Thursday, November 07, 2013

Visiting Kathmandu Valley

Nepal has been high on Keenan's list ever since our university days, but after the grueling trek up to Mt. Kinabalu last Christmas I wasn't so keen for a multi-day trekking holiday. But luckily we met a lovely couple in Borneo who encouraged us to visit Nepal. They spent two years living in Nepal and did some amazing trekking to Everest Base Camp, Annapurnas, Manaslu, Upper Mustang, and Langtang.

So we planned for a trekking trip for mid October which is high season for Nepal where the weather is near perfect with glorious blue skies. We were joined by two of London-based friends whom we traveled to Syria with in 2010. Together we spent 10 adventure-filled days exploring the stupas and temples around Kathmandu, taking a harrowing (and slow) bus journey to Pokhara, and trekking around the Annapurnas Himalayas. In particular order, here's a list of things to do and see  around Kathmandu, Nepal's chaotic capital. 

UNESCO Heritage Sites: 

Durbar Square of Kathmandu and Patan: "Durbar" is the term in Nepal to describe historic plazas within the royal palace complexes, displaying a wonderful array of traditional Newari architecture of red-brick lattices and intricate carvings. There are also a number of temples and multi-tier pagodas flanking the square.  It's a wonderful day to spend the afternoon people-watching.  Foreigners are expected to pay an entrance fee of 750 rupees for a day pass to enter the complex, which tickets into the Royal Palace. In the evenings, it  turns into a night market filled with locals. 

Swayambhuanth Stupa: Also known as the "Monkey Temple", this is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Nepali Buddhist located atop of a hill about 30 minute stroll from Kathmandu, and one of the oldest stupas used since the 5th century AD. It's best to go during the mornings or late afternoon for the sunset, and be prepared for a short but steep climb to the top (good training for your Himalayan trek). 

Boudhanath Stupa: Another UNESCO-listed stupa located on the east side of the Kathmandu Valley; on eof the largest spherical stupas in Nepal. It's located within a popular tourist area where you can find all sorts of trinkets, yak wool scarves,  etc. Like Swayambhuanth, Bouddhanth is graced with Buddhist prayer flags and Tibetan prayer wheels all around the circumference of the stupa. 

Pashupathinath Hindu Temple: Located on the banks of the Bagmati River, this Hindu Temple dedicated to Shiva is another important pilgrimage and cremation place for Nepali Hindus. Expect to see Sadhus (holy men). The temple serves as the seat of the national deity, Lord Pashupatinath. 

Shopping around Thamel: Not to worry if you forgot to pick up walking sticks, fleece, or another pair of wool socks, Thamel has everything you can think of for your trekking holiday, plus more. Thamel is the main 'tourist' area, somewhat similar to Bangkok's Khao San Road. Nepal is a go-to-bed early kind of country so the nightlife is fairly low-key. There are loads of roof-top restaurants and "German Bakery" to cater to Western visitors. 

Splashing our for a meal at Krishnapan located in Dwarikas Hotel: A lovely, lovely (and expensive) heritage hotel located near the Ring Road. The interior architecture and surrounding courtyards are simply stunning and no stranger to hosting important foreign dignitaries and royal families. The National Geographic hosted a fancy reception here when we visited. We enjoyed a delightful six course meal at Krishnapan's, one of the finest Newari restaurants in Nepal for our post-trek dinner. If you want, you can order the 22 course meal! It was  the perfect way to end our trip.

Pokhara and the Annapurnas to follow...

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