11 October 2019
Today I have time for exploring Kathmandu and get to know Nepal a bit. I have leisurely start with my first (unsuccessful) challenge being to try to wash the oil from my massage out of my hair. Deciding that the ‘wet look’ would be fashionable today, I head out to the cafe for breakfast – it is delightfully cool sitting out on the veranda and I sit there quite a while writing my diary and enjoying the Nepalese black tea. When I ask what it is, the waiter brings out a huge bag that has the address of the local tea shop they get it from and I decide it must be a place to visit. I also spend a bit of time working out the currency – the Nepalese Rupee – 1000 of these is about NZ$14. I love the use of animals on the notes: an elephant on the 1000 rupee note and a tiger on the 500 rupee note.
I decide to walk the 25 minutes into the main Thamel area as it hasn’t heated up too much yet. A few stores along the way are open but not very many. I am very surprised by the vast numbers of police and military around (all with weapons) but I guess that is why there is a travel advisory to be wary of civil unrest. I got smiles and polite ‘namaste’ greetings from many. I pass 2 arches across the road welcoming Chinese president Xi to Nepal. He arrives tomorrow and apparently the airport and all the roads from there to the city will be closed from 1.00-4.00 tomorrow (so I’m grateful to have arrived earlier).
The Thamel area is a rabbit warren of narrow streets which I explored for a while and vowed to take a taxi to the joining point for my evening tour so that I wouldn’t get lost. The power/telephone lines hang in great tangles above the streets and vehicles of all descriptions toot their horns as they jostle for position. I am grateful that these are quiet streets! Also hanging above the streets are banners saying essentially “happy Dashain, happy Dewali and everything else”. I’m a bit bemused by the date of 2076 and wonder if I have time travelled but later discover that the Nepalese calendar is very different from the western one.
After enjoying the rest of the gardens, I headed back to the Hotel where I found a quiet shaded lounger by the pool to write up my diary and read up more about Kathmandu. I got an hour to myself before being invaded by a loud German group.
Tonight I have booked an Urban Adventures ‘Rickshaw Night Explorer’ tour that offers “Temples, shrines, spice markets, palaces, hot chai, even hotter street food, and a place called Freak Street. Join this Kathmandu tour to experience the wonderful and darn right weird sights of Kathmandu by night.”
I catch a taxi to Hotel Marshyangdi – going via a very interesting back street view where there are lots of locals and lots of goats tethered, I later hear that the Dishain Festival involves animal sacrifices and spending lots of time with family (and eating meat). The hotel is in a no vehicle zone so I am dropped off at the edge of an alleyway and directed to go 200m and it would be on the right (thankfully it was)!
I meet the Intrepid and Urban Adventure crew at the designated meeting point and after bemoaning the fact that I had wanted to go on several of the day activities that had to be cancelled because of the festival, I was neatly talked into going on a tour tomorrow to a little visited town of Kirtipur – another lady has booked and they are leaving early because she has to get back for a meeting.
My guide for the Rickshaw Tour is Bidhya, a very lovely local woman – and I am the only one on the tour. We head out and meet our cycle rickshaw driver and head out to explore the backstreets of Kathmandu as the sun starts to set. Again I am grateful that the festival means that the streets aren’t as busy as usual – they are more than busy enough for me! Our driver navigates through the maze of people, rickshaws and motorcycles galore, tooting his very effective homemade horn (ingeniously put together using plastic bottles).
We start in Thamel, which is the main tourist area and the shops here are full of tourist goods, everything from pastries to pashminas. But then we head towards Durbar Square passing through the old parts of town and the bustling local markets where there is not a tourist in sight. You can buy anything and everything here including underwear that is heaped up in piles on the street and there is great excitement as people jostle to try on t-shirts.
Along the way we stop to look at Buddhist stupas and monasteries, and Hindu temples tucked away amongst the back streets but a hive of activity with all the locals stopping for prayers and blessings. We also stop at Asan, a vegetable and spice market which is the oldest market square in all of Kathmandu. In Asan we visit the Annapurna Temple, dedicated to Annapurna, the Goddess of Abundance – I have included lots of photos because this was the only temple that I was allow to take pictures inside.
In Durbar Square we see signs of the devastating earthquake in 2015 but it is still a busy fascinating place filled with age-old temples, palaces and shrines along with all the locals hanging out on a Friday night. We see the house where the ‘kumari’ or living goddess is held – a young girl chosen to be held in isolation until she reaches puberty when she will have to try to re-enter the world. We walk down Freak Street – so named from the hippie era when people were ‘getting their freak on’ on drugs. It is now full of tattoo parlours and bikies. We then sit in the square and enjoy a cup of local chai before wandering back through the street food area. Bidhya doesn’t think I should try it because I haven’t been here long enough to acclimatise – and as it was mostly chunks of meat I was happy to abstain.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
Note: After people telling me they had booked an Intrepid Tour on my recommendation, I now have affiliate links with the Intrepid Travel group of companies and may receive a commission if you book a tour online within a couple of months after clicking through to these sites. So if you are enjoying my tips and stories and finding them useful in choosing your own travel, please click on these links and help me to bring you more .