Nepal – Kathmandu & Pokhara

The biggest jump of my trip was definitely flying from Georgia to Nepal, it was a dramatic culture change. I listened to “Kathmandu” by Bob Seger on the plane there because I’m cool like that. I got a taxi from the airport to my hostel, which had its own restaurant serving Nepali food. 

The next morning I had a breakfast companion eyeing my masala omelette.

I’m lucky enough to have a Nepali friend back in Canada, Pragya, who gave me a lot of advice on how to navigate Nepal and what to see. I think that that was way more helpful than I thought at first. Aside from having a good itinerary to follow, having a plan was the best way to overcome my hesitation of exploring such a busy city and jump right in.

My first stop of the day (post coffee) was the Garden of Dreams.

Originally the private garden of a field marshal, after years of neglect it was recently restored with the help of the Austrian government and is a popular place for locals as well as a tourist destination.

It is also called the Garden of Six Seasons, which is how I learned that Nepal has six 2 month seasons: Spring, Early Summer, Summer Monsoon season, Early Autumn, Late Autumn, and Winter. 

Just down the road from the garden is the Narayanhiti Palace, the former residential palace for the reigning monarch of Nepal. Getting there involved crossing a large road leading into a roundabout, and this was my first experience with what I’ve become used to in India. I felt like the grandma in Mulan who walks through traffic with her eyes closed. Stepping in front of and through busy traffic is just something you have to do if you want to get anywhere.

It is now a museum with no pictures allowed, and is the location of the Nepalese royal massacre in 2001 in which the entire royal family was killed leading to the crowning of the king’s brother. The monarchy ended altogether in 2008, which was also the end of the last Hindu kingdom.

I went to see Rani Pokhari (queen’s pond), a famous landmark built in 1670, only to find it completely destroyed by the 2015 earthquake.

The earthquake claimed the lives of almost 9000 people, injuring about 22,000 others. It took a cultural toll, with most world heritage sites being completely destroyed, and devastated an already struggling economy. 

Nepal has huge potential in both tourism and hydropower, and the government has stated that it aims to raise Nepal out of “least developed country” status by 2022, but the effects of the disaster are certain to be felt for a long time. 

Near Rani Pokhari is Ratna Park where I spent some time walking around appreciating the escape from the busyness of the city.

Air pollution is a major problem in Kathmandu, most people wear masks whenever they go out.

The last stop on my first day circuit was Durbar Square which, while it suffered damage in the recent earthquake, is still amazing.

I then walked back to my hostel, glad to have a relatively quiet place to retreat to.

At the hostel I met two really nice guys named Alex and Thomas and the next day joined them for a walk to Swayambhu Stupa, also known as the Monkey Temple. It was on my list from Pragya, so it was nice to find friends to enjoy it with.

I’m honestly not a fan of monkeys, they’re not to be trusted, but luckily none have bothered me yet.

The stupa is one of the oldest religious sites in Nepal and while it is one of Buddhism’s most sacred pilgrimage sites, it is also revered by Hindus.

There were many smaller stupas as well, which are Buddhist structures that contain relics.

We then went to a café with a great view and got momos, which are Nepalese dumplings.

We ended up walking back to the hostel in some heavy rain, but it was cool to experience that aspect of Nepal as well.

With limited time in Nepal, rather than risking roads that would take a reported 7 to 13 hours depending on your luck I decided to take the 45 minute flight to Pokhara. The plane was so tiny!

After being overwhelmed with the bustle of Kathmandu, I was so happy not only to arrive in the calmer Pokhara, but also because the hostel/guest house I was staying at gave me my own room. It had been a while.

I think this guy wanted to eat me.

My first full day in Pokhara was excellent, it’s such a beautiful place. I walked for about an hour to see some nearby falls, which in 98% humidity wasn’t the most comfortable experience. 

On the way a local guy started to walk with me and he seemed pretty friendly. When he started giving directions though I smelled the scam and pointed out that I had my route planned and don’t need any help. He then told me he collected foreign currency, but turned out to be just as interested in Nepali currency when I said I didn’t have any Canadian on me. When he realised I wasn’t going to pay him for inserting himself into my walk I had the weird experience of seeing someone older than me pout and say “why are you like this?” I’ve learned never to take help from people without being prepared to pay for it.

