Asia,  Nepal,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Kathmandu (Nepal) – an ancient Newar kingdom

Kathmandu, moments of calm in the midst of chaos
Part 1: Travel Diary

Part 2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

Arriving in a new country is always accompanied by a little apprehension. Especially when Nepal marks the beginning of a new way of life: day by day. Indeed, if South Africa and India were super planned, at least for the itinerary, months in advance (in order to help us for the first weeks of travel), Nepal is a country we don’t know at all; I had to read 2 articles about it, sent 2-3 emails to get some basic information, we booked a first night in a hotel, but that’s it!

This is how we landed in mid-July, in the middle of the monsoon season, in Nepal

I hate to ask for visas in advance because it reminds me too much of the yearly steps I had to take for about ten years to get the residence permit. I opt for JB and me the visa on arrival, cheaper, but whose application is often blocked by a detail: the payment in foreign currency. A friend told me the anecdote so much it had marked him during his stay in Nepal, and even if I didn’t think I would go to Nepal at that time, I had never forgotten it

He arrived in Nepal on the day of the 2015 earthquake. He was in the process of applying for a visa when the earth began to shake. Nothing funny in all this, but one detail would make it funny

To get this famous visa on arrival, the Nepalese authorities only accept foreign currency. It was thus necessary to find 25€, not 30, 25! Everybody had about 30 on you, and especially Nepalese rupees (refused for the payment of the visa). The foreigners thus proceeded between them to an exchange of bills of 10€ against two bills of 5€. Those who did not have Euros or USD on them had, ironically, to exchange their Nepalese rupees for foreign currency. It exasperated more than one… so much so that when the earthquake happened, instead of finding a stable place to protect themselves, some foreigners had the good idea to run straight for … zap the visa payment

With this anecdote in mind, I prepare several small denominations in different currencies. In the end, the pound sterling is preferred because the man on the visa has enough change for me (in pound sterling) and he already has too many dollars. The rates are weird because he asks me $80 for two people (one month visa), €70 or £65, so paying in dollars, given the current rates, would have been the cheapest for us

At the exit of the airport, we proceed with the same ritual: ticket dispenser, purchase of a SIM card with 3G and payment of an official cab. This isn’t the first time we guide the cab to our hotel, showing it Google Maps

We always book the 1st night in a new city, to make it easier for the cab (downtown is too vague for drivers) and not to get ripped off ((1) if the driver finds out that we have not booked, he will ask for a commission from the hotel which is obliged to increase its price to compensate the cab commission (2) the hotel will always tell us that there are only very expensive rooms left, while booking and paying on for example obliges him to give us the room of the category we have booked, no more and no less)))

From Varanasi, JB has trouble breathing and Kathmandu, one of the most polluted cities in the world, won’t be able to help him. I send a message to a Nepalese Couchsurfer to ask for advice on the ideal location for one or two nights in Kathmandu and he advises me the neighborhood near Durbar Square and strongly advises against Thamel which is too touristy and polluted. We find a nice hotel in this area on, not without difficulty because hotels are rare in this area

Day 1: World Heritage Hotel & Green Organic Restaurant

Arrived at the hotel, we realize that it is even more beautiful than on the photos, and especially, that we were given a room overlooking Durbar Square. I do not contain my joy and open wide the windows as if to better believe where I am, which amuses the maids a lot. The electricity is cut 10 hours a day but the hotel has solar panels which ensure us a minimum service: a fan working during the day. I learn a little later that 98% of Nepal’s electricity comes from hydraulics, so it is normal that there isn’t enough for everyone to ensure a 24/24 service

We then have lunch at the hotel restaurant, which delights us with the large choice of NON-vegetarian dishes on offer and their quality. I then take a long nap while JB takes a walk in the neighborhood


I realize the crucial choice of the location of the hotel and the vision we have of the city. The more polluted and chaotic the city is, the calmer the hotel must be, even if it has to be a little far from the city to offer a moment of respite. Before the trip, I thought I could be satisfied with any place, since it’s “just for sleeping”, now I’m convinced that, even if it goes against my wish, comfort is all the more important when you’re “homeless” like us

