Nepal: First Travel Notes

Boudhanath. The largest stupa in Nepal.

Boudhanath. The largest stupa in Nepal.

Flying around the Himalayas.

Flying around the Himalayas.

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Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square with cows and pigeons.

THE ITINERARY IN BRIEF

01. Spend less days in Kathmandu
Actually, one night is enough. Kathmandu is very dusty and lively, and by lively I actually mean chaotic. Most attractions in Kathmandu – like The Garden of Dreams and Boudhanath – can be done in one full day, or accessed through Patan. And, that’s why it’s better to …

02. … base in Patan
The old city of Patan, a.k.a. Lalitpur, is filled with original Newari architectures. The guest houses, the restaurants, the shops – all blend in with the ancient temples and shrines. Meanwhile, Patan also has a newly developed part that’s filled with bars and restaurants. Comparing to Kathmandu, Patan is slightly less dusty. There is also a nice Patan Museum with a cafe in the back. After two nights in Patan, we moved to Bakhtapur, but we went a bit far to Nagarkot first. Nagarkot is up on the hill. We found our way to the Hotel At The End of The Universe to have some snack. Wonderful view in a beautful setting.

03. Two nights in Bakhtapur
Bakhtapur’s Durbar (palace) Square is my favorite compared to the ones in Kathmandu and Patan. Very well preserved, and it’s set against a romantic backdrop of the mountains. Bakhtapur also boasts Natapola with the highest pagoda in Nepal. The city has the famous Pottery Square. Enjoy the breeze and clean, fresh air. Even the food is better. Tourists must pay around US$10 to enter Bakhtapur, but it valids for one whole week, and you will definitely get much more than you pay for. This is officially my favority part of Nepal so far. (I didn’t visit Pokhara, though, and everybody said I should.)

04. Mountain flight is fun, but …
… it won’t beat the trekking to the Himalayas, for sure. My partner and I were not prepared for trekking so we opted for this “short cut” to take pictures of the snowy mountain. We paid around US$200 each for a 55-minutes flight on Buddha Air. Each of the 19 passengers got a few seconds to visit the cockpit to take pictures. We departed very early in the morning. Try asking for D seat(s) instead of A, because the windows in the right side of the plane will give better view. www. mountainflights.com

Kathmandu's Garden of Dreams.

Kathmandu’s Garden of Dreams.

Swayambunath

Pashupatinath

The ladies in Pashupatinath.

THE TEMPLES AND STUPAS

01. Swayambhunath
The climb is totally worth it. The stupa is tall and beautiful. The complex is way high above the city, so the view is amazing. When we were there, there’s a balanced mix between tourists and believers who came to pray. Most of the tourists behaved well, and the believers still could pray in peace. There is an old little monastery that is worth a peek. Come either in the morning or approaching sunset, and enjoy the breeze and the beautiful view under the all-seeing eyes of Buddha.

02. Boudhanath
Said to be the largest stupa in Nepal, Bouchanath is surrounded by tourist cafes and shops. It’s right in the city, so there is no view like Swayambunath’s. The stupa itself is stunning, and surely adorned with penta-colors peace flags. This is home for Tibetan refugees, and many of them wear their daily, traditional costumes. We were encountered with a very nice Tibetan gentleman who deliberately showed us around to explain things, and ended up telling how his mother was very ill and he had no money. Best is to come around 10AM to stroll, then have lunch in one of the many cafes with rooftop terraces, then snap some more pictures as the sun has already moved to another side.

03. Pashupatinath
This is where they cremate the royalties and commoners alike. A large complex, but the view is not in par with other temples, or other parts of Nepal. Lots of wisemen ready to pose if you want to try selling pictures for NatGeo, but of course they are wise enough to score some bucks from you. Monkeys everywhere. There’s a complex of fifty shrines that’s quite serene and shaddy. Like anywhere else, the Hindu temples are reserved for believers only.

Bhaktapur's Taumadhi Square.

Bhaktapur’s Taumadhi Square.

Newari architecture.

Newari architecture.

Hyatt Regency Kathmandu, with a shorcut to Boudhanath.

Hyatt Regency Kathmandu, with a shorcut to Boudhanath.

Momo (dumplings), and King of Curds (yoghurt).

Momo (dumplings), and King of Curds (yoghurt).

PRACTICALITIES

BEST SEASON will be October to November. Ours was Oct. 22-29, and the blue sky was perfectly clear with less dust comparing to summer, and the temperature was between 12-22C. We could wear t-shirts all day long, and just put a layer of warm sweater or jacket in the early morning and evening. As most guest houses just provide a fan in the room, no AC, the evening temperature still sent us to a good night sleep.

VISA ON ARRIVAL is US$25 for 15 days, US$40 for 30 days, and US$100 for 90 days – all multiple entry. Bring your 3×4 cm photographs for visa. Otherwise, there’s a photo booth right before the Immigration, but that means another queue for you.

