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Nepal

Kathmandu - Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell.

Nepal 2011.

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Marigold Sellers.

Kathmandu sent me on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride as I alternated between loving it, hating it, loving it........ We arrived at our guest house which we were expecting to be fairly basic, as it was very cheap. However, my idea of basic and a Kathmandu guest house owner's ideas of basic clearly did not really coincide. I hated it!!! Apart from complaining that almost everything in the room did not work and getting the owner to fix them, I managed to bite my tongue, which was lucky because the people who ran the guest house turned out to be very gentle, kind and helpful and to have gone over the top on the complaining would not have been a good thing.

We were really tired when we arrived having got an early flight from Hong Kong to Singapore, followed by an early flight from Singapore to Kathmandu the next day. We tried to get some sleep. That's when the music started, thud thud thud, then the dogs bark, bark, bark, then the people shout, shout, shout. When I had finally nodded off, the room suddenly lit up. There had been a power cut (one of many to come) when we had gone to bed and the electricity had suddenly come back on. Lights off, back to bed. Discos and clubs close. A fight breaks out on the street. Finally, I drift off to sleep again. The door to our bedroom is suddenly thrown open and someone walks inside. I scream. It turns out just to be another tourist who made a mistake about her room. She is very apologetic and embarrassed. I'm stunned because I thought we had locked and bolted the door. I climb back into bed, thinking I'll never get back to sleep now. My husband who could sleep through an earthquake turns over in his sleep and punches me hard in the eye. That's when I utter those seldom heard words when I'm travelling, "I want to go home."

Everything looks better in the daylight. After a chilly start to the morning, the sun came out and we went off to explore. Kathmandu was a photographer's dream: ­stalls spilling over with masks, copper ware, pashminas, carpets, prayer flags; porters bent double under heavy loads, fruit, vegetables, flower sellers, bicycle rickshaws, temples and shrines, fantastic wood carved windows; craftsmen working in the street. Absolute heaven. We felt we could wander the streets for ever and never get bored.

We only had a week and we wanted to see the Kathmandu Valley so decided we would stay put and leave any possible trips to Pokhara or Chitwan to the future. We loved Kathmandu's teeming streets and its Durbar Square. We loved the Monkey Temple and Boudhanath Stupa. We felt very out of place in Pashupatinath, almost came to blows with tourist guides in Patan's Durbar Square and were almost hassled to death in Bhaktapur. By our last day I was exhausted. I was sick of the smell of generator fuel, the 12 hour a day power cuts and constantly having motorbikes and cars up my bum as I tried to walk the streets. I was so ready to go home.

We visited Kathmandu's Durbar Square. Entrance is NPR300. We took our passport and photos to the site office and got a pass for our whole stay. This was useful because sometimes you want to nip off the square and back on, or come back on a different day to visit one of the square's many rooftop cafes. Durbar Square is really three temple filled squares next to the royal palace. Entrance to the royal palace is extra­ we did not go in. The door to the royal palace is guarded by a statue of the monkey god hanuman dating from 1672. It does not look like a monkey as it is smeared with red paste and shaded by an umbrella. There is a colourful gate into the palace next to this statue. This gate is guarded by soldiers. There are several temples next to the gateway to the royal palace including Jagannath Mandir and Gopinath Mandir. The temples are multi-roofed and generally covered with pigeons. The Black Bhairav sculpture is in this area. This fierce god with his necklace of skulls and eight arms was believed to punish anyone who lied in front of him by making them bleed to death. Criminals used to be dragged here to swear their innocence. The White Bhairab is nearby but was located behind a grating. It is only revealed during a Hindu festival when beer spills from its mouth.

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Black Bhairav.

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Young child in Durbar Square.

