When we were planning the itinerary for the trip, our travel agent initially came back with a schedule which looked good, but contained quite a few instances of “half day to explore on your own”. Now, I’m all in favour of self-motivated explorations, but it seemed like there was space to condense things somewhat and insert an additional destination. Various Indian options were discussed but the prospect of adding another country won the day, so Kathmandu was duly selected
Despite sounding desperately exotic (at least to my ears), Kathmandu is actually just a convenient 1.5 hour flight out of Delhi., and visas are available for purchase upon arrival at the airport. Again we were met by our driver and a rep from the travel company, and this was more appreciated than before – Kathmandu is somewhat more condensed than Delhi, and the traffic is even crazier! Having settled into our hotel we set out to have a walk and change some money. Our first challenge: crossing the road. It seems that the Nepalese don’t really believe in pedestrian crossings, so the trick was to identify a likely gap in the traffic and walk boldly into it. This was made even more exciting by residual jetlag and adjusting to the altitude (Kathmandu is at 1400 metres / 4600 feet above sea level – not high enough to cause any problems, but I noticed it nevertheless), so for the first few attempts we loitered suspiciously behind other pedestrians and leaped into the road behind them as soon as they started to cross. Having survived our excursion, we opted for a quiet night and dinner at the hotel.
For our first full day, February 4th, we were collected from our hotel by our excellent guide, Mark, for a walk through the old part of Kathmandu city. We quickly became accustomed to the madness as we made our way through the narrow streets – people on foot, on motorbikes and scooters, cyclists, street dogs, everyone was on the move.
Kathmandu’s main Durbar (palace) square is still undergoing reconstruction (as are many other buildings across the city), but enough of it has been rebuilt to give an idea of how spectacular it all was before the earthquake.
(That the city’s air is full of dust from the construction is somewhat less enticing.) After admiring various temples, and other structures, we made our way to the Kumari temple in time for the living goddess’ morning appearance.
Having crossed the old part of the city we met up with our driver again and drove up to the so-called Monkey Temple, and Swayambhunath stupa. The air at the top of the hill was a little clearer, and in addition to the stupa and surrounding statuary, there were some fantastic views across the valley.
Once we’d finished wandering around the stupa and exclaiming excitedly at the monkeys, it was back to the car for the short drive across to Patan city for lunch.
(Patan was historically an entirely separate place, and still seems to be regarded as such now, but on the ground at least it’s very much part of Kathmandu valley’s urban sprawl.)
After a lovely meal of Nepalese curry (me) and mo mo dumplings (Tom), on a rooftop with excellent views, we set off on foot again to explore Patan’s Durbar square and museum.
Day 2 started with a longer drive out of the city, and up a significant hill, to the Changu Narayan temple. Conisdered to be among Nepal’s oldest Hindu temples, it boasts some beautiful stone carvings, and the lack of background noise thanks to its elevated position made it feel much more tranquil. Back down the hill, we spent the rest of the morning in the town of Bhaktapur . It’s laid-back vibe was quite a contrast to Kathmandu, and we enjoyed strolling around the old city. Naturally we visited the Durbar square, but the highlight was eating lunch at another rooftop restaurant right next to the Nyatapola temple – having admired it from ground level it was lovely to get a view of the structure from a different perspective.
Back in Kathmandu city, we stopped to walk through part of the grounds of the Pashupatinath temple. Dedicated to Shiva, this is one of the most important Hindu sites and the only place outside Varanasi where cremations are carried out around the clock. It was quite an experience learning about some of the history around the temple, and seeing several different death rituals under way – despite being a bright and pleasant afternoon, the place was absolutely saturated with a feel of ancient power.
Bedecked in prayer flags, this was a much cheerier affair, and due to a local festival the surrounding streets were packed with Nepalese in colourful clothing.
For the evening’s entertainment, we had booked a “cultural dinner with dancing”. This turned out to be a series of courses of delicious Nepalese food – appropriately adjusted for my dietary requirements where necessary – accompanied by a dance performance. Sadly the audience was small and the restaurant was chilly (despite checking the forecast several times whilst packing the temperatures ended up being slightly cooler than expected, and we didn’t quite bring enough layers), so we didn’t feel like lingering, but it was all most enjoyable nevertheless.