Will I be able to land directly after my flight at a Couchsurfer who offers me his couch to sleep on? That would have been beyond my strength. I would have been little available for conversation, unpleasant limit, praying for dinner to arrive early so that I would go to bed quickly. We hear stories of people who travel only by sleeping over, but surely they needed an overflowing energy, a natural need for constant contact with others to keep up with this rhythm. Anyway, now that we know the style of hotels we need, we can better appreciate the cities that everyone hates like Delhi, Jaipur

Well, I digress from my story, but all this to say that the magical location of this little room gives me such happiness and calm that I haven’t known for a long time. I can hear the bells ringing and the prayers, the Nepalese songs and the sound of the simple life that the Nepalese people lead just below my window. This place is closed to vehicles. The Nepalese go there to pray, to talk, under the roofs where the pigeons have taken up residence. On the other side of the room, I can access the magnificent garden of the hotel, next to an open kitchen where the best Nepalese spicy smells come out. A small corner of paradise


13659214_297730943903510_7394326669679688676_nI’m hurrying to book an extra night here, to enjoy the magic a bit more and also because I haven’t seen anything from Kathmandu yet. JB offers a great organic restaurant for dinner in the Thamel district, much quieter at nightfall. We devour our salads, too happy to finally be able to eat raw vegetables (and not boiled like in India because of hygiene concerns). We each buy a mask (with filter) against pollution but JB still doesn’t feel better. I don’t know if it’s the diluted mountain air or the pollution that bothers him so much

On the way back, the streets are almost deserted and unlit. Yet I feel safe. I just take out my flashlight so as not to crush the dogs sleeping on the ground. I have a twinge of heart for the dogs in Vietnam or China who can never experience this kind of happiness. As long as people keep eating dogs, they aren’t safe on the street. I think of my dog Loulou who was kidnapped in Vietnam about 20 years ago, and whose incident now prevents me from considering adopting another dog

Day 2: Buddhhanath -> Pashupati Nath Temple -> Durbar Square

Late awakening today. We have a delicious breakfast before taking a cab to Buddhanath, Buddhist temple with the largest stupa in the world

Unfortunately the stupa did not resist to the earthquake in 2015 and we find ourselves in front of a temple under renovation that does not look like much. This did not prevent us from paying 500 rupees for two to contribute to the work

It regulates an atmosphere of spirituality that I like very much, despite the many stores and guest houses around the temple. Several Buddhist monks walk around, probably to go to their monasteries. We attend a prayer of the monks, out of respect, JB hesitates to take a picture until he sees a monk taking a selfie with another monk

We run many prayer wheels, from the smallest to the largest. The mills are made of metal, on which are written prayers, turning them is like saying those prayers. Just like the cloth banners filled with prayers waving in the wind

This is what it looked like before the earthquake and the meaning of each element of the stupa


This is what we can see now

I fall in love with a Vietnamese restaurant, run by a Japanese woman. I admit that it makes me feel good, even if the note is salty


We then take a cab to the beautiful Hindu temple Pashupati where we cannot enter (only Hindus are allowed). Paying 1000 rupees/person seems a bit unjustified to us especially since the only activity we have left to do is to watch the cremations

We witness a funny scene: a monkey tries to tear off the plastic bag containing the offerings bought by a pilgrim. The pilgrim pulls on his bag but it tears. The victim is disgusted but cannot do anything. Good loser he gives the rest to the monkey who seems to be enjoying himself


This is all we saw from the temple:

Two cremations are taking place as we pass by, two other bodies are waiting for cremation, covered by an orange cloth. I don’t know if it’s the smoke or the sadness of the situation that brings tears to my eyes. I just remember that it is forbidden to cry (important for Hindus) and turn my head away to think about other things. The cremations are on the banks of a river with such a picturesque view, the nature so green and calm, that I tell myself that it must be a privilege to be cremated here

