Have you ever dreamed of visiting the exotic locale of Kathmandu? Wondered what it would be like to sit near the top of the world? Then Kathmandu is the destination for you.Nepal is set in the Himalayan Mountains, a fact that will be evident as soon as you approach by plane. If you are lucky, you will get a clear view of Mt. Everest as you flying in. This Himalayan country is full of deeply peaceful, kind, people.
Nepal is set in the Himalayan Mountains, a fact that will be evident as soon as you approach by plane. If you are lucky, you will get a clear view of Mt. Everest as you flying in. This Himalayan country is full of deeply peaceful, kind, people.
Want to know what itâs like to feel at home in Nepal or India? Iâm interrupting our recap of the Kailash Mansarovar trip because I havenât yet described the first part in detail: what to do and how to prepare for a trip to Kathmandu.
Last Wednesday, I was painting my office a turquoise color to inspire more creativity, when I got a call saying I was needed at a conference starting on Friday â in Kathmandu! Iâd been to Kathmandu a few times before and felt at home there, but at that point I had three hours to book my ticket, pack, and figure out how to get to the airport 3 hours away.
Long story short â I did it! And the only thing I forgot was my headphones. This goes down as the most last minute travel Iâve ever done! My flight was delayed by more than 14 hours because of the India-Pakistan conflict, so I spent the night at the airport, but in the end I did arrive.
In case youâre planning a crazy-last minute, or just a regular trip to Kathmandu, here is the complete list of how to prepare for a trip to Kathmandu:
Travel Tips and Best Things To Do In Kathmandu
- 1 Kathmandu Travel Checklist
- 2 What to do in Kathmandu
- 3 Kathmandu is a Destination
Kathmandu Travel Checklist
While Nepal is a Himalayan country, Kathmandu is set in a valley, surrounded by mountains. It is still 4,593 feet or about 1,400 meters, but compared to the high Himalayas, this is low elevation.
For many nationalities, including the US and European countries, you can get a visa on arrival. Depending on how long you plan to stay, this costs $25, $40, or $100 in equivalent currency. They only accept cash, but will accept dollars, Euros, Australian dollars, and more. Just be ready with some cash!
The whole process takes about 5 minutes, and then you are sent through an immigration line that is (usually) impressively short. In 10 minutes you should be out to collect your baggage!
The Kathmandu airport is the only one Iâve experienced where you have to go through security again to get into the baggage area. Donât both pulling out your laptop or electronics here, they donât check anyway.
After youâve got your bags, have your passport ready, as they will check that the name on the bags matches the name on your passport before letting you leave. You definitely know your bag is safe here!
Food and Water Safety
Although Kathmandu has signs to westernization and modernity, it is still a developing country, which means you will have to be careful about food quality and drinking water. It is, in my experience, cleaner than India, so food safety is less of an issue, but it is still good to be cautious.
Plan to drink bottled water and/or bring a strong water filter. Food should be freshly prepared so it is hot. You know the drill by now.
What to do in Kathmandu
The activities in Kathmandu, in my mind, can be divided into four categories: temples and spiritual visits, hiking, shopping, and eating. Kathmandu is fantastic for all three!
First, famous for having some of the most important Hindu and Buddhist temples in the world, which are worth experiencing regardless of your spiritual beliefs. Second, Kathmandu is the gateway to some of the best hiking in the world. There are also a few great day hikes from there.
And third, the shopping in Kathmandu is really fun! They have adorable hand knit woolen items, beautiful pashmina shawls, hand knitted carpets, as well as knock-off (and sometimes genuine) hiking and outdoor gear. There are also some really great restaurants to try!
Temples and Spiritual Activities
There are two main spiritual centers in Kathmandu, with the Pashupatinath temple complex being at the heart of city life. This sprawling complex, set on banks of the Bagmati River, has many different areas and viewpoints in addition to the main temple.
Western people and non-Hindus are not allowed inside the main temple. I recommend going to the opposite bank of the Bagmati River and hiking up the hill to sit on the lookout benches overlooking the main temple complex. There are also colorful Sadhus here who would be very happy to take a photo with you for a few rupees, if that is your thing.
