Kathmandu, Nepal: The City of Enchanting Chaos

I’m not even sure where to begin this blog post on our trip to Nepal, specifically Kathmandu.  Literally, I might be a loss of words by the chaos that was this city.  From the moment we stepped off the plane onto a runway, and inhaled a huge amount of dust and gasoline fumes, we were thrown into the magic and mayhem that is Kathmandu.

I found this city to be both heartbreaking and magical.  There is really no place quite like it, and if I’m being honest it’s a city that could easily be given up on by not-so-adventurous tourists.  Kathmandu is not a city I would recommend those to travel to unless you are up for a challenge and have a sh*t ton of patience, as the constant haggling, crowded streets, honking cars, motorbikes, and random cows in the streets immediately send your senses into overdrive.

Kathmandu is a city that one should go prepared to visit, starting from the moment you land to the moment you leave.  I had done a lot of blog reading/research prior to our trip, specifically because this was the first country we visited where we needed to obtain a visa-on-arrival.  Given the fact that this was our entry point to Bhutan, I was nervous that we would run into a few snafus and not make it into the country or encounter huge delays.  Per most of the blogs I read the airport is absolutely bonkers, and they all happened to be right.

Upon arrival, we were corralled into a run down immigration room, with a few computers to apply for visas, a desk to pay for the visa, and then a few immigration booths.  Thankfully, given all the research I did I had sent visa paperwork in advance to airport immigration and we immediately jumped the line to the one guy collecting cash to pay the fee.  Of note, they only accept USDs or Nepalese Rupee as method of payments, and honestly it didn’t appear all that controlled.  It also appears they prefer USD over their own currency.  Once we received the receipt that it was ok to move on to the immigration officers, we handed over our passports and hoped for the best.  Luckily, going prepared shaved off a huge amount of time, since our full flight from Hong Kong had a few dozen people scrambling for visas.  We were done and out of immigration in less than 30 minutes.  Win for the travel planning!

No sooner did we exit the airport did we get our first taste of the frenzy.  Immediately there were dozens of people asking if we needed a taxi, help with our bags, and/or generally looking to offer whatever service they provided.  We managed to fight our way through the crowds and found the driver I hired to take us to our hotel for the night.  It was pretty late when we arrived so we didn’t see much on the way, but the pot hole ridden, dirt, and dusty streets sure made for an interesting ride.

I had planned for three full days in Nepal, one on the front end of our trip and two after we returned from Bhutan.  Our hotel hooked us up with a taxi driver to take us around for the day.  I highly recommend this if you are short on time in this city.  A pre hired guy gets you to all the places around the city relatively easily and you don’t have to worry about haggling prices every time you need a cab.

Exploring Kathmandu is like taking a step back in time.  This place is chaotic, old, and the architecture of the buildings and it’s infrastructure is fascinating.  Unfortunately, the city is also still recovering from the major earthquake that happened a few years ago, but something tells me that the streets and sidewalks were already uneven to begin with.

The dust, the traffic, the constant chaos, all throws you for a loop your first day out in the city.  It’s overwhelming, yet exciting.  I’m not sure how to put it into words but this city despite the heartbreak from the poverty stricken streets and the eagerness from the locals to sell you what they’re offering, is captivating.

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While it’s always nice to go off the beaten path and take the roads less traveled when exploring new places, I think there is also something to be said about the sights that become the “tourist spots”.  We spent the day visiting temples like the Swayambhunath and the Boudhanath Stupa, wandering the streets of Thamel, taking a break in one of their hidden coffee shops, before moving onto to Durbar Square, and ending our day at the most sacred Hindu temple in the city, Pashupatinath.  All along the way we were given glimpses into the fascinating, yet frantic world of Kathmandu.

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Even after over two years, the city is still pretty devastated by the earthquake that happened.  However, on a positive note it seemed that there were a lot of efforts for restoration.

Here are some final pictures from the day.

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Kathmandu is often a city used as a base to access the trekking, the famous Everest base camp, or in our case Bhutan.  However, I think those just traveling through would be missing out on the charm this city has to offer if they didn’t stop to take a look.  Once you dust away the chaos, the frustrations, and heartbreak of this city there is a certain aura about it that makes it enchanting.

Before I go there are a few tips that I think are important for travels to Nepal:

  1. Never use your left hand for anything, especially food.  Given the lack of 21st century plumbing around the country, you can probably figure out why
  2. The Above brings me to my next point of there is literally no toilet paper anywhere, and if there is don’t flush it just throw it away.  Hand sanitizer is a must…if you haven’t figured that out yet
  3. The locals at times can be aggressive with what their selling and once you buy something it doesn’t mean they are going to stop.  Be prepared to keep walking and or buy what their selling.  Their eagerness will not wane.
  4. The Napalese Rupee can only be exchanged in the country and smaller USDs will get you a better rate.  They have currency exchanges everywhere and most hotels will exchange money for you as well.  Don’t use the ATM’s usually they are out of money anyway.
  5. The roads are dusty and dirty and on a dry day can be a bit much to breathe in.  Take a mask.  It won’t be that weird as many of the locals even wear them.

I’ll leave you with a photo of some scared cows that would often wander the streets of Kathmandu- adding to the already crazy traffic jams, as well as a photo of a very famous mountain.   We happened to get a glimpse of it on our 50 minute flight from Kathmandu to Paro, no big deal 😉

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The mountain on the left is one of the worlds most famous, Mt. Everest.  Maybe you’ve heard of it? 🙂 

Coming soon: Bhutan-Land of the Thunder Dragon.

Until next time! Ja Mata じゃまた!

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