As I climbed the nearly vertical spiral staircase, clutching the iron railing, I joked with my husband, “This had better be worth it.” Two more flights of stairs later, I found myself lifted above the smoky haze of Kathmandu’s busy streets and surveying the hive of activity below.
It was worth it.
24 hours before, I was just taking off from Abu Dhabi, on my way to a place I’d always heard of, but never thought I’d visit. Nepal carries a certain mystery, generally reserved for Everest trekkers and backpacking students; I came with my husband and our toddler. The blogs and travel articles I’d read warned of bad roads, unpredictable power outages, and street beggars. We experienced these things, certainly, but they did not take any of the luster from our getaway to one of the world’s oldest and most resilient countries.
Our travel itinerary was set up so that we saw our main destinations in the morning and early afternoon, returning to our hotel before dinner. I would highly recommend this schedule for anyone with kids, as Kathmandu is extremely dark after sunset due to the lack of street lighting and occasional power outages. We stayed a few kilometers from the city center at the Gokarna Forest Resort. The hotel provided a driver to collect us from the airport, and we were taken to a converted royal hunting lodge on a quiet, forested hill where the staff was attentive and friendly, and the rooms were spacious and full of character. The hotel became our home away from home for the four nights that we were in Nepal, and has earned amazing reviews on several booking websites.
Day one, we headed for the most tourist-friendly part of the capital, Durbar Square. This was the former palace of the king, who was deposed in 2010 to institute a constitutional monarchy. Intricately carved wooden statues and shutters line the courtyards like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle shaken loose by a toddler. Most of the buildings are in various stages of reconstruction, but are safe to enter. If you’re lucky, you can even see a living goddess. Unfortunately, she had school exams the day we were there. This was also the case in Bhaktapur, an ancient city closed to traffic (except for the ever-present motor scooter). Tour guides can be booked on the spot at the entrances to the historic sites, and you can negotiate prices. We paid approximately 70 AED for two guides over five hours, and it was good value for money. The guides keep the street vendors from pestering too much, and can get you admitted to rooftop views unlike anything else you’ve ever seen.
The most famous site in Kathmandu, Boudhanath, was the most noticeably damaged. Walking around the shrine, always clockwise, according to Buddhist tradition, spinning the prayer wheels half-hidden under multicoloured prayer flags, I enjoyed being a part of the crowd all doing the same.
Our visit to Kopan Monastery, home of the monk featured in the film “Unmistaken Child,” was peaceful and spiritually refreshing. Situated high above the city, the views are spectacular and the air is fresh and clean. As my family and I wandered through the beautiful grounds, greeting smiling monks, nuns, and retreat participants along the way, I felt that we had entered an oasis of calm away from the bustle of Kathmandu.
After returning from our trip, we found ourselves giving helpful advice for visiting Nepal.
Here are some practical tips that may help with your trip.
• Do your research. The most informative blog/travel guide I found was the longest way home. com, which offers hints about every aspect of your trip, from arriving in Kathmandu to leaving, and everything in between (including how to bargain for souvenirs and how much to pay for what).
- Talk to your hotel staff. They can give you so much great information.
- Be ready for anything: petrol shortages, power cuts, long detours because the road is damaged, six lanes of traffic in a two-lane road. Anything.
- On that note, you cannot drive in Nepal. When you rent a car, you get a driver. You don’t want to drive in Nepal. Trust me. Just use taxis – they are convenient and inexpensive.
- And the final tip – say “Namaste” to everyone with your palms together at chest or chin level.
Visiting the historic sites, it was very obvious that the April 2015 earthquake decimated the tourist business. Our tour guides Bishwo and Mr. D sat with us at a rooftop restaurant, shared lassis and momos with us, and told us how things have changed in the year since. According to locals, the best way for the world to help Nepal after the disaster is to come back and visit. Now that I’ve been to Nepal and experienced their unique, friendly and rich culture, I know that I will be back soon to explore more of this amazing country, and I encourage join the adventure as well.
By Betina Fuentes
Betina is a Cycle 2 teacher at a girls’ school in Al Ain. She and her family are from Florida, USA and are enjoying their time in the UAE. She is looking forward to travelling, meeting other new teachers, and helping her students learn as much as they can.