I’m glad I decided to do this walk because the scenery along the way was my picture perfect idea of Nepal that I thought only existed in photoshopped travel ads.

Past the farms and around an ominous expanse of mud was a tiny little town with more beautiful rice fields.

Once through the town I finally arrived at Davi’s Falls, or Patale Chango the underworld waterfall. 

After seeing the falls and drinking a litre of water to try and make up for the walk, I got a taxi up the nearby mountain to see the World Peace Pagoda.

Nepal’s national flag is the only one in the world that isn’t four sided, as shown flying in this picture.

I loved the colours that the prayer flags added throughout the country, and I learned later that the colours corresponded to classical elements, such as yellow for earth.

Aside from being the home of the world’s tallest mountain, Nepal can also claim to be the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who was born in Lumbini.

The top tier has four different statues of the Buddha, one each from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Japan.

As I began to walk back down, it abruptly began to rain torrentially and I hid out in the nearby gazebo until it stopped enough.

I enjoyed Nepali food very much, but steered clear of the vegetables because if Armenia taught me anything it’s that hostel beds aren’t meant to be slept in for more than 12 hours and I didn’t want to die for a salad.

The next morning, very much against my will but on the recommendation of Pragya’s mother, I woke up at 4:30 to see the sunrise from a mountain. A taxi drove me 40 minutes up the mountain and I arrived when it was still dark and bats were flying around (once again glad to have gotten that rabies shot).

I guess I can admit that it was worth it, because it was absolutely amazing to see the sun gradually light up the mountains and the valley. As an unforeseen consequence, I can now use having seen the sunrise over Pokhara from a mountain as an excuse to not wake up early for anything less awesome.

I then returned to my hostel and tried to reclaim the sleeping hours I’d lost.

When I woke up again that day I went for coffee to reaffirm my will to exist. Pokhara had really good coffee! Some of it was actually grown in Nepal, so for the first time in a while I trusted the place enough to order black coffee instead of a cappuccino.

Followed of course by a cappuccino, I wouldn’t want to discriminate.

I went out for dinner that night looking for more Nepali food and got thali, which is a platter of various dishes. I always liked all of it with the exception of the inevitable one thing with a spice level that wanted to hurt me. I could never identify it without trying it first.

I flew back to Kathmandu and was able to finish up my list of essential Kathmandu sights from Pragya. I visited the Pashupatinath Temple on the Bagmati river, which is a Hindu temple where cremations take place. It is dedicated to Pashupati, an incarnation of Shiva, who is the Lord of Animals and revered in Nepal in particular.

Continuing on my walk I came across some of those animals. Monkeys, I see you, I respect your territorial integrity, please don’t attack me.

I passed more temples more obvious earthquake damage. It was interesting to see rubble, the obviously beautiful remaining parts of a temple, and then a lot of people actively using it despite the damage.

Something I didn’t expect in Kathmandu was how stylish all of the youth are. It looks like they all walked off the front of a fashion magazine, while my Nepali hair style is held together by sweat.

At the end of my walk I arrived at the Bhoudanath Stupa, as seen earlier from the plane.

It is one of the largest stupas in the world, and was recently restored after sustaining damage in the earthquake.

I then returned to my hotel ready for my next adventure.

One of the highlights of Nepal was easily where I stayed upon returning from Pokhara. Pragya’s uncle owns a hotel near the airport called Hotel Nandini and I was lucky enough to meet him and be given a place to stay! The hotel had both hot water and good WiFi, so it was already feeling like luxury. We got talking and I asked about Nepal and for advice on how to spend my last day (the walk to the stupa), and just generally enjoyed meeting someone so kind. I even got a genuine Nepali dinner! (Again, one of those items tried to turn my tongue to cinders, but the rest was awesome.) 

This was the best possible way to end my time in Nepal, meeting more of such an awesome family. 

I got better pictures on my next flight, but on my flight out of Kathmandu we happened to pass by Mount Everest. 

Guess I don’t need to climb it now. 

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