The past few weeks I’ve been stuck in limbo (again) in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. After being in the Far West for almost four months, arriving in Kathmandu came with some shock. Hot water, Wi-Fi and fancy restaurants, cafes and bars made me feel like I stepped into a different world compared to the village I left behind.
In many ways, Kathmandu is like most developing country capitals – loud, chaotic and dirty. The water isn’t clean, the electricity often goes out and men will harass you in the streets, trying to sell you souvenirs and weed. Destruction from the 2015 earthquake is still evident as sounds of construction fill the air, as well as the thick pollution that blankets the entire Kathmandu Valley, often hiding the towering Himalayas in the distance.
However, there are also a lot of great things about this rapidly developing, diverse city. Although life in the city is more open and tolerant compared to life in village, you still don’t have to look far to immerse yourself in the rich Nepali culture. There’s a huge variety of international cuisines, modern luxuries and lots of things to see and do. While most people only pass through on their way to the Himalayas, Kathmandu is definitely worth taking a few days to explore.
Here’s some of my favorite things to see and do in Kathmandu.
Eat, Drink and Shop in Thamel
Thamel is known as the tourist district in Kathmandu and there’s no shortage of great restaurants, bars, shops and hotels. Like any tourist district, Thamel is expensive and crowded. However, don’t let that take away from some of the really great things about this area. The narrow streets provide endless opportunities to explore, there are beautiful temples around every corner and of course, the food can’t be beat! Thamel is home to what is undeniably the best pizza restaurant in Nepal, Fire and Ice, as well as the legendary OR2K, an incredible Mediterranean restaurant with a chill atmosphere and cozy decor. If you’re looking for more of an American style dinner, head to Roadhouse Café, which has a huge menu with everything from pasta, to quesadillas to pizza. Or, if you want to check out some local cuisine, you can get daal bhaat pretty much anywhere . If you want to end the night with a few drinks, check out Sam’s for a beer or head to Ibyza, where you can dance all night. And, if you’re looking to do some shopping, you can find everything you need in Thamel, from trekking gear to the phone charger you left at home. A word of advice, a little bit of Nepali will go a long way in helping you negotiate a cheaper price!
Take a Walk Around Boudhanath Stupa
Just a short taxi ride from central Kathmandu sits Boudhanath Stupa, the largest stupa in Asia and one of the most famous in the world. A stark difference from the loud, dirty, dusty streets just outside it’s gates, Boudhanath is strikingly beautiful, peaceful and perfectly maintained. While the stupa is popular among tourists all day, the best time to see the Tibetan monks circumambulating (waking in a clockwise direction) is in the early morning or evening. There are lots of cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops circling the stupa and it’s hard to beat a coffee or rooftop dinner with a view! At night the stupa comes to life, illuminated by lights. There’s a small fee for tourists to enter the stupa and shopping area surrounding it, but it’s definitely worth the price.
Visit the Farmer’s Market
Every Saturday morning there’s a Farmer’s Market at Le Sherpa, tucked away down an ally off Lazimpat Street. This Farmer’s Market is a true gem where you can find a wide variety of fruits and veggies, meat, cheese, baked goods, organic peanut butter, homemade guacamole and so much more! They also have a wide variety of western favorites, including bagels with cream cheese and even imported craft beer from Colorado! While the Farmer’s Market is popular among both locals and expats, it is still largely unknown to the tourist crowd, which makes it feel like a nice escape from Thamel, just a 10-minute taxi ride away. It’s hands down my favorite way to spend a Saturday morning – enjoying good company with friends, eating delicious food, sipping on a nice, cold beer and petting lots of cute dogs.
Attend Early Morning Puja at Kathmandu Durbar Square
Located in the middle of Kathmandu, Durbar Square dates all the way back to the 15th century. Unfortunately, however, the Square and its many temples were badly damaged in the 2015 earthquake that caused massive destruction throughout the Kathmandu Valley and surrounding areas. Even four years later, reconstruction is ongoing and many of the temples and buildings are hidden behind a layer of scaffolding. However, the construction shouldn’t stop you from visiting, especially in the early morning when puja (religious worshiping) is in full swing. I visited around 7:30 am and was pleasantly surprised to find no other tourists around. Instead hundreds of locals were out in their best saris, visiting the temples with offerings such as flowers and fruits. It’s not a peaceful way to start the day, by any means – it’s crowded, hectic and loud, but it’s a beautiful way to explore the local culture.
Avoid the Monkeys at Swayambhunath Stupa
Located just a short distance from central Kathmandu, Swayambhunath Stupa sits upon a small hill, overlooking the sprawling city below. Known as the “Monkey Temple” or just Swayambhu, the temple is the oldest Buddhist stupa in Nepal, home to many deities and, of course, lots of monkeys. It’s a tough climb to the top, but once you make it, you are greeted by the beautiful, towering stupa, the sounds and smells of puja and an incredible, panoramic view of the Kathmandu Valley. While the stupa is beautiful and the views can’t be beat, I’m not going to lie, the monkeys were my favorite part, especially the cute little babies. However, they can get aggressive, so, whatever you do, don’t bring food with you!