Once we landed in Kathmandu we headed straight for our hotel. We really got great value out of our smartphones and all the apps we had downloaded. I can really appreciate how useful technology is on the fly. On this trip we frequently used the Trip Advisor and Hotels.com apps to find and book hotels. Typically we booked our hotels the day before or even during the day of arriving at the hotel. We also discovered most hotel lobbies had free WiFi (so we often accessed WiFi by lounging in the lobbies) and we had to pay an extra charge for WiFi in our room. We generally booked hotel rooms (3-4 star ratings) for 30-50 dollars a night. We sometimes found one hotel had different rates on different apps., so we shopped around.
On our first night in Kathmandu we got a good understanding of the lay of the land. With an understanding of how the next few days can shape up, we headed out to the tourist district of Thamel in the evening in hopes of finding a decent restaurant.
Thamel was a hustling district full of souvenir shops, restaurants and a market of locally produced goods (apparel and house hold items). In the last few days since we had been in the north east of India and Kathmandu we had noticed a lot of people wearing (including small children) apparel made by The North Face brand. We new instinctively they must be knockoffs given how expensive the brand is back home. We were more curious to discover where these items were being sold. Low and behold in Thamel we found many shops selling The North Face as well as other well known brands for outdoor and winter climates. It was also surprising to see how expensive some of these items were being sold for in this market. Not something locals could afford so easily, but still manageable. Even knockoffs came in various grades. Some of the knockoffs were comparable in dollars thus not really locally affordable. While they weren't originals, the quality of the garments and equipment was not bad at all. It turns out many foreigners do buy these knockoffs as a cheaper alternative (for decent quality) to buying expensive originals in their own native countries. These products are functional and serve a short term purpose very well for travellers, so its attractive to buy locally and even discard the items after done travelling (given the weight restrictions most airlines have). We considered buying a travellers backpack, however eventually decided against it. In the end we felt the price for an original wasn't that much more, so we might as well spring for an authentic bag and quality. There are a lot of great deals to be had back in the good old USA, where we often shop (being so close to Vancouver). In Thamel though, the mystery had been solved as to where people were buying and affording these knockoffs.
The next morning we headed to the Swayambhu Buddhist temple. It is one of the oldest religious structures in Nepal and is respected by Bhuddhists and Hindus alike. It was built between the 3rd and 4th centuries. For Nepali Buddhists it is the most important place for pilgrimage and for Tibetan Buddhists it's the second largest pilgrim place (after Bhoudanath, Bhuda's birth place). Its unique characteristic are the Bhudda Eyes painted on top of the stupa. These are known to be the eyes of Wisdom and Compassion. Its believed when an individual awakens from the bonds of the world, the person reaches a state of enlightenment and they see the world through eyes of wisdom and compassion. There are many other markers on the premises of this spiritual place that demonstrate the human progression into enlightenment. We learned on our travels and visits to many monasteries that most Buddhist temples are also characterized by prayer wheels. Devotees usually recite chants or scriptures while turning these prayer wheels on their visits to the temples.
Along with Hinduism, Bhuddism is one of the most widely practised religions in Nepal.
In the following days we visited an old section of Kathmandu known as Bhagtapur, remains of an old kingdom, that now have been absorbed through expansion into the modern day city of Kathmandu. We also took a city tour around Kathmandu and visited areas that once were locations where former kings held courts or traditional markets took place in an old city square (known as Basantpur). There were many old temples and buildings who's hundred years old structures and architecture was still in tact.
The Kathmandu valley is vast. All the characteristics of a valley are so clear, as the tall mountains surround the city and seem like walls. As it is another immensely populated Asian city, it's also quite a smoggy place. We found most people to be very nice and hospitable, however we were warned to guard our personal belongings and wallets.
We spent one night in a nearby hill station ( one hour from Kathmandu) known as Nagarkot. Again this was another spot at higher altitude where a view of the mountains was supposed to be spectacular. Also because it was elevated above the city of Kathmandu the view of the city was also note worthy. Unfortunately again due to the monsoon weather, it was extremely foggy so there were no sights of any mountains or city views. The hotel was a nice quaint place and probably one of the best hotels we stayed in on all of our trip.
The next two days we spent on a mini road trip to the popular city of Pokhara. What should have been a five our car ride turned into an 8 hour day trip. Unfortunately we underestimated the driving capability of the taxi driver we hired. Although he was a very sweet man and god bless him, his speed seemed slower than the average slow car moving on the highway. At times Maneesh and I would be on the edge of our seats wanting to shout "just floor it past the big semi! You can do it!" But we did not, we remained calm and enjoyed the scenic car ride. We did appreciate the caution he exercised and valued safety first.
The drive exiting the Kathmandu valley was serene. There are tall green hills lining the roadsides, only further shadowed by taller mountains that stretch far into the sky. Small villages and towns appear every so often along the highway as the route progresses towards Pokhara. Spread in between the smalls towns were fields of rice paddies or wheat. Often we also came across agricultural structures formed in the shape of steps (called step farming), where farmers planted rice or wheat as well. From a distance on the mountain sides, these steps formed a unique and neat little design. The colour was lush green of all the surrounding vegetation. Occasionally a river or a stream would run along the road side which added to the beauty of the many scenes.
The country side of Nepal was absolutely beautiful. Whichever way we looked it was hard not to notice how much natural beauty characterized the Kathmandu valley and beyond.