The next square contains the tall Maju Deval Shiva Temple with its three roofs and steep plinth. You can climb up this for good views over the square and surrounding streets. The nearby Navadurga Temple has a famous painted image of Shiva and Parvati gazing out over the square. Nearby is the Kasthamandap ­ house of wood. Kasthamandap marks the very centre of the city. It gave its name to Kathmandu and is said to have been constructed from a single piece of wood. The Kumari Bahal (house of the Living Goddess) is nearby. You can enter the courtyard of this house and can take pictures as long as the living goddess is not at the window. It is forbidden to take a picture of the goddess. The living goddess is chosen from a selection of girls aged around 4 or 5. Her feet must never touch the ground. She remains the living goddess until she starts menstruation. The Kumari Bahal has beautifully carved peacock windows. The final square is the Basantapur Square which is filled with trinket sellers. One side of it is lined by the walls of the royal palace. There are several rooftop cafes giving good views over the squares.

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Shiva and Parvati.

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Peacock Windows.

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View over View over Maju Deval Shiva Temple and Navadurga Te - Kathmandu.

Freak Street runs off Basantapur Square. It was once the the hang­out of long haired hippies from the west when they visited Kathmandu. in the 1960s. It is much quieter nowadays with some interesting shops and views up towards the palace. If you exit Durbar Square here, you need proof that you have paid your entrance fee to get back in.

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Freak Street.

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Old Pipe Shop, Freak Street.

We also visited Swayambhunath - ­The Monkey Temple. We walked here from Thamel. Entrance fee was, I think, NPR250. This ancient stupa sits on top of a green hill. This has been a religious site for more than 2500 years. To get to the temple you must climb up 300 stone steps past various sculptures, shrines, beggars and souvenir sellers. The ticket desk is around half­way up. The shrine itself is a peaceful and beautiful place dominated by a large stupa with four faces of Buddha painted on it to show he sees all things. Walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction, spinning the prayer wheels. The air will be filled with the very peaceful Om Mane Padme Hum chant. It took me days to get this chant out of my head. The monkey temple welcomes all forms of life: people, monkeys, pigeons, dogs, all interspersed together. There are beautiful views over Kathmandu from here, though it was hazy during our visit. We had a pleasant meal in the Cafe de Stupa ­which had very good food, but was a bit over-­optimistic on their toilet claims - which they said were the cleanest in Kathmandu. I really loved this shrine and would happily visit it again.

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Hey you, get off my temple.

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Polluted river on the way to the Monkey Temple.

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Monks walk the stupa.

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The faithful turn the prayer wheels at the monkey temple.

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The Stupa of the monkey temple.

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Ever feel you are being watched?

We also visited Boudhanath Stupa. Boudhanath entrance NPR150 was one of if not thee most beautiful sight we visited in Kathmandu. The site is dominated by a large whitewashed stupa with the all seeing eyes of Buddha on each side. Boudhanath is home to around 16000 Tibetan refugees. There are several beautiful Tibetan monasteries around the stupa and nearby. As dusk approached hundreds of Tibetans in traditional Tibetan clothes began their clockwise stroll around the stupa spinning the prayer wheels as they passed. There were several rooftop cafes and restaurants affording fantastic views of the shrine and surrounding countryside. A really beautiful and peaceful place, well worth a visit.

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Boudhanath.

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Boudhanath.

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Tibetans walk around the stupa.

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Boudhanath.

We also visited Pashupatinath. Shiva can take many forms and one of them is Pashupati Lord of Beasts. This large complex on the banks of the Bagmati River is where Hindu cremations take place. We started out in an area overlooking the funeral pyres on the banks of the river. I was not comfortable here. Below me was a family obviously grief stricken and in the process of burying their father. I felt intrusive and inappropriate. If you are very interested in the Hindu belief system, you may find a visit here fascinating. Bodies are washed, covered in orange cloth, surrounded by straw and burnt on pyres. The ashes are thrown into the river. We quickly crossed the bridge over the Bagmati River and observed the complex from a greater distance. We had a guide who told us that Hindus come here to contemplate life and how they enter and leave this world with nothing. He thought of it as a peaceful place excellent for meditation. Climbing up the hillside a bit you pass many pilgrim shelters filled with painted sadhus (holy men) in brightly coloured robes. Many of these are supposed to be fakes only there to charge tourists for taking their photo. We passed one who was singing with a bum, titty, titty and a titty, titty bum, which I believe used to be the theme tune to Budgie a Glaswegian TV show from my youth. Very odd. There is also a small forest with deer and monkeys. Views over Pashupatinath are better from the far side of the bridge away from the cremation pyres. Non-­Hinduhs cannot enter the temple of Pashupatinath itself. Entrance was NPR500.

