Nepal is known for trekking and expeditions in the Himalayan mountains, including trips to Everest Base Camp. It’s a great place for nature lovers who want to have a rough time and get away from the urban jungle. For those interested in seeing snow-capped mountains right in front of their faces and breaking out of the comfort zone of the Western world, there are few places on this planet that offer as much as Nepal.
But a visitor doesn’t need to have a full inventory of mountain gear, a three-week vacation to get into the mountains, or the constitution for alpine sports to enjoy Nepal. It’s easy to visit for a few days, take lots of great photos, experience the culture, and do some great shopping. This short guide will tell you how you can enjoy Kathmandu and the surrounding valley in four to five days.
Places to visit and things to do
Spend your first two days seeing the city of Kathmandu. Lonely Planet and other guidebooks offer walking tours, and these are helpful in getting to some of the highlights without needing to hire a tour guide or wander aimlessly. You will notice that Nepalis live and work in ancient sites, so you will see children playing and people leaning against monuments from the 6th century. Historical temples and monuments are part of their daily life and are not cordoned off as in many other countries.
Durbar Square is the heart of historic Kathmandu, and this is where ancient kings ruled. Many Nepalis now trade and spend their time lounging on the steps of temples. There are a number of rooftop cafes and restaurants around the edges that will give visitors panoramic views of the square, so having a cup of traditional Nepalese tea at one of these places is recommended. There are a number of Buddhist and Hindu temples and historical sites to the north and northeast of the square, and most of these can be seen within a three to four hour span. As you travel between these sites, you will be able to window shop and see how many urban Nepalis spend their days.
A visit to Kathmandu is not complete without seeing the Buddhist temple of Swayambhunath, commonly known as the Monkey Temple. You can walk to the Monkey Temple in about forty minutes from the Thamel neighborhood, or you can take a taxi. Traveling from the base of the temple grounds to the temple itself is half the journey as there are over a hundred steps to climb and as you climb you will have to fend off hordes of monkeys and touts offering all kinds of of merchandise. on sale. The vendors aren’t very pushy so this isn’t a problem, but it’s harder to stay away from the monkeys. They have become used to tourists and people, but keep your belongings, especially food and cameras, close to your chest, as the monkeys have been known to snatch them from visitors. The colorful temple stands in the center, with devotees performing their ritual circumnavigation in a clockwise direction and offering prayers.
When you’re done at the Monkey Temple, head to Thamel, which is the heart of the shopping scene in Kathmandu. It is very touristy, but most of the best restaurants and shops are in the three or four long streets that make up Thamel. Many of the hotels and hostels are also located in this area. If you’re looking for a traditional Nepalese snack or meal, look for a place that serves momos, which are meatballs stuffed with meat or vegetables and served with curry sauce. The buffalo momos are particularly good.
Areas outside of Kathmandu are definitely worth exploring if time permits. You don’t have to venture far to see some interesting sites. Hire a car and driver for a day for about US$40 (either through your hotel or one of the many travel agencies in Thamel) and see the surrounding towns of Patan, Bhaktapur and Bodhnath, with the first two cities that have their own unique durbar. squares (durbar square essentially means the central square, which is why there are many durbar squares in Nepal). Just like in Kathmandu, be prepared to pay an entrance fee and wander around the monuments in the square. Prices will vary, with Bhaktapur being the most expensive at US$10 per person. Patan has the best Durbar Square in all of Nepal with its variety of temples and architecture. Bhaktapur is the best preserved historical city, so wandering its streets will be time well spent. Finally, Bodhnath is a beautiful temple that is a must see if you want to see pilgrims doing their devotions and want to take some great photos of probably the most striking stupa. These three cities are separated by an hour by car and no more than two hours outside of Kathmandu. You can take a taxi to and between all of these sites, but availability is not constant and the few dollars you’ll save by not hiring a car and driver is probably not worth it.
You can spend the fourth day doing an easy trek through the Kathmandu Valley. A popular trekking route is to Nagarkot which offers stunning views of the Himalayas if the weather, mist and clouds work in your favor and give you a clear day. The View Point Hotel is the closest to the mountain range with a good view from the rooftop. You can visit the restaurant for a meal and climb the stairs to the roof for a view, so you don’t necessarily have to spend the night there. The best times are usually during sunrise or sunset, but there are no guarantees. This is a popular place for an overnight stop or a day trip to see the range, as there is not much else to do in Nagarkot. An organized trek through a travel agency will consist of a short one hour trip to Changu Narayan (a temple and city), and then a three hour trek with a guide to Nagarkot. Then your guide and a driver will take you back to Kathmandu. It can all be done in one day if you start early.
All the major temples and durbar squares are lined with vendors selling all manner of paraphernalia that attracts tourists, such as scarves, bronze figurines, artworks such as Thangka paintings, and handmade clothing, all at low prices by local standards. Westerners. However, be prepared to bargain if you want an even better deal, as the prices sellers will initially tell you are highly inflated. A smart buyer willing to haggle can usually get around a third of the asking price. Just be aware of the fact that a couple of dollars will mean a lot more to a Nepali than it will to you.
Thamel offers the most shopping in a neighborhood. In addition to Nepalese artwork and handmade clothing, you can also find all the maps, books, trekking gear, and imitation Western winter clothing you need in Thamel.
Get ready for the combat walk in Kathmandu. There are few sidewalks, so you’ll literally have to push motorcycles, cars, tractors, pedestrians, and carts as you walk down each street. However, walking is really the best way to see and experience Kathmandu, so regardless of the danger, it is still recommended. Another option is to order a taxi. These are small white Suzuki Maruti hatchbacks. They have meters, but drivers don’t like to use them, so set a price before you move. One hundred rupees (a little over US$1) is usually enough for a single trip within Kathmandu, if you haggle. Whether walking or taking a taxi, be patient and take more time than you think you need to get from one point to another.