The Wonders of Nepal: Kathmandu & Nagarkot-Dhulikhel Hike

I’ve been waiting for this journey to start for many long weeks. When there were only 4 left of them, I even started counting days – I badly needed a rest. But when the day X arrived, it didn’t feel at all that it’s here – I’m going to NEPAL! I was excited, but could not believe it’s happening.

The travel itself was quite exhausting – I had a 13-hours’ layover in Dubai airport. And only after 27 hours I finally saw this:

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Yeeessss those are the Himalayan peaks!

This travel is very special for me, as it’s not about discovering the country – it’s about discovering myself, and 10 days out of 13 I’ll spend in a meditation center doing Vipassana but I still will have 2 days before and 1 after to explore the new country. And I can’t wait to get out of the plane to feel the new air!

There’s no line in the airport, so I don’t spend more than 20 minutes to get my visa and collect the suitcase. The Shanker hotel where I was staying has nicely sent a driver to pick me up, so no hassle with the taxis. That was much appreciated after 27 hours’ journey!

I arrived to the hotel at around 7 pm, and the best thing I could think of doing was to try to get a massage appointment. And I was lucky enough, so 30 minutes later I was almost falling asleep under strong hands of Nepali woman massaging my stiff and tired back.

That was an early night for me, as shortly after the massage I was deep asleep.

Next day I woke up early, had breakfast, created a 27-km walking route in the Google maps that included major sights and at around 9 started my walk.

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The first thing that stroke me was the “fog” which was actually not the fog but the dust and smog – now I understood why almost everyone in Kathmandu was wearing the face mask, I felt like I need one badly too. Instead, I wrapped my scarf around my mouth and nose – breathing wasn’t a nice experience at all.

I also regretted putting on a white shirt.

My first stop – the Bouddhatanath Stupa – was around 50 minutes away, and I was walking throu20170227_090609gh the ordinary streets of Monday Kathmandu.

The next thing that stroke me were the wires. They were hanging low along most of the streets and sometimes I had to bend my head not to bump into them. They were also lying around on the ground randomly, but no one seemed to be concerned about them. So I considered it to be normal and shortly stopped noticing them myself.

As you can already see, there were quite a few things which surprised me. But the most striking (and frightening!) was the traffic! I used to complain about London traffic – trust me, London has perfect traffic compared to Nepal! First of all, there are no lights at all. Second, even if there are zebras (I’ve seen couple of them), the drivers would never stop – once I attempted to cross the street on the zebra – drivers looked at me as at crazy person. Thirdly, they are CONSTANTLY honking! By the end of the day your head is buzzing with that annoying noise, but for locals it seems to be a normal practice. Every time I had to cross some big street, I almost got a panic attack. I had no idea how could I find myself on the other side of the crossroad with cars and bikes moving into all possible directions simultaneously.

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Soon, I developed a strategy: I would wait for a group of people who were heading in the same direction as myself, squeeze between them and cross the road with my eyes almost closed from fear. Might be not the best strategy, but as I’m writing these lines, it proved to work fine 🙂

There were more things that were striking me, for example, people spitting on the streets all the time. That was a pretty disgusting thing to hear, and I don’t think one could ever get used to it. They would spit even from the windows of the cars or buses!

And during my whole walk till the Stupa, I seemed to be the only tourist!

This walk was quite tiring for me, with lots of stress from crossroads and smog and honking, but when I eventually reached Bouddhatanath, I felt peaceful. It’s still my favourite place in Kathmandu – so beautiful and with positive vibes. It’s one of the biggest Stupas in Nepal, and a lot of people visit it daily.

The entrance fee for foreigners is 250 NRs which is ~$2.5.

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The monks were chanting, some people were meditating, others just chilling on the top of the Stupa.

Around it there are lots of hotels, cafes and souvenir shops. I bought couple of souvenirs, made several circles around the Stupa and headed further – this time to the Hindu temple – Pashupatinath. The majority (over 80%) of Nepali are Hindu, but they peacefully coexist with other religions, Buddhism being the second among them.

Pashupatinath (to get there you’ll need to pay 1000 NRs, ~$10) is a holy place for Hindus – there’s a river flowing through it, and it has a similar meaning as Ganges in India. When someone dies, they get burnt along the banks of the river, and then the ashes goes in the river. Hindus believe that burning – is the act of purification, and if it takes a body more that average 3-4 hours to burn, it means that the person lived a very sinful life.

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Non-Hindus are not allowed to the temple itself, but the territory around is quite big, and there are lot’s of history and legends around that place. It would take you approximately an hour to get around and see everything, and at the entrance there are guides who offer their services. The guy that spoke to me didn’t tell a price, said it was up to me and seemed nice, so I agreed, and didn’t regret – he was knowledgeable and told me stories I wouldn’t otherwise find out myself.