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Deer at Pashupatinath.

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Looking over Pashupatinath.

Strolling through the streets of Kathmandu was amazing. We enjoyed walking from Indra Chowk along Khel Tol to Asan Tol. Indra Chowk is a wonderful area where several streets meet. It houses the red coloured Akash Bhairav Temple with its golden griffen statues. This temple is home to a god who allegedly fell out of the sky. Indra Chowk is noted for blanket and pashmina stalls. Nearby is Potey Pasaal or Bead Bazaar with its dazzling arrays of multi-coloured beads. Walk along Khel Tol which sells copper pots, shoes, clothes and lots, lots more. On your left a courtyard will lead into the Seto Machendranath Shrine ­ home to the guardian diety of the Kathmandu Valley. Its entrance is guarded by brass lion statues. Return to Khel Tol and continue walking to Asan Tol another area where several streets meet. This area is filled with fruit, vegetable and flower stalls. Choose a street: you can go north from here up to Thamel, east to the Rahni Pokhari pond and Tundikhel parade ground or south down to Bhimsen Tower (entrance 299 Nepalese rupee NPR) which is said to give good views over Kathmandu.

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Indra Chowk along Khel Tol to Asan Tol.

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Indra Chowk along Khel Tol to Asan Tol.

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Indra Chowk along Khel Tol to Asan Tol.

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Indra Chowk along Khel Tol to Asan Tol.

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Indra Chowk along Khel Tol to Asan Tol.

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Pottery Seller.

We enjoyed looking at Kathe Simbhu. This is a replica of the stupa of the Monkey Temple and is just south of Thamel on route towards Durbar Square. It was built for those unable to manage the climb up to the real monkey temple. It is a beautiful peaceful place filled with pigeons and children, beautifully carved wooden buildings and painting schools.

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Kathe Simbhu.

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Young Nepali motorcyclist, Kathe Simbhu.

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Kathe Simbhu.

We also visited the Toothache Shrine. This is a small ugly lump of wood with metal hammered into it. If you get toothache during your stay in Kathmandu drive a nail into this wood to make it go away. Several more modern dentists are located nearby.

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Toothache Shrine.

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Toothache Shrine.

If you need, a break head to the Garden Of Dreams. The Garden of Dreams is located between Thamel and the former royal palace, this garden was designed by Keshar Shumshere Rana in the 1920s. It is laid out like a European style garden and contains a restaurant, cafe, ponds, fountains, statues. It is a good place to chill out when you have had enough of the madness that is Kathmandu. Entry is 160 NPR and internet access is available here at 250NPR for 5 hours.

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Garden Of Dreams.

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Garden Of Dreams.

The Rani Pokhari is the ­ Queen's Pond. The Rani Pokhari pool and temple were built by King Pratap Malla to console his wife over the death of their son. There is a fence around the pool to keep people out as there were several suicides here. You can view the temple and pool through the fence or from the nearby footbridge.

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Rani Pokhari.

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Rani Pokhari.

We stayed in the Thamel area throughout our stay. Although Thamel is noisy and can be a little bit hassley, I liked it and would stay here again. There are so many restaurants, cafes, bars, supermarkets, stalls and so much accommodation. The location is very handy for wandering into the older parts of Kathmandu, too.

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View from the Helena Guesthouse Thamel.

