How to spend time in Purgatory…I mean Kathmandu

If you travel in Nepal, you will most likely fly into Kathmandu and inevitably spend some time there trying to figure out what to do with yourself.

Since there is very little infrastructure here and since Kathmandu is the largest city and near the center of the country, it serves as the launching point for treks and most excursions to other areas of the region. The lack of infrastructure here goes past just transportation options. This is the first place we’ve ever seen or heard of that actually has daily schedules for power outages. For almost half of the daylight hours, there is no power in Nepal. Any power during this time is run off unreliable generators. This presents challenges not just for the people and economy of Nepal, but also for us tourists begging for decent Wi-Fi to pass the time and catch up with friends and family on Skype.

Instead of twiddling your thumbs waiting for the weather to clear for your flight to Lukla, here are some ideas on how to kill time in the purgatory that is Kathmandu:

Eat Like a King

As we’ve mentioned before, Nepal is not known for its local cuisine. Dal bat and Momo just don’t quite cut it. That said, the Nepalese are masters of making above-average cuisine from all over the world that is just good enough to satisfy your craving for steaks, pizza, burgers, sushi, Italian, Thai, Indian, Japanese, and any other type of food imaginable. And super cheap, too – it’s almost impossible to find an entrée for over $8, even at the nicest restaurants, and most are in the $3-$5 range at “higher end” restaurants. We even found some decent street meals (salami sandwiches, falafel wraps) for $1-$2.

So while you organize your trek, where you are apt to lose your appetite and/ or eat the same bland food for days on end, take advantage of the decent food while you can. And if you’ve just come back, reward yourself for a job well done.

A few of our favorite restaurants in Thamel (the primary tourist area of Kathmandu) are GAIA Restaurant, Everest Steak, and Roadhouse Cafe.

Sizzling brownie from Roadhouse Café hit the spot

Sizzling brownie from Roadhouse Café hit the spot

Tag Durbar Square and then leave

For some reason, Durbar Square is the #1 rated activity in Lonely Planet, which is another of the million reasons why we think these guidebooks are better used as toilet paper than a way to plan your travels.

Walk the 10-15 minutes to Durbar Square from Thamel, don’t pay the exorbitant fee they have posted (we just walked past the gate with our friends Tanveer and Kelly, obviously looking like tourists with huge cameras in tow, and no one said anything). Snap a few photos, maybe feed the monkeys (but be careful as they are feisty), and then grab some decent food. Or just skip it all together – you wouldn’t be missing much.

Feeding a monkey in Durbar Square.  Alison scolded me afterwards (she thought I might get rabies).

Feeding a monkey in Durbar Square. Alison scolded me afterwards (she thought I might get rabies).

Leave the city

If you have a few days (or weeks) to spare, get the hell out of Thamel. There are some really cool places in Nepal outside of the Himalayas that you should take advantage of. Here are a few escape options:

Go on a safari in Chitwan

Channel your inner Steve Irwin and track down the magnificent, highly endangered one-horned rhinos. Observe crocodiles, monkeys, deer, wild boars, huge birds, and maybe even spot the elusive tiger or leopard.

Paraglide in Pokhara

Pokhara is located at the base of the Annapurna Himalayan range and the launch point for treks in this region. It’s like a mini-Kathmandu but with incredible scenery, an even more hippie vibe, and much more to do. This is also a top five place to paraglide in the world so go jump off a mountain!

Alison paragliding in Pokhara #gopro

Alison paragliding in Pokhara #gopro

Escape to Bandipur

Between Kathmandu and Pokhara, you’ll find Bandipur, a quiet little town on top of a small mountain that is off the beaten path. If the weather is clear, you’ll also see some great views of Manaslu, the 8th highest mountain in the world. Unfortunately, it was hazy both days we got up at 5am with Tanveer and Kelly to see the sunrise here. We did get to take part in a Nepalese New Year’s parade, though, where there wasn’t another tourist in site besides the four of us.

Part of the new years day parade in Bandipur.  We eventually followed them into the carnival-like celebration.

Part of the new years day parade in Bandipur. We eventually followed them into the carnival-like celebration.

Fuel your adrenaline at the Last Resort

Perhaps our biggest regret in Nepal was not having enough time to test our limits with the adrenaline-fueled options at The Last Resort, where a short drive from Kathmandu provides limitless adventure options, including bungy jumping, a canyon swing, white water rafting, and other ways of increasing your blood pressure.

Go on a shopping spree

The outerwear in Thamel is ridiculously cheap. You can get gear from North Face, Patagonia, Marmot, and all the other big name performance brands for a fraction of the cost back home! Okay so they are knockoffs and the quality isn’t the same but overall we found our purchases provide great value. The zippers and stitching are definitely sub-par but the performance of the material, which was most important to us, seems fairly comparable. So if you need more clothes (we can’t carry anything else so there was not shopping spree for us), grab your gear in Thamel and keep your wallet a bit thicker.

We bought a lot of our cold-weather gear in Thamel.

We bought a lot of our cold-weather gear in Thamel.

We absolutely loved Nepal. Between trekking in the highest mountains the world, exploring jungles, and relaxing in between, this place has so much to offer any traveler. While Kathmandu is no Hong Kong or Saigon, spending a few days there is a very small price to pay for the adventures that await outside the city limits.

7 thoughts on “How to spend time in Purgatory…I mean Kathmandu

  1. Your trip just keeps getting better and more exciting. Thanks for sharing. Today is beautiful here and I was all excited for a whole day of gardening and mulching and I read your post and wow! My life is boring. Just glad there is bourbon in my future!

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  3. How can you be encouraging travelers to skip the fee for entering Durbar square? Whether or not you think it’s a complete waste of time, a large portion of the Nepalese economy of Nepal is reliant on tourism. As a backpacker, you should really be encouraging others to support the economies that you are exploring, rather than taking advantage of a culture in which yes, you could probably get away with not paying. Shame on you. And not to mention that Durbar square is one of the most historical areas in the city. Did you learn anything about religion or did you just “eat like a king” in one of the poorest countries in the world?

    • Now them’s fightin’ words! I like your fire, Julie, and appreciate your concern for the amazing country of Nepal and it’s people, a sentiment we share as well. I just wish the Nepalese government was on our side. Honestly, no, I do not feel ashamed for not paying a fee that would end up in the hands of the same ridiculously corrupt politicians who continually choose greed over using the country’s natural resources and tourism potential to invest in infrastructure and education to benefit its own people. Maybe that’s why no one was there to collect a fee (or even inform us that one existed) to enter Durbar Square – I’m guessing those responsible for that know where it’s all going and “choose” to enforce it liberally. I’d rather not spend 30 minutes trying to figure out where to go to give money to corrupt politicians and instead spend it somewhere we know the local people and businesses will benefit directly.

      Although we opt not to paste it all over our blog, we would like to think we give back significantly to the local people and economy everywhere our travels take us – beyond spending a month in Nepal, we gave away half of our warm clothes to our porter, who was making the trek in sandals and jeans (most of those clothes were bought in Nepal, btw) and very generously tipped our guide, who had expressed a goal of continuing his education in Europe and was also supporting his parents. We also continue to support our guide as much as we can and just yesterday connected him with a group of friends planning to trek in Nepal.

      As for our obligations to use this blog as a marketing platform for Nepalese tourism, I guess we just disagree on that point. However, if you read all our posts on Nepal I think you’ll find our honest thoughts on the country would make anyone want to jump on a plane to Kathmandu.

      P.S. Great travel video!

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