Nepal is in many ways a dream destination. It has everything you could ask for and for half the price that’d you’d expect to pay. The world’s only Hindu Kingdom is sort of a subcontinent in and of itself. Its terrain ranges from sea level and searing heat to the absolute top of the world in Mt. Everest and several other 8000 meter plus peaks where the temperatures can get colder than anywhere else on earth. You can do treks from one day to one month and see some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. The thing they say about Nepal is that when you arrive here you start planning your next trip here. I laughed when someone said that but being here only an hour makes you wish you had more time and gets you thinking on your next trip. This is truly Gods country and with only five days here I have had only a sniff of what Nepal has to offer and cannot wait to come back.
I have wanted to come to Nepal for at least a decade, actually more since I studied the worlds flags when I was a small child and Nepal was the only flag in the world that has two triangles. I was like a little kid when I arrived at the Kathmandu airport and got my visa on arrival. My guest house, the Kathmandu Guest House, is a Kathmandu institution and the landmark center point of the tourist area of Thamel.
Kathmandu Guest House has been wonderful to me. First, they provided a shuttle from the airport to the hostel and upon arrival I had three people there to meet me who had seen my website and were very gracious and accommodating when I arrived. I was given the best type of room at a rock bottom price and was greeted with the friendliness that I had read about Nepali’s. Their breakfast’s are marvelous and serve some of the best banana pancakes I have ever had which is an obvious thing to eat when traveling in South Asia.
Another person greeting me was my man Raj who seems to know everybody in Kathmandu including the Minister of Tourism who called him when we were chatting. Raj who runs Gurkha Tours out of the Guest House hooked me up with some welcome drinks at the bar and set up all my sightseeing and activities for the days I had in Nepal and did a great job and I would recommend him and his tour company to anyone visiting Nepal. He is also a really cool guy and took me around in Thamel my first night.
Thamel is a backpackers dream, actually any type of non five star tourists. The only thing and the obvious thing to compare it to is Khao San Road in Bangkok because all roads in Nepal lead to Thamel and that is where every tour operator, souvenir store, bar, book store, massage parlor, restaurant and everything you never knew existed is located. The place is slightly sensory overload with people constantly asking you if you need anything from tourist information and Lonely Planet books to nice ladies and hashish. However, they do it in a nice and not that annoying way to really distance itself from India and some other South Asian nations. Thamel is where you should stay in Kathmandu.
I have eaten at several awesome restaurants because they have so much here, unlike India where you can eat like four things. In Thamel you can have any type of continental food you and it’ll cost you a buck or two. My favorite has been Fire and Ice which is run by an Italian woman and they make the best pizzas in town and sell them very cheap. Another great pizza spot is Road House Café. They also have good Thai, steak and even Mexican although I am taking someone else’s word on that as I have a religious disagreement about eating Mexican in South Asia. My favorite bar is the famous Tom and Jerry Pub which is named after the cartoons but has played host to most major Everest expeditions after they return from the summit or not. The pictures around the place are awesome and the pool tables make for a lot of fun. Try the Everest beer with a picture of the most famous Nepali, Tenzing Norgay, who summited with Sir Edmund Hillary way back in 1953.
My first full day in Nepal was spent seeing the sights of the Kathmandu Valley which is a massive valley probably just smaller than the Valley that Phoenix, Arizona sits in and surrounded by hills and mountains. I was given a free car by Gurkha Encounters and was off with my buddy Andrew whom I had met at the airport on arrival and who was staying the same guest house as me.
Before I get to the sites, this British guy Andrew is one funny and interesting dude. First, he lived in Kathmandu for two years when his dad was stationed here with the British Army so he introduced me to a lot of the places I’ve been to here. But he is unique in that he is a magician, yes one of those who does tricks and magic. He stumped me a bunch of times and makes for quite interesting conversation. Then he speaks pretty good Nepali, Tibetan and sign language which is a first of combos that I’ve ever heard of.
