As we sat in the Delhi airport at gate 13 for the flight to Kathmandu we realised not much has changed in terms of fav destinations. Westerners love Kathmandu and our flight was full of people from across the globe, all set to holiday in romantic Kathmandu. It was the flower child destination in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and judging from the back packers sitting waiting for the flight, nothing much has changed since then. Except that the westerners were not the scruffy kind of the flower power era, but the better heeled ones and the older more monied generation.
As we touched down in Kathmandu it was a wonderful feeling to be waved in very politely by a Nepali Immigration official since I had an Indian passport which is respected in Nepal. Wow! It’s a great feeling especially since we are so used to being traumatised over getting visas to go anywhere else in the world.
Kathmandu is situated in the Kathmandu valley and has two suburbs – Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. We were staying at the Goodwill in Lalitpur and a free pick up at the airport is one of the nicest things a tired traveller appreciates, instead of being gouged by mean taxi drivers. Try and fix that up or bargain like hell ‘cause cabbies are rogues.
At the reception of the Goodwill Hotel, we were told that Kathmandu stands at an elevation of 1400 m and is surrounded by four major mountains, Sivapuri, Pulchowki, Nagarjun and Chandragiri. At any time early morning or early evening, the mountains were always hazy, seemingly covered by a cloud. Was this the famous Asian Brown cloud, read pollution due to carbon particles, which we had come to learn about, hanging over them we wondered. It was frustrating not being able to get pretty pictures of the mountains to take back. Brown cloud is particulate matter which is expelled from burning fossil fuels and which hang in the atmosphere, causing widespread damage to our fragile planet and especially the glaciers in the mountains.
Kathmandu did not live up to its reputation of being beautiful and well kept. The roads were messy and clogged with unruly traffic and the buildings did not seem to follow any norms whatsoever. However thankfully Kathmandu does not have the autos (three wheeler public transport) that pollute our roads in India, instead they have ten seater Maruti vans and auto rickshaws called tuk tuks, which stop at intervals. Taxis are the better form of transport and though they have a meter, unless you insist it is switched on, they will haggle with you over an exhorbitant price. Better haggle, ‘cause they can charge nearly 650 for a trip from the airport to Lalitpur.
However shopping can be fun, ‘cause the Indian rupee is accepted all over the city but, only in hundred rupee denominations. Apparently the Indian 500 and 1000 rupee are banned and visitors carrying that currency are liable to be prosecuted! The dollar ofcourse rules and you don’t really need to change your money when shopping, but your math should be good when you try to bargain in dollars!
One evening, we decided to take a trip to the Patan Durbar heritage square which was a few minutes drive from the hotel. So we took off after haggling on the cab fare, and were stunned by the beauty of the place. Weaving along a regular road, the taxi stopped at the square which seems to be in a time warp of the 12th and 18th centuries when the palaces were built. Patan Square and its surroundings reflect ancient Newari architecture. There are three main courtyards in the square: Mul Chowk, Sundari Chowk and Keshav Narayan Chowk. Mul Chowk, the oldest one, is at the centre of Patan square. The square is a world heritage site and no wonder, the temples and statues seem so surreally beautiful. Saturday is the weekly general holiday in Nepal, so the square was full of holiday makers sitting around and probably watching us goofy tourists, snapping pictures and shooting footage with our digi cams.
We were allowed into one temple as the others had clear signs – "Only Hindus allowed’. We laboriously climbed up the steep stairs and itched to ring the lines of bells which hung around the idol. " You just watch, they will know we are from India," said my husband, and sure enough as we walked into the temple we were asked just that!
After walking around the square we decided on a romantic dinner in one of the resturants around. As we gorged on Momos and other delicacies we were treated to a stream of retro rock from a nearby bar being performed by a live rock group. An hour of Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Queen et al and we were sure the ‘70’s are alive and well in Kathmandu!
The whole of Kathmandu is sprinkled with Buddist stupas with their trademark khol lined eyes on the top of the stupa. The Bouddhanath Stupa which is a world heritage UNESCO site is a must visit. The Stupa is massive and don’t be surprised if you are blown away by its sheer size. All around the Stupa are 140 niches in which three prayer wheels per niche are found. As you walk along one is expected to whirl the wheels for luck.
Shops line the periphery of the stupa and all sorts of handicrafts are available on sale from key chains to brass figurines of Buddha and other deities and ofcourse the famed pashmina shawls. But don’t be misled, they are not cheap. Bargaining is the name of the game!
Kathmandu is a great place to visit for a holiday, but remember if you are looking for views of only the Himalayas preferably choose the dry, summer months, where hopefully the brown cloud dissapates. We have to go back to do that ‘cause we were not lucky!
There are a variety to suit every budget. Check them out at the information centre at the airport.
INR equivalent to 1.60 Nepali rupee $ brought in 77 Nepali rupee per dollar