Even at his death, one cannot escape the law of the richest. The poor are burned far from the temple without flowers, while the rich are burned near the temple. Members of the royal family are privileged to be burned in front of the temple

The locals rest in the small houses/small temples (?) that border the river, while watching the cremation

We quickly return to Durbar Square in Kathmandu. The only part that requires a financial participation (1000 rupees per person or 8.5 euros) is limited to two former royal courts that were badly damaged by the earthquake. We cannot enter the buildings, but we pay without flinching in the hope that our money will contribute to the reconstruction of the country. Nepal suffered a lot from the earthquake and lost a lot of tourists. The fuel embargo from India for 6 months did not help. At one time, a liter of gasoline cost 500 rupees (4 €!) on the black market


So we leave Kathmandu to the great joy of JB who can no longer stand the pollution. Tomorrow, we will be in Bhaktapur. Which is only 14 km away, not sure that the pollution will disappear as if by magic..

P/s: our vision of a teddy bear is completely destroyed after our conversation with the hotel owner. The 1000 rupees we pay each time don’t seem to be used for construction. He showed us the pictures of Kathmandu before and after the earthquake, it’s very sad! We are so sad not to have seen Kathmandu before, and even sadder to see that just after the earthquake & 1 year and a half later, apart from the broken bricks tidy on the side, nothing has changed

He still cheers us up by telling the story of his hotel, open to tourists for only 3 years. It’s a 300 year old family home, passed from father to son. Reinforced by huge wooden columns, the hotel did not suffer during the earthquake. He also tells us that 10% of the profits of the hotel are donated to his association which helps the mountain people to rebuild their houses. So we contributed indirectly to this association. So much the better for our karma 😀

Part 2: Practical Tips

How to get there

From Delhi, we took a plane connecting Kathmandu in 2 hours with Air India. This step isn’t included in the round-the-world ticket, we bought the ticket separately


  • For the payment of the visa, please prepare small denominations in Euro, USD or GBP. If you don’t have photos with you, you will be photographed with a webcam. Otherwise, one photo per person will suffice.
  • The prepaid cabs are more expensive than the cabs you will meet at the airport. Ask about prepaid prices and then negotiate with the cab drivers. For info, we paid 600 rupees to Durbar Square in Kathmandu.
  • Buy a cloth anti-pollution mask as soon as you arrive. Surgical type masks are useless.
  • Because of the power outage, choose hotels with solar panels or with a generator (like ours). Provide external batteries if you often need to recharge your phone.
  • Be prepared to take cold showers all the time so don’t go when it’s too cold
  • Food is safer than in India, allow yourself to be more adventurous in Nepal
  • Cabs will never be metered, negotiate the fare BEFOREhand
  • Be careful, always add 23% tax on top of the price you see in restaurants (13% service + 10% VAT)
  • I put here a document provided by our hotel which summarizes quite a bit the main activities in Kathmandu (with cab fares slightly above what we were able to negotiate) – click on it to see the HD version



  • Cab

    • Airport -> Durbar Square 600 rupees
    • Durbar Square -> Buddhanath 500 rupees
    • Buddhanath -> Pashupati 200 rupees
    • Pashupati -> Durbar Square 400 rupees
    • Kathmandu -> Bhaktapur 1200 rupees

  • Visa

    • 25USD/person for 15 days
    • 40USD/person for 1 month

  • Plane from Delhi: 50€/person
  • Visits: usually 1000 rupees/person even if the interest does not always justify the price
  • World Heritage Hotel & Apartment: 15USD/night – shared shower (very clean), reserved on Agoda
  • Food: Between 400 and 500 rupees/person/meal taxes included
  • Facial care: 1500 rupees for 1 hour (rather quali but I had better in Vietnam)

TOTAL: 39,500 rupees or 328€ (including plane, visa, SIM card etc.)

Taking into account only the cost of living (without plane, visa, SIM card, massage) -> only visits, food, accommodation, it’s still 15 750 rupees, or 130€ for 2 nights, 2 people

I don’t really see how we can reduce this budget, apart from not visiting tourist places and being vegetariandepenseskathmandou

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