Kathmandu: A Hectic Nepali Introduction

I finally find the courage to travel to another country again. I’ve long wanted to go to Nepal, but the impetus for this trip was, when I was quarantined due to COVID-19 last year, I came across an ad on some Nepal treks on my social media feed. I decided I wanted to do some revenge travel and contacted the company behind the ad. I asked for a short trek that would be manageable for someone like me who had only had a single major trek in the past four years at that time.

And so I was recommended the Annapurna Panorama trek, which would last five days and would have taken place in October last year. I paid for the trek and the plane and was set in traveling. Unfortunately, the Delta variant happened, Nepal was placed in another lockdown, and I was forced to rebook the trip. I planned on rebooking in October this year, but the agency that booked my flight informed me that the latest date to which the flight can be rebooked is in March. And so March it is.

Which brings me to now. As my tour service drives out of Tribhuvan International Airport, I’m finding it hard to imagine that Kathmandu was once a royal city. Crowded, choked with traffic, and with child beggars knocking on the window of my taxi, the Nepali capital can be overwhelming, especially for the first-time visitor. This is particularly true for me, as I’ve gotten used to the last two years avoiding crowds due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 30 minutes later, we arrive at the old city, the part of Kathmandu most visitors see. The service drops me off at my hotel in the heart of Thamel, the city’s tourist district. My sister, who arrived about three hours earlier in a separate flight, is eating late lunch in our room. My sister was a last-minute addition (sabit) on this trip after she decided just a few weeks prior that she wanted to go to Nepal as well. She paid for the trek as well and booked a separate flight.

Durbar Square is where Kathmandu’s royalties once ruled.

The historical intersection of Asan is one of the busiest places in Kathmandu.

After getting our bearings, we head out to explore the neighborhood and get a sense of Nepal. We explore the alleyways of Thamel, which remind me of the streets in Old Delhi, complete with the teeming masses of people and barrage of motorcycles.

We eventually reach Asan Bazaar, a historical market square in the center of the city. Asan carries with it historical significance as it was one of the two India-Tibet trade routes that passed through Kathmandu. Today, it’s still a busy place, drawing people from around the city with the diverse products sold here.

We then head to the Durbar Square, the usual place to start any exploration of Kathmandu. The square was the site of the palaces of the Malla and Shah royalty that ruled the former Kathmandu kingdom.

As we make our way to exit the square, I spot a restaurant serving momos, Himalayan dumplings that are popular in Tibet and Nepal. The restaurant is an unassuming place just outside the main square area. We enter, take our orders, and are led to a table on the second floor (or first floor in Nepal building plan), overlooking the street.

The Thamel district is a maze of hotels, restaurants, and shops .

Momos (Himalayan dumplings) are one of the food served in Kathmandu’s many restaurants.

The Swayambhu stupa is surrounded by a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu figures

The Boudhnath Stupa is one of the largest stupas in the world.

The Naranyahiti Palace Museum is the site of the Nepali Royal Massacre.

The Durbar Marg, a major avenue in Kathmandu, is lined with luxury hotels and shops selling global brands.

A temple dedicated to a form of Shiva stands in the middle of Rani Pokhari, an artificial pond created in the 17th century; the Ghanta Ghar clocktower on the left is the oldest clock tower in Nepal, created in the 1920s.

The Tundikhel is a large multi-purpose, grass-covered ground in the middle of Kathmandu.

The Garden of Dreams is a tranquil escape from the chaos of Kathmandu.

I continue my tour of the city after the trek, exploring the areas outside Durbar Square.

On my last night in the city, I decide to watch a local movie at the cinema. The experience itself is more intriguing than the movie, which is, while handsomely shot, is oddly paced. The language is in Nepali, but I’m generally sensing a cliched story of a rural man who tries to make it work in the city. Nonetheless, the real highlight of the night is exiting the cinema at the end and seeing a group of media people interviewing some members of the audience. The lead actor is also there, posing pictures with the audience. I steal a shot with my iPhone and then sneak away, amused at being part of an unlikely aspect of the Nepali life.

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