The great thing about backpacking for many consecutive months is that you are able to visit and really get to know so many countries. The downside, however, is that you can’t always get your timing right. We visited China and Tibet in the warm summer months of July and August and had enjoyed the endless sunshine on the mountainous plateau of Tibet. We enjoyed some hiking in Tibet and just assumed that if we continued on over the mountain range to Nepal, we could continue to enjoy the mountainous scenery. But we quickly discovered as we crossed to the other side of the Himalayas that the reason we had such beautiful sunny weather in Tibet, was that the huge mountains were protecting us by holding back the large clouds that were looming over Nepal. Apparently we had arrived in rainy season. Not to be deterred by a little rain, we looked into booking a hiking trip. However, after speaking with fellow travellers who captivated and cautioned us with tales of landslides blocking roads and poor visibility of and within the mountain ranges, we decided that we might be better off making our trip to Nepal more of a cultural one. At first we were disappointed to miss out on what we thought was the highlight of Nepal, but as we began to check out what we see and could do around Kathmandu we found plenty.
The one advantage of the rains was that all the usual pollution hanging in the air was washed away. That made visiting the large chaotic capital city much more enjoyable than at other times of the year. Kathmandu is a choked-up, over-crowded urban sprawl that is difficult to get around. Without adequate public transport, travellers tend to rely heavily on taxis and tuk-tuks which crawl slowly through the traffic. If you travel any distance you will be lucky if your vehicle doesn’t break down as many are held together with some elastic and chewing gum. Buses are among the most cramped I have ever been in with barely enough leg-room for children let alone a tall adult, and that is if you get a seat. However, some sites around the city are within walking distance, so once you figure out how to dodge the traffic, you’re ok.
The central area of Thamel is where most tourists stay as there is a large variety of accommodation and, being central, you can easily get around. It’s fun to just wander the crowded streets and look at the many shops and choose from a large array of cuisines in the many restaurants. It can be a bit too touristy, however, and there are plenty of touts to hassel you 24 hours a day, but at least it is never boring.
Swayambhunath Temple, otherwise known as Monkey Temple due to the local residents, is a great place to get an overview of the city. First you climb many steps to reach the top where there is a large golden stupa and many incense candles burning. The temple is really eye-catching, but what is really impressive is the view you get of Kathmandu; you really get a feel for its size and density as you look out over the buildings haphazardly clustered together and marvel at the throngs of people making their way through the always crowded, sometimes narrow streets.
Another hot spot to visit is the Durbar Square. Before Nepal was a united country it was ruled by many kings, each of whom had their own central palace areas with a public square in front. Therefore there are several Durbar squares in the region that all formerly belonged to different kings. The architecture is really unique and well preserved. There is an entrance fee, but the main costs to be concerned about are those of rip-off artists in the area, such as pretend holy men who will pose for a photo with you for a steep price.
If you want to head out of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur is a nearby town that can be easily reached by taxi and it, too, has a grand Durbar Square. The whole town is lovely to walk around and is a more manageable size than Kathmandu. There is even some countryside around and you can have a nice walk out to a hill-top temple, passing through some farmland and villages. We were fortunate enough to arrive in Bhaktapur during the cow festival (Gai Jatra). This is a multi-day affair of dancing and parading around the streets with large straw statues that celebrate the dead. The streets are crowded with locals celebrating and watching the festivities. The best vantage points are from the roof-top terraces around the central Durbar Square where you can look down on the myriad of colours and sights.
The Nepalese culture is a rich one of Hindu traditions. Although still a very poor country they really celebrate their religion and culture, and are more than happy to share it. Having come to see the natural beauty, I was pleasantly surprised to have my attention redirected to the people of the country who are some of the friendliest in the world and who, after all, make the place what it is.
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Megan Morlok tries to make travelling a part of life. She has lived in six different countries and hopes her job as an English teacher will take her on one long working holiday around the world. As a nature lover she tries to find natural beauty wherever she goes, but also enjoys experiencing the local culture of the people.