Long time ago, travelers who wandered into Nepal came back with the conviction that they had found the famed Shangri-La, the symbol of an earthly paradise in the Orient. The place that they visited was actually Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, and while these travelers might have been a little romantic and naive, they were right about the beauty of this exotic city. Nowadays, Kathmandu is a magnet for indie travelers looking for something different, but there’s a little something in this city for everyone. It does feel like a place outside time, sometimes, but that only makes it all the more exciting.
When you step off the plane and venture into the heart of the city, you might feel a tinge of disappointment at what you see. From certain points of view, Kathmandu might seem just like any other city from a developing country, where the concrete buildings and inelegant towers are eating up the historical heritage. But if you get past the commercial and business areas, you will find that Kathmandu is still very much connected to its origins and ancient culture. In Kathmandu, in order to find something interesting and unique, sometimes you just have to avoid the more populous and modern areas. Seeing as tourists have been flocking to Kathmandu since the 60′s, you can know for sure that there are plenty of reasons for visiting it (more than the ‘ spiritual enlightenment’ that the hippies were looking for)
One of the things that shocks people who come to Kathmandu for the first time (apart from the explosion of color, sound and enticing smells), is the fact that there are no street names nor house numbers, except for the three main streets. It might be a bit disconcerting at first, but once you learn how to orient yourself by looking at the name of the nearest intersection, building or monument, it gets easier. The streets where the traffic is scarce are usually the ones that are the most worthy of being seen, and often you can bump into a small temple or a quaint little eatery that most definitely won’t appear in any travel brochures. But don’t make any mistakes, Kathmandu walking in Kathmandu is not always a pleasure, and the city definitely has some gritty parts. But if you insist on seeing as much of it as you can (as you should), there’s always the option of taking a rickshaw, which in Kathmandu are all bike-driven in order to prevent excessive pollution.
While exploring on your own can help you discover some really amazing places, the touristy, ‘cheesy’ sights of Kathmandu shouldn’t be neglected. Sure, everybody goes to see them, but that’s because they really are interesting. For example Swayambhu Stupa, which is considered to be the holiest place in the country. It’s a bit of a tourist trap since you have to pay to enter the temple, and there are oodles of ‘Tibetan’ trinkets on sale for tourist, but if you look past the commercial aspect, the stupa is really amazing. If you happen to visit the city during a religious holiday, don’t miss the festivals in Dubar Square, you’ll have the chance to see the real face of the city then.
The cuisine is one of the reasons that make this city amazing, so don’t forget to try some traditional Tibetan momos, or filled dumplings which can be steamed or fried. The tastes of Tibetan cuisine will be a revelation for your taste buds, especially if you sample it at smaller, family owned restaurants.