I was taking a week off from work in April to visit my parents and was keen on travelling to a new place with them where I could switch my mind off work. It started from an sms about a new travel website launched offering holiday packages. The Kathmandu holiday package caught my eye. It just seemed to fit the kind of holiday I was looking for. This triggered off my research and I found a good deal directly through the hotel.
I had always been curious about Nepal from the time I had seen Dev Anand’s movie “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” during my childhood. Even though Nepal is the most accessible country for Indians ( due to the open border policy between the two countries), a holiday to this place just never worked out. And suddenly out of the blue at a week’s notice, I was making arrangements to finally visit the land where Zeenat Aman had gyrated to “Dum Maro Dum”.
The flight to Kathmandu from Delhi is just slightly over an hour’s duration. The quaint Kathmandu airport is probably the smallest international airport I have seen, a complete contrast to Delhi’s terminal 3. The first thing that I noticed in Kathmandu was the plethora of obsolete car models. All kinds of fancy cars which were in vogue about 15 years back were happily making their way on the roads of the city. The city in itself is a small town, probably the size of Dehradun in India. The hotel had arranged for an airport pick up for us and I was intrigued by the antique Toyota car that came for us (even the speedometer had stopped working).
I had selected a heritage hotel “Shanker Hotel” for our holiday though the popular ones like Soaltee, Yak n Yeti and Everest seem to be the most popular amongst Indian tourists. We were amongst the very few Indian guests at our hotel which seemed to be thronged more by tourists from Europe.
Places we saw in Kathmandu:
Pashupati Nath Temple: This is a Hindu temple with a panchmukhi ( 5 faced) shiv linga. Though it is accessible only to Hindus, it is a popular tourist place. The temple is very clean and well maintained. There was a proper queue for darshan and people were abiding by the queue norms. Though one has to be prepared to be caught by Pandas who would insist on you doing some puja. If you only intend to get a darshan of the deity, stay away from these Pandas.
Swayambhunath Stupa: This is a a Buddhist stupa with a golden dome and colorful depiction of the Buddha eyes. The Buddha eyes are now a widely used symbol in Nepal from a tourism perspective. The stupa is situated at a height. You can climb the 300 odd stairs to the top of the hill or drive a little further and take the last fleet of 100 odd stairs. There are a couple of temples next to the stupa. The site also provides a beautiful view of the Kathmandu valley.
Bhaktapur: There are a number of Durbar Squares in Kathmandu. Based on the recommendation of our hotel staff we visited the Bhaktapur durbar square. It looked like a fort in itself with numerous temples. Our guide told us that the Malla Kings were fond of constructing replicas of popular temples within their Durbar limit. Of course there may be other theories behind the presence of so many temples. But Bhaktapur was a good reflection of the ancient architecture and heritage of Nepal.
We could not visit the Patan and Krishna durbar squares due to lack of time though they are also very popular.
Nagarkote: This place is about 32 kms from Kathmandu and is a kind of picnic spot from where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Himalayas. Our guide took us to the Club Himalaya resort to show us the panoramic view. To our chagrin, the clouds had suddenly come about hiding the mountains behind them. We waited for about an hour, and mercifully, the clouds gave in. The view of the Himalayan mountain range was mesmerizing. Also surprisingly, even though it was a five star resort Club Himalaya was cheaper than the hotels in Kathmandu.
Thamel: Our hotel was near Thamel which is a market area. It is a popular tourist market and quite big in size. There are a number of eating joints and hotels in the market area. Though considering it is thronged by tourists, everything is overpriced.
We also visited one of the Casinos though I must say, it was very unimpressive. Most of the casino games have now been automated and they seem to be more like video game parlors and have lost their charm.
Other intriguing experiences in Kathmandu:
Friendliness and all smiles: Everyone in Kathmandu seemed to be smiley faced. They are also soft spoken and have a great regard for Indians. Most of the people we met were curious and had a lot of questions about India.
Maruti Taxis: All the taxis in Kathmandu were Maruti 800 models. Most of them look like they would fall apart any minute though we did not have any such incidents. Looks can be deceptive!
Acceptability of Indian currency: Indian rupees are practically accepted everywhere in Kathmandu. As it is due to the inflated prices for a tourist there seems to be nothing available for less than 100 Nepali rupees, so there isn’t much need for change in Nepali currency.
8:30 p.m closure: The day ends much earlier in Kathmandu. The markets begin closing by 7:30 p.m. The roads were empty by 8:30 p.m with only restaurants open.
Extremely overpriced: For a distance of 1 km, both taxis and cycle rickshaws would ask for 200 Nepali rupees! And if you are trying to get one from the stand, there will be no negotiation. Try to walk away from the stand and stop a lone taxi coming your way, they may agree to take you in 100 Nepali rupees. For taxis the double night charge begins at 6:00 p.m. In the market, the price quoted for everything will be 10 times. Do bargain and don’t give up. You may have to check in 5-6 shops before one agrees to a decent price. Also be prepared to handle the taunts hurled your way by the shop keepers if you try to bargain.
The airport experience: The Kathmandu airport hardly has any places to eat. There is only one shop (more like a stall) near the final waiting lounge and it would completely rip you off. A packet of chips would cost 200 rupees! Probably the most expensive airport I have been to. Also during departure, there are about 5 places (including the aircraft’s entrance) where one is frisked and the hand baggage is screened. Hand baggage screening includes physical examination of contents at two places.
We stayed in Kathmandu for 3 days and it was actually a good mix of fun and relaxation. There was an old world charm in the city. However considering tourism is one of the biggest industries in Nepal, there is a need to develop the infrastructure to support it failing which in the coming years, it may not be able to stand up to the more economical yet glamorous holiday options available in other countries.