We went on a day trip to Pathan. We actually walked to Patan from Kathmandu which took a couple of hours. The most interesting part of the walk was on the Kathmandu side of the Bagmati River where there was a lovely temple and an area with wild monkeys on one side and a very poor looking shanty town on the other side. The walk on the Patan side was fairly disappointing as it simply followed a main road until we reached the old part of town. The area south of Patan's Durbar Square was interesting. There was a street market and several colourful temples. Patan's Durbar Square cost 200NPR to get in. The tour guides who hang around the ticket office trying to get you to hire them turned really nasty and aggressive when we said we wanted to go round by ourselves. Patan's Durbar Square has a large palace most of which is now the Patan Museum (open daily except Tuesdays and public holidays from 10.30am to 4.30pm, additional entrance fee.) We did not go in the museum. We just entered one of the palace courtyards and looked at the temples outside on the square. One of the temples, Chyasin Deval is octagonal in shape and made of stone. It was built by the daughter of an 18th century king in memory of his eight wives who threw themselves on his funeral pyre. The Hari Shankar Mandir Temple has guardian stone elephants. A statue of a garuda faces the Krishna Mandir temple. The Bishwanath Mandir temple is also guarded by elephants. This temple was rebuilt after it collapsed in the monsoons in 1990. The final temple is the Temple of Bhimsen dedicated to the god of traders. There was also a sunken water spout and some trinket stalls. There are several rooftop cafes with good views over the square. We had a very pleasant meal in one of these. All of the buildings in Patan's Durbar Square were well kept and it was very pretty though fairly small. Worth visiting but avoid those aggressive guides. To the north of Patan's Durbar Squre Patan's Kumari Bahal ­ temple of the living goddess and the golden temple were also interesting.

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Pathan.

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Temples on Pathan's Durbar Square.

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Temples on Pathan's Durbar Square.

We went on a day trip to Bhaktapur. We booked transport through our guest house. Car there and back with three hours sightseeing time cost us NPR 2000. There were plenty of taxis around when we came back out so we could just have taken a taxi there and a taxi back. Entrance to Bhaktapur cost a hefty US$15 making it very expensive compared with other sights. Although Bhaktapur was very interesting and pretty I could not even get peace to see it at first as I was immediately bombarded by masses of people trying to sell me things. For us this was the most hassley place we went to during our holiday. It seemed to calm down and we got a bit of peace later on in our visit. Your entrance fee gets you access to 4 main squares. The first is Durbar Square which you enter by passing through a 19th century gate. The entrance to the national art gallery (additional entrance fee) will be on your left. Many of the temples of Bhaktapur's Durbar Square were destroyed in the great earthquake of 1934. You can enter the palace courtyards through the Sun Dhoka or Golden Gate which was created in 1753 by Jaya Ranjit Malla. There are some lovely statues inside. There is also a temple but this is only open to Hindu visitors. If you go through a low doorway near the temple you will come to a large water tank with some beautifully carved snakes. Pass back through the golden gate and view the palace from the outside and you will see the 18th century palace of 55 windows. There are several more temples on Durbar Square including the octagonal Chayasilin Mandap and the Laxmi Mandir a stone temple with lots of pairs of animal guardians on its staircase. A road leads from Durbar Square to Taumadhi Tol which contains Nepal's tallest temple the Nyatapola Mandir. This temple has 5 roofs and is more than 30m high. The stairs leading up to the temple are flanked by pairs of creatures. The pairs on each increasing level are 10x stronger than the pair below. So the Malla wrestlers at the bottom are 10x stronger than ordinary people and the elephants above them are 10x stronger than the wrestlers. The other temple on this square is Bhairavnath Mandir dedicated to Bhaktapur's patron god Bhairav. Nearby is Potters' Square where you can watch potters make their products and many products such as pots, little animals are spread out waiting to be purchased. The final square is Dattaraya Square with its Dattaraya Temple which dates from 1427. The Pujari Math behind Dattaraya Temple now houses the wood carving museum. It has beautifully carved wooden windows including peacock and lotus blossom windows. At the other end of this square lies a sunken water tank. Bhaktapur was interesting and beautiful.

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Good old boys put the world to rights, Bhaktapur.

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Gentle guard dog, Bhaktapur.

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Old man wandering, Bhaktapur.

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Watching a game, Bhaktapur.

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Water tank, Bhaktapur.

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Nyatapola Temple, Bhaktapur.

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Bhaktapur.

We took a day trip to Nagarkot. We booked transport through our guest house to go to Nagarkot and back plus spend two hours for NPR 2500. The drive through Kathmandu and the back of Bhaktapur was not particularly scenic. Once we started climbing up the mountain it got nicer and we at last got to see a bit of greenery. The road was very twisty though and not for the easily car sick. The reason to go to Nagarkot is to see the view over the Himalayas. We could see the tops of the mountains clearly, but the middle disappeared into haze. I guess it's just a matter of luck. Nagarkot had a long line of hotels, guest houses and restaurants.

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Nagarkot.

We saw some interesting sights on the Banks Of The Bagmati River. When we walked to Patan we had to cross the Bagmati Bridge the area on the Kathmandu side of the bridge had a lovely temple which I cannot name as it was not even featured on my map. Behind this temple going nearer to the bridge there was an open area teeming with wild monkeys and cows. On the other side of the bridge stretched a shabby shanty town area. The temple was certainly worth a look if you have time. I would also be grateful if anyone could tell me what it was.

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Banks Of The Bagmati River.

The Banks Of The Bagmati River

The Banks Of The Bagmati River


Banks Of The Bagmati River.

Food was wonderful in Nepal. We ate in several different places. The Airport Sekuwa was a cheap and cheerful local place near our guesthouse. We went here several times during our stay. There were some tourists here but mainly locals. The service was very efficient and friendly. Food was excellent and very cheap. They served local Nepali food, Indian, Chinese and Western food. Beer was a very cheap NPR199 a big bottle. Every meal we had here was very good and I would thoroughly recommend it. Directions: There is a junction in Thamel where the road from the palace meets Thamel road. There is a huge outdoor shop selling lots of metal souvenirs on several platforms. Go north past this souvenir shop and walk for around 5 minutes. It's on your left.

Cheap And Cheerful Local Eatery

Cheap And Cheerful Local Eatery


Airport Sekuwa.

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Enjoying our food.

We also ate in the Kathmandu Guest House. We had a wonderful lunch sitting in this beautiful garden. The food and service were very good, but I would recommend it most for the lovely garden surroundings. We sat in the sun here without a care in the world. This place also had he cleanest toilet I saw in my entire stay in Nepal.

A Beautiful And Peaceful Retreat

A Beautiful And Peaceful Retreat


A beautiful and peaceful retreat.

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The beautiful gardens of the Kathmandu Guest House.

We also ate in Pilgrim's Bookstore Restaurant. I had a lovely meal here, but my carnivore husband was not so happy as he had not realized it was vegetarian. This threw him greatly on the ordering front. Anyway the decor is interesting and the restaurant is quiet and peaceful with good service. We had momos, cheese balls and Tibetan soup.

Healthy Vegetarian Option

Healthy Vegetarian Option


Healthy, vegetarian option.

To make up for that lack of meat we also ate in the Everest Steak House. The service was pleasant and friendly. The full steak portions started from about NPR600, but they were huge so I opted for a half portion for NPR300. That was delicious and certainly big enough for me. Steaks come with a variety of different sauces. There are other menu options aside from steak, but I would imagine steak is what they do best. Directions: on Chhetrapati Road in the direction of Chhetrapati Junction.

Delicious Steak Dinner

Delicious Steak Dinner


Delicious Steak Dinner.

We had no view of mountains on our way into Kathmandu but sat on the left side of the plane on our way out and got fantastic views of the Himalayas. Unfortunately we did not have a window seat but we still managed to get a couple of pictures. I suppose it is just a matter of luck on how clear or hazy it is when you fly.

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Flying out of Kathmandu.

Posted by irenevt 22:01 Archived in Nepal Comments (12)

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