Kathmandu: Insider's Guide
By Como Brockway
An intoxicating and ancient city adorned with golden spires and fluttering prayer flags, truly friendly locals and a soaring mountain setting...Kathmandu, ‘the Queen of the Himalayas’, has risen from the ashes of the catastrophic earthquake of 2015 and is back on her feet with aplomb. It is a heartwarming thought that every rupee spent here as a visitor is going towards the city’s rebuilding. The atmosphere is charged with an exciting vision for the future with the local people refusing to be cowed by disaster. From living child goddesses and monkey-filled temples to saffron draped monks, religion is intensely woven into life’s daily fabric here while remnants of sixties hippy-dom are on show at the tellingly named ‘freak street’. Diwali, the five-day festival of lights in October, is a wonderful time to visit the city. A historic motto of the local culture is “Atithi Devo Bhava” translated as "Guest is equivalent to God". Indeed, visitors are highly valued and respected. The countless ceremonies and processions ignite the streets with fervour as masked dancers and worshippers throng, creating an electric atmosphere. Kathmandu is a living spectacle like no other. A place that everyone should experience once in their lives.
A cheerful and scrumptious breakfast is a highlight at this bustling cafe filled with books and salvaged wood decor in a refined suburb. We love the eggs florentine and perky espresso macchiato - a nurturing place to plan the day ahead.
Jhamsikhel, Patan, Kathmandu Tel: 01-5528732
Take a break from the temples and get lunch at this highly recommended rooftop eatery on the southern edge of Durbar Square. The views are fabulous, and we cannot praise the momos, local dumplings stuffed with steamed vegetables or chicken with a dash of chilli peanut dip - enough.
23 Maru, Kathmandu Tel: 01 424 0770
Dine on Russian inspired dishes such as fragrant chicken kiev and borscht alongside the city’s smart set at this classic institution. Part of the five-star Yak and Yeti hotel, Chimney restaurant has atmosphere in spades with its roaring fire and carved wooden doors. Our insider favourite!
Durbar Marg, Kathmandu 01 424 8999; yakandyeti.com
Plump for a Nepali thali and a bespoke cocktail at this lively boutique restaurant and bar. A cosmopolitan crowd and delectable menu makes this the perfect place to while away an evening after a hard day’s exploring.
Chasibari Marg, Kathmandu Tel:01-4701436 www.dalailaboutiquehotel.com
Explore Rana Cuisine, a courtly survivor of Nepal’s royal history at this regal and rather eccentric restaurant in Baber Mahal Revisited complex. Baithak means state room and the waiters are suitably adorned to compliment the vast portraits of past potentates gazing from the walls. The chefs are Nepali Brahmin and the food is influenced by the rich Mughal dishes of North India. Enjoy the linen, crystal and palpable sense of history here.
Maitighar, Kathmandu Tel: 01-5521607
Ampersand Tip: Check out www.kathmandufoodies.com for a well-researched and up to date guide on eating your way around the city.
One Tree Stop
A well curated collection of homewares, textiles and art, One Tree Stop is a wonderful place to find gifts and ethically sourced souvenirs. It prides itself on ‘celebrating local craftsmanship’. Do try the adjoining cafe created around a 40-year-old tree planted by the owner. The original home of the ‘chicken sizzler’ and the memorable Holy Citrus cocktail.
Durbar Marg, Kathmandu Tel: 01-4222636
Mahaguthi, Craft with a Conscience
Prayer flags and puppets, Bamboo fabric hand-printed scarves and artisan incense are all to be found at this trove of fair trade goodies. Ask the friendly staff to demonstrate the haunting singing bowls and find some lovely pashminas in soft hues.
Jwagwal Chowk, Kathmandu Tel: 01-5521607
Pilgrims Choice Bookstore
A glorious warren of thousands of books to while away time. There is something for every inquisitive traveller here amongst the stacked-up piles. Pick up the fascinating Tiger for Breakfast, A life of the Russian ballet dancer Boris Lissanevitch, the first person to open a hotel in Kathmandu in the 1950s.
Tel: 01 470 0942; pilgrimsbooks.com
Hop onto cloud cashmere at this gem-like boutique filled with the softest, finest pashminas and other woven treasures. Search out the hand-embellished stoles fashioned from Mongolian yarns and light as a feather.
A deeply revered Hindu architectural masterpiece on the banks of the Bagmati River on the eastern outskirts of the city. Pashupatinath is dedicated to Shiva and is filled with throngs of elderly Hindus from all over India and Nepal. The devotees arrive to find shelter for the last several weeks of their lives and be cremated on the banks of the river. Their ashes travel with the current which eventually meets the Ganges. They also believe that reincarnation as a human is guaranteed if death takes place here no matter life’s actions. Non-Hindus are forbidden from the main temple heart but can enter the surrounding buildings and the sights here are unforgettable.
Ancient Durbar Square
The beating heart of the city’s UNESCO listed heritage centre, Durbar Square is where the kings were once crowned and made proclamations. Dating mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries, the magical area has been carefully rebuilt after the earthquake and is a place to get lost in. During morning visits, look out for the living goddess, a young girl venerated as a deity, who occasionally appears in the window of her regal house. The area is fashioned from three loosely-connected squares including a former royal elephant stables, now the home of souvenir stalls. The main Durbar Square area boasts fabulous temples as does the entrance to the Hanuman Dhoka. From this open area stroll down Makhan Tole, at one time the main thoroughfare in Kathmandu and utterly fascinating for people watching.
Breeze up the 400 steps to Swayambhu Temple, known as the Monkey Temple, with which the place is filled. The hike is worth it as the lovely city and surrounding valley spreads itself out like a carpet at your feet. The temple dates from the 5th century and is a great beauty - with its carved stupa and gilded spire.
Garden of Dreams
Escape the frenetic honking of traffic horns in this graceful pleasure garden in the city centre. Created by the anglophile Field Marshal Kaiser Shumsher Rana in the 1920’s, this romantic retreat was restored 15 years ago to its former glory and is filled with fountains, lotus ponds, wisteria and pavilions. Look out for the marble inscription from Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat.
Tel: 01 442 5340; gardenofdreams.org.np
Our Pick of Trek Operators:
Climb High Himalaya, Mandala St. Tel: 01 470 1398 climbhighhimalaya.com
Swiss Nepal Family Trekking, JP Marg Tel: 01 421 2911; trekking-in-nepal.net
Marco Polo Treks, Thirbam Sadak Tel: 01443 9089; marcopolotreks.com
For more information or to start planning your tailor-made holiday to Nepal please contact us:
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