So during our tour of the valley he wanted to pop into this restaurant called Nango’s Bakery Café or something like that to visit some friends he knew from when he lived here. I was like no problem of course as I was hungry for some delicious momo’s which are a local dish here and are amazing-they’re like dim sum. However, this restaurant is a restaurant for deaf and disabled people. So I walk in and everyone was speaking in sign language and it caught me off guard a little as I had never seen this before.
Additionally, other workers consisted of midgets, dwarfs and as far as I could see the only person that could speak really was the host. Andrew kept asking me if I was bored because I don’t sign but I was thoroughly enjoying this new experience and was amazed by the communication and how they could write English to me when they can’t speak or hear. How did they learn English, which would be their third language most likely living in Kathmandu? I was amazed and felt completely small and in awe of these amazing people. I wonder if there are deaf restaurants in the US, I have no idea???
Anyway, so we toured around Kathmandu and saw some truly amazing sights. To keep this from being a novel we started at Swayambhunath which is a Buddhist temple (also known as the monkey temple for all the little monkeys running around and trying to steal our food) with an amazing view of Kathmandu below and an instantly recognizable symbol of Nepal as you can see above.
Next, we hit Patan which is the second biggest town in the valley and has a very impressive Durbar square with some interesting architecture as you can see below and a nice museum that is claimed to be the best museum in South Asia. However, the extortionate prices stopped me from entering, in addition to the rain.
Third, we went to Pashupatinath which is one of the cooler places I have been and is a must on any visit to Kathmandu. It is Nepal’s most important Hindu temple on the banks of the holy Bagmati River which eventually flows into the Ganges in India which is interesting for a big reason. Along this river they openly burn bodies and then scatter the ashes, slightly reminiscent of Varanasi in India. No matter if you’ve seen it before nothing can prepare you for the smell of burning flesh and the sight of feet and limbs burning amidst the wood pile. It is really nauseating and something I have trouble watching. However, you can see here what I mean.
The rest of the site is really interesting and very beautiful. Most notable are the Shiva temples which attract the Sadhu people who are wandering Hindu holy men and you can see in the picture at the very top with me. These guys are nuts and live in these little temples and in the sides of the cliffs. It’s really strange to me as I don’t pretend to be an expert in Hindu extremism but it sure is interesting to see and they are incredibly nice people. This old man here has hair longer than he is. Also, he can apparently put his feet behind his head but I didn’t want to ask him to so I just asked to take his picture and gave him 50 rupees as he is looking a little thin!
Finally, we went to Bodhnath which is the home of the famous Bodhnath Stupa that can be seen below. It is really impressive and a very holy site. Notice the eyes following you around wherever you go in the square. The square surrounds the Stupa and is a very cool place to walk around and eat with a view of the Stupa from one of the many rooftop restaurants that serve cheap eats and do them very well. This is where I was introduced to momo’s. What I also love about this site is the peace flags which are distinctly Nepali.
Yesterday I spent my entire day getting up to the Last Resort Bungy jump site about three hours or not from Kathmandu to do the 160 meter or 525 foot jump into the beautiful gorge below. Raj had set it up and gotten me the jump for free so I am grateful and really enjoyed it. As far as I know I have done just about every major bungy jump in the world as this was my eleventh jump in my sixth different country and I believe all jumps over 100 meters.
To me bungy jumping is the scariest thing you can do and the best feeling once you have done it. It is equally fun and terrifying and there is nothing I can compare it to except for maybe base jumping for the adrenaline rush. I highly recommend the jump but my only advice would be to try to set up a private car to bring you up there because the wait can be forever with a big group and the drive on these horribly small busses can be a nightmare for anyone over six feet, like myself and the roads are equally as bad and bumpy.
The area around the last resort is absolutely stunning and a nice drive to even if you don’t go to the jump site. We were also only a few kilometers from the border with Tibet, which I couldn’t go to as I don’t have a permit and it’s a major pain to get one in a short time from Nepal. I also would have lost my Chinese visa validity if I had crossed from Nepal for a strange reason which I still don’t understand so I decided to wait to get there from China.
All in all Nepal is awesome. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on the country as the treks to Annapurna and Everest are in upwards of two to three weeks in length and I just don’t have that time right now so definitely next time! I fly to Bhutan tomorrow and am also really psyched for that.