With all this talk of travel and helpful tips and such, it is always nice when we can actually add a new country to our quest. In February, I had just such an opportunity and visited the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal for the first time. With only 48 hours in Kathmandu, this wasn’t to be a “find yourself in the mountains” type of trip, but I was determined to make the most of it.
My home base was the Hotel Annapurna in downtown Kathmandu. The location is the absolute best attribute of the hotel, but one of my favorites was also the physical key that opened my room (instead of the ever-present swipe card). From my hotel I set out and spend about a day and a half walking around. Since I was traveling alone and hate to carry bulky guidebooks, I tried out a new method of getting my bearings – the “Kathmandu Walking Tours” application for my iPhone. Yep, there’s an app for that! For $3.99 I got city maps with themed routes for walking the entire city, including the temples, prime shopping areas, historical or government buildings, museums, and other sights. There wasn’t a lot of background information in the app, but that’s what reading ahead is for, and the maps worked without wifi so I was a happy traveler.
Using the walking tours as a loose guide, I wandered through just about all the major tourist sites, including “Freak Street” (not quite so freaky anymore, unfortunately), Durbar Square, and a lot of temples whose names were not as memorable as their collective grandeur. By far my favorite time, though, was getting lost through the winding alleys of Indra Chowk, the largest street market in Kathmandu.
Street markets anywhere are an excellent location for sampling the local flavor – including everything from sights and smells to people-watching and cultural curiosity. Indra Chowk is one of the best I’ve come across, with narrow pathways clogged with pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles, and the occasional animal, the shops can sometimes seem like they’re closing in on the shoppers. The maze-like market stretches through a good portion of the city, and connects seamlessly with other markets so that I’m not even sure how much of the area I walked was actually Indra Chowk. While passing though I became part of the audience of some sort of musical procession or parade, nearly escaped death by motorbike more than once, and glimpsed more than one Westerner trying (but failing) to pull off the traditional Nepalese dhaka topi.
While the city of Kathmandu is great, and surprisingly calm for all of the pollution, traffic, and congestion of a developing country capital, the Nepalese countryside and hilltop views draw most tourists out of the city fairly quickly. On my limited schedule, I opted for a half-day jaunt out to Dhulikhel, a tiny hilltop village and traditional stopping point for many hardcore trekkers. I had a driver take me out to the village in a car, and after he dropped me off in the center I started wandering again. My timing was not perfect for breathtaking Himalayan views (the weather was rather overcast), but it was still a sight to behold. The village itself was a great sampling of Nepalese country life. On my 3 hour walk around the area, I barely passed any other people. I discovered the reason for this after passing a school – what had to be the entire population of Dhulikhel was watching a children’s football match.
After this brief intro, I think next time I’ll attempt a trek in the real mountains. Although I’d probably trip over my shoelaces before making it to the first base camp.
Oh, and the daal was phenomenal.