Four years after the devastating 2015 earthquake, the Nepali capital continues to beckon tourists to the rooftop of the Himalayas, says Swati Basu Das.
A backpacker’s gateway to the mighty Himalaya range, Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu is a remarkable destination offering nirvana behind its curtain of daily hustle and bustle. In its narrow lanes, travelers seek solace, various faiths celebrate intensely colourful festivals, and mountaineers venture with grit to scale the highest heights – Mount Everest.
Exhibiting a tradition as old as time, Kathmandu mixes all shades of culture, religion, and nature in its palette. Known as the ‘Valley of Gods’; Kathmandu exhibits an array of temples, monuments, saints, and monks narrating fables and myths. The city is also home to the legendary tales of the Yeti (snowman) dwelling in the snow-clad Himalayas, whose tracks are still rare to trace.
Kathmandu is nothing less than a gallery transporting the visitor to relive its history and, simultaneously, paving the way to the world of adventure. The city highlights a saga of faiths and beliefs amid Newari and pagoda-style architecture, and a rich offering of local food. But, most importantly, it stands as the symbol of the world’s highest mountain.
The Durbar Squares of all the three cities of Kathmandu Valley (Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur) form the triumvirate heart of the capital, their old palaces standing in a queue displaying the achievements of the Newari architects who delicately sculpted their intricate wood carvings. The lanes here are much like a labyrinth, where artisans exquisitely carve wooden and mud artefacts in the age-old traditional style.
If food is what you travel for, then the authentic Newari fare sold along the alleys of these cities is not only flavourful and hearty, it’s also as unique in name. Juju Dhau (delicious curd), Alu Tama (curry made of potatoes and bamboo shoots), Hakuchoila (spiced and broiled ground meat), Masyoura (a tasty gravy made of black lentils and sun-dried shredded vegetables), Mamacha or Momos (meat dumplings), and Chatamari (rice pancakes) are some of the must-try delicacies in this Himalayan town.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Kathmandu Valley is a diverse historic city. It continues to hold its charm even after a mega-earthquake shook its very foundations to decimate several ancient monuments in April 2015 and killing nearly 9,000 people.
Every good, bad, and ugly experience of an avid traveler boils down to two inseparable elements – creating an everlasting memory and leaving behind footprints for others to follow. Kathmandu is nothing less than an experience persuading its visitors heed its ancient call that echoes over the mountains on which it stands.
My favourite place- A UNESCO Natural World Heritage site, Chitwan Forest, with its rich flora and fauna enhances the wilderness of Nepal’s Terai region. Located in the southern part of the country, Chitwan National Park can be reached by tourist buses from Thamel in Kathmandu. A five-hour journey from the capital, this park is the closest to Kathmandu. A sub-tropical jungle, Chitwan is a spectacular wildlife sanctuary ideal for a day-long safari. A walk along the forest with an experienced guide, a jeep safari, or canoeing through the river all provides an ultimate awe-inspiring experience. The elephant and gharial (crocodile) breeding centre is a perfect place to learn more about the wildlife that calls Teraj home. Chitwan borders on the supreme Terai marshlands where Royal Bengal tigers, the greater one-horned rhinoceros, Asiatic elephants, sloth bears, and leopards roam freely. Consider a stay in one of the area’s many treehouse resorts and feel at one with nature.
Highlights- Kathmandu is all about capturing a glimpse of Mount Everest – and everything that lies in between the world’s highest peak and the valley. A visit to Kathmandu would be incomplete without strolling along the streets of Thamel. A tourist hotspot, Thamel is replete with international restaurants, hiking stores, and souvenir shops – and Thamel Marg is the ultimate place to be. Listen to the echoing sound of Tibetan singing bowls fading into the Himalayas. While Mandala Street displays fairy lanterns, bookstores, and cafeterias to keep you nourished and grounded. Take a short, enlightening walk from Kathmandu Durbar Square to the Freak Street and dip into its classical flavours while savouring some of the best-baked goodies at Snowman Café. The temples at Kathmandu aren’t just religious retreats for the pilgrims but are marvelous historical sites that transport visitors back in time. These include the Monkey Temple or the Swayambhunath (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and Pashupatinath Temple (dating back to the 5th century BC) in the eastern part of the Kathmandu Valley, and many more.
Lowlights- Monkeys and pollution are a part of Kathmandu. It’s advisable not to provoke monkeys with food and maintain a safe distance.
Souvenirs- Handicrafts from Durbar Square, singing bowls, puppet dolls from Bhaktapur city, trekking gear, stones and bead jewelry, cashmere, thangkas (Buddhist cultural paintings) from Thamel, and Tibetan masks.
Getting there- Oman Air and SalamAir operate direct flights to Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu from Muscat International Airport.
Where to stay- The Traditional Comfort boutique hotel is a highly recommended luxury stay, while the Kathmandu Guest House is another one of the capital’s most popular budget options. Booking.com and Trivago also offer a range of budget accommodations to be found.
1. Take a helicopter tour for a panoramic view of Mount Everest
2. Escape the city life and explore the Garden of Dreams
3. Admire the elaborate Newari architecture along the Durbar Squares
4. Trek to Nagarkot to witness the sunrise over the Himalayas
5. Learn the intricate techniques of Thangka painting from a Buddhist monk