Many clichés abound about Kathmandu, some are justified, and others seem to be figments of imaginations of young, doped, backpackers.
Thick with flamboyant Hindu temples, public cremations and dread-locked holy men
(sadus) smoking pipes, Nepal’s capital is a natural for breathless riffs on the exotic Far East.
The city lacks colour, with old dark grey buildings on the verge of collapse, and a main drag reminiscent of 19th century Middle-Eastern city. The main square, if one call it that, lined with a few souvenir shops, grocery stores and stalls of every imaginable trade teems with mostly young and drab-looking men.
The narrow, dark, mysterious streets emanating from the main square are home to all kinds of shady characters trying to sell tourists drugs, sex, and whatever else one might think of.
gained a reputation amongst backpackers (in the 1970’s) who discovered, quite by accident, cheap recreational drugs and started coming in droves. Some decided to settle, and opened businesses or teaching English to the off springs of wealthy Nepalese convinced of western civilisations superiority to their own.
Tourists, however modestly dressed always stand out and are approached by locals offering their services as guides, or for merchandise you may or may not be interested in. All are persistent and rarely take “ no” for an answer!
Move on, for Kathmandu is a mysterious and interesting city. All sorts of exotic religious gadgets are for sale and street vendors offer cigarettes by the piece, ambulant merchants sell postcards, and barkers invite you to so called cafes offering coffee, cakes and hashish.
Kathmandu’s accommodations range from truly eccentric bed and breakfast operations to medium-priced hotels to luxury branded-name hotels.
can be difficult, as only Air India and Royal Nepal Airline serve the city. The airport is unique in that you can buy duty-free liquor both in-and outbound! Surprisingly or maybe not surprisingly duty-free here means as expensive as retail in London or Mumbai and in some cases even more. Transportation from India increases costs but greed also contributes to high prices.
If you must have liquor your best bet is to buy it in Hong-Kong, Singapore or even London!
Arriving by bus (there is no rail connection) will provide another perspective of the country and Kathmandu.
A visit to Hindu temples just outside of Kathmandu is an experience not to be missed. Here you can see sadus (old wise and wizened men) thin like chopsticks and barely clad. They claim to have no worldly possessions and manage to live by the generosity of people.
If you are lucky, you may witness a Hindu cremation (each uses (170 lbs approximately 70 kilograms) of wood, more for heavy corpses).
Across the street you can visit stupas (Tibetan religious temples), surrounded by walls and huge prayer wheels chanting o-mani-padme-hum with every rotation.
Once in Kathmandu, you must at least attempt to fly over the highest mountain of the world – Mount Everest.
Other peaks in the Himalayan Mountains are as impressive as Mount Everest but less well known amongst travellers and general public.
More often than not weather conditions prevent from flying. In Nepal, weather changes rapidly and unexpectedly.
Outside of Kathmandu several villages with their main squares, clean, quiet, unhurried wide streets are more interesting and definitely worth visiting.
In Nepal village squares are lined with a range of shops, from spice merchants to butchers without refrigeration, and pickled-vegetable dealers, barbers, cloth vendors and grocery stores. The most interesting “ professionals “ on these squares are local
“dentists”, who also perform as ambulant barbers. They “advertise” their expertise and experience by displaying all the teeth extracted to date.
Photograph one, but ask for permission first.
Nepalese, like most Asians, are friendly, particularly young students eager to practice their school English. They are quick to ask for pens, pencils, and even insist that you photograph them.
Nepalese food consists of marinated vegetables, stews, bread and chicken. Fish and pork are rare.
Western-style hotels try to serve continental European food and North American dishes
like pasta and meatballs, hamburgers, roasted meat and even pizza. Stay away from such dishes.
Be adventurous (gastronomically) and order Nepalese specialties. Consult your waiter
(there are no female servers in Nepal ).
By all accounts, Nepalese food is coarse in texture, but unadulterated, natural and flavourful. If nothing else you must order yak cheese and local tea flavoured with yak butter.
The “Royal Palace” is closed to public but you can go there to see the sentinels, even catch a glimpse of the buildings. Since the bloodbath a few months ago, security both inside and outside have been increased.
Nepalese mountain dwellers have been well known for centuries as excellent and fierce fighters. British army officials created a gurkha regiment in the 19th century to fight their Asian wars and skirmishes. The gurkha regiment still exists today and is pressed to service whenever and wherever needed. Retired gurkha soldiers always return to their villages. They look at their “army days“ as employment in another country and completely alien culture.
They love their mountainous country and villages even though all practically lack modern amenities, but if you go you will love this beautiful and exotic country.
If you go: There are several routes you can follow – the most convenient is to fly to Europe, mainly London and connect to India. Then fly Air India or Royal Nepal Airlines to Kathmandu. A western route will take you to Singapore, then to Mumbai or New Delhi and then to Kathmandu.
Accommodation; There is no shortage of hotels and bed and breakfast operations. Just make sure you have a reservation before you arrive.
Food: Stick with restaurant and hotel food. Stalls offer a number of dishes but are suspect especially for “delicate” western stomachs.