CONNECTIVITY – We use NCell that we bought in the airport. They asked for our finger prints, father’s name, and grandfather’s name upon filling the form to purchase a new SIM Card. Most hotels, guest houses and restaurants in Nepal gave free wifi, and they’re quite dependable.

ACCOMMODATION iIN KATHMANDU ranges from Hyatt Regency Kathmandu (with a shortcut to Boudhanath!) to guest houses in Thamel area. We stayed for two nights in the most-recommended Hotel Ganesh Himal. While the service there was totally friendly and helpful, I found the walking distance to the heart of Thamel district a bit far. There are more guest houses closer to the crowd that might not be listed in Agoda, TripAdvisor, or Lonely Planet. The Nepalese are naturally hospitable so I doubt that you will find bad service in any of the guest houses. Meanwhile, we also had lunch in Hyatt Regency Kathmandu. The hotel has a very subtle luxury that still makes it feel very local and friendly. The lunch buffet covers Indian, Newari, Tibetan, and some Chinese dishes, and they all taste very nice. The hotel’s complex is huge, and it incorporates a jogging track, tennis court, gym, swimming pool, spa, and venues for MICE. Oh, there’s a foreigners-only casino right next to the hotel.

ACCOMMODATION IN PATAN that we picked was Hira Guest House, and that’s because the most recommended Swotha – Traditional Homes was fully booked. I would really love to try Swotha -Traditional Homes, but Hira Guest House was something else. They actually have three separated buildings. Our first night was spent in a very traditional four-storeys building in a quiet back alley, with ceilings so low I could act like a giant. It’s authentic, it’s super friendly, and we had a great rest. We moved to the main building where the reception was also located. Again, they have low ceilings. It’s closer to the street so before evening came it was very noisy. The service was beyond five stars. Everything worked very well. It’s located right next to the Golden Temple. In the morning, we had breakfast at the rooftop terrace, overlooking the monks preparing for a ritual in the temple’s courtyard. Very nice.

ACCOMMODATION IN BHAKTAPUR for us was Sunny Guest House, right next to Nyatapola Temple in Taumadhi Square. Though the building looked traditional from the outside, the inside was not. Physically, it was not as homey as the previous places we experienced in Nepal. Yet, the shower ran very well, and the room was spacious. We had breakfast with a view of Taumadhi Square, and that’s really something. Other alternative will be Shiva Guest House. We had a delicious breakfast there.

Hira Guest House in Patan.

Hira Guest House in Patan.

Sunny Guest House in Bhaktapur.

Sunny Guest House in Bhaktapur.

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Pottery Square in Bhaktapur.

FOOD is generally not a big challenge, but try not to expect something very delicious. Veggies usually don’t look and taste so fresh. Curry may be too watery. In most restaurants, the menu will cover Newari, Tibetan and Chinese dishes. If you order rice, it will come in a huge portion. Best food that we had: Or2K (Kathmandu), Utse Restaurant (Kathmandu), Cafe Swotha (Patan), Cafe Beyond (Bhaktapur), and Peacock Restaurant (Bhaktapur). MUST-TRY: Momo (dumplings – steamed or fried), King of Curds (fresh yoghurt). For COFFEE, the best one is in Bhaktapur as well: Black Cup. They also serve delicious muffins.

BUDGET is relatively low. A great and fancy meal will cost less than US$10 a person. A US$5-taxi-ride took us from Boudhanath to Patan – which was almost an hour ride. Guest houses will cost around US$20-40 a night. Entering Bhaktapur will cost US$10 a person, and it valids for one whole week.

SHOPPING AND SOUVENIRS, aside from the usual t-shirts, key chains and fridge magnets, are geared towards fine cashmere, (fake) antiques, thanka (Tibetan paintings), and Tibetan singing bowls. Try to find shops that practice Fair Trade. In Patan, we bought a great handmade Tibetan singing bowl at Om Handicraft, and fine knitwears as Kumbeshwar Technical School – where proceeds will go to help funding education and training for disadvantaged low-caste families.

TIPPING is not encouraged. The service and VAT tax could be up to 23%, and in most places, the staff actually get the share.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND Well, from Jakarta we flew AirAsia to Kuala Lumpur, then continued with AirAsiaX to Kathmandu. The flight to reach Kathmandu was nice, because we arrived in the afternoon. Yet, the flight back brought us to Kuala Lumpur in the middle of the night, and – let’s face it! – staying overnight in Kuala Lumpur is not the best news for many. To get around in Nepal, taxi is the easiest. They’re all broken-white-colored, broken old cars, and we have to haggle for the price. But, the drivers were pretty honest and dependable.

The streets of Nepal.

The streets of Nepal.

Sunset over Bhaktapur's Durbar Square.

Sunset over Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square.

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