgrading my room and providing marvelous vistas across the city from its rooftop.
Other than a rather rocky start, I quickly came to love Kathmandu and would recommend it to anyone looking for somewhere a little different to get away to for a day, or much longer.
When to Visit Kathmandu
October is Autumn , and the peak season for visiting all of Nepal. The weather is mild and the air is clear from recent monsoons. It is dry but not too cold at night, and generally warm and sunny during the day. It also features Tihar and Dashain, the two main Nepalese festivals of the year. So if you like the atmosphere, this is an excellent time to come over. If you want to avoid the festivals and throngs of tourists, then the springtime, from March until May, is a fabulous time to experience the rhododendrons and other blossoming flowers of Nepal. June-August is summer and also monsoon, so come bearing raincoats! December – February is winter, it can be very cold and snow (but not in Kathmandu). However it can also be very scenic and good for low altitude trekking,
What to do while you’re here
Kathmandu is an interesting city to explore, and has a number of areas, temples and markets to explore. Some of the key things to do in Kathmandu are:
- Hiking, of course! This is one of the main reasons many people visit Nepal, and for good reason – it’s spectacular! There is a lot of hiking in Nepal and you can do it alone, just remember to be safe.
- Visit Durbar Square to explore historic temples and the temple of the living goddess, although Durbar square is working through some long term earthquake renovations, it is an incredible place to visit. Lining the square are a number of rooftop patio restaurants and bars with wonderful views, too.
- Stroll the Garden of Dreams for a soothing spot of tranquility amongst the chaos of the city. It’s kind of an oasis, and is well worth checking out after you’re a little burned out from the thamel bustle.
- Check out Swayambhunath Temple & Boudhanath Stupa to see some of the more ornate and spiritual sites of Kathmandu.
- Shop for handicrafts in Thamel. Some of the popular wares include pashminas, yak wool blankets, bone, wood and glass jewellery, wooden musical instruments and puppets. I’m not much of a souvenir collector, but was absolutely charmed b the puppets dangling from strings all about the town.
If you only eat 3 dishes in Kathmandu…
Food is absolutely my thing, my motivation you could say. A huge part of the reason I travel is to taste the local foods. Kathmandu is a hub of food and I loved every moment.
- Momos, momos, everywhere. Momos are one of my favourite dumplings, and as the years go by I am in perpetual pursuit of momos as good as I found on the streets of Kathmandu (spoiler alert, no such luck) you can find them fried, steamed, or my favourite version: Chilli Momo – doused in a chilli sauce or soup. You can find them just about anywhere, but my favourite come from the street cart vendors.
- Nepalese Thali Plate
- Simi Nariwal. Simi means green beans, nariwal means coconut – combined with some curry paste and served on rice it’s something magical. My favourite is found out in Pokhara, but there’s certainly some good Simi Nariwal to be had in Kathmandu, so seek it out!
Where did I stay?
Kathmandu is the hub of Nepal and there are no shortages of accommodation, especially within the area of Thamel. It is definitely possible to turn up and look for somewhere to stay once you arrive. However, if you feel more comfortable booking in advance, I can personally recommend:
- Katshmandap Travelers Home: What I believe to be the best hostel in Kathmandu, great for dorm-style living and meeting other travelers. I arrived here after a traumatic long bus journey with food poisoning that resulted in a few nights in the hospital. Katshmandap moved me into a private room at no extra charge, and checked on me every day to make sure I was recovering well – I will never forget the generosity or hospitality, nor how safe and cared for I felt during my recovery.
- Bright Star Hotel: It’s the owners that made Bright Star hotel so special for me – in fact, I stayed twice. Once on my own, then again when my family came to visit Nepal. We were treated with so much kindness, and they have private rooms at a good price. Clean and safe and super central in Thamel, but down a side road so few steps out of the way from the noise & chaos
- Papaya House: Unbelievably good value and gorgeous, comfortable, clean rooms. Good WiFi too. A little out of the way so you need to catch taxis or local busses to get just about anywhere, but it’s great to experience a more local neighborhood of Kathmandu.
So, what was my experience in Kathmandu like?
- Nepal is home to some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met in my travels. The hospitality is exceptional. I felt perpetually welcomed and at home, everywhere I went.
- Kathmandu is an amazing city to explore, although rather compact and small. After a few days you may feel that you’ve seen it all, although I feel pretty confident you won’t have! There’s so much hidden around every corner, and down each alleyway.
- The city is in a valley and the pollution is some of the highest in the world. Some people struggle with this, but personally it didn’t bother me much.
- The city has an amazing blend of Nepalese, Indian, Tibetan and Chinese Influence, so the food is diverse and the atmosphere much more relaxed than in neighbouring India. Don’t forget to eat the momos!
- Thamel is one of the best spots in all of Nepal for well-priced handicrafts, so shop it up if you want some souvenirs to send back home (or keychains & clothes if you’re trying to keep a small suitcase)
Who would I recommend Kathmandu to?
I enthusiastically recommend Kathmandu to everyone who will listen. It’s a wonderful destination for anybody who wants to be near excellent trekking, or experience a more chilled-out version of India. Kathmandu still has the amazing culture, vibrancy and delicious foods, curries and festivals like India, but without so much of the things that can make it overwhelming. You don’t even need to be into trekking – it wasn’t at all a part of my trip, and yet I loved every moment.
More Links (if you’re interested…)
General: Guide to Thamel, Kathmandu | 10 Important Tips for Visiting Kathmandu | Ten Interesting things to do in Kathmandu | 5 Offbeat Experiences in Kathmandu | Solo Female Travel: Traveling Alone in Nepal as a Woman Books to Read: The Snow Leopard (Penguin Classics)| Lonely Planet Nepal (Travel Guide) | Escape From Kathmandu | Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya (Travel Guide) | While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal | Nepal – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture | Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal Eating: Eight Great Eats in Kathmandu | Trip Advisors Top Kathmandu Restaurants List | Vegan & Vegetarian Food in Kathmandu | A Backstreet Guide to the best Cafes in Kathmandu | Putting Nepali food on the map Kathmandu Itineraries: Rough Guide’s Kathmandu Itineraries | Kathmandu Valley, Nepal: itinerary, cost breakdown, packing list | Nepal in under a week: visiting with only a 7 day or less itinerary Trekking: Tips for Trekking to Everest Base Camp | A Backpackers Guide to Nepal | Guide to the Annapurna Circuit Trek | A Photographic Journey to Everest Base Camp Other parts of Nepal: Chilling at Lakeside Pokhara, Nepal | Hike From Nagarkot To Nala | 2 Days in Pokhara | 10 Reasons to Visit Chitwan National Park