Most of the buildings have images on its facades that have a story behind them, also there are lots of artifacts representing Siva – the main god in Hinduism.

 

 

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Before leaving, I’m making friends with some locals 🙂

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But beware: they’ll ask for 1000 NP for a picture (~$10) – which is very-very much according to Nepali standards – and most probably you’ll be too polite to argue.

My tour around Pashupatinath is over and I’m ready to go to my next stop.

These are quite ordinary Nepali neighbourhoods:

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On my way to Durbar Square I spot a demonstration:

Have no idea what they were protesting about, but can swear they were chanting “Rossiya! Rossiya!” which is Russia well, in Russian 🙂 They came up to a university, were not let in by the police, and peacefully moved elsewhere.

At the entrance of the Durbar Square (entrance fee is again 1000 NRs) there are also a lot of guides offering their services. Led by the previous positive experience, I agreed to it again, but was quite disappointed – the guy was a bit clingy, I knew most of the stories from the previous guide already, he was constantly trying to sell me something (like a painting) and he had a fixed price, which was also quite high ($15).

Durbar Square is a King’s square, and they have one in every major city in Nepal. The Kathmandu square suffered greatly during the earthquake of 2015, and currently is being restored.

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Nepal is currently a democratic republic, but not so long ago it was a monarchy, until the revolution of 2008 when the king was killed.

By this time I’m already quite exhausted, and want to get rid of the guide, so we go up to one of the rooftop cafes where we have some tea and part our ways. I shoot couple of pics:

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and decide to skip my next destination point – the Monkey Forrest with one more Stupa, as it’s quite off the main route and I’ve already walked over 20 km!

So instead of going to another Stupa, I set my way to the Gardens of Dreams (keeping in mind a note read on Tripadvisor – it’s an island of quiet peace in the middle of chaotic Thamel – exactly what I need now!)

You also have to pay for entrance here – 200 NRs ($2). The gardens are not big, but really beautiful and peaceful. You can see couples and friends relaxing on the grass or benches. There’s also an overpriced Kaiser cafe there which I avoided, and just landed myself on one of the benches and ate the banana I took from the hotel breakfast 🙂

 

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I spent good 30 minutes there, letting my feet to have some rest, before heading to the hotel, taking a nap and going to the spa for a treatment called Shirodhara – they pour warm oil on your “third eye” while massaging your head and feet. That was a true blessing and exactly what I needed after such a long and exciting day. For the treatment I chose Mandala Yoga & Spa center for it’s reviews on the Tripadvisor, and was absolutely delighted with the service. The owner has also shown me their newly opened vegetarian restaurant on the rooftop – Forrest & Plate where they grow herbs right in the pots. I didn’t have a dinner there, but thought that the place is worth a visit.

Instead, I went one floor down to the Himalayan Java coffee for a cup of mint tea with the cheesecake. That was a perfect end for the long day. Tomorrow I’ll need to get up at 4 to catch the sunrise at Nagarkot.

I arranged the hike from Nagarkot to Dhulikhel through Viator, and definitely overpaid it enormously (it cost me $140). But I really wanted to see the Himalayan range, catch the sunrise, and didn’t have the energy to figure out myself how do I get to Nagarkot by 5.30 am and what do I do next. But if you do the proper research, you can definitely make it much-much cheaper or even free (if you hike on your own which is absolutely doable, and I know a girl who’ve done a twice longer hike on her own).

The sunrise was stunning indeed:

But the 4-hour hike after the day full of walking was a bit too much for me. My knees started to ache, and it was the torture to walk down (which was ~40-50% of the whole route). Taking into account that due to fog I couldn’t see even a bit of the Himalayas, I was quite disappointed. The views on the hike are nice, but nothing compared to the picture of the mountain ranges I’ve seen!

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Though I struggled through the hike, I was still happy to get away from Kathmandu noise and air pollution, and to enjoy the silence and nature. But I was even more happy when the hike was over, and the rest of the day I spent like this:

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Shanker hotel wasn’t the cheapest option, and maybe not the best, but I chose it solely because of the pool – I knew that the next 10 days I’ll spent in a very ascetic environment, so I wanted to indulge myself before going to what my friends called a “Nepal prison” 🙂

There was a traditional Nepali wedding happening in the background, so I had quite a lot of fun listening to the music and watching people in national dresses. That day I didn’t even had dinner – was so tired that I just had an early night and the next day was the time to head to my Vipassana course.

 


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