A detour to Nepal – Kathmandu

To get to Nepal from India, you have to fly from New Delhi Airport to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city. Even if you fly from other parts of India, it will just mean you’re going to just have a stop over in New Delhi and so for that reason we left our whirlwind exploration of India after only a week to go and see what Nepal had to offer before we would then head back into India for another month where we would work our way across Rajasthan and over to Kolkata.

On 7th March 2018, we got a three-hour train in the evening from Agra to New Delhi where we then got a taxi to the airport. I had already started to feel unwell whilst we were in Agra and what I thought was just exhaustion turned out to be the beginning of a rather aggressive ‘Delhi belly’. For those of you who don’t know what Delhi belly is, it’s the infamous illness that will most likely affect every traveler to India at some point during their trip with different levels of severity. It can involve sickness and/or a dodgy tummy and generally just wipes you out for a few days. I slept for the entire train journey and Niall had to really take the lead on getting us to our flight. Because of the hour (it was around 11pm) it was proving a challenge to get the taxi drivers at the train station to give us a fair price as they knew we were limited with our options to get to the airport. As luck would have it there are some truly lovely people in India (the majority of people in fact) and an Indian man, hearing our struggles in haggling for a taxi, offered to help and after a lot of words spoken between the taxi drivers and himself in Hindi, we were getting a taxi for 400 rupees instead of around double that which we were getting quoted. We thanked him for his help and off we went to spend the night in the airport as our flight was at around 7am the next morning.

I was a zombie in the airport and we ended up finding an empty bit of floor where we were able to lie and have a sleep for a few hours before we could check in our bags. Although the floor was hard and cold, it wasn’t long until we were both asleep as we had been up since sunrise that day! The journey to Nepal is a bit of a blur for me as I was becoming very ill and was sick a number of times on the journey (not ideal at all)! As we were tired from all of our travelling around India so far we had booked ourselves into a private room for our first night in Kathmandu at Kasthamandap Traveller’s Home so we could rest. This was the best decision we could have made as I slept for the rest of that day and was unable to do anything at all. We were staying in the main tourist area which has the majority of shops and restaurants, Thamel. After going to other areas in Kathmandu I’m not really sure I’d want to stay anywhere else mainly for the lack of places to eat as it seems that Thamel has the monopoly on food establishments in the capital. After my day of being a solo traveller in Koh Samui when Niall was ill, it was now his turn. Unfortunately for him he didn’t just have a nice beach to go and relax on and found his time wandering around the streets of Thamel alone not very enjoyable as he was persistently harassed by people trying to sell him drugs or a guided trek. People would pretend they just wanted to chat and then end by the end be trying to sell him something (even if he had already told them he wasn’t interested) which was both irritating and exhausting to have to continually deal with, especially since Niall was also dealing with a bout of Delhi belly himself. Needless to say, Kathmandu wasn’t making a good first impression!

Thamel was a good area to explore with lots of shops and restaurants selling every type of food you could want. I’m still not 100% sure what would class as Nepali food as the majority of places mainly served western food such as burgers, chips, pasta and pizza. It turns out Nepal has just taken a lot of foods from different countries such as Tibet and India, so don’t really have their own dish. This wasn’t an issue for us as we hadn’t had western food for a long time and so used our time in Nepal to eat all the food we could! After spending the next day in bed, I was feeling a bit better and up to going out for an evening walk around the area as well as for a bit of food. One of the first things we saw of Thamel were hundreds of colourful prayer flags strung up along the tops of the streets. This looked great and was one of the things I had been most looking forward to seeing in Nepal so it was good to see them so early on in our stay.

Thamel had a nice energy to it and had lots of streets that didn’t allow cars which meant we didn’t have to worry so much about being run over on busy streets. I enjoyed my first evening out in Thamel even if I still didn’t feel so great and I think Niall preferred walking around with me with him compared to being alone but we still kept hearing offerings of drugs every few meters which was definitely the most we had experienced in Asia! By the time we left Kathmandu we had established three main places that we regularly visited for either pizza, a burger or momos. Momos are a Tibetan food that are also very popular in Nepal and are small dumplings that are either steamed or fried and filled with anything from potatoes, cheese, vegetables or meat. Niall had found a place that was rated highly on Trip Advisor called the Thamel Momo Hut and we went here a couple of times for their momos as they were really good. We really liked them especially the garlic and cheese ones and even tried some of the desert momos that were deep fried and filled with chocolate. On our last day in Kathmandu, we also found somewhere that did caramel milkshakes which was a blessing and a curse that we didn’t find it until the last day as they were so good!

After some rest I was feeling a lot stronger and we are able to properly start exploring the streets of Kathmandu. We had found a Nepal Lonely Planet – our travel bibles for all the countries we visit – in one of the hostels and that had a walking tour in it that took you through the streets showing you stupas and temples because reaching the Durbar Square.

The tour was the perfect way to be immersed in Kathmandu life as it took us through bustling streets, past ancient buildings, into hidden squares and to busy intersections where locals were shopping and chatting. We really enjoyed the tour and were able to get the buzz of the place on an in depth level compared to if we had blindly followed google maps from the hostel to the Durbar Square or gotten a taxi.

Nateshwar Temple and StupaKathesimbhu StupaBangemudha SquareUgratara TempleHaku BahalAsan ToleSeto MachindranathNara Devi TempleItum and Yatka Bahal’s The Durbar Square is one of three squares that are in the Kathmandu Valley area, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. It holds palaces and grand towers which were once the home of past rulers of Nepal. This particular square is known as Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square which is named after the statue of Hanuman, the monkey devotee of Lord Ram. The statue really caught your eye as you walked through the square and had a continuous flow of people paying their respects and saying prayers to it.

On 25th April 2015 an earthquake hit Nepal with a magnitude of 7.9 which caused catastrophic damage throughout Kathmandu. The earthquake killed around 9000 people and left 22,000 people injured and the affects of this earthquake are still there as a constant reminder to the people of Nepal today.

Like many of the historical sites in Kathmandu, this Durbar square is no exception to the effects of the earthquake. Many of the buildings are under construction or have scaffolding on them to support the structures as the restoration is carried out. With all of these sites, the work appears to be going slowly or in some cases seems non-existent and regardless of the level of damage occurred at each site, the entrance fee for foreigners (excluding Chinese tourists) is now 1000 Nepalese Rupees (£6.80).

The buildings still held some grandeur although the level of building work, rubble and scaffolding around was distracting for us to truly enjoy what we were seeing. This was actually where our enjoyment of Nepal really took a plunge as the sites we were seeing just weren’t living up to our expectations, something we hadn’t really experienced on such a scale before.

There was some monkeys that lived in the square which seemed to enjoy stealing people’s food and we were also surprised by the number of pigeons in the square which the locals were feeding. Everywhere we went in Kathmandu had a lot of pigeons that all seemed very well looked after – we saw more pigeons than you’d get in London!After our first night in a private room we then moved to a dorm room in a different hostel called Shantipur. We liked it here as it had good wifi, friendly and helpful staff and a café on the roof that made cheap lassi’s (milk/yogurt drinks served throughout India and Nepal). The beds weren’t the most comfortable but still weren’t terrible and the location was great so we stayed here until we went on our trek into the Himalayas (post to come on this).

The city of Kathmandu is surrounded by the Kathmandu Valley and the hostel advertised good views from their roof of the surrounding mountains. This was definitely a possibility logistically but unfortunately, due to the pollution from the city and the time of year that we visited there was a thick haze that blocked outside t a proper view of the surrounding valley.

One of our favourite places in Kathmandu and probably the saving grace of our time there (we had been quite disappointed in our trip so far) was Swayambhunath which also gets called ‘the Monkey Temple’. The temple is located up a lot of steps (as a lot of the best temples seem to be) and all the way up there are monkeys relaxing and looking for food. Like all through India, you have to be careful around the monkeys but the best way to do this is not to have food and not get too close to them so that they would feel threatened. We just kept an eye on them and looked from a distance. At the top we had to pay 200 rupees (£1.35) to get in and then got to enjoy the stupa, the views and all of the temples and monkeys for as long as we wanted.

From the top, the site is pretty big and starts with a large stupa which was made extra nice by the monkeys that clambered all over it. You have to walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction and the devotees turn the metal wheels and pray to the gods.

We then headed past the stupa towards other temples and shrines which were covered with prayer flags. I had never seen so many prayer flags and I loved it! Prayer flags make places look more beautiful and especially when they’re accompanied with views over the city on a sunny day.

There were monkeys everywhere including some cute babies and you can spend ages watching them as they do really funny stuff. Our favourite monkey of the day was a young monkey who kept swinging on a line of prayer flags that was hanging from a tree. It would propel itself off a wall holding onto the flags, turn itself upside down and hang onto the flags with its mouth before throwing itself around to make the flags spin in a circle until it fell off. It was really funny to watch and the monkey was obviously having a lot of fun as it continued to do it again and again!

The monkey temple was definitely a favourite of ours and it would be somewhere I’d go to again.

After everything we had heard about Kathmandu and Nepal we left feeling disappointed and deflated. The wonderfully kind people that are advertised by so many seemed to us to be few and far between. We missed the generosity we had experienced in India when people were all too eager to help you if you looked lost or needed a hand and they didn’t even ask for anything in return. I’m certainly not saying that Nepal doesn’t have lovely people as we did meet some very kind and friendly people during our time here but our view is that tourism has corrupted the place and we often felt that we were just being seen as a dollar sign. The high rates we were expected to pay at all attractions to help restore the buildings after the earthquake felt like we were being exploited, especially as it’s been three years since the earthquake occurred and often we would only see one person working on the whole site at any one time and many of the buildings still looked very destroyed. This is not the case everywhere, Boudhanath, a place we greatly enjoyed visiting (see next post), completed their reconstruction after the earthquake very quickly to the extent that you wouldn’t know any damage had occurred at all. Considering we had come from India where it’s constantly said that they’ll try and rip you off (something we didn’t experience) we were surprised by how often we felt that way in Nepal. It wore us down and within a few days of this Niall had officially had enough and we actually chose not to visit one site in Kathmandu called Baktapur after reading of the earthquake damage as we couldn’t face looking around another building site and being charged for the privilege of doing so.

In all honesty I’m gutted by how we feel about Nepal now that we’ve left with the Himalayas being the only shining (brightly and brilliantly) feature of our visit. Nepal had been a place we had looked forward to going to more than most and the disappointment we felt when we left was crushing. Having never been previously and many people still not viewing the place as we did it’s hard to know why it all went so wrong for us. Maybe our expectations were too high, maybe our love of India had warped our perceptions of what we were experiencing in Nepal or maybe we just got bad luck and were targeted by more of the bad conmen that are everywhere if you’re unlucky enough to find them. I don’t know but, needless to stay, our two week stay was enough for us and I’ll be forever grateful for our time trekking as this was up there as one of the best experiences of our entire journey away.

Sending Love x

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