Its our forth day in Kathmandu! We originally planned to head up to the mountains today to start our trek around Annapurna, but our hotel advised us to wait until Monday. Nepal is holding its first local elections in 20 years on Sunday. There is a chance transportation could be disrupted due to a strike today or difficult to arrange as many people are traveling to smaller towns to vote. Transit is not running on Election Day. We now have two extra days in Kathmandu and can relax a little more before spending 20+ days hiking.
Here’s the scoop on Kathmandu so far…
Getting our visas and going through security at the airport on Wednesday was uneventful, but as soon as we exited the airport it felt like there were dozens of taxi drivers coming up to us or hollering at us. We knew this was going to happen but it was still jarring (especially being so tired and jet lagged). We have still not gotten used to the culture of haggling! I am glad that on the trek the tourism board has fixed the prices at the tea houses so we won’t have to worry about either getting a bad deal or not spending enough in the local economy. I’m sure this is something we’ll have to get used to during our trip.
Our first afternoon we got ourselves situated at the hotel and explored Thamel and had dinner (dal baht, Nepal’s “national dish,” and mutter paneer). Thamel is the “backpackers” neighborhood in Kathmandu and is geared for tourists and trekkers. There are hundreds of outfitters and shops hawking inexpensive, knock-off outdoor gear. Lots of restaurants too and so we’ve eaten most of our meals here.
On our first full day we went to Durbar. There are several Durbar Squares in Nepal that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Kathmandu Valley. The Square is a mix of temples and palaces. The palace used to be the King’s residence until 1896. After that it was used for special events and later as a museum. The monarchy was abolished in 2008 when Nepal became a republic.
It was very sad to see the destruction from the 2015 earthquake on these incredibly significant historic and religious sites (not to mention the loss of life and impact on the people). Several of the temples were severely damaged. Just looking at before and after pictures is heartbreaking. That being said, it was still a wonder to see temples still in use that were built in the 16th and 17th centuries.
We also got our TIMS trekking permits, our entry permits for the Annapurna Conservation Area, we ate momo for lunch (Nepalese dumplings) and picked up some trekking stuff. Through a quick internet search I found a place in Thamel called Shona’s Alpine that makes their own down sleeping bags and had really good reviews. We ended up renting a down sleeping bag for me for 80 rupees per day (about 80 cents USD) and picking up a few other things.
Yesterday, we walked over to the Swayambhu Temple (or Monkey Temple). It was incredible!
While the stupa was cracked during the earthquake, and some of the outer temples were damaged, repairs are underway and it still looks amazing. The temple is up on a hill and gave us a really great view of Kathmandu.
After that we wandered back to Thamel and ate lunch on a roof deck with another great view and just relaxed. The food here is pretty inexpensive (you can get a full meal of dal bhat, lentils, rice and some accompaniments, for $3-4) and its pretty good. We’ve been eating only vegetarian (the sanitation relating to meat does not seem very good so we figured better to be on the safe side) and there are a lot of veggie options. We are very much looking to experiencing street food in Asia, but not in Nepal. Its just not considered safe for visitors. We did end up having dinner at a very hippy/backpacker/trendy spot the other night which was fun but it was a little too cool.
To be honest, I can’t wait to get out of Kathmandu and into the mountains and start our trek (no offense KTM! I just want to see the Himalayas). But, we’re here for two more days and so we plan to visit Patan (a town just south of Kathmandu) and see some more sights in the city before grabbing a bus to Besisahar on Monday. Wish us luck!