Get ready…this is a long, long, long post. Almost as long as our 15-hour flight.
When we told our friends and family we were headed to Kathmandu, Nepal after our quick Taj Mahal detour, we received a mixed bag of responses. “Won’t that take two whole days to get there?” and “What’s in Nepal?” were the main questions, but when asked the inevitable, “Why?”, we would say “To see the world!” Honestly, there aren’t many “world-famous” attractions in Nepal, at least none that compare to the fame of the Taj Mahal, but we knew that Nepal was a place that many people haven’t visited, and it’s a place that is so unlike anything we’ve ever visited before. We toyed with the idea of visiting Cambodia and seeing Angkor Wat, but after my husband saw pictures of the spiders from that area, our decision became much easier!
Our Air India flight from New Delhi was a short hour and a half, but even on such a short flight we were still fed lunch. Once we landed, we walked into the airport from the plane and straight to the most hectic customs/immigration area I have ever seen. The kiosks to print your “Visa Upon Arrival” were fairly simple to use, but were quite laggy and there was not much order to the lines for them. Once we finally printed out our visas, we made our way over to the currency exchange counter. This was the ONLY negative experience we had in Nepal, and I will teach you the lesson we learned the hard way. There are signs that clearly state that they take Visa credit cards to exchange for the Nepalese Rupee, however, the agents very much want American dollars for their drawers. We made the mistake of pulling out our wallets while at the counter, and I’m sure the agent caught a glimpse of our cash. We wanted to use the card and save our dollars for later, but he had already seen our money, and when we asked to use our card, told us they didn’t take credit cards. We pointed to the sign above him, and after standing in a stare-down for probably 30 seconds, he huffed and snatched our credit card. He ran it and told us it was declined, which we knew was incorrect. We knew he had us where he wanted, and there wasn’t much we could do, so we handed over our cash. Not a great way to start our trip, but just a helpful tip for those traveling…DO NOT let them see your cash. Tell them you have none, and that you only brought credit cards. Also, once you are outside the airport, hold on to your bags. A man who was standing with our taxi driver offered to carry ours, and in the huge hustle and bustle that is the chaos of the Kathmandu airport, we allowed it. Once we were seated in our taxi, the man asked for what is the equivalent of $10. For carrying our bags literally 20 feet. Again, hold on to your bags.
After a very crazy introduction to the Nepalese way of driving, we were dropped off a our hotel, the Kasthamandap Boutique. If you are ever in Kathmandu, please stay at this hotel. We stayed in a “Deluxe” room, so we had two beds, a little extra room, and a delicious continental breakfast included. For about $200 for four nights, we thought that was a pretty good deal! We checked in, booked a tour for the following day, and went to bed without dinner!
Our first stop on our first full day in Kathmandu was to the Swayambhunath Temple, or as it’s sometimes referred to, the Monkey Temple. We seriously couldn’t get over how many monkeys were around us, running at our feet like squirrels or chipmunks! Our taxi driver probably thought we were huge white American dorks, but, in our defense, he didn’t even know what a squirrel was. So…we carried on like dorks.
My favorite part was spinning the prayer wheels. You don’t realize how little you know until you travel halfway around the world and know literally nothing about someone’s religion and rituals. We learned that (after trying to take cute pictures) you have to spin a prayer wheel clockwise, and if there are many surrounding the base of a temple, you have to spin them all! It was only after that that our guide allowed us to take our tourist pictures!
Our second stop was Patan Durbar Square, an ancient collection of buildings built in the 1600s that were badly damaged during the 2015 earthquake. My favorite part of this site was the beautiful architecture and craftsmanship that was created by hand. Metalwork and wood carvings made up the beautiful temples that we walked through. Our taxi driver hooked us up with a guide that walked us around and told us about each building.
Our third stop was Pashupatinath Temple. To be honest, I agreed to see this site because I had read that it was one of the top places to visit in Kathmandu. It’s the oldest Hindu temple in the city, legend saying the temple dates back to 400 B.C. , so we gladly paid our $10 a person (a hefty price in Nepal!) to enter. It was only after we walked through that we saw the sign, Hindus Only. So, we walked around the grounds instead. As we walked across a bridge we saw smoke along the side of the river. Our guide told us that bodies were being cremated. And he wasn’t lying. We literally saw the burning remains of bodies. And once the burning was done, the ashes were pushed into the river. All of that smoke in my picture is from the cremations going on below us. Let’s just say we didn’t breathe very deeply here.
Our final stop was Boudhanath Stupa, the one of the largest in the world. This was definitely a favorite, and a must-see for anyone visiting Kathmandu. The pictures don’t do this structure justice, it really was magnificent!
On our second day we took a tour that I booked through Viator.com, and one that I would recommend! We left our hotel around 10am and were driven to the highest point in the Kathmandu Valley, Nagarkot. I had read that this was the best spot to view the Himalayan mountain range, and, if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Mount Everest. We weren’t so lucky, but our guide pointed to a cloud and said “On a clear day, that is where the peak is.” So we just pretended that we saw it! After we took in the breathtaking view, we hiked down for several hours through tiny villages where the people live very simple, quiet, farm lives. Our guide told us that, although the people didn’t appear to have much, they were happy up here, away from the chaotic and dusty Kathmandu.
After eating my only authentic Nepalese meal (vegetarian Momo, basically dumplings), we toured the Changu Narayan temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Nepal built in the 4th century.
On our last day, we visited Kopan Monastery. This is a place situated on the outskirts of Kathmandu where people from all over the world come to study. Like Nagarkot, this place is so far away from the loud city center and the air is actually breathable. They allow visitors in to tour the grounds, but we managed to sneak into a class on meditation!
I will say this, Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport definitely lives up to its #3 Worst Airport in the World rating. I can’t imagine this place in the summer, because even on a 60 degree January day the tiny waiting areas lined with windows were beginning to feel like small ovens. However, our Qatar Airways flight to Doha, Qatar was pleasant. I researched ahead of time and found out that if your layover is longer than 8 hours, the airline will put you up for free in a hotel, complete with meal vouchers. They take care of all visa issues and whisk you way from immigration and customs to a nearby, four star hotel. We were given an executive suite on the 27th floor of the Movenpick Hotel, and were allowed to use our meal vouchers for room-service cheeseburgers and french fries! I wish we could have had a full day in Doha instead of one night, but it was definitely what we needed before our 15-hour flight back to Atlanta.