In addition to Pashupatinath, there is Buddha Stupa that is one of the oldest in the world. Also be on the lookout for temples! Nepal has so many ancient temples that anywhere you go you will find some ancient Devata or temple complex. There are even some in the middle of roads, with fences to protect them!
Hiking and Trekking
If you are serious about hiking, you will probably go beyond that Kathmandu Valley to Pokhara or the Annapurna trek, but if you want just a sample of hiking in the Himalayas, then Kathmandu is a good starting point. This is also an excellent preparation if you are going on to the Kailash Mansarovar trek.
Here are a few hikes to try either with a local guide (hired for 500 rupees or so for the day) or with a trekking company:
- Adventure Mission Trail day hikeâ Approx. 3 hours with 1550 meters maximum altitude
- Champadevi â Approx. 5 hours with 230 meters maximum altitude
- Phulchoki â Approx. 3 hours with 2750 meters maximum altitude
- Shivapuri Hiking from Budhanilkantha via Nagi Gumpa â Approx. 5 hours with 2563 meters maximum altitude
- Namobuddha â Approx. 5+ hours with 1800 meters maximum altitude
I have only gone on a few shorter hikes with local friends â but now all of these are on my list too!
Nearly everywhere in Kathmandu is great for shopping, but Iâd recommend heading to the Thamel district. There you can find western shops, bigger brands, as well as charming local shops. You can find everything from shopping malls to tiny local shops.
There is also a street right next to the Hotel Tibet and Radisson hotel in Lazimpat area that is filled with adorable small shops for those hand-knit wool items, comfy cotton pants and long tops, beautiful hand woven rugs and pashminas.
Remember to Negotiate when Shopping in Kathmandu!
In all the small shops you will need to negotiate. As a general rule, offer Â½ of what their starting price is and/or about 2/3 of the maximum youâd be willing to pay. You will have to come up some from your initial offer.
Your most powerful bargaining tool is non-attachment and the willingness to walk out of the store. Youâll be surprised how quickly the price comes down! That being said, sometimes you will only be able to get 10-20% off. The Nepali rupees are weak right now â consider it as supporting the local economy and small businesses!
How to Test Whether Materials Are Actually Pure
Whether out of ignorance or deception, you will be repeatedly told that a polyester shawl is pure pashmina or a polyester rug is pure silk. So you need to be alert and test all clothing and rugs, if you want natural fibers.
You can easily test this by asking to burn a thread, which most sellers are happy to have you do. If youâve never done this before, you can practice at home on materials you know are natural or polyester to see the difference.
The basic summary is this: if something is all natural, the burnt bit at the end will dissolve into ash. If it is wool or silk, it may smell unpleasant, but there will be NO hard ball. Any hardness after burning is polyester. This is simple and straightforward, and can also help you with bargaining.
Where to Eat in Kathmandu
There are myriads of small, local restaurants with delicious and relatively safe food in Kathmandu. Here are a few that I think you will enjoy:
- CafÃ© Soma in Patan.Â This has a good variety of western and local fare, and is especially good for breakfast or lunch. Their chocolate brownies and cookies are delicious!
- Fire and Ice Pizza in Thamel. While there are a variety of pizza places in Thamel, when a pizza craving hits, this is our first choice. They are flexible with an authentic Italian feel.
- Hotel Dwarikaâs restaurant.This restaurant is set in the oldest heritage hotel in Kathmandu. It is worth visiting for the ancient, elegant ambiance. The buckwheat noodles with vegetables, chocolate cake, and all Nepali dishes are also incredible. I highly recommend this as a special splurge in Kathmandu.Â
Hotel Dwarikaâs is also walking distance to Pashupatinath temple complex, so you can combine the two in one visit.
Kathmandu is a Destination
As you can see, although Kathmandu is often thought of as the place to land before heading up to the high Himalayas either in Nepal or Tibet, it has many wonderful activities and is an excellent destination in itself. It is also perfect to stock up on extra warm layers, and last minute pizza and chocolate cake before a big trek.
Iâd love to hear: have you ever been to Kathmandu? What did you